Category Archives: Travel

Rock Art

November 12th, 2018 | 16 Comments »

Cave paintings on the island of Borneo showing animals and human hands have recently been dated back some 40,000 years, making them the oldest known example of figurative rock art in the world. (Details of the story can be found in various articles, including one here from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.)

Think for a moment about how long ago that is. Forty thousand years. It takes my breath away.

I’ve been fascinated by rock art for many years and have been fortunate to see examples in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Chile and Peru. While the particulars of the paintings differ from country to country, the underlying impulse seems to be the same: a need  to put a human mark on the world we live in.

 

For rock art to survive over the centuries, it needs to be located in caves of other sheltered places like this overhang in Australia.
For rock art to survive over the centuries, it needs to be located in caves or other sheltered places like this overhang.

 

In Australia, aboriginal art of all kinds is an expression of cultural identity and connection to country. The act of painting is generally more important than the painting itself, so older rock paintings are often covered by more recent ones.

 

Various
Various human or spirit-like figures overlap different types of fish in this painting from Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory. Kakadu is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

Scientists have established a chronology of paintings showing how they have changed over millennia. Stylistic differences in Kakadu reflect changes as the climate warmed after the Ice Age, gradually producing the shrubland typical of arid Australia today.

 

Animals and humans mix in this painting from Kakadu.
Animals that are now extinct are shown in some paintings and humans are often depicted as simple stick figures.

 

As the environment became more productive and more food resources were available, aboriginal populations and cultural diversity increased, resulting in a wider variety of painting styles.

 

This painting shows various human or spirit figures along with a female figure who seems to be giving birth to the others.

 

Paintings of animals and other food stuffs that populations depended on are found in rock art in every country where I’ve seen it. The paintings may document what existed at the time or may be a way to increase animal abundance, ensuring successful hunts.

 

This painting is from a remote site in Peru.
This painting from a remote site in Peru shows a man with a shield and the animal he may be hunting. To me it looks like  a llama.

 

Fish were an important source of food in Australia’s Northern Territory, and paintings that date back 20,000 years or more show the variety that existed.

 

Different types of fish are shown in this art from the Kimberley, in Austalia.
This painting was made with a reddish iron oxide called haematite. It lasts longer than other pigments used for Australian rock art, which is why the majority of old paintings seen today are red.

 

Paintings depicted important events as well as sources of nourishment. In South Africa, hidden in a crevice in the earth, a painting showed a procession of women along with one young girl. An initiation rite? Quite possibly.

 

This painting was in a sheltered crevice in a farmer's field north of Capetown.
This painting was in a farmer’s field near Clanwilliam, about three hours northwest of Capetown, South Africa.

 

More recent events are also shown.  Sailing ships, men dressed in European clothes, a simple Dutch-style pipe and a man on horseback attest  to the arrival of Europeans in Australia and elsewhere.  What could be a train is scratched into a stone wall in the Atacama desert in Chile.

 

From Atacama desert in Chile
Note the wheel at the bottom left of the train and the ladder-like tracks underneath. The animals may be running away.

 

Regardless of their artistic merit, these paintings draw me in emotionally in powerful ways. Whether depicting illness …

 

The bones of this person are swollen by Miyamiya, a sickness contracted by disturbing sacred rocks in a nearby river.
The bones of this person are swollen by Miyamiya, a sickness contracted by disturbing sacred rocks in a nearby river.

 

… or chronicling the dreams that underpin aboriginal relations with the land …

 

The Lightning Man
This skeleton figure is Namarrgon, the Lightning Man, a creation ancestor of the Bininj/Mungguy. They continue to tell their stories through painting done now mostly on bark, paper and canvas.

 

… the rock paintings are compelling. The images are both realistic and suggestive. They take into account the uneven surfaces of rocks and pay little or no attention to orientation based on western principles. Whether shown up or down, the power and the authenticity are the same.

 

 

A man is shown upside down in a cave in the Kimberley district of Australia.
This spirit figure is from an overhang in the Kimberley district of Australia. Through western eyes I see a horseshoe and a halo or arms held overhead.

 

One element is common to rock art in all the countries where I’ve seen it. Hand prints.

 

untitled (21 of 23)
A simple stick figure is surrounded by hand stencils. I don’t know if the spacing is significant but the hands seem to be holding the figure in place, almost embracing it.

 

However presented, hand marks attest to a human presence and to a need to make that presence visible.

 

Finger dots instead of hand stencils are found in some rock art sites in South Africa, including this one near Clanwilliam.
Finger dots instead of hand stencils are found in some rock art sites in South Africa, including this one near Clanwilliam.

 

Forty thousand years ago, humans around the world were marking their place in the world. Cave paintings in Europe, France and Spain in particular, date from roughly the same period as the recently dated paintings in Borneo, give or take several thousands of years. The fact that these paintings have existed in so many places for so long underlines how important it is, and has always been, for us to depict our surroundings and the way we live.

 

untitled (20 of 23)
The outline of hands was made by blowing pigment through a reed or similar instrument.

 

We continue to do this, too often in ways that are neither artistically nor environmentally positive. Perhaps we should pay attention to how our ancestors imprinted themselves on the world and follow their lead.

Garden Hits and Misses

September 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
The fountain rises 70 feet into the air. On a sunny day it is beautiful to see. It works via a remote control!
At home after three marvellous weeks visiting gardens (and  friends) in England, I find much to criticize in my garden. After many years of travelling, I've come to expect this -- and to accept that a garden in Quebec's harsh weather conditions will never resemble an English garden, with its lush foliage and flowers, topiary and ancient walls. I've also come to expect that gardens other than my own will disappoint me. On every tour I've hosted, there has always been one garden I particularly looked forward to seeing. On

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Garden Centres and Garden Reviews

September 24th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
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Gardening in Canada can be frustrating. The range of plants available through nurseries or garden centres is minuscule compared with the number available in England. And seeing so many wonderful cultivars that won't survive in my Quebec garden makes me envious of England's more temperate climate. Still, for anyone who loves plants, a visit to a garden centre is always a treat. The group I was hosting on my final garden tour spent a few happy hours wandering around the Burford Garden Company, an Oxfordshire-based enterprise. At this time of year

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Oudolf at Pensthorpe

September 16th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
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Over the last half dozen years or so,  I've visited several gardens in England designed by the Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf. These include Bury Court in Hampshire, Scampston Hall's Walled Garden in Yorkshire and Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. Because I've seen and enjoyed these gardens, I was eager to see Oudolf's Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk. (A review of Scampston Hall's Walled Garden is here.) Pensthorpe was Oudolf's first commission in the U.K. Planted in 2000 and up-dated in 2008, the Millennium Garden is part of a larger natural reserve.

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Petworth: a Landscape by Capability Brown

September 9th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
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On a sunny day, what could be more agreeable than strolling through a landscape designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown? Earlier this week, two friends and I took advantage of the fine weather to do just this when we visited Petworth House in Sussex. The landscape there is one of the finest surviving examples of Brown's work. Walking through the 700-acre park, the surroundings appear to be totally natural, but in reality Brown shaped each part of the land with his customary flair.   [caption id="attachment_6709" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] This view from the

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Tropical Foliage (and a little bit more)

February 12th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
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It's fascinating to see plants you think of as house plants growing outside. During a recent trip to Florida, I visited a friend and took a quick walk around her garden. The colours and textures were astonishing.     I can't name any of the plants, although they may be familiar to those of you who live in warmer climes.  Nameless or not, I loved what I saw, particularly the large-leafed beauties below.     Who can resist a shape like this rounded indentation? And the colour contrast was delicious.

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Metis International Garden Festival

August 22nd, 2017 | 6 Comments »
The optical illusion never fails to delight.
  Recently I visited the International Garden Festival at Metis, Quebec. I've attended the Festival many times since it first opened in 2000, but in previous years I've gone with adults. This year was special -- I went with two teenage granddaughters.   [caption id="attachment_5512" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] The festival gardens are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River in a part of Quebec that offers much to explore.[/caption]   Playsages, the theme for this year's Festival, was a good fit for the three of us. The word is a mash-up of languages, blending

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Vancouver Gardens

July 10th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
this Japanese maple is in my brother-in-law's garden, a beautifully cool and shady spot.
I'm on my way back to Quebec now, after five days in Vancouver. It's been a terrific trip. The weather has been spectacular and the opening of my exhibition, Clichés to Live By, was a huge success -- lots of people of all ages and lots of positive feedback. Along with visits to the Winsor Gallery to see the show, I've been walking around Kitsilano, the area of Vancouver where I stayed. 'Kits' was named after a Squamish chief, August Jack Khatsahlano. Once it was a dense wildlife-filled forest; now Craftsman-style houses

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Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

June 7th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.
I'm home again at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after touring gardens in England. In ten days, the small group I was hosting visited 17 gardens, each special in its own way. Add in the Chelsea Flower Show and pre-tour visits to three other gardens and you can imagine the result: more photos and memories than a dozen blog posts can handle. Let me mention a few highlights. (More blog posts will come once I catch my breath and begin to assimilate all I saw.) The Chelsea Flower Show

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Veddw House Garden

May 22nd, 2017 | 18 Comments »
These hedges were tiny when planted. Very tiny --
 about ankle high. Getting the proportions right must have been a nightmare.
  I'm in England now, about to start on a ten-day garden tour. With my co-host Julia Guest of Travel Concepts in Vancouver, I will take a small group of women to the southwest of England.  But before hitting the road, let me whet your appetite with a review of an extraordinary garden I visited pre-tour. Veddw is the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. Located in Wales, just across the border from England in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Veddw pays homage to its surroundings in ways that show respect

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