Monday, February 1, 2016

Moose Jaw Riverbank

Oil on canvas 7 x 9 in.              $425

11 October 2014 found us 9.5 km east of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, approaching the north bank of the Moose Jaw River on foot. We forced a path through waist-high vegetation, downhill toward the riverbank. It seemed that everything was growing there, not mixed together, but in patches. Clumps of wild Asparagus, a band of American Licorice, Wolf Willow, and more. I wanted to pause and write descriptions of each change in vegetation
colour and texture, but as so often happens, time was tight for onsite painting and I tried to store impressions in my head. As we neared the drop-off of the eroded river bank, two metres above the current water level, we stepped through dark red patches of autumn-killed Dock - and there I found my scene, settling myself among frosted Dogbane plants, at the break between a field of Brome grass and the invasive Reed Canary Grass. 

The eroded clay of the opposite bank was so fascinating that I decided not to show any of the gray sky above the fringe of yellow grass, or the TransCanada Highway a little to the south, just below the horizon - but to focus instead on the horizontal bedding and sculptural relief of the bank as a landscape - and minimize the water, which was turbid with clay so that we couldn't see into it anyway. I hadn't painted for very long before becoming a snack bar for little gray-tan Mosquitoes with feathery-looking wings. 

The steep, flood-eroded bluff had several holes the size a Belted Kingfisher would make, and smaller ones appropriate to Bank Swallow. The Moose Jaw River is about 20 meters wide here. This is a typical prairie river for Unionids - in a highwater season you can't find any Molluscan evidence along the shores until you come to a bar or something, and then you find washed up shells. Fred went a bit upstream to a muddy shell-less point on shore, the first exposed shore along here. He made note of Raccoon, Deer, Muskrat, shorebird, and Heron tracks in the narrow mud of the bank. A Great Blue Heron flew off downstream - a Leopard Frog jumped in - and there were patches of the native Broad-leaved Cattail along the shore. Beaver had been coming up and clear-cutting the Sandbar Willow nearly completely down, leaving only shoots with stems thinner than Phragmites - but no sign of a lodge, burrows, or stored food that we could see. 

Fred caught two male Leopard Frogs from fields and water's edge - they are exciting to find now in the Prairies where they declined so drastically during the 1970s.  Down by the bridge, a young one hid among the wild Rose bushes. A fair number of Water Boatmen were flying into the water there, perhaps bailing out of prairie ponds to winter in the river. Pyganodon grandis (Common Floater) shells were scattered (or violently washed) onto the north shore, right below the old concrete bridge abutments, and these Fred collected. 

As I painted, a movement caught the corner of my eye. A Greater Yellowlegs was wading downstream and flying upstream - but it never came close enough for me to photograph clearly as dusk was falling. I have used reference photos to paint it in (with my artist's license) where I would have liked to have seen it - wading at the little shallow spot just across from me. 

Fred crossed the river and back in the course of collecting shells (including a specimen of a second species of clam,  Lasmigona complanata, the White Heel-Splitter) and then made his way back to the truck, wading across the knee-deep narrow river on the north side of a bar to a high clay islet, crossing a clayey channel, then finally back to where I was applying a last few strokes of paint before packing up. Again we'd had only a couple of hours between finding the site and the orange gleams of the onset of dusk.

We'd come here from the west this afternoon, heading towards the Energy East crossing waypoint that Fred had loaded into the GPS. We passed soggy, unharvested fields of Soy, Canola stubble with a Harrier flying over it, and signs for a Sask Energy gas pipeline along the side of the road. Finally we reached a point where the road to the Moose Jaw River was closed. We were told by an ATV'ing couple that the road would be impassable to us, and that the bridge was out. The apparently ungrazed field to the south was "access interdit" by the Department of Natural Resources, and "no through road" along the Alfalfa hayfield to the north, so we turned around and, unable to figure out from google maps which roads might be useable, headed farther upstream to where we'd already seen the river from the highway, 9 kilometres upstream of the TransCanada pipeline crossing. This was as close as we could come.



Dear supporters and patrons of my art,

This 7 x 9 inch original oil painting, "Moose Jaw Riverbank" is available for purchase at $425 to support our independent survey of the Energy East Pipeline. If you would like to purchase it, please contact Aleta   


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