Up in Muskoka

A pupil of the Group of Seven
painted this lakeside landscape
on Bristol board the size of a letter pad.
Early autumn, green leaves fading to orange
on the scrawny birch,
lake water still and pale 
as if already half frozen.

Fine brush strokes outline grass and twigs
but darkened daubs on trunks
suggest the bark has been stripped
by harsh weather or children
wandering far from homes
the artist did not care to paint in.

A narrow brownish strip at the bottom 
must be the road that brought her here
and before the light changes and more leaves fall
will speed her away again
to the house where on wintry afternoons 
a boy who would become my father 
came to see her work.

He knew this place,
this lakeside where the poplar leaned,
and the painter must have seen in his face
what art can do, what he wanted  
not to own or even make a picture
but to keep that place with him wherever he went,
to hold a day so it never turned dark,
irreclaimable. The leaves about to fall
resemble distant birds.

Colin Morton