A Brush with Henschel: A last blaze of colour

In autumn, the predominant colour varies all the way from a light lemon yellow to a rusty orange.

I did this painting on a huge granite rock overlooking the Winnipeg River in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park. It is where I grew up. My father was a trapper and, later, owned a tourist camp here in the Canadian Shield.

People on the West Coast, unless they have spent time there, are mostly oblivious to The Canadian Shield, an area that covers over one third of Canada. The Shield, a storehouse of minerals, contains many of Canada’s most productive mines. The valuable minerals, too numerous to list here, are often found locked in its granite. These granite hills used to be mountains eons ago but now only their roots are left to pop up here and there between hundreds of thousands of lakes and muskeg.

Exposed by the Ice Age, on the surface of the granite, you can still see the striations made, wherever the lichens and the mosses haven’t taken over, as it passed over and polished the surface of this incredibly hard rock.

In autumn, the predominant colour of the foliage varies all the way from a light lemon yellow to a rusty orange. The birches, such as the one in the painting, are the most striking, with their white trunks and bright golden leaves juxtaposed against a background of dark green jack pines.

Next in brilliance are the poplars with leaves slightly darker in hue. Last, with a variety of browns, are the Garry oaks.

The oaks, by the way, aren’t indigenous to this area but were inadvertently planted here by First Nation’s people who used the river to go from Lake Winnipeg to Lake of the Woods and vice versa.

The acorns were gathered in the Lake Winnipeg and Red River area, where oak trees were naturally abundant, and carried as part of their food supply for their forays upriver.

Most of the good campsites along the river are very easy to spot for they nearly always have a grove of oak trees on them!

To mention fall colours; several years ago, in traveling back to our North Island home by car, we chose No. 3 Highway at the extreme southern edge of B.C. It is slower driving but far more interesting with a variety of the province’s older towns embellishing it. The fall colours were incredible! Along the valleys the birches and aspen were in their golden glory, while up the mountainsides the larches or tamarack painted the slopes a deep orange. I felt I wanted to play “Johnny Appleseed” and transplant some of theses bright colours to North Island.

As much as I love North Island it is the one thing that I miss each fall.

We do have colour in all the shrubs around us but the larger hardwoods are mostly alders that change but little before they shed their leaves. I have seen gorgeous colours up higher on the slopes of mountains such as Cain but, again, these are mostly smaller shrubs such as huckleberries.

Along the highways, a few isolated but brilliant poplars make a statement along the Nimpkish River, below Woss. From there, on down island, the Rock Maples and a few poplars put on a great display.

The Zeballos road passes through some high country with brilliant colours at the roadside. But then that’s another story and another painting.

Comments: email: gordon@cablerocket.com website: www.henschel.ca

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