Inspiration for the spaces between

My recollection of August in Ontario is of a landscape weary of the summer’s heat and sun, but desperate to hold on rather than giving in to the autumn that is just around the corner. I remember the seed heads of ochre grass bobbing against my thighs as they launched grasshoppers whose wings flashed briefly before being lost amongst the stalks further down the path. The brooks and creeks, exhausted from the exuberance of spring and no longer able to keep up appearances slowed to a drowsy trickle, barely enough for one last swim. I recall some trees giving up and going straight to their fall colours before Thanksgiving was a remote consideration.

I moved away from Ontario when Kodak was still blissfully unaware that they had invented their own undoing. Nobody, least of all an impoverished student like me, would have thought of expending film on random photos of the countryside. The delicate and expensive SLR was brought out only if there was a worthy subject to photograph.

The result is that I have some photos of details, but few of the spaces between those details, where realism resides. There is a real danger in basing my modelling on memories alone. Living as I do in a temperate rain forest, my natural tendency is toward exuberantly lush scenery. Alternatively, I might overcompensate with unwarranted desertification.

So it was with keen anticipation and a ready camera that we crossed Renfrew county four times (no stuffed animal left behind) in this summer’s cross-Canada road trip. I was on the lookout for specific scenes that I would like to include, and also to renew my sense of the place.

This August’s Ontario was much greener than I expected. Moreover, the verges were awash with clover, Queen Anne’s lace, chicory (?), purple loosestrife (a recent invader), milkweed, yellow avens (?), and above all, goldenrod. The overall effect, though was of green fringed with yellow and sometimes white. Sumac flowers were spent and brown, but the leaves had not begun to turn yet. The woods were a healthy mixture of conifers and deciduous trees.

One day, we will get to scenery on Pembroke, and the fleeting images shot out the car window on this summer’s trip will be invaluable.


6 thoughts on “Inspiration for the spaces between

  1. good investment of time – especially on vacation. I find around every July 1st I want to get out with the camera and record the scene for the same purpose. I fret (a tiny bit) about global climate change putting the grass too high or too yellow in 2018 to suit how things looked in 1946, so starting taking pictures a bit early. My modules are designed to view looking south, so in anticipation of June I look for similar landforms and textures that I can photograph looking south – hoping the growth and the light will aid in colour selection etc. Its amazing how looking with a modeller’s eye multiplies what you see!

    1. Hi Rob, You make a great point about being aware that the landscape we record in 2018 is different from that of our historical eras. In my case, it’s not only climate change, but also the effect of extinctions (or at least extirpation), invasions and differences in construction and maintenance technologies. For example, Elm trees were much more common in Ontario in 1905 because Dutch elm disease was not introduced until 1928. On the other hand, weeping willow trees would not appear in Pembroke in 1905, except perhaps in a fancy garden, and purple loosestrife had not worked its way this far north until at least the 1930s; they are both prominent today (especially the flower!). When it comes to construction technology, directed charges weren’t around until at least world war 2, so those long drill marks in cuttings wouldn’t be around (not that Pembroke has any deep cuttings). Finally, I believe they would have controlled weeds either by hand or with controlled burns rather than with pesticides, and this would have an impact on the height and location of foliage. There is a deep and interesting rabbit hole of research when you start inquiring about the details of almost anything!

  2. I just read this post today and it comes at a good time. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the approach to modeling the landscape.


  3. Really intesreting post René. I was putting some order in my Clermont pictures yesterday and came to the same conclusion. Both in 1998 and 2014 I visited Clermont yard, about the same amount of time (about 1 hour) and I walked down exactly the same track. In 1998, I had a small old school camera with less than 10 pictures available. In 2014, I had a numeric camera. 1998 pictures are mainly about railcars and I took no picture of the yard, its scenery, vegetation, track or ballast. In 2014, I shot well over 150 pictures… and about 10 of them were about rail equipment. Everything else was general view, woods, grass, gravel, rust patterns, textures, colors, ambiance. To be fair, I believe we have trained ourselves to look beyond the obvious. But without the technology shift, it would have been quite hard to implement to this extent.

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