3 lessons I learned spending a week at the Dumoine River
By John McDonnell
Every year, CPAWS-OV hosts the Dumoine River Art Wilderness (DRAW) Retreat.
It’s an opportunity for local artists, from poets to photographers to painters and more, to connect with Ottawa Valley’s wild spaces and create art about what they see, hear, and feel.
As CPAWS-OV’s Executive Director, I always join these trips. The retreat isn’t just about connecting to nature for me, but about taking time with each artist and getting to know them and why they are so passionate about protecting our community’s environment.
How did the DRAW Retreat start?
Aleta Karstad and I explored how to bring art and conservation together in 2017.
Aleta is an artist, blogger, and a conservationist. She received the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Robert Bateman Award in 2018 and has been an Artist in Residence with the New Brunswick Museum’s BiotaNBSurveys since 2010. She is also active in many local committees, guilds, and groups about art and environmental conservation and a CPAWS-OV supporter.
Together, we pictured an amazing escape for artists to hone into the creative sides while learning about and supporting conservation. The DRAW Retreat was created from this idea, and we haven’t stopped since.
It happens along the Dumoine River. Can you paint us a picture of what that area looks like?
We hold the retreat along the shores of Robinson Lake, about one kilometre below Grand Chute, which is part of the Dumoine River.
Robinson Lake is along the hiking trail CPAWS-OV is developing. You’re able to experience all types of nature, from the tranquil waters of the lake to the rushing energy of Grand Chute, to the sounds and smells of the wetlands and forests.
How many artists joined the retreat this year?
Although interest in the retreat has grown substantially year over year, we limit attendance to about 15 artists. This isn’t just about raising funds; the DRAW retreat helps raise awareness of conservation through art, connects the artists to nature, and provides a one-of-a-kind experience we couldn’t get if it was too crowded.
What took place at this year’s retreat?
The DRAW retreat is deliberately unstructured.
We have no set agenda or plan for the week, or even day to day. We encourage people to take the time they need to explore, create, learn, and share.
We did organize a few hikes and paddles to help the artists explore new spaces and we come together as a group at the end of each day around a campfire to share our thoughts and creations.
A few artists joined author and CPAWS-OV supporter Wally Schaber clear another section of the hiking trail.
What lessons did you take away from this year’s retreat?
This year’s retreat taught me three things: how to connect with new friends, the importance of focusing on creativity, and nature’s impact on stress.
Connecting with new friends
Part of why I love the DRAW Retreat is the chance to connect people to nature.
Having that opportunity once again was amazing. About half the group was new to the retreat and had never been to the Dumoine before, so getting the chance to help them form that relationship to wild spaces was a great opportunity.
Focusing on creativity
People’s lives, now more than ever, are so connected to our phones and computers.
Sometimes, it feels like you can’t shut off.
The DRAW Retreat reminded me of how important it is to disconnect from things for a bit to focus on your art and creativity. The lack of cell service at the Dumoine River meant not having to be bombarded by news 24/7 and instead focus on being creative.
Nature’s impact on stress
Many of us have been spending more time inside – and less time connecting with wild spaces – due to the pandemic. Although necessary to keep our communities safe, you can feel the toll on your stress levels.
Spending a week by the Dumoine River helped all of us feel our stress and worries melt away as we reflected by the river, heard the gentle movement of the lake, and felt the sun’s warmth on our skin once again.
That sense of normalcy in an otherwise difficult time helped us greatly.
The artwork from this year’s retreat will be available for purchase at an event in spring 2022. Stay tuned for more information!