The sketcher is necessarily a long hunter, absorbed when painting, looking inward as well as out upon nature, and concentrating every faculty on the work in hand, but he is as gregarious as the rest of his kind. A companion is an important part of his equipment, and if conversation lags in the field, it quickens around the camp-fire when his work is over for the day. For my own part I detest solitary sketching, and consider a helpless puddler, a Sphinx, a windbag or a Philistine, a better companion than none at all. I still have unpleasant recollections of a lonely period in a tent in the Transvaal, when I once crawled, sick with fever, under my camp-bed, to escape the fierce sun, which penetrated even the canvas.
Tom Thomson might be alive to-day, had there been a friend to sustain him when his canoe capsized on that last journey in Algonquin.
A better man than you are, stirs your ambition, which is all to the good. The propinquity of a less experienced mortal arouses in you the need for an even greater measure of worthiness, to hold his regard. But much profound thought still leaves me uncertain as to what I have learned from certain people with whom I have been associated. There was one who borrowed my paints, and pitied me for the slightness of my genius as compared with his own. Another set fire to a wooded island and left me to put it out.
Frank tripped gaily about, and made the forest ring with excerpts from the operas, delivered in a high and robust tenor. he finished a fine landscape in twenty minutes, noisily. Incredible speed!
Once we walked over a hill that had been swept by fire. The mosses had gone and the undergrowth too. Only bare granite remained, and the stumps of trees whose toots were shaped to the rocks over which they had grown. Only the thicker roots were left, supporting what remained of the boles. These pitiable remnants may be moved from one spot to another, just like the portable hat-rack which they resemble, and it was infinitely diverting to see my companion jocosely arranging his forests according to the demands of dynamic symmetry. his carefree attitude and his tremendous energy infected others, so that even mislaid high notes, when he sang did not seriously impair his solid worth.
There is the person who hides his sketch, the lazy man, the copyist, and the trailer, all, if any other type is available, to be avoided by the artist. The lazy fellow may have redeeming qualities, but those of the copyist are negative, and such is his personality. I have travelled with one who combined the chief failings of both! His Yes was chronic. He trailed behind until I had selected a subject to paint, and then he sat with his knees in my back, and simulated all my gestures. My only satisfaction lay in choosing positions with a natural hazard immediately behind them - a hornet's nest, a thorn bush, or a precipice.
Most of my sketching companions, however, have been agreeable, practical and interesting. One is apt to accept such qualities thoughtlessly, and they do not impress the mind so much as do their opposites.
Tom accompanied me on a sketching trip in the Rockies. He is a quiet reliable fellow, and inspires confidence. When we dropped off the train in the midst of the mountains, I knew that our supplies were safe, that pack-ponies would materialize, and that we should make camp comfortably before night. That required a good deal of confidence, for, as far as we could see, we were the only men in the world. After a long hike we reached a green lake overshadowed by precipitous mountains. A tumbling glacial stream roared a welcome. here Tom's halo shone brilliantly. He is an expert woodsman, and thought we found tent-poses of an adequate length that needed no trimming, he was able to make play with his axe, by lopping off balsam boughs for our beds. He also fastened our two sides of bacon to the end of a long and slender pole, which he erected to foil the evident hopes of the black bear that thoughtfully, and somewhat impatiently, licked his chops a dozen yards away. For the same reason we constructed a larder and hoisted that up too, the bear groaned and lurched away muttering.
Tom had one failing; he would not get up in the morning and cook breakfast. But he made up for that manfully by doing nearly everything else. he liked to sketch alone, and frequently we were in undisputed possession of a mountain apiece. But we met invariably at midday, somewhere on the heights to fry bacon on slabs of slate, eat and smoke a pipe.
When, on one occasion, I shivered in a blizzard beneath a glacier, I thought of Tom, and hastened in the direction he had taken some hours before. Sure enough, he was smoking comfortably under a rocky ledge by a roaring fire. Where on earth he got the wood - we were above the timber line - I never knew. Tom was an excellent provider, a famous victualler and a charming host.
Jeff was an equally agreeable and competent camper - a palladium, a rock and a sheet-anchor. Science, not art is his normal pursuit, though he is no Philistine, he was with me when the island was afire, and when we slept in the boat to fool mosquitoes. It was he who propounded the theory that these pernicious insects cannot swim, and he devised other equally successful methods of evading them. That job of the fire done with a dispatch any fire-ranger would have envied - we sought another island that promised the comforts denied us on the first; deep and yielding mosses for a bed, ambrosial scents for an opiate, the sound of lapping water and whispering leaves for a lullaby. I sketched; Jeff fished. When he was tired of fishing, he would swim round and round the little island until he was dizzy. Then he would prepare a meal. We had a delightful time together, for he always deferred to the demands of my work.