This trip was a celebration of colors—particularly the unique colors of autumn in the Eastern deciduous forest. A time of magic and splendor, unmatched anywhere in the world. Europe, Asia, Africa, and even South America have nothing quite to compare.
An Impressionistic version of a maple leaf
Paul Cezanne the French artists was an acknowledged master of color. He knew color better than anyone. Cezanne said, “Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet. I think this trip proved that was true.
The English writer George Eliot also knew a little about color. Eliot was actually a woman. She used a male nom de plume to be taken more seriously. It was a pity that she thought that was necessary. Her most famous novel was probably Middlemarch. 2 pretty good modern novelists, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes said this was the greatest novel in the English language. She said this about color” It is strange how deeply colours seem to penetrate one like a scent.” That was certainly true of the colors of autumn.
Winston Churchill no sentimentalist said, “I cannot pretend to be impartial about the colours. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns. Churchill would no doubt have celebrated had he ever seen an eastern forest in its autumn splendour.
One of my favorite photographers, Freeman Paterson, who lives in New Brunswick part of the eastern forest, oddly prefers the browns even though he lives in an area famous for its autumn coat of many colors,
Artist Paul Klee, who also knew something about colors, explained that “Color possesses me. It will always possess me. That is the meaning of this happy hour, colour and I are one.”
Finally, John Rushkin, another English writer, summed it all up, when he said, “Of all God’s gifts to the sight of man, colour is the holiest, the most divine, the most solemn.” I am just not sure it is solemn. I would say colours are joyous and celebratory. Not solemn at all. Otherwise well said.
The South Shore of Lake Superior is as impressive as the north shore
After we crossed into the United States at Sarnia, we travelled through a fantastic area—the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is separate and apart from the southern part of Michigan and its people are different—very different.
When we drove into the area in the late afternoon it rained heavily so we saw little. The next morning however we woke up to gray clouds that quickly turned into blue skies. The sun was shining on us. In my humble opinion, the forests of the Upper Peninsula rival those of New England.
The Upper Peninsula is filled with wonderful waterfalls. From my experience, the only place that rivals it is Iceland.
Everywhere we drove we kept seeing signs that talked about Yoopers. What are Yoopers. I remember that last time I drove through this area I was very puzzled about this until we stopped a small bar and grille in the middle of nowhere.
It was a large “family” restaurant and bar. To Canadian it made no sense to have children in a bar, but I thought it was wonderful. Why not? Let the kids see adults drink responsibly? It was a large bar with 2 customers and a waitress at very opposite ends of the bar. Cliff and Norm from Cheersit seemed to us.
The waitress was as tough as Carla from Cheers. She had a tough looking barbed wire tattoo on her biceps. I would never tangle with her. But she was very friendly. Thank god for that.
The first man was dressed in a cowboy hat, Photographer’s vest, bottle-brush mustache, and large glasses. And this was the elegant one. You would not call him elegant. The other was even less elegant. I asked the first one Yooper was. We had seen a Yooper sign, and wondered what it meant. So I bravely asked the 2 customers.
He looked at me for a long time without saying a word. Then he took a sip of his beer, briefly coughed and explained, ‘it took me 70 years to learn to say Yooper and now I are one.” That did it. I wanted to be an honorary Yooper! All I had to do was move here, and I was prepared to do that.
Yoopers, it turned out, were people who lived in the Upper Peninsula. But that was not all. They were proud rural rednecks who took pride in their simple nature. Yoopers love beer, hunting, bonfires, the great outdoors, and pasties. That word pastie does not rhyme with tasty. They are sort of like meat pies. A 7 course meal is a pastie and a six pack of beer. Yes now I claim I are one too.
I peered at all of the snow-mobile paraphernalia around the bar. This was a snowmobiler’ and hunters’ bar. And proud of it. I really liked the saying on a sticker in the men’s washroom . It said, “Kiss my Big Cat Ass,” referring to Arctic Cat snowmobiles. We drove by a place that with full honesty described itself as “Yooper Tourist Trap.”
I loved the autumn colours at Deer Lake
I could not resist an impressionistic image of the forest.
The colors and autumn foliage right outside of North Bay were astounding. Unfortunately, there was a lot of road construction in the area and we could not stop the car. This was a pity and to some extent haunted me for the rest of the trip. Next time…
I did have a chance to stop at the Serpent Riverfor to take some photographs. It was a lovely stop with a bunch of maple trees and a path that led under the bridge over the river to the north side where the river sped rapidly by a gorgeous red maple I could not miss photographing. I also photographed a number of individual leaves with my close-up lens.
The process of changing colors is fascinating. A green leaf is green because it contains a pigment known as chlorophyll. During the growing season chlorophyll is abundant in the cells of the leaf and as a result of that the green colors of the leaf dominate even though there are other colors present in the leaf. The green masks the other colors and as a result leaves of trees in summer are usually green.
Chlorophyll is very important in plants. It captures rays of the sun and uses the resulting energy to produce food for the plant. The plant eats the light and then uses the energy to manufacture the food that it needs from water and carbon dioxide. The sugars that are produced are the basis for the plant’s nourishment which is the sole source of the carbohydrates that the plant needs for growth and development.
The food manufacturing process of plants “use up’ the Chlorophyll. In other words it is broken down in the process. During the growing season the plant replenishes chlorophyll and as a result the leaves stay green for the summer.
In the autumn when the daylight hours are reduced and temperatures cool and rays of the sun are lower and the chlorophyll degrades the pigments that were hidden by the green, such as yellow and orange pigments are revealed. These pigments are found in the carotenoids that are present in leaves the whole year round, but their orange-yellow colors are usually masked by green chlorophyll. In the fall the chlorophyll is replaced at a slower rate than it is used up and the supply of chlorophyll is gradually dwindling as a result and the masking effect fades away uncovering the glorious colors of autumn that slowly start to show through. As a result we see yellow, orange, brown and many hues between. These pigments are actually present during the summer it is just that we can’t see them. I love how these colours are slowly revealed. I particularly love the transitional changes from green to orange or yellow.
The red pigments on the other hand are different. These are synthesized again once about half of the chlorophyll has been degraded. The reds, the purples, and their blended combinations that decorate autumn foliage especially in eastern North America come from another group of pigments in the cells called anthocyaninsthat are not present in the leaf throughout the growing season, but are actively produced only towards the end of summer. The process here is gradual as well showing the brilliant reds and purples.
In most temperate regions anthocyanins are present in only about 10% of the trees, but in some areas like New England they can be found in up to 70% of the trees. These colors appear vividly in the autumn eastern forests particularly trees such as maples, oaks, dogwoods, cherry trees and persimmons. These pigments can combine with the carotenoids’ colors to create the sensational orange, fiery reds, and burning bronzes typical of many hardwood species.
Together these processes produce the magic of autumn. They lead me to produce impressionistic images of autumn leaves, like the one below.
For quite a while I have suspected that climate change is altering the timing of the change of colors in autumn. Recent studies have shown that this might be true. Experiments have shown that poplar trees have stayed greener longer with higher levels of CO2 even if temperatures remain the same.
Currently Gatineau Park is administered by the National Capital Commission funded by the Canadian taxpayers. The park is 361 sq. km. (139 sq. mi) that extends north and south from the city of Gatineau, a mere few minutes from the home of Monique and Norm where we were staying.
The Government of Canada maintains a conference centre at Meech Lake, in the park. It is known as Wilson House. It was the site of the famously failed Meech Lake accords which were a dismally failed attempt to reform the Constitution of Canada in 1987 under the “leadership’ of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. I remember those times well and was very disappointed they were not approved. I feared that failure might lead to the break-up of Canada. Later I realized there were very good reasons for it to fail. Elijah Harper an MLA in Manitoba was instrumental in that failure when he attended a historic vote in the Manitoba legislature, coached by my old tax professor (yes tax professor) Jack London. Carrying an eagle feather he voted no, thus preventing Manitoba’s government from getting unanimous approval needed at the time in order to meet some forgotten deadline. Harper voted no, because indigenous peoples had not been consulted. In typical Canadian political arrogance at the time the premiers of Canada together with the Prime Minister tried to enact substantial changes to aboriginal rights without even consulting them! Never again, would indigenous people acquiesce to such arrogance.
Gatineau Park is unusual as well because it is not part of the National Park system and therefore does not benefit from protections available under the National Parks Act. There have been in the past significant controversies about the administration of the park that are ongoing. Because it is not part of the parks system there are private residences within it and some of those residents contribute to extensive erosion of shorelines at places like Meech Lake, as well as other lakes.
I never get enough maple leaves. I love the shape of the leaves and the astonishing array of autumn colours. No 2 are ever the same.
I was also not impressed by the numerous roads within the park. Too often it looks like part of a city, not a national park. That is a pity, in my opinion. Nevertheless the park is marked by astounding beauty particularly in autumn when the forest hills blaze with an unreal palette of colours.
Gatineau Park is beautiful–that is actually a pitiful understatement–but it is much more than that. It is fascinating. The same goes for my favorite lake in the park.
There are more than 50 lakes in Gatineau Park, including Lac Pink, (or Lake Pink as it is more prosaically called in English),which is my favorite. It is one of only 58 known meromictic lakes in North America. A meromictic lake is a lake where the upper and lower layers of the water in it never mix. That seemed very strange to me. Normally a lake’s waters mix all the time especially during spring and autumn when the water density and air temperature distribute nutrients and oxygen throughout the lake, more or less evenly.
The water of Lac Pink doesn’t mix like most lakes because it has a relatively small surface surrounded by steep cliffs that protect it from the wind which would otherwise mix the waters. As a result there is no oxygen in the deepest 7 metres of the lake. The deepest part of the lake has not has not been in contact with the air since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. That amazed me.
The lake is beautiful but it is not pink. It is named after the Pink family which were the first non-indigenous owners of it. The lake is actually green, not pink. The reason it is green, a gorgeous green in fact, is because of the presence of microscopic algae. The beautiful green colour is actually a bad sign. The green algae gradually takes over the oxygen in the lake suffocating the life in it. This is a natural process called “eutrophication” which ordinarily takes thousands of years.
However eutrophication can be affected by human activities. For example, Lake Winnipeg is suffering from it because of runoff from agricultural lands, sewage deposit by the City of Winnipeg as well as other municipalities into the Red River, and other causes.
Because Lac Pink is so popular (I am not the only one who loves is), people have sped up the natural process of eutrophication. At one time eutrophication was happening so fast it was estimated it would be complete within decades rather than a thousand years. As a result the lake has been rehabilitated. Humans caused the problem and now have come to the rescue of the lake. We can be a force for good or ill. The choice is ours. Conservation efforts have included building platforms and a trail to limit damage by erosion. Volunteers have also helped to plant 10,000 small trees.
Since there is no oxygen at the bottom of Lac Pink there is really only one organism that is able to live there without oxygen. This is a a prehistoric anaerobic organism. It is a pink photosynthetic bacterium, which uses sulphur instead of oxygen to transform sunlight into energy. Imagine that. It transforms light into energy even though it does not photosynthesize. This lake is endlessly fascinating.
Higher up in the lake resides the three-spined stickleback fish, a saltwater fish left behind from the Champlain Sea, which used to cover the region. This little saltwater fish adapted to the lake’s gradual desalination and today lives in the lake’s fresh water.
The Champlain Sea was a temporary inlet of the Atlantic Ocean that was created by retreating glaciers just after the last Ice Age. The Champlain Sea once included much of the land that is now part of Quebec and Ontario and even parts of New York and Vermont. The huge continental ice sheet that covered much of North America during the last Ice Age was so heavy that it depressed much of the rock beneath it. When the Ice Age ended the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys were so low that they were actually below sea levels. These areas flooded with sea water when those massive continental ice sheets from around the world melted and raised sea levels substantially, once those ice sheets no longer dammed the oceans back.
Then the land gradually rose as the Ice sheets were removed. This is called isostatic rebound and is still happening to this day all over Canada, including for example, Lake of the Woods where we have a cottage. The Champlain Sea lasted for about 3,000 years from 13,000 to 10,000 years ago. As a result the sea coast gradually retreated to its current location. Of course, since the process of isostatic rebound is not yet complete, those coastlines will continue to change. This process will now also be affected by rising sea levels due to climate change. This area, as so many others around the world, will be in for interesting times, not all of which will be benign.
The remaining glaciers fed the Champlain Sea making it more brackish than typical sea water. It has been estimated that the Champlain Sea was as much as 150 metres (490 ft.) higher than the level of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys today. Scientists are so smart to figure all of this out.
There is much evidence of this former sea including the clay plain deposited along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers that have resulted in such interesting forest types that I travelled through on this trip as well as large wetlands that are home to amazing vegetation, including my favorite, orchids. Other evidence of the sea includes whale fossils and marine shells that have been found near Ottawa and Montreal. There are also fossils of other oceanic fish such as capelin.
This entire notion of an ocean in this area is astonishing. About 11,000 years ago when the land was so low after the Ice sheets were gone from southern Canada, the Atlantic Ocean rushed into the St Lawrence River Valley filling even the area of current Ottawa with ocean water. In other words, a mere 11,000 years ago there would have been bowhead whales and seals swimming above where we were standing today. I am always amazed that much of Manitoba at one time was the bottom of an ocean, but that was 450 million years ago! Comparatively, 11,000 years ago is just a blink of an eye ago.
Nature constantly astounds! Gatineau Park is an example of that.
We drove to Gatineau Park one of my favorite places. The Park is part of the Canadian Shield, a Precambrian rock mass that covers a large part of North America, not all in Canada as the name might suggest. It was created at least one billion years ago. Since it was created, tectonic shifting and massive continental glaciers formed the rolling hills, flatlands, bare rock and steep escarpments visible in the Park today. Within the park, Eardley Escarpment marks the dividing line between the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands.
Because of this transition zone, the park contains an unusual variety of plants. For a plant guy, like me, that makes it heavenly. Literally.
On our way to the park we realized we had made a horrible mistake. We had chosen to drive to the park on Thanksgiving Day. As a result the road in was jammed with cars. I was frankly dismayed. Things looked hopeless until my brother-in-law Norm astutely decided it was time for Plan B. Instead of the main road into the park he would take a back entrance and we would avoid all of the popular places.
Norm’s quick thinking allowed us to avoid the crushing crowds. As a result we missed the famous parts of the park, and instead we headed towards Meech Creek where we stopped to photograph a wonderful covered bridge.
After that we walked along a marvellous trail along an old road that brought us to a wonderful valley forest. It was magnificent. We stopped for a family portrait that I think made even our motely crew look good. I was very proud of that photograph. Included are, from right to left, Norm, Monique, Margot, me, and Christiane. Quite a good team.
Along our journey through the park we saw a Great Blue Heron taking off like a majestic jumbo jet. We also saw a family of wild turkeys. It was a great day in the park, though not what we had expected.
It was a great day in the park, thanks to quick thinking by Norm.
Ottawa is a pretty nice city. Of course it helps that people like you (Canadian taxpayers) pump so much money into it. Even Gatineau Park is funded by the National Capital Commission. The government thinks Canadians want to have a nice capital region and are willing to pay for it.
Of course maple leaves come cheap and I can never resist them. Even in the city maple leaves are special.
I wonder why more people don’t visit Ottawa to get some personal benefits out of the city and region.
This photo was taken from the front of the National Gallery underneath Maman a bronze stainless steel and marble sculpture created by the Louise Bourgeois. Maman is a spider 30 ft. wide and includes a sac containing 32 marble eggs hence the name which means mother in French. I attended a wedding at the church when a young lawyer from our office in Steinbach got married there. You pick your own interpretation of the church, flag and spider in the photo.
I think the Parliament buildings on the imposing bluff overlooking the Ottawa River are as impressive as any in the world. Currently they are undergoing more expensive renovations. I’m sure the Canadian taxpayers will be happy to pay.
It seems weird but I met my sister Barb and brother-in-law Harv in Ottawa. They live in Steinbach but were also in Ottawa when we were. They invited us to join them on a birding outing not far from where they were staying. This is a picture of Barb’s hand with a chickadee that arrived to eat seeds from her hand. That is my kind of birding.
This is a close-up of a chickadee.
This is a white-breasted nuthatch.
This is an impressionistic photograph of the maple leaves along the Mud Lake Trail where we walked.
The male Wood Duck is one of the most beautiful birds in North America.
Squirrels were also plentiful and fought over seeds left for them.
My brother-in-law Norm took Chris and I together with his partner Monique and their daughter Margo to Mosaïculture. This is an international horticultural event being shown for the second year in Gatineau Quebec. The display contains 45 larger-than-life plant sculptures on a stunning 1km loop on the banks of the Ottawa River overlooking the Parliament buildings on the Ontario side. The exhibit uses 5.5 million plants as part of 45 sculptures.
Mosaïculture is upping the floral ante. Last year’s run saw three million plants, while this year, more than 5.5 million will sprout across the park. The number of plant-based sculptures has also grown to 45 from 33.
The astounding artistic display weds nature, culture, and horticulture in which the plants are designed a sculpted to appear like objects of art. For example they display a lobster fisherman, 3 ships from France, Bill Reid’s famous killer shale, snowy owls, polar bear, a howling wolf, bison, voyageurs, Glenn Gould’s piano, the 1972 hockey summit, Wisakedjakand the creation of the world through indigenous religion, the raven and the moon masks by a Haida artist, and many others.
To me the most interesting sculpture was of Mother Earth as described in North American indigenous belief systems together with the legend of Aataentsic who is really the same being portrayed as Gaia in Greek mythology, Terra Mater in Roman myth, and Mahimata in Hindu beliefs, Pachamama among South American indigenous peoples, among others. It is really the same idea expressed by different cultures. The sculpture of Mother Earth was inspired by the speech that Chief Seattle gave when he met American President Pierce and it captures the fundamental belief of many North American indigenous people that we are all part of the earth and inseparable from it. If this is true, as they, and I too for that matter, then it has profound importance for our relationship with nature and our environmental obligations which take on a spiritual impulse.
Tree of Birds
There was another outstanding creation: the Tree of Birds which featured 56 endangered avian species from around the world. Chris and I were photographed in front of this sculpture.