Charming Encounters at Algonquin Provincial Park

Kelly Dodge - AFC
April 26, 2011 share
Artists for Conservation

Algonquin Provincial Park is one of my favourite places to visit. Fortunately it is only a couple hours drive from my home, so I can go often. Spring, summer, autumn or winter, each season has a flavour of its own. Of the many impressive residents that inhabit the park, ranging from magnificent moose, wolves, black bears and beavers the one that charms and captivates me the most is of course feathered.

While on an outing to Algonquin several years ago, I experienced the first of many treasured encounters. I noticed what appeared to be a flash of white. Pulling over I observed two Gray Jays high in a spruce. Grabbing a handful of peanuts, I hopped out of the car and much to my delight the two inquisitive birds approached without hesitation. From the first moment they bounced across my hand I was mesmerized.

While the enchanting pair took turns coming for treats, I had ample time to appreciate their exquisite beauty. They gazed innocently up into my face with soft brown eyes framed perfectly by silky gray feathers. Peeking out from beneath their soft plumage, brightly coloured bands encircled their tiny legs, evidence that I was not the first human they had come in contact with.

By putting combinations of coloured bands on different Gray Jays, researchers can recognize individual birds and gain valuable information about their habits. Later that day, I contacted retired Chief Park Naturalist and Gray Jay expert Dan Strickland to report the band colours and the time and location of my sighting. In doing so, I was able to contribute to the ongoing study of Algonquin Park Gray Jays. The individuals that I interacted with turned out to be a 7-year old male, banded as a nestling on Opeongo road and his 11-year old mate. All in all it was both an educational and intimate occasion, the kind of experience that I thrive on as an artist and nature lover.

In my experience, Algonquin Park is about both intimacy and majesty. I feel inspired to really look. Look up! Look down! Look around! The beauty and diversity of the park demands it. Whether one is examining a weathered rock or a delicate feather, the most minute objects are worthy of our observation and respect.

Other aspects are appreciated for their grandeur, the majestic moose, the towering pines and beyond to the starry-heavens. The beauty of the kingdom of nature can speak to our very souls if we let it. The tranquility that such scenes inspire - at a time when it seems even more elusive in our lives - is what leads us to pursue and relish them. So often day-to-day living demands that we race through life without really seeing. Algonquin Park is one place where we can be reminded of the importance of our co-existence with and stewardship of nature.

My art is continually challenged, exercised and improved as I contemplate creation. For me, art is not about imitating nature, rather it is about going beyond accurately recording details in order to inspire others to see and behold creation. The natural world is waiting for us with rich reward and joy as we observe, understand and care for it. My paintings are a reflection of the need to express that joy and to ultimately share it with others. Whether it is a painting inspired by a cheerful encounter with a Gray Jay or a peaceful evening with the moon and stars, I hope it will inspire us to not only look around but to look within and to heed what creation is saying to us.

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