My latest trip was up to Oxtongue Lake, visiting Jenny McGuire at her resort White Birches and taking in the Oxtongue Lake Group of Seven Artists' Day Festival. Seven local artists, including painters, photographers, and sculptors, showed their work at the local community centre, newly decorated with a large scale version of A J Casson's painting "Oxtongue River." Casson's daughter, Margaret Hall, graciously opened the exhibition and I was thrilled to present her with my photo of Mazinaw Rock, the subject of one of her father's most beautiful paintings. Mrs Hall was really pleased and surprised to have it, and told me she has very happy memories of visiting the rock with her father while he painted. If you stay at White Birches, be sure to ask for one of the cabins with my work over the fireplace!
During the weekend, the Haliburton Hikes walking tour stopped outside our cabin at White Birches so that hikers could admire the location of another of Casson's paintings, showing the view from our beach. Equipped with an iPad to display the image and an umbrella to keep off the torrential rain, the guide shared lots of great info about the Group of Seven in the Oxtongue area. They're hoping to expand this into a website and series of bronze plaques.
A drive across Highway 60, which bisects southern Algonquin Park, was absolutely beautiful. If you go, it's best to choose a weekday because the weekends can be incredibly busy: Algonquin Park's West Gate took on nine extra staff for the peak colour weekend alone.
The sugar maples were turning neon red, driven by the need to store nutrients in their root systems. Unlike the yellows of the birches and other deciduous trees, which occur as the chlorophyll in the leaves recedes into the roots for the winter, the maples produce pigments called anthocyanins. Montana State University Professor Bill Hoch discovered that these pigments are produced to protect the leaves from the sun, allowing the leaves time to deposit the chlorophyll in their roots without damage. Trees with red leaves are the latecomers to the deciduous forest, more susceptible to sun damage than the "pioneer" trees whose leaves turn yellow.
The Friends of Algonquin Park have carefully compiled statistics of the park's trees' colour saturation and now produce a chart of the "Peak" of the fall colours. Of course, this can be destroyed by one good blast of polar wind or the gales of November come early, butit's a good guide. Check out the website.
The sugar maples in Algonquin Park that grow tall are the lucky ones. Every year, millions of maple keys are deposited in the forest floor, springing into thousands of tiny saplings. The survival rate is dramatically low: only the ones fortunate enough to grow in a patch of sunlight left by a toppled older tree will survive.
Ontario has four discrete bands of forest: the Hudson Bay lowlands; the boreal forest of Northern Ontario; the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest in south and central Ontario; and the small deciduous forest located between the south shore of Lake Huron and the north shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Algonquin Park, Canada's oldest provincial park, is found in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. This area is the most diverse in its flora and fauna, and home to a large number of species of old and young trees. But, this diversity is threatened by invasive species of insects, in the same way that the biodiversity of the Great Lakes fish population is threatened by invasive species. The Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Longhorn Beetle damage and kill native trees. For this reason, you must not transport firewood from one county to another. Anglers, this goes for ballast water as well. Drain it before you move your boat.
And, during hunting season, be careful what you wear when strolling through the forest: avoid white or camouflage. DayGlo orange could save your life, and making a lot of noise could save a deer's life. Sorry, Mum!