Diana and the Four Elements – Fire


This post (and the three that preceded it) document the year of artistic production that I undertook during the Covid19 lockdowns of 2020/2021. In this time of isolation, I was able to advance the conceptual foundation of the three trails within my nature preserve near Dorset, Ontario. These earlier posts reveal the unique landscapes that exist on the property, from wind swept highlands to shaded valleys, from shallow wetlands to deep water lakes and streams that transform from huge torrents in the spring to become trickles of water under the warmth of the summer sun.

Genesis Grotto and Metamorphosis Pools

As I began to create the charcoal and pastel drawings over these months of Covid19 lockdowns I had no idea how much the first drawing would hold the essence of everything I have been imagining since. In the drawing below, the form of the oval (created from two circles) with the billowing cloud of smoke rising into the opening of a darken forest around it, became the foundation of every drawing that was to follow.

From the start I felt compelled to depict a fire burning within the oval clearing, a space that I had created in the fall of 2019 as a “cathedral in the forest”. The desire was to describe how light, created by natural and manmade sources could be utilized to bring a spirituality to the forest, if only for an evening.

These initial drawings of smoke rising into the darkness of a star filled night sky describes my reverence for this land and my search for ways of describing it through drawing. Firelight, radiating from the fire below, illuminates the filigree of branches that encircle the space, creating a glowing halo. The fire illuminating the tree trunks transform them into columns when set against the darkness of the surrounding forest.

As the months of lockdowns progressed, my drawings became more complex, and I began to design the interconnected routes which organizes the forest preserve into three realms of activity.

The First Realm – exists in the area around the K. Winters Oval with its compass orientation. It is the gateway and threshold into the forest.

The Second Realm – begins at the Diana Monument. It draws you into the forest from the Oval and once there, the Wolf, the Bear and the Moose Trails will bring you deeper into the wilderness. These three trails meet again at the Shirley Temple, and the second location on the property with a compass orientation, creating a space to contemplate the journey ahead.

The Third Realm – is the spiritual part of the journey, with a path that links the Four Follies dedicated to my parents which will be placed around Carl Rideout Lake.

Whether this was conscious or subconscious decision, the image of fire became the uniting element in my drawings, creating a common thread which links the three realms. Fire occurred within the first drawing I created of the oval clearing, which is the focus of the first realm, and remains an essential component in how the space will be used in the future. Within the second realm, which links the Diana Monument to the Shirley temple I created three trails which permits visitors to explore the complexity of this wilderness. Within the trinity of the elements of Earth (Bear Trail), Air (Wolf Trail), and Water (Moose Trail), the element of fire is the unifying force. Fire also unifies the Four Follies that I have designed around Carl Rideout Lake. Under the cover of a darkened landscape, fire illuminates each of these realms within my drawings, creating a spiritual place, and adding a human dimension to our forest preserve.

It was also an important consideration when I assigned the relationship of the Diana Monument to the Roman Goddess Diana that she was associated with fire and the seasonal celebration called Nemoralia, or the Festival of Torches. This event which happens every 13th, 14th and 15th of August, corresponds to the beginning of the Mid-August rains in Muskoka and precedes the dryer summer months, where fire is not permitted anywhere in the region.

As the preserve in Muskoka is used throughout the year, one of the significant days in the calendar will be the celebration of this mid-month event. The timing marks the end of the bug season and the beginning of the time when the landscape is much more accessible as the insects, which make the earlier season in the forest unpleasant, are gone.

While the dog was honored during these evenings in Roman times it is during this period in Muskoka that we would celebrate the continued presence of wolves within our preserve. It is no coincidence that the wolf and dog share the same ancestry, and this creates a closer connection between these two celebrations.

This reverence for the wolf already occurs every summer evening within Algonquin Provincial Park, which is located only 60km away. At evening gatherings in Algonquin, campers howl at the moon (which is another source of light in the forest) and are rewarded with return calls from the resident wolves. I am not yet sure if these canine creatures are close enough to my property in the summer months to have such a successful interaction with them, but I will experiment this summer to assess the possibility.

In Roman times during Nemoralia, Diana’s followers would proceed around the sacred Lake Nemi, also referred to as Diana’s Mirror, bearing torches. In our Muskoka landscape, the upper lake, named after my father, Carl Rideout, will be the crescendo of the journey into the forest.

At a future Nemoralia event held at our preserve in Muskoka, guests will gather at a bonfire, created within the oval clearing. From there they will walk into the darkened wilderness with flashlights to begin their journey to the illuminated sites that are placed throughout the forest.

The procession would descend into the forest around the steps encircling the Genesis Grotto, with the bonfire burning behind.

They would then walk into the forest towards the Diana Monument with its three arches illuminated by the flames.

Hikers would then proceed along either The Wolf, The Bear or the Moose Trails to the fire illuminating the Shirley Temple.

They would then proceed towards the Gatekeeper Bridge.

The flames at the Gatekeeper Bridge will illuminate the walkway across Berley Creek.

Whaleback Rock would be illuminated along the shoreline in the distance across the lake.

Once reaching Whaleback Rock the view across Carl Rideout Lake is of Whaleback Shelter.

After encircling Carl Rideout Lake guests would reach Whaleback Shelter with the Gatekeeper Tower looming above.

On this evening, our guests would place their flashlight on the lake, joining their light with the moonlight on the lake’s surface.

By linking the various pieces, I have designed for the property with element of fire I was able to envision a landscape that is rarely explored under the cover of darkness.

Using fire to illuminate the way forward, the hope is that we can transport ourselves, if only for a moment, back to an earlier time when the rhythms of nature ruled our very existence. It is here that I hope we can reflect upon the hubris we may feel as humanity continues its unbridled domination of nature and maybe begin to sense that there is a world much larger than ourselves out there, within which, we are only a small spec of light within a sea of darkness.

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