Monday, 13 March 2017

EXPLORING THE WEST 1999 (Part Three)

It was a long drive, a total of 3,100 km, to get to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, but it was well worth the effort. The park is quite unique, lots of wildlife and incredible scenery. We had many sightings of bears, fortunately Black bears as opposed to Grizzlies. I say fortunate as, by the time that we arrived we had become a bit paranoid about Grizzlies, having read that a couple of weeks before our arrival a poor chap living in Pincher Creek had the misfortune of having an encounter with a female grizzly, with cubs. He survived, but had suffered severe life threatening, disfiguring, injuries.

Actually, we weren't the only ones a bit paranoid. While there we went on a loosely organized hike up into the mountains to an alpine lake. I say loosely, as it involved our taking a boat ride to the trailhead on the opposite side of the lake, then together with seventeen other hikers, we were pointed to the trail and warned to be back for the return trip at 5:30 pm, and left to fend for ourselves. Many wore bells, and had whistles, to warn bears on the trail ahead of our coming. Unfortunately, bells and whistles don't really work to alert bears. Both bells and whistles could have the opposite effect. The bears prey on marmots that whistle warnings, and bells are simply a noise that should be investigated. The best way to warn bears of your presence, so that they're not surprised and can get off the trail before you arrive, is to simply talk, or sing. For the first few miles of the hike Sandy and I talked and sang songs (badly), then like many married couples who have been married for 30 years, we ran out of things to talk about, and simply walked in silence with the odd call to possibly alert a bear of our presence. Happily, it seems to have worked as we survived the hike, and arrived back at the trailhead before 5:30 pm for the return boat ride.

I can't help but stress the importance of sketching, and making notes. Looking at my sketches, and reading my notes made 18 years ago, memories, wonderful memories, come flooding back. I remember the strong, almost gale force, winds sweeping down the lake,  an encounter with a coyote while hiking a trail that led across a mountain meadow, but most of all the quiet and solitude enjoyed while hiking in the mountains.

By the time we arrived in Waterton Lakes I was getting over the fear of sketching landscape in the presence of others. It's a real problem for beginners, the idea that someone might come along and look over your shoulder, and make a disparaging remark. Once you get used to the idea that a sketch is simply a sketch, important yes, but not really an exhibition piece of art, you become comfortable sketching just about anywhere.

As my notes mention, after leaving Waterton Lakes National Park we travelled to Grasslands, then a Provincial Park, now a National Park. Grasslands proved to be a most wonderful experience. Sandy and I are ardent bird watchers and Grasslands and its surrounding area is a birder's paradise. We observed an incredible number of species including Prairie Falcon and Burrowing Owls. We stayed at The Convent, a marvellous property run by incredible hosts, once a Convent and Catholic school it was saved days before it was to be torn down, and turned into a Bed & Breakfast. From there we travelled home stopping briefly at Lake Superior Provincial Park to make a few sketches.
 A marvellous trip, and a wonderful experience.

Grasslands National Park          Watercolour Field Sketch

An amusing incident while doing these sketches of Grasslands. We were driving a Dodge van at the time. It was scorching hot, and to get out of the strong sunlight I sought shelter in the open side door of the van. I'm short sighted so I wear glasses while sketching. While sketching I found that I was experiencing some difficulty focus with my right eye. Thinking I was going blind, but wanting to complete my sketches I continued painting. It was only after finishing and packing up that I discovered that one of the lens in my glasses had fallen out. It's perhaps needless to say that I was much relieved to learn that there was nothing wrong with my eyesight.

Grasslands National Park    Watercolour Field Sketch

No comments:

Post a Comment