Mountain retreat
Robert Genn

June 15, 2010

Dear Rodney,I'm laptopping you from an ancient log cabin on Edith Lake near Jasper, Alberta. 
The southern view across our mountain-shrouded lake is dominated by Mt. Edith 
Cavell, one of the highest in the Canadian Rockies. Deer, caribou and an occasional 
black bear forage in open spots in the pine and aspen forests. This time of year 
and this far north the days are long. For the past week my daughter, Sara, and I 
have been paying scant attention to the outside world. In this wilderness, we have 
been granted extra time, extra silence, extra peace.

Paintings can happen at any time--before breakfast at the cabin door or in the 
evening a hundred yards along the lake's edge. This place is positively 
contemplative--one works to a measured muse.

A great deal of painting is noticing the occasional things that you do right. Time 
and contemplation allows this. Lucky happenstance can be expanded upon in the next 
painting or savoured in the present. In my case, early areas of casual impasto 
patiently await modification by glazing. "Take it easy," and "take your time" hang 
easily in the alpenglow and the cool mountain air. 

It's not so much that the great ideas and motifs are at hand, which they are, but 
that present feelings are also here when you need them. Whispering treetops, a 
flashing hummingbird, a loon-ripple on the lake confirms the findings of many 
outdoor painters--plein air is an event.

With Zen-like indulgence, the practitioner calms out and lives within the easel. 
Strokes disclose themselves and give clues to the next disclosure. Self-study and 
self-evaluation contribute to the flow. Picking up and putting down aids in the 
process--recent, half-finished sketches dry by the fire or in the sunlight. I limit 
myself to several small sizes and pop them on and off. Stymied at times, it's best 
to leave some of them alone to simply solve their own problems. It's amazing what 
a little time can do.

Then there's crit time. In the evening we set our paintings by the fire. Hot 
chocolate aids in the assessment. Faults not seen on the easel are spotted now, 
and some items begin to look better than they did before. Always, always, there is 
sleep--as Shakespeare wrote, "Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care." 
And always there is the knowledge we will begin again tomorrow. Perhaps tomorrow's 
paintings will be better.

Best regards,


PS: "If you are looking down while you are walking, it is better to walk uphill 
because the ground is nearer." (Gertrude Stein)

Esoterica: In 1908, Agnes Laut, author of the wildly successful novel "Lords of the 
North" conceived an artist/writer colony alongside Edith Lake. Parks Canada 
granted limited leases to Agnes and her friends, and by 1923, when this cabin was 
built, a half dozen well-spaced ones were along here. Volumes of creative folks 
never materialized, and Laut, who died in 1936, never saw her dream fulfilled. 
Today, third and fourth generation leaseholders inhale their privacy, walk their 
energetic hounds and discuss the whereabouts of the resident elk.