Sandstone sentinels

Sandstone sentinels

Artist Gordon Henschel recalls a pair of visits to Diver's Beach.

Several weeks ago I did a small painting out at Diver’s Beach, near Cluxewe. It was quite a nostalgic experience for me and, writing about it in this column, I emphasized the fact that our family used to dive out here in the seventies. What I didn’t mention was that I used to paint out there as well and spent many happy hours among the huge sandstone rocks that are scattered about the shoreline there.

One of the paintings, an oil larger than my usual on the spot sketches, was included  in a show in Victoria. Naming a painting is always somewhat of an event, since it becomes an important part of the presentation, this being no exception. The painting, with a misty background, was begun on a foggy morning, later finished in my studio and named after a line in a poem called “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg in which he remarked that “the fog crept in on little cat feet”.  I called it “Little Cat Feet” and resultantly puzzled a myriad of viewers, including the lady who eventually bought it.

Several years later at another show in the same gallery she approached me and asked the inevitable question, “Are the little cat feet the marks on the rocks”? When I had painted the sandstone rocks I had included the swirls and pock marks that the tide had worn into them, never thinking that they might confuse the painting’s spectators. Twenty-five years late I wanted to paint the rocks again; in oils of course.

Low tide came early with a thick fog surrounding the amazing variety of shoreline guardians. The sandstone  is moulded into every conceivable shape and cast about as if the tides were some Herculean entity that  played dominoes with them when no-one was looking. For old times sake I brought an 18 by 24 inch stretched canvas. In the silence you could hear the ferry from Sointula many miles away.

The fog never lifted that day as I lay in the different shapes against this misty background on the canvas. In fact, at times I felt I was painting in clouds as it drifted by me. About four p.m., after the tide drove me from my lair among the rocks,  I stashed the wet canvas and my French easel behind an enormous log that seemed to be a permanent fixture against the salal on the shore and headed for home.

What a difference a day makes! The next day dawned bright with not a hint of the fog that had enveloped me the previous day. Luckily I had concentrated on painting the background and its foggy impressions, which left me to concentrate on the rocks now bathed in sunlight.

About noon a figure came from the path in the forest and headed my way. Hunkered down among the rocks, I knew he wouldn’t see me so I gave him a shout. As it turned out he was with Search and Rescue and was looking for someone like me. Apparently there had been a 911 call from somewhere on a North Island beach saying they had collapsed and needed help. Assuring him That I was OK and hadn’t seen another soul, he went back to his regular job at the asphalt plant along the Cluxewe River. A few days later, upon talking to the RCMP they informed me that it had been a prank by someone who had found an old cell phone on the beach and dialled 911. Apparently this works if the batteries are still OK! This prank had disrupted the lives of a lot of workers from their normal workday.

Those are just a couple of the stories that lay behind what looks like an ordinary painting of a North Island shoreline. This time, so as not to confuse anyone I called the painting ”Sandstone Sentinels”

Gordon Henschel owns an art gallery in Nimpkish Heights. www.henschel.ca