The Old Sentinel

The Old Sentinel had seen many changes in his day, but when he heard our webmaster suggest that I name the painting The Old Sentinel, his joy knew no bounds.

“Well, now,” he said in his deep, raspy voice, “I’ve been watching you pretty closely as you’ve mixed paints and changed this and changed that.  I could tell you loved to sit on the rock now and then and view pretty Norris Point.  For a while, I was sure you would title this Norris Point Overlook.

Then I watched you bring the bake apple blossoms to life.  I knew you loved them, and that you were trying to find out if they had a fragrance of their own.

Right from the beginning, I understood that the old pines and aspens meant a lot to you, too.

I overheard you say that you still have some touching up to do on the painting as a whole, but that you had settled on its title.  I don’t rightly know how to say this, Ms.,” stammered The Old Sentinel, as a tear or two fell onto the tiny vines in his ‘pouch,’ “but, well, calling your painting The Old Sentinel is, well, oh my, I just can’t express my joy!!”


The Bounty of the Bumpy Bake Apple

“Why, I do declare!” cried the old sentinel, as he surveyed with admiration the patch of bake apple blossoms (or cloud apples) that burst into bloom right across from him.

“They may be short-stemmed beauties now, but once their stamens turn into bumpy, orange berries, the bed and breakfast hostesses will be trotting down this path to pick them!”

The Guardian of the Path spoke up.  “They take such pride in serving their guests bake apple jam for their homemade breads and waffles.  To hear them talk, you would think this was the only place on the face of the earth where they grow.”

“Oh, I know,” said Ms. Aspen.  “We wouldn’t want to deflate those good ladies for all the tea in China, but the truth is, bake apples grow in England, Scotland, the Nordic countries, Europe, southeast Asia, northern Russia, parts of Germany, Alaska, northern Minnesota, New Hampshire and Maine.”  She was almost out of breath, rhyming off the names of all the countries where bake apples are found.

Mar.23-13-1024“Our B&B hostesses have every right to be proud of the bake apples.  I’ll vouch for that,” said the old sentinel.  “Why, they’re so rich in Vitamin C that they can protect a body against scurvy.  Some brew a tea from the leaves to help cure infections of the urinary tract.”

“And some make wine from the bake apples,” added Ms. Aspen, “and some make a special syrup that they serve warm over ice cream!”

I was thoroughly impressed by this time, and put down my brush.

“May I ask you something?  When my husband and I were here a few years ago, we were trying to cram in as much sightseeing as possible, clicking pictures of this and that, and hurrying from here to there.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I never stopped to pick a bake apple blossom!  Tell me, are their blossoms fragrant?”

For once, none of the trees had an answer.  Not one.  Perhaps you can help me out, as I am very curious about this.  Do send me an email.

Who Will Host a Robin’s Nest?

I did some heavy lifting this week.  The boulder perch had to be moved further down the path.  Now, that took some doing, and I’m still huffing and puffing.  The Guardian of the Path was put out at first, but I assured him that the perch was still within ear shot.  He would still be able to eavesdrop on any conversations of the folks who rested on the rock.

As I began to wash in the bake apple blossoms, all of the trees brightened up, even the old sentinel.  How they loved the arrival of the bake apples.  Bake apples meant that spring was here, their favourite season of the whole year!

And do you know what they began arguing about?  Which one of them would host a robin’s nest!

Ms. Aspen and the Guardian of the Path declared rather nastily that they had never heard of a robin nesting in a pine tree, which seemed to make them feel all the more important.

From the background, the spruce trees piped up:

“Never mind the robins.  It’s the mourning doves who will nest in our cradles.  You just wait and see.”

Then the old sentinel cleared his throat and declared in his deep bass voice:

“One year I played host to the cutest family of baby coons in the whole of Newfoundland!  As soon as the moon came up, their shenanigans began.  Why, I hardly got any sleep at all that spring.”


“Tidy Town” Winner

I’m not sure how long I sat on the rock perch enjoying the peaceful waters of Bonne Bay and the picturesque settlement of Norris Point.  The weathered sentinel across from me seemed to read my very thoughts.

“Don’t mind me, ma’am, but you’re probably wanting to know a little of the history of Norris Point.”

“Why, yes,” I stammered in amazement.

“Well, I was here long before any living soul ever set foot down there.  It was named after Neddy Norris, who came to the area with his wife and children around 1789.  I was sure disappointed that those good folks didn’t stay.

Back then, I was in my prime, yes, Sir, and literally clapped my long boughs together with joy when William and Charlotte Humber from Dorset, England, settled here in 1833!  Pretty brave folks they were.  No other families joined them for twenty-five long years.  Imagine that!  How I loved to see the blue smoke curl up from the chimney of their log cabin.  Kind of took the lonesomeness off somehow.

In the spring of 1858, a fishing vessel was caught in a storm, and its occupants sought shelter in the area, and soon built their log cabins at Norris Point.  Things started to hum around here!

Say, did anyone inform you that Norris Point was actually a Tidy Town winner in 2005 for its clean and well maintained properties and streets?”

Before I could tell the sentinel that I had read that in a tourist brochure somewhere, he hurried on.

“I’m getting ahead of my story.  I’m sure you’ll believe me, though, that it’s hard for folks to live anywhere else once they’ve been to Norris Point.”

I nodded in agreement.

“Well, other folks came from England, Ireland and Scotland, mainly because of the fall herring fishery and lobster catch.  Like the others, they found Bonne Bay to be a dandy place from which to fish the coastal waters of Labrador. Fur trapping also gave them a bit  more income.

A trading post had been built here around 1800 by Joseph Bird, an English merchant. Later, fur trading became pretty important at the post. The local families would exchange fish and fur for supplies, foodstuffs and clothing.  Why, Norris Point’s trading post became so popular that labourers, servants and apprentices were brought over from southwestern England during the summer to support it.  Mind you, their accents were so thick that I could hardly understand a word they said!

Anyway, in the early 1900s, a ferry service was set up, and the population in 1921 had risen to 372.  Around that time, residents also began fishing for cod and salmon.  Oh, these waters around here are rich, let me tell you!

By 2001, the population of Norris Point reached almost 800.

By the way, you mustn’t forget to stop at Neddies Harbour Inn whenever you get a hankering for some top-notch dining.  You know, I’m glad to see the inn people had the good sense to preserve the name of Norris Point’s original discoverers, even if they haven’t spelled it exactly right.

Oh dear. I’ve been talking your ear off.”

“Not at all.  I can’t thank you enough for sharing all that you’ve seen over the years.

“Our whole conversation came about with me guessing what you were wondering about, now didn’t it?  Bet you can’t guess what I’ve been wondering about,” declared the handsome old sentinel.

“No, not in a hundred years,” I replied.

“It’s none of my business, but what are you going to call this painting when you get it finished?”

Springtime in Gros Morne,” I replied.

“I like that title, yes, I do.” .

“Thank you!  It will look more springish when I get the bake apples painted in around the rock, and along the edge of the path.”

Mar.9-13-1024“More power to ye,” said the sentinel, with a bit of a creak.  “You know, I’ve never had my portrait painted before.  It makes me right proud that after more than 200 years, someone thinks I’m still beautiful . . . holes and cracks and all!”


I Intend to Eavesdrop!

“Now, that’s what I call a right good perch,” said Ms. Guardian of the Path.  “I’ll enjoy having folks sit near me as they view Norris Point.  I must say, it feels mighty fine to see that one of my suggestions was taken seriously, and that you changed the rock into a perch.”

Before I could thank her again for having made that suggestion, she rattled on:

“And I don’t mind telling you that I intend to eavesdrop!  Why, I might even find out where people are from!  It’s amazing what comes out when folks have a chance to get off their feet and rest.  I know that a lot of Canadians haven’t been to visit Newfoundland.  Maybe your painting will change that when they see how beautiful our island really is.”

“I do hope so,” I replied.  “Somehow all the talk of ‘The Rock’ made a negative impression on me.  I’m so glad my husband and I came to Newfoundland and saw its beauty for ourselves.  Five days wasn’t half enough time, though.”

Mar.2-13-1024Ms. Guardian of the Path was in such a pleasant frame of mind that she didn’t even notice that the tracery of her finery hadn’t been added to the path yet.  Whew!  I think I’ll just sit on the perch awhile myself.

We Need a Perch Around Here

Things have been pretty quiet in the studio, but I did hear the twin aspens on the right call over to Ms. Aspen to thank her for expediting the arrival of their “clothes.”  She acknowledged them with little more than a sniff.  I thought she could have been more pleasant.

In the distance below, some houses appeared on the coastline of Norris Point.  Don’t some folks have an idyllic place to live?

I was working on the lichen-crusted trunk of the largest tree, when it spoke up.  I nearly dropped my brush!

“If you don’t mind me saying so, we need a perch around here.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“We need a perch around here, I say.  Why don’t you flatten the top of that big rock so folks can sit a spell and enjoy the view?  It would do them a world of good.”

“That’s a capital idea!  I’ll get right on that next week.”

“And another thing, where is all the ‘tracery’ you talked about earlier?  Anybody knows that a significant tree like me casts shadows.”

“Hold on, buddy.  I can’t do everything at once.”

“And what’s all this talk I heard you and Mr. McDonald doing today?  You were saying something about putting me on e-Bay?  Now, don’t get any ideas in your head of yanking me out like you did Ms. Aspen.  I like it here by this bay . . . the Norris Point bay.”

“Not to worry, Ms. Guardian of the Path.  You’re in just the right spot!  But thanks for your idea of the perch.”


Get a Move on, Do!

Have you ever wished you could move a full-grown tree to a better spot in some particular setting?  Well, I just did!

With my own bare hands, I dragged the aspen tree at least 25’ straight ahead and planted it!  Yes, Sir, that’s a fact!  Ms. Aspen put up quite a fuss when she found out what I was planning to do, but when I told her she would be closer to her kin across the path, she waved a branch, which I took to mean, “Well, if you must.

As I started the excavation work, Ms. Aspen implored:  “Now, don’t be clumsy.  I’ve just donned my spring frock, as you very well know, and I intend to look my best the whole season long.  None of this modern ripped-out-at-the-knee style for me, or broken off twigs like some shaggy hair cuts I see.  I won’t have it, I tell you.”

I assured her that I would be as careful with her as I was with my very first dollie.  That seemed to settle her down.

After placing Ms. Aspen in her new location, and tamping the earth firmly around her, I gave her a refreshing drink of water.  She felt more like herself, and smoothed out her petticoats before she squinted at her cousins  across the path.

“Oh, no!” she gasped.  “My cousins look worse than manikins in a store front! Get a move on, do!  Quick!  Put some “clothes” on them before somebody comes down this path.  I don’t see why you dawdled around painting that rock and the spruce trees.  How on earth could you be so thoughtless?”


Not Such a Bad Old Soul

Ms. Aspen wasn’t such a bad old soul, you know.  There aren’t enough of her kind who will risk offending you by telling you the truth.

Why, after her brusque speeches, I even got to liking the old spinster a bit.

Feb.11-13-1024See the outline of tree trunks on the right side of the painting?  You’ve guessed it!  There will be more of her worthy clan—-aspens—-by the next time you check out this blog.

Folks Ought To See It!

The old spinster, Ms. Aspen Tree, shoved what would have been the middle pine tree right off the canvas!

Swipe.  Dab-dab.  Dab-dab.  It’s gone, just like that!  Oh my.  When Ms. Aspen comes along, tapping that old cane of hers, you don’t argue.  No, Sir.

But she wasn’t through with me yet.

“These hills have more than pine trees on them,” she croaked.  “It’s only fittin’ that I should represent the worthy aspens of Gros Morne, even if I am bow-legged.”

“All right.  All right,” I said.  “You’ve got a point.”

“You bet I’ve got a point,” she continued.  “Why don’t you leave the boat ride for another day?  Can’t you see that folks are all loaded down with their fancy cameras? There’s no prettier place around these parts than at Norris Point.  Folks ought to see it!  They really should!

Feb.2-13-1024She squinted her eyes, looked me up and down, with one hand on her hip, and asked, “Now, tell me.  How come you didn’t think of that, Mrs. McDonald?”

You’ve No Idea

The two pines on the left had to be reminded that they won’t be left too long looking like dead trees.  Once their branches are dry, they will get their scented tufts back.  Always proud of their lofty appearance, they seemed to begrudge the time I was spending, giving the leaning pine its coiffure.  I could just feel it!  You’ve no idea what I have to contend with in this studio.

Have you ever tried consoling a couple of pine trees?  Let me tell you, it’s no easy matter.

The deciduous tree on the right is truly a very patient, selfless  species.  He tried to get the pines to look on the bright side.

Jan.26-13-cropped “Take heart, noble pines!” he called out.  “At least you have the warmth of the sun on your trunks.”

The pines were rude, and didn’t even acknowledge his kind words, but he paid no heed to them, as he had something more to say:

“I can’t wait to get my ‘hair’ done.  When my ‘wig’ is put on, it will make the loveliest tracery of shadows on the path.  Just you wait and see.”

Patience Is A Virtue

The pathway has been nattering away that it was sick and tired of going straight!  It was bored, and wanted to curve to the left . . . so I finally gave in.

At least the tabletop mountains in the background are content, as they’ve  been clothed in their greenery of aspen, tamarack and spruce.

Next week I’ll give the sticks, the “hope-to-be-trees,” their branches and leaves.  The old pine will have to be patient, and reign in its ego.  The wash is all it’s getting until its neighbours look a little more respectable.

Jan. 19-13-1024The mileage sign is yattering, too, but I’m not paying the least bit of attention.  If I’ve told it once I’ve told it a hundred times . . .it’s not going to be put in place until the area is treed.  By the time the tourists have hobbled this far, they’re probably pretty fagged out, but it’s not my fault.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and this painting won’t be either.   They’ll just have to keep guessing how far it is to the boat, that’s all.

Scraggy pine, last to be washed in

The ancient sentinel on the right has moved a few times since the last blog. 

The height of what will be rocks in the left foreground, where the bake apples are blooming, has been shortened.  Such modifications are dictated as we eat lunch on the sofa, with the fledgling painting propped up across the room so I can study its composition.  

Once I get the scraggy top of the old pine washed in, then I’ll start adding other trees and shrubs on both sides of the path.

Watch for the wooden marker, telling how far along we are on this 3-kilometre trek to the boat.  We’ve got to keep trudging along! 

Bake Apples

In the foreground, I’m sketching the much loved BAKE APPLES that appear in spring along the byways of Newfoundland. Our B&B hostess served us her own deee-licious bake apple preserves!  Each plant bears one raspberry-like fruit, orange in colour.  It takes patience and a lot of bending over to pick enough fruit for a batch of jam.

A 45-minute walk along this path brings you to the boat which tours the spectacular Western Brook Pond fjords.  Or at least that’s the time set out in the travel brochures.  Lloyd put his back out handling our luggage the night before, so we were hobbling along at a snail’s pace, worrying that the boat would leave without us.

I’m looking forward to getting the oils out tomorrow, and doing an initial light wash to get the painting underway.

Come Along!

The new year opens with its fresh page of opportunity, perhaps many pages, perhaps 365!

In the studio, I’ll be taking you down a gravel path in Newfoundland.  Watch for the sketch!  It’s a 3-kilometre trek, so put on a good pair of walking shoes, and come along!

A Final Adieu

Today my husband and I bid adieu to the original oil-on-canvas painting of Big Ben.  He is on his way via FedEx to a collector’s home in the State of Delaware, where he will be joining the other three horses in this set.

Big Ben was to begin his journey earlier, but Superstorm Sandy called for a change of
plans.   You may check out his portrait on

           Statue of Big Ben by the Tay River in Perth, Ontario

Golden Reflections

Watch for the upcoming posting on of my latest watercolour, Golden Reflections.

Yellow David Austin roses with fiery hearts surround a stone bird bath in our front garden—-some blossoms are reflected in the water!  I believe you, too, will feel that the painting has old-world charm!

The original is 24” x 18” and prints will be available in that size as well as 12” x 9”.

Colour the ABCs

Returning to Canada in 1984 after eleven years on Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands, I sketched drawings depicting the plants, animals, birds, trees, houses, and children, and had a colouring book published, with captions in the local language of Papiamentu, Dutch, and English.

When John and Joanna were on Bonaire this summer, they took some copies of the colouring book into a bookstore to see if they would be interested in selling them.  The owner was enthusiastic, and has given me a contract for the artwork.  He has undertaken to publish Colour the ABCs on the island, add Spanish as a fourth language, and market the books in the Dutch islands.

From John and Joanna’s photographs, I found a few corrections should be made—-an incorrect bottom fin on the queen angel fish, the iguana’s chin needed a waddle, and the thorn branch was misnamed.  I set to work to correct those pages.  John shared the artwork files on Google Drive (the cloud) with the bookstore owner.

Stay tuned for further developments!  I’ll let you know when Colour the ABCs will be available directly from the bookstore on Bonaire.

                                  Queen Angel Fish


Watch an Octopus Gliding along

“The ocean is calling,” wrote John as he dictated his latest underwater adventures.  I could hear the waves lapping the shore as he did so, and the occasional cry of the gull.

Expand your octopus sea smarts with John’s latest 2-minute video.

Can you spot the flounder in the sand?

The parrot fish sleeping in a bubble is the beautiful blue-green fish with some pinkish fins.  By the way, they chew the coral and produce sand!

– – – – – –

Back to our studio now.  “Golden Reflections” has been sketched.  Fragile petals in vibrant watercolours will soon be brushed into life, contrasted against the stone bird bath.

Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands

Our son, John, is donating his seven weeks of vacation to Trans World Radio Bonaire as a volunteer missionary, helping them with computer projects (July 30-Sept. 15).

 After three different flights, with a window seat falling into his lap on each leg of the journey, he arrived at nightfall (that’s 7:00 p.m. year-round there). 

Lloyd and I served with TWR Bonaire from 1973-1984.  Our three children were educated totally in the Dutch language, becoming bilingual.

As you will read from John’s first blog from the island, the TWR guest house he is being housed in is just a four-minute walk from a great resort catering to scuba divers (John is an avid one). 

How’s that for icing on the cake?        

Enjoy John’s informative blogs: