My Favourite Alpine Flower
It was Sunday August 7th. The V-Strom, was loaded up with all the essentials for my painting trip into one of my favourite places in this world. A place I had been, by my recollection, 35 years earlier on a school trip with the Outdoor Class at STS. I kissed Steph goodbye and rolled out for the ride up to Canmore and then onto the Spray Lakes Road for the 36km gravel portion to the Mount Shark Helipad. It was about 12:15 by the time I arrived and it was very warm. I stripped off my gear, stowed it in the panniers and headed up the road to the waiting area. I rounded the corner and saw my group which included Patti Dyment and her daughter Megan, Laura, Anne, Sharon, Alice Satiel and her husband Bill. Oh, and yours truly. Four painters and four hikers. A wonderful group and a beautiful day to hop on a helicopter for the far too brief (8min) flight to Mount Assiniboine.
I was in awe as the chopper dropped in rapidly (I swear these young pilots have watched Apocalypse Now a few too many times) Mount Assiniboine and the surrounding vista called to a distant thread of memory from a time I can barely remember. I can’t describe the combination of feelings I felt that reverberated from my past memories of this place to the stunning reality that enveloped me now. It was nothing like I remembered it. The trees were bigger (naturally) and there were new cabins just below the helipad. These cabins were added maybe in the last 10 years and were made for guests who had my current net worth in their wallets. They were nothing compared to the rustic beauty of where we were all staying – the historic Naiset Cabins.
They weren’t where I remembered them, but were 500m up the trail from the helipad. Our hut was one of several built by the Alpine Club of Canada in 1925. Ours was called the Aster and sleeps eight in two bunkbeds – and there not very big bunkbeds. Think advertised two man tent – then go look at it. Anyway, after getting settled in I headed down to Lake Magog with Patti Dyment and Sharon to try and get a quick painting in before dinner. The sky was a mix of blue, white and a bit of dark grey. To mountain people, that means anything is possible without warning. We all set up within a couple of hundred meters of each other and got to work – and within thirty minutes we were packing up quickly as the rain began to fall. I got something roughed in but not finished. Patti and Sharon faired about the same. It was back to the cabin and off to the lodge for happy hour where we met up with Bill and Alice for wine, beer and talk of art.
Dinner was fantastic and after, we all sang songs, laughed and enjoyed each others company. Then it was off to bed for the group but I sat up and listened to a story and had a nite cap sitting out on the porch of the cabin under the night sky, in the dark among the trees and the mountains. Simply beautiful.
The morning light sifted through one of the two small windows in the cabin as the slow stirrings of hikers and artists alike broke the stillness. In no time we were in the cook shelter – coffee in hand – discussing what we were going to do – where to paint that day or where to hike. Patti, Sharon and I decided to paint at Gog lake which was only a short 15 minute hike. It was again, beautiful in the shadow of what’s called “The Two Towers”. I could see Patti and Sharon and was pleased to see Alice setting up as well. I wandered around suffering from Moses Syndrome (looking for the promised land) and after about a half hour decided on spot much closer to the lake from where the girls were setting up. On a side note, I could hear a waterfall around a blind corner up at the end of the lake. I wanted to have a look but I thought I had wasted enough time and needed to start something. The falls were for another time.
Your first thought is to paint these iconic mountains and lake but I decided to paint the view 180 degrees to the west. A pretty nondescript mountain (not even sure of the name and I think Alice referred to it as “The Lump”) was in the background but it was beautifully lit and the trees on either side of where the lake began it’s downhill run to Magog were stunning. I loved the colors of the grasses and visual interaction of the reflections in the lake. Thank God I had my umbrella as it began to rain and I wasn’t ready to finish. My painting partners retreated to have a bite of lunch and a spot of tea. I finished up and headed back for the same.
The afternoon looked like it was setting up to be a repeat of the previous day with a full sky of mixed blessings and possible curses and we decided to go back down to where we began the previous day. Since the light was pretty much the same ,I was able over two afternoons, to get this little 5×7 wrapped up and then it was off to the Lodge for a beer and more art talk.
The night again was filled with song, great food and for me, developing friendships. The night swept in and everyone headed for bed. I sat up and listened to my book and watched to the north where a developing thunderstorm lit up the sky, revealing the dark pines for a brief second. It was so peaceful.
The next morning we awoke to clear skies and a very excited group who wanted to see what Assiniboine looks like at 6:15am and let me simply say it was stunning. I grabbed my camera and headed off down the path to take some reference shots as I didn’t want to miss the morning glow on such an iconic mountain – The Matterhorn of the Rockies.
After the trek back up to the cabin, a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, Patti and I decided to head down to the flats in front of Magog to paint “The Queen” as Alice likes to call Assiniboine. I set up a couple of hundred meters below Patti and we got to work. I quickly discovered that there is a lot to take in in a scene like this. Not to mention trying to capture the fleeting early morning light. We both did the rough in with the intention of getting the light correct and then developing the details, ignoring the changes as the sun tracked across the sky.
Time passed, adjustments made, paint mixed and applied. Repeat.
Patti came down after she finished up and took a picture of me before she headed up for some lunch and a small break. We discussed heading up on a ridge between the Two Towers and Magog Lake for the afternoon but when I got back to the cabins, I couldn’t figure out where to go or where Patti had gone.
I thought that I should investigate the falls I had heard at the far end of Gog lake the day before. The sound of rushing water excites me. It has been a source of a deep spiritual connection. I sometimes find that the lack of sound when in the mountains or sitting under the canopy of the forest almost *too quiet* The talk and banter of the water, and what it discusses with the rocks, stones and pebbles as it moves excitedly past on it’s way to some lake or ocean I find calming.
As I rounded the bluff, I could finally see what had invited me earlier. It was beautiful. Some falls are large and majestic, some small and reflective. These falls were lively – lacey. Going in several directions with a common intent. How the water fell through the rocks on the way down to Gog lake was well – inspiring.
I set up and gave myself 45 minutes to paint. I thought that the falls were going to be too challenging. More to take in than painting “The Queen”. I decided to rough in my underpainting with Alizarin (normally Ochre). I then wiped out the falls with a rag and thought the best way to go about this piece was to work from the inside out – paint the falls and it’s discussion with the bordering rocks and pebbles and work out towards the edges. If I had to stop, at least I didn’t waste time I thought, on what wasn’t important. This is where I ended up.
I learned more from this little painting I think than any other so far. It was quick and free. The brushstrokes placed without much thought but yet very deliberately. Confident because I didn’t place very much hope in it’s success. I knew I just need to get it down.
I was reminded of something an instructor at ACA said to me.
It has stuck with me since my time there – “Art in not precious”
I took this to mean that you need to keep an openness and freedom and innocence about what you make. Rather than restrict your work to whats saleable or what your friends or family will find acceptable. Let go. Art for art sake – work for your self.
I hope this little painting will continue to speak to me. It has been sitting on my windowsill since our trip and I’m drawn to it. It is closer to the way I want to paint than any other thus far.
Just as I was finishing up, Alice and Bill and Sharon wandered up and I was very happy to see them. Happy hour at the lodge was at hand, I had four plein air paintings in the bag and I knew another great night with new friends and song, warmth and a night under the Assiniboine sky was before me. I felt content and connected in so many ways.
It had been 35 years since I had been to Assiniboine with my crew from school. Some of the best people I have known. This trip, reminded me about how precious our relationships are – with family and friends, our passions and most of all, ourselves. It’s through who are, and what we value, that we can give the most.
Thanks Patti for everything. For creating an opportunity for me to become a part of an amazing community of such wonderful people – and inviting me back into an environment that I have found so inspirational then, now and in future trips.