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  • Writer's pictureSusan Haigh

November - a month to remember

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

As November unfolds we are invited to take some time to think about the soldiers who lost their lives obediently following orders to kill. The toll was heavy on the survivors who saw first hand the brutality and atrocities of war. From their experiences come lessons of how not to resolve conflict. As Buffy Saint Marie sings in 'Universal Soldier', "this is not the way to put an end to war".

I have always felt very lucky that I have not personally had to live through a war. Growing up I had little understanding of the forces that can lead a country to war.

My English parents were both 13 when Britain joined the cause to stop Hitler. Their war time experiences were about being evacuated out of harms way, air raids and food rationing. My father was keen to join the Navy when he was 17 but was 'demobbed' before he saw any 'action'. I imagine the heartbreak I would feel if my own son at 18 had to go to war. It is horrifying to think of such a young person being immersed so quickly in a world full of senseless killing. My heart bleeds for all parents who have lost their sons in a war.

With the help of movies and books I have lived through the tension of the black outs and air raids and the reality of the randomness of bombing that keeps the civilians in a state of apprehension, all in an effort to break the will of the people.

In 2005 I did a painting of a field of poppies in which a stop sign has fallen. I called it 'Forgotten' and to me it signified the way mankind has forgotten how senseless war is and all the lives that have been lost. Why do wars continue across the globe? Why do people continue to kill each other? Surely there are better ways to sort out our differences.

The woman who bought this painting was born on November 11th so has always been very aware of Remembrance Day and the horrific and heroic stories of war. It seems the poppy connection to Flander's Fields is part of the reason poppies hold a special place in our hearts.


For me the love of poppies started with the amazingly pure orange 'California Poppy'. They had naturalized in a rough lawn at a house my sister and I rented in 1975. Years later, on my own property, despite numerous attempts I have not succeeded in creating the sea of orange I visualize. I puzzle over this when I see them clinging happily to rocky cliffs. In 1988 I tried to capture their vibrant orange in paint but it eluded me. This picture is out of my photo album, pre-digital.

Years later my garden was being colonized by the Opium Poppy. I loved the way they sprung up every year sometimes pink, sometimes red, sometimes purple. I loved the seed heads too and had fun drying them and decorating them to create precious little Christmas tree ornaments, perfect for a table top Christmas tree.

Starting with 'Pink Poppy' in 1999, I painted my poppy subjects five times in the next four years and of all my poppy paintings 'Pink Peony' is the only one that hasn't found a home.

I did grow the Common Poppy too, the one that seeds itself year after year in Flander's Fields. They were the subject in 'Poppy Path' and were seen lurking behind the lavender in 'Triptych Garden'. This painting had three 16" x 20" panels hinged together so they could work together to stand on a table or lay flat on a wall. I only have a rather blurry picture of it, again pre-digital.

'Poppy Dreaming' featured a more

fragile pink variety of the common poppy.

Looking after other people's gardens, I became enamoured with the Oriental Poppies, the dark orange ones so outrageously bright that I called my painting of them 'Fearless" and donated it to a CNIB fundraiser.

In 'Reach for the Sky' a pale peach but very robust oriental poppy takes centre stage.

When I created my 'Forgotten' painting it was the oriental poppies that I chose for my models, thinking that the poppies would have to be perrennial to keep returning every year. Now I realize though, that when it comes to wild flowers, it is often the annuals such as the common poppy who seed themselves so prolifically, that can reliably paint the hills red. Volunteer plants are often the strongest and it is fitting that they live on over the hills where so many young men volunteered to fight a war that wasn't their idea.

In 2018 I did one more poppy painting and called it 'Poppy Forest'

On my Etsy site I have cards of of this painting and a Collection of 5 Cards of earlier poppy paintings.

I may just have to do some more poppy paintings soon but for now I am on a rose and peony exploration. Hopefully next month I will have something to show for it.


We have been having way too many windy and rainy days lately and grey is filling the air. The trees' fall colour is just about gone but as we haven't had too many days of cold, there are still a few random flowers dotting the garden. The Anna's hummingbird is happy the fuchsia continues to put out a few blooms. As a cloud envelopes the land, I go to the studio where I try to capture the radiance of flowers, a challenge that keeps me enthralled and chases the blues away.

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