And Now for Something Completely Different

If you are a Monty Python fan, you may recognize that title.  If not, sorry, you’ve missed out on kooky British comedy from the 70’s, though I imagine some quick web searches will put you in touch with their surreal and somewhat stream-of-consciousness act.

They often stopped their sketches with the catch-phrase: And Now for Something Completely Different.  So, here I go again, stopping my “ART” blog for something else.  Though, to be fair, it’s art in a different form.  Most likely inspired by writing this blog, and then definitely inspired by my Library and REI lecture series on the Wilderness Of Women, a lovely Powerpoint presentation I whipped up and delivered from Portland to Medford.  The feedback I received was very positive and it inspired me to start writing a book.  A book I’d been writing for over 30 years.  A book about my trail life and my off trail life, how they intersect and influence each other.  When my shoulder got hurt and grounded me from hiking last year, I took advantage of my in-firmed circumstances and used the time to write.

My book has morphed into something else, however, and just like all the best of my art, it took on a life of it’s own.  Part memoir, part trail journal, part coffee table art book, part philosohical and spiritual exploration, The Spiral Trail is heading for parts unknown.  Like it’s title, it spirals around and comes back to lessons learned, growing and developing into a story about a life lived on the trails and woods and translated into paint, guided by source.

I’m still working on it, and I’m still painting and hiking and doing all the things that need to be done.  I’ll try to pop into the blog from time to time to say hello and share a new piece.  For now, here’s an excerpt from  The Spiral Trail  to start my literary exploration into the writing of a book.  I hope you find it enjoyable and interesting.  Wanting more is good!  So, come with me and lets take a walk in the woods…

 

Chapter 21

Mushrooming

I took the dogs out on another gold hunting excursion. As I understand it, there are places where one can still pan for gold, actual gold nuggets that wash down from creeks and rivers, but that’s not the gold I am looking for.  I’m looking for Chanterelle mushrooms, a gloriously school-bus-yellow fungus that litters the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest each year when it gets cold and wet. They are delicious, meaty and mild tasting mushrooms, sought by gourmet chefs as well as poor college students because, for those of us who have access and knowledge, they are free. I was taught how to find Chanterelles by a couple of Dead Heads (fans of the Grateful Dead), both of who were deep into their respective studies at Oregon State University at the time.  One in Forestry, and the other in Mycology, the study of fungi, so they knew what to look for as well as where to look for them. My first taste of a Chanterelle had me rolling my eyes upward in delight, they are that good. I paid attention to the where’s and what’s of Chanterelle hunting and I learned my lesson well.

I began hunting for Chanterelles by myself the moment we landed in Alpine and found them at low elevations in those early days.  But the craze for Chanterelles took off and the economy did not, spurring hundreds of mushroom hunters to take to our local woods in search of quick cash.  Which in turn spurred another form of industry, the mushroom buyer, one of which put up a sign on their driveway and gave the hunters an easy stop on their way out of the hills to cash in on their gains.  I’d like to say “ill gotten gains” as they tromped over public and private lands alike and yanked up the mushrooms without regard to keeping the root system in tact and leaving a few to grow and spread their spores for future mushrooms. Chanterelles will return year after year if you treat their ground gently, but that was not to be.  Our woods were inundated with groups of hunters, they’d park their beat-up cars along the mountain roads and carry in white 5-gallon buckets intent on finding a large haul.

I felt a twinge of disgust at these interlopers, these were my woods they were bustling about in, yelling back and forth, disturbing the quiet as they raped the forests of their delicious yellow fungi fruit.  They pulled up every one and left nothing behind but beer cans, candy wrappers and toilet paper.  I frowned every time I saw them out there, failing to see the irony that I, myself was heading out for a mushroom hunt. Their presence was forcing me to range farther from home and I was irritable about the idea I couldn’t prowl about in what I considered “my woods”, which of course, weren’t.

I learned early on to keep quiet about my mushrooming grounds, having once taken a friend out and kindly taught him how to identify and find Chanterelles only to learn he later took a group of his friends back to my spot where they cleaned out the entire hillside. I never quite trusted him after that and our friendship suffered. But such is the nature of gold fever, it changes one’s ethics when you are in the midst of a find.

Since then, I’ve sworn friends to secrecy before taking them to known places but as the hunter hoards continued patrolling my local hills, those known places became found and decimated.  We had dry falls and late rains and some of my best spots were clear-cut, spelling the end of any nearby Chanterelles.  They need deep mature forests, cool weather and rain. I found myself travelling farther from home to find my gold.

Still, every year I’d get a few for dinner.  And sometimes I’d stumble across a new patch and manage to put up some for later, though really, frozen Chanterelles are never as good as freshly picked.  There were some good years before the big local clear-cut happened, I’d bring home bags of them and then spend hours cleaning them all.  But after they cut the hills directly behind us, it got harder on everyone.  Even the hunters began to range along the Alsea river drainage, the backside of our local hills and my last-ditch effort at mushrooming.  It seemed as if all the best spots were picked over, my hunts became hikes.  Those were lean years, it was lucky if I’d find one or two and that would be it for the season.

But still I tried, I felt as if I was missing something… there had to be a place I’d looked over, some patch of woods I’d yet to explore.  I’ve been riding and hiking my local section of the coast range mountains, keeping to about 5 or 6 square miles and had come to learn this land pretty well over 30 years.  But I hadn’t been everywhere between the roads.  Between the roads is lots of brush and the mature woods needed to cruise about without risking life and limb, or at the least, a few scratches from the dense understory, was getting harder to find.  But there were still a few patches of them, it’s just that I had transitioned from being a deer path following bush-whacking hiker to a road follower.  I could take my horses on the road, either an abandoned logging road or an active one, and had cut a few trails to link up roads so I could make a big loop rather than backtrack, so I hadn’t been doing much off road hiking.  Not even when I decided to return to backpacking and was planning and prepping for the PCT.  I was after miles and conditioning exercise and you can’t get a work out pushing your way through the underbrush.  That kind of hiking is slow and meticulous as I wander about, carefully taking note of the terrain and topography, making sure I do not get lost in the “it all looks the same” woodland.  My deep wood exploring days seemed to be behind me, and with it, my lack of mushrooming luck.

Until last week.

I took a friend on another excursion, hoping the old places would have some kind of nostalgic luck, but no luck was to be found.  Doreen is somewhat new to me as a friend, but we get along well and she was game for hiking about, looking for mushrooms. We drove further out to an old patch I knew of and when that panned out, I took her off trail and off road, but again, nothing. We did not go far from the road as I am reluctant to drag tourists along on these kinds of bush-whacking hikes. I’m quite concerned about becoming lost in the woods, so I work hard paying attention to the hundreds of details that will allow me to back-track my way to safety in the event I’m not sure where I am.  After my jumpy nerves at finding the staircase on the “moonlit” beach, I’ve had some concerns about my state of mind in an unknown situation where no map is at hand to guide me.  The woods beyond my woods are just the same kind of unknown situation as I am not nearly so well acquainted with their topographical peccadillos as I am for my own side of the mountain. This emotional state does not blend well with chatting with friends as we prowl the woods.  I have to concentrate out there and so, I have not been exploring as I mushroom hunt.

Needless to say, Doreen and I got skunked.  I found two mushrooms in the old patch, one for her and one for me.  We shrugged, it was a nice day and the dogs were having a joyous time racing about the forest, it was fun just to watch them and hike about.  We didn’t care all that much so we started back for the car which was parked about a half mile away. I guided us back to the road and took an alternate road, making a loop of our hike.  I always make a loop if I can, there’s something about a circle that makes me feel like my hike is complete, even if it’s a small circle at the end of a straight out and straight back trail.  I call those keyhole loops, and they serve the purpose of “not backtracking” that I like.

We were on this loop when I spotted an opening in the trees off the road.  Something about it said “check it out!” to me, so check it out we did.  I led Doreen off the road and onto a deer trail that disappeared through a brush tunnel and into a deep and open patch of mature forest.  It didn’t look like a deep wood from the road, choked by brush on both sides, I had assumed it was a young stand of trees.  These young stands are usually so thick with underbrush you can’t get through without serious effort, frequently jungle hacking your way through isn’t even worth the pain.

I was surprised and delighted by this find and after picking our way over the old dumped trash at the entrance (I will never understand why people uses the forest as their personal dump) immediately saw scores of mushrooms all along the game trail. There were pink ones and slimy brown ones, some yellow boletus and white death cap kind of mushrooms, not what I was after but still, there were mushrooms here and there were quite a lot of them!  I was encouraged to follow the deer path as it hugged the side of the hill just below the roadway, my boots cutting into the soft needle strewn soil as if I was marching across a snowy mountain field.  Continuing on, I came across our first white Chanterelle, a rare variety, but not that unusual for this area. I’d found white Chanterelles near where we parked the car once, even though, and it’s hard to believe this, but that was 25 years before and before the woods had been selectively cut.

A selective cut will only take say, every other tree, and even though it preserves the forest as a forest, it’s harder to do. I like them, but once the forest is opened up, more brush will fill in between the trees and the Chanterelles won’t return.  It’s too light and airy for them. Seeing this white Chanterelle here gave me hope.  I bent down, carefully pushing aside the fir needles and debris, I cut it gently at the base. Doreen came over to see the mushroom and exclaimed, “Here’s another one!” and she set to the task of cutting that one for herself.  Again, we had found two, one for me and one for her.  But this time, the conditions were better.  No brush and a swath of deep woods.  I followed the path as it paralleled the road above and came across another scattered patch of Chanterelles.

“I found some more!  Yes!”  I picked a few and left a few for her to take before moving down the trail to another scattered patch.  We were ecstatic at finding them, and I was happy to find them in such an easy place.  I didn’t need to worry about getting lost or loosing sight of Doreen as we fought our way through dense underbrush.  This hillside was open and the road was a laidback climb out. We left behind the small ones to grow and talked about coming back for them later.  I pushed on ahead of her and went from patch to patch, finding them and then calling for her to take the ones I’d left for her to harvest.  Sometimes she saw a few I’d missed entirely and her bag began to fill up with a good haul.  As she was delicately brushing off needles and dirt, I wandered down a draw to see if there were more downhill but came back empty handed, unwilling to get beyond earshot of Doreen leaving her alone in the deep woods.  Bringing her out here was my responsibility and I take that seriously. I seem to have been the pathfinder in most of my hiking relationships, it’s not like I tried to take that role, but that’s just how it worked out.  Jane once called me the “human GPS” and I laughed.  I may be good in the woods, however, don’t trust me in the city.  I get all turned around when confronted with streets and buildings.  There’s too much data for me to process.

I don’t think of myself as a confidant pathfinder, more like a nervous pathfinder, I’m worried about getting lost.  I try to remember Daniel Boone, that great Kentucky backwoods explorer who was supposedly quoted as saying he’d never been lost, he just didn’t know where he was for a couple of days.

But still, Pathfinder is my trail name and so, I have a reputation to live up to; regardless of my nervousness in the woods, I also know I have the skills and abilities to untangle myself from a backwoods mishap. What I don’t have, on this day, is an actual map of the area, which, without a compass would be useless as the woods are so deep, dark and topographically convoluted it renders a map useless without the means of pointing one in the right direction. I also don’t have a compass.  Just my faith and skill and backwoods prowess, somewhat like Daniel Boone! I also have my nervousness which keeps me close to the road and checking to make sure we haven’t wandered away from it as we go from patch of gold to patch of gold.

Eventually, we run out of mushrooms and of the deep woods as we get closer to an old overgrown cut which is full of brush. I suggest we climb out and head back.  We’ve managed to find about a couple of dozen mushrooms a piece, so we turn for the road.  Doreen takes the time to pick the ones we come across on our way out and I let her have my share as my bag is full and I’m content with my haul.

I’m content with all of it as I feel I’ve broken the Chanterelle curse that seems to have been hanging over my head the past few years.  I didn’t know if pickings were scarce because of the buyer (but I have noticed they aren’t in business anymore so that’s good news) the dry fall seasons and the new clear cuts or just my inability to get off trail and take the time to find a new place to hunt.  Probably a combination of it all, but the dry spell is over and now I have a new patch of woods to check out… the draw that leads away from the road has me intrigued.

 

The following week, after a solid week of rain, we get a gap between storms and I decide to take the dogs back to the woods and explore the draw.  I figured to look and see if I missed a mushroom or maybe two and then work the hill below this new spot with the hopes there are more Chanterelles to be found.  I go by myself, because I need to explore and not worry about another person.  I don’t have any confidence that the dogs will help me in any way, they are too busy sniffing and digging and running about doing their doggy thing.  I’ve never lost a dog but one time, though like Daniel Boone, she wasn’t unsure of her location more than a couple of days. I hunted all over for that dog, called through the woods and then knocked on any doors in the vicinity. She must have followed something deep into the forest and got turned around because it did take her two days to come home whereupon after much tail wagging and famished eating, she fell asleep for a good 12 hour stretch.

Needless to say, I don’t trust dogs to get me out of the woods.

I parked in the same spot and walked down the road to our exit spot.  I followed our line of mushroom stumps and only saw one seedling mushroom that had grown enough to make it worthwhile harvesting.  I put the Chanterelle in my little orange Osprey daypack, then after getting it back on again (not as easy of a task given my less than 100% shoulder range) I picked up my hiking sticks and headed down the draw.  I began to note the changes in terrain, the hill on my right covered in moss, the hill on my left covered in shrub. I went down, threading my way through small trees, ducking under and stepping over dead branches.  I came across a dry creek bed, noting the stump next to the bed was covered in small, translucently white, spindly mushrooms. I marked this as my landmark and stepped over the bed, forgetting to look behind me to see the path as it would look if I was returning the same way.  My plan had been to follow the draw down to a logging road that I knew was below me, but the hills had folds and contours I was unfamiliar with, I wasn’t sure exactly how far down the road lay and I was anticipating mucking about as I was hunting, crisscrossing the terrain as I went.  It’s easy to get turned around in these coast range hills, distances become hard to judge so I was expecting a long haul across and down slope before hitting the road.

On the other side of the creek, a hillside of tall timber opened up into what I thought was prime mushrooming grounds, so I began traversing the curve of the hill over to a set point before reversing my path and coming back to the creek.  I zig-zagged twice before getting all the way to the creek but instead of a dry bed, I now came across a flowing stream of water.  I guessed it was the same creek bed but that where I had crossed, the water had gone underground.  It was a significant amount of water and I followed it uphill until I came to a series of ponds, obviously springs tucked away in this fold of woods.  It was a lovely find, very private and nestled into the woodland like a love note hidden in a drawer.  Precious and sweet, I wondered how many animals used it as their personal drinking pool.  I looked over my shoulder quickly, I had come across a cougar kill the previous day and my neighbor had seen a big one crossing the road.  The odds were small that cougar even knew about this pond, but still, I glanced around before chiding myself for unfounded fears.  My two terriers would be thrilled to take on a cougar, or at least bark at one anyway.  They also were more likely to be a cougar’s lunch than I was, but since that’s a story I’ve never heard or believe, it doesn’t bother me to let the dogs have the run of the woods.

I wandered about the pond, checking its size and considering if would be a viable personal swimming hole in the summer, or if it would turn into a mush of mud once the rains were gone.  The dogs drank from the edge and we turned back to the creek, following it downhill.  But when I got to where I thought I had crossed the creek, everything looked different.  The hill on my left had changed direction, opening out into a wide flat spot with scattered grass.  There was a stand of alder trees I didn’t recognize and a bank of moss that hadn’t been there before.  I stopped, frozen.  How did this happen… in my checking out the pond, did I forget about a fold in the hillside, did I follow the wrong creek?  Is there another creek I missed? Nothing looked familiar and I began to cast about, returning to the creek bed, looking for my marker, the stump full of tiny mushroom.  There was no stump.  I stared at the creek.  How can there not be a stump?  Where is the stump?!  I crossed the creek anyway and looked at it from the other side.  Now it too looked unfamiliar.  I hadn’t crossed here, I must have gone downhill too far.

I took a deep breath, I wasn’t scared, not yet, I just needed to look about a little more.  I crossed the stream again and walked back towards the hillside where I had been hunting mushrooms looking for anything that looked familiar. I thought back to a movie I’d watched last week, On Golden Pond.  There is a scene where one of the main characters, an 80-year-old man, gets lost in the woods around his summer home.  He’s scared because nothing looks familiar, he can’t remember his surroundings and he begins to run through the woods looking for something, anything he can recall to place him in the world of known things again.

It’s a bit of a fear of mine, to be lost in the woods.  And it’s another one to lose my faculties.  My mother had dementia when she died, and before it became severe, she had these episodes of getting lost.  Once going out into the woods in the middle of a snowy New Hampshire winter and falling, laying in a snowbank for hours before she was found.  It was a chilling story for me to hear as I clutched the phone to my ear, 3000 miles away and a day after the event.  She wasn’t allowed to be alone after that, but now I’ve inherited the fear for myself.  What if I too forget where I am?  What if I forget what the woods look like?  It would be just like me to wander off alone as an 80-year-old and then turn left at the tree that looks like an owl’s head when I should have turned right. It’s not like my trails and paths have actual signs.  My hikes are full of personal knowledge, I know where to go because I’ve gone there before.  But not right now… right now I don’t know where I am because I can’t find my way back.

And so, I tell myself, I’m not going anywhere until I can find the way back and when I find my way back I am going back!  I had made all sorts of mental notes along the way, so I knew I should be able to find them again, I usually do. I took out my mental list and went over it in order.  The stump of mushrooms, the hill of moss, the hill of shrub, the pink flag left by a surveyor, the dented can, the narrow draw all the way up to where I found my last Chanterelle and then up and out to the road.  I walk a large circle, get back to where the stream still has water in it, before it goes underground.  I notice where the water actually becomes submerged, flowing between sticks and rocks and disappearing into the moist soil, dirt so fertile it looks almost black.  I look up stream and down, here there is water, and there, just a dry creek bed that shows where overflowing winter rains carve a funnel that opens out into a flat trench.  I take 5 steps to my right and suddenly, from where I’m standing, I see the mushroom stump. I take a deep breath and am relieved.  I had overshot the creek crossing by about 20 feet and continued on until the terrain had changed and I was unexpectedly surrounded by a scene that was unfamiliar both backwards and forwards. The whole incident feels like I’m reading a book where I’ve accidentally turned two pages and now the narration makes no sense until I find my missing page and the story line falls back into place.  I step back across and walk my path out but I only go about 10 yards before I turn back to the creek.

There’s no need to run back for the car.  I’m back in the land of the known.  I wasn’t lost at all, I just didn’t know where I was for a couple of minutes. It was disorienting and a touch disquieting but am I going to let this stop me?  Of course not.  I head back down the hill.

But this time, I do leave a few more markers, scraped boot prints in the duff, a couple of crossed sticks and I try not to veer off my trajectory by sticking to as straight a line as possible. It’s easier to see the way back that way.  I come upon an old skid track from the original cut of this forest, it’s barely perceptible as time has eroded away it’s clean lines and random trees have grown inside it’s borders.  It’s still clearly a flat place in the hillside, so I follow it down until I can see a road below me.  The dogs run ahead and are running up and down the road, maybe showing me that it was here all along, maybe sniffing the path of a wild animal.  Whatever their motivation, between the trunks of trees, I see their white bodies zipping up and down a horizontal line about 200 feet below me.  I’m still carefully edging my way down across the soft needle strewn duff, my boots sink in and I watch for slick branches as I’ve already slid down one that lay like a trap just a fraction of an inch under the carpet of forest debris.  I used to wonder why older people fell as if they were children again, but now that I am a little older myself, I get it.  We aren’t as flexible or fit or even as balanced as we used to be.  It’s easy and faster to get out of condition from hiking then when I was younger, my muscles don’t catch me and correct imbalances as fast as they used to.  And so, sometimes now, I fall and slip and when I do, it’s startling and strange.  I never used to fall.  But I never used to be 56, so I take it easy and use trekking poles, they’ve become a part of my new high tech hiking world, just like bringing a cell phone and a personal locater beacon (which I hope to never need).

I drop down onto the road, glad that I reached my goal and surprised that it was closer than I thought it would be.  Instead of hiking out, I make some side trips into the woods, continuing my search for gold.  I notice that every time I wriggle out of my pack, pick a mushroom, then look about for more, I will not find one until I put my pack back on and head out.  Then, sure enough, another mushroom!  I struggle out of the pack, my not-yet-unfrozen shoulder is somewhat uncooperative with all this on again off again gyrations.  But, if I only find one at a time, still, I am finding them, so I resign myself to fussing with the pack.  On my way out, I find one last group and decide I’m done for the day.  I have plenty for dinner and then some, so I hop on the road and climb up out of the draw.

The road is steeper than I remembered, I haven’t been on it for some time and can’t recall a time I ever actually walked it.  I’m usually on this road with my horse and they do all the hard work for me.  It’s good to get a feel of the road from their perspective, I gain a little empathy every time I walk a trail that I usually ride. I stop to catch my breath from time to time, glad that I am not the kind of rider that pushes a horse too hard, I let them stop and breathe as well. Hiking with a heavy pack helps me to relate to how hard they actually work.  Just when I’m about to reach the car, I see an opening in the trees that looks inviting.  Without thinking too much about it, I wander in for a last chance hunt for mushrooms.  What the hell, why not?

I find another old skid track, it’s faint and mostly gone, covered with moss and underbrush like huckleberry, salal, ocean spray and young alders who are trying to take advantage of the sunlight provided by the logging road I’ve just left.  I weave my way through the thicket but stick to the flat ground. The brush thins out a little further in, and I’m walking in a mossy fairy forest of tall timber and soft earth. There are sword-tail ferns, their ostrich plume like fronds are still, no breeze can reach them down here even though the tops of the firs sing with the winds that touch the canopy up above. I follow the line across a curve of hillside, sometimes stepping over downed logs and limbs, sometimes ducking under them.  I marvel in this hidden gem of a forest, surrounded by thinned timber stands and clear cuts.  Most of these forest lands are considered a crop and are usually homogeneously full of Douglas Fir, but there are bits and pieces of more diverse forest and it’s always fun to be inside a stand of trees that feel somewhat wild in nature.

I walk until I come to some remnants of old growth, stumps from trees that must have been 100’s of years old, these stumps litter the woods near my home.  They are as large as couches, rotted remnants of their former selves, they still fill me with a sense of wonder and awe at their immense size.  At the bottom of the stump I find more chanterelles, they ripple out of the duff, golden flowers with wavy fungus arms.  They push up the moss and the fir needles and curl around clumps of debris, hanging onto it like a baby’s fist.  There is one large one in front of me, then one to the side, one above on a ledge of dirt and as I look, I see them everywhere.  I’ve struck the motherload.

I carefully pull back the carpet of needles and cut my mushrooms, filling my bag, then another.  I’ve picked more in 5 minutes than I found in the past hour or so.  It’s lovely to find a place like this, a place where no one has discovered and disturbed.  I have such a plethora to choose from, I get choosey and only pick the best ones, leaving some to continue rotting or to grow up into adults.  I harvest so many, I run out of space in my bag.  Any more and I will crush them, so I settle my pack carefully on my shoulders and collect my trekking poles from where I planted them in the ground.

Before heading out, I take one last walk down my personal yellow brick road.  I want to see how much farther this streak runs and consider if I can return later for another go at it.  I also want to see if I can resist the “gold fever” that grips me when I find a patch.  Can I resist the temptation of taking more?  I see a few scattered here and there, but I don’t feel the need to add to my harvest.  The forest has been kind to me and provided a feast of mushrooms. I move deeper into the forest and come across a pristine patch of chanterelles in a bowl of moss.  They look almost staged, they are that perfect.  A shaft of sunlight streaks down between the trees and lights up their small golden glade, I can almost hear the fairy’s dancing about this sylvan fantasy.

I pause before getting closer to the patch, I don’t want to disturb the scene or be tempted by their beauty.  But I do walk over, just to appreciate and marvel at how lovely a fungus can be.  I usually see “delicious!” when I see a chanterelle, but this time, I’m thankful for their presence in the forest.  It says, “I’m healthy” and “I feel good, all is right in the world.”  Just seeing them makes me feel the same and I’m grateful for the bounty I’ve lovingly placed in my pack.

 

That night for dinner, I prepare my mushrooms in a wine cream sauce with garlic and pour it over white bean noodles.  And once more, I touch heaven on my plate and my eyes roll back in joy.  Yeah, they are that good.

 

 

 

 

On BEing…. a trail journal part 7

Day 12  Onward to Mirror Lake

August 11, 2016       9 miles

Awake by 7 and on the trail  by 9:30.  Mosquitoes and condensation slow my packing up as I dried my rain-fly before stowing it in the pack.  I don’t want to carry any more water than I need to! Eventually I am on my way and I tell myself it doesn’t matter that it took me 2 and a half hours to get on the trail.  What difference does it make?

Camped just to the left of this picture, I took it first thing in the morning.

Camped just to the left of this picture, I took it first thing in the morning.

I wonder what marvelous things will happen today?  I am amazed at this part of the PCT, I’m on new ground, and it’s simply wonderful!  There are great views, nice campsites and a neat unnamed lake that had me very tempted for an early stop.  Alas, the surface was buzzing with mosquitoes so I go on by after taking a few pictures.  I run my battery charge down by taking too many panorama shots, a phenomena I suddenly notice for the first time. No wonder my phone was so inconsistent with holding a charge.

There is a climbers trail to the north side of Faith. I didn't find it, but I will one day!

There is a climbers trail to the north side of Faith. I didn’t find it, but I will one day!

I cross paths with an older solo woman hiker by the name of Honey.  We nod and keep walking, not even exchanging a word. I only learn her name later from 2  women I meet further down the  trail when we stop to talk about how unusual we all are (they were older too). I encounter few solo women, fewer still the ones who are closer to my age. There seem to be lots of 20 something guys, in pairs or alone.  Sometimes they are with a 20 something woman/girl/gal… chick?  I don’t know which term to use to describe a female 20 something… all my choices seem wrong.  Old fashioned or condescending, a product of a misogynistic culture that I am only recently becoming very aware of.  I don’t know how I’ve missed this part of the world around me, I guess I just never paid attention.  Maybe if I had taken a woman’s studies class in college it would have opened my eyes a bit wider to the injustice of it all, but I seem to be making up for lost time.  In the past few years I’ve been studying this subject most intently.

I remember being 17 and sitting in my mother’s living room as she and her girlfriend groused about life. As divorcees with children and no career options  in the 1970’s they had something to grouse about, life had not been easy for them.  “It’s a man’s world” said mom’s friend.  Being the know it all I surely was at 17, I completely disagreed.  “It might have been for your generation, but it’s not for mine!” I said ‘wisely’.  They were kind enough to let me figure it out for myself, but damn, it’s taken  me a long time.  I must have believed that the woman’s movement had changed everything and leveled the playing field, and I went on with my life as if it had.

For decades I thought it was just me if things were unfair.  I never saw it was because I was a woman… if some of the unfairness was because of my gender, I was blind to it.  I didn’t notice discrimination. Hell, I never even saw the blatant sexism in a job where the men used me as bait for customers!  I was an uninformed idiot, truly, and being unaware meant I could be manipulated and used. At some point I felt so used up, without even knowing why, I just wanted to hide in my quiet country life and not interact with the world at large.  As for gender roles, well,  I always just did what I wanted to do and didn’t think who’s “job” it was.  I was proud when I could run a skill saw or build something  better than my husband. He was proud of it too and gave me support to try all sorts of things.  I never heard messages that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman.  The day my girlfriends teased me about being more of another “man” around the place because I did things that their husbands usually did, (such as mowing, splitting firewood, building fences, sheds, a barn, my studio!) was the day I started to really wonder why they had limited themselves to traditional domestic chores. How had our society reinforced these kinds of roles? I see much of our cultural bias as restrictive but I think the things I’ve done fall under the category of “I didn’t know what I couldn’t do” more than a conscious rebellion against sexism.

As I write this it’s two days from a critical historic moment for my country.  I feel the sexism and misogyny here has reached a height that is surprising to say the least.  The persecution of a woman candidate who has dared to be herself and who did not play a submissive game and thus has felt the wrath of our media and any political hack who could post on the internet for not fitting the mold, is beyond belief.  It has been hard to hold on to my center, to my peace of mind, to my surrender.  The recharge that the trail gave me has been drained as we’ve gotten closer to this election process… but it’s no wonder as I’ve been taking some sweeping political panorama shots.  I’ll have to go hiking again as soon as possible for another charge of my emotional battery!

I cruise down the trail, happy and content in my solitude.  I’m glad I haven’t let my age or my gender stop me from doing what I wanted to do.  I preen a little when I come across a group of 7 women who are circumnavigating the Three Sisters together and they all admire my bravery.  I walk on feeling a little like the kid who got a gold star on their schoolwork. But my self satisfaction doesn’t last long as I consider how I was being proud of something that wasn’t really that hard for me. I figure it’s not really bravery if the emotional cost is low.  Courage is facing your fears and doing it anyway.  Hiking alone doesn’t worry me…. my brave moments were crossing the rushing glacial waters of the Muddy and the Sandy.  Both events witnessed only by myself and the universe.  I’m proud of myself for doing that. But hiking along this section of the PCT?  It’s a privilege in so many ways.

The women’s group offers me trail bars and food to help me on my way, but I decline, I’m carrying way too much as it is.  I need to lighten my load, not theirs!

Trees grow right out of the walls of the secret canyon.

Trees grow right out of the walls of the secret canyon.

I listen to Carrot Quinn’s interview on Real Talk radio  (listen here) and learn that she often cache’s food and only carries 4 days at a time.  I’m thinking this is a very good idea.  8 days of food is too much.  I’ve tried to eat more but that’s not always easy to do.  The trail falls easily downhill and I hike past a darling mini canyon surrounded by lava cliffs with a flat grassy floor.  The only way into the box canyon is to push your way in between a narrow grove of fir and spruce. I force myself in, I want to see this little canyon I had glimpsed from above as the PCT dropped down then veered off. I walk the perimeter and think about how this would be a good horse camp, you could practically let the horses go and they’d be corralled in among the lava walls.  The whole canyon is about 2 acres and is exactly the kind of side trip thing I’m glad I have time to explore. No water, so not a perfect camp, but I admire the secret space among the expanse of towering mountain views.

I get to Rock Mesa creek by noon and settle down for a rest/lunch break.  I was supposed to stay here after camping at Obsidian but again, it’s too early and when I look at the map again, I realize Mirror lake is only 4 miles away.  I’d rather end my day there and zero at the lake than stay here.  Not that I need a trail zero, but I wanted a day where I didn’t have to pack up… a day to just BE in a place.

I wander about, looking at an area near the creek where I camped over 20 years previously.  It’s odd to be at these spots full of old memories, I recall sitting out an afternoon of thunder and lightening in a very small tent with two large, wet dogs.  The places haven’t really changed much… the trees in the high country don’t grow like they do in the valley.  But they do grow and so too the brush.  The camp spot was still there, I recognized it immediately.  And 20 years later I see what a crappy little spot it was.  It had been much more remote… now there was a trail nearby, following the creek downstream. All those years ago we bushwacked our way down a half mile to the waterfall that was hidden below the Mesa Creek crossing.  Now, there’s a bridge on the PCT and trail heading downstream.  Who knows, 20 years from now, it could be forgotten and grown over, a faint line leading nowhere.

Mesa Creek and meadows.

Mesa Creek and meadows.

After about an hour rest, I hike out and avoid the large group of thru hikers who are congregating in the sunny meadow.  They are laughing and full of fun, but I’m still in my solitary zone.  I don’t really want to interact right now so I wave at them in acknowledgment and move on. Some wave back.  The southbound trail is busy… perhaps I’d have had a better chance of hiking all day in my alone-ness by going north, a better chance of getting in a solo bubble and staying there. Oh well, that’s not what’s happening, so I surrender and accept.

Later, I meet a gal and her barnacle… I nick-name him the barnacle because she tells me he started hanging out with her and she hadn’t been able to get rid of him since the California border.  We exchange trail names, but I promptly forget them as all I can think about is the barnacle phenomena.  Earlier I met a hiker, Sweet Pea, who also had a tag-a-long dude.  I wonder if the guys are hoping for more or maybe the girls are liking the security and friendship?

Then I meet Safe Bet, a Brit who quit his job and moved in with his parents so he could hike the PCT.  He was carrying too much water, because he likes the safe bet… hence the name.  I climb up the Rock Mesa and laugh at how I used to think it was so hard (I’ve climbed it 4 times now).  After climbing up out of the Gorge, nothing seems as difficult.  SOBO Mt. Hood was a real bear of a section but the views were absolutely stunning!

I get mistaken for a SOBO thru a lot… one gal says I look so serious.  But I’m not sure if it’s my outfit or the determined look on my face she is referring to.  I hope it’s the outfit since I’m totally blissed out on the trail.

Your first view of the Mesa wall.

Your first view of the Mesa wall.

The views as I hike are not as steep and epic as Mt. Hood,  but the Sisters have their own charm.  Rock Mesa continues south along the flanks of Faith (South Sister).  It’s open and arid and beautiful to travel the Wikiup plains which stretch way out into the distance.  It was hot by the time I got there but with my umbrella I did just fine.  I was listening to another hiking podcast, Sounds of the Trail and it was so perfect because it was all about how the hard days cause us to question why are we out here.  These challenging days cause us to rise above the hardship and release our inner grit.  And when you’ve risen to the challenge and have beaten it, then you are stronger.  Mentally as well as physically.

The start of the Wikiup if you are heading south.

The start of the Wikiup if you are heading south.

Today was that mental challenge for me.  The unrelenting heat on the plains, well, I had some doubts that I should be venturing out.  I’ve had a few bouts of heat stroke, so when it hits 90, I try not to do anything physical in the sun. But under my personal shade, it was fine. Slogging along, I thought of my days in endurance riding.  Sometimes you are in the doldrums of the race.  It’s hot, you’re tired, your horse is tired, you just want to get to the next vet check or you think longingly about the end of the ride and never going through all this nonsensical torture again.

Looking back at the way I've come. Hello South Sister!

Looking back at the way I’ve come. Hello South Sister!

But you can’t quit.  You are in the middle of nowhere and you have got to press on.  I’ve had some hard moments on the endurance trail and sometimes you kind of hit a wall but you still… just…keep…going.  And then, you round the corner and you are done.

I trudged across this sandy desert of a plain and then, I was in the forest again. Ahhhh, shade!  On I march, now I’m listening to Amira’s book, (how cool is it to have an author as a house-sitter?) the second in the Seeds Trilogy.  The resistance fighters are turning to guerrilla tactics as well as infiltrating and destroying from within.  Listening to these stories keeps my mind occupied as I march through the miles in the heat of the day.  I save them for times like this and they transform the trail into something different from what I’ve experienced in the past.

I’ve been a backpacker for over 30 years now, before cell phones and the internet.  (Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.  HA!)  Technology has changed the wilderness experience, true.  I no longer feel so remote or out of touch.  But listening to a story or a song, lightens my load in the same way my hiking poles help me on the trail.  They are tools however, and not a crutch.  I still have to do the work out here, they just make it easier.  Sometimes I listen and sometimes I’m quiet and in the moment. It just depends on what I want to get out of that part of the trail.

I cross paths with a hiker who has her phone pressed to her ear.  She steps aside as if we were meeting in the cereal aisle at Safeway rather than on a remote trail in the wilderness.  She’s calling Elk lake to say she forgot something and would they…. at this  point, I’ve moved out of range.  I still think it’s odd to have phones in the wilderness, it’s so incongruous.  I forget I even have a phone… I think of it as a camera, an audio player and a GPS but then I remember and stop to check my own signal.  4G!!  Hurrah!  I turn off airplane mode and the Galaxy begins to ding.  Messages are checked (there are a few well wishes from my family) and I send out a few of my own.  Now people once again know where I am and the world feels a little smaller and definitely less remote.

20160812_103701

I used my umbrella to shade my tent while I lounged about inside after my swim.

I cruise into Mirror lake and walk it’s perimeter before I settle on a site on the far side, tucked up into a stand of young pine.  The mosquitoes aren’t too bad, but I do get stung by a yellow jacket when I was bushwacking between possible camp sites.  I’ve taken 2 Benadryl but think maybe one more might be a good idea.  I’m glad I don’t have to hike any more today as Benadryl sleepiness will soon creep up on me.  It’s the only thing that will minimize my reaction to wasp stings which seem to have gotten worse the more times I get stung.  I hate to say I hate yellow jackets, but I kinda do.

I’ve got a nice little spot among the trees, the lake is a short walk away across the soft mud flats and I’m far enough away from the usual camp sites that I’m alone even on a well used camping lake.  I do my laundry and take a good long swim across the lake where I haul myself out on a rock in the middle and sun myself like a turtle.  I feel so good!  Another 9 miles down and now I can take a zero.  Finally, my first zero on the trail.  The hotel thing was nice, but not quite what I was imagining when I put this whole trip together.

Later, I have a wonderful meal, another one of my homemade dried creations.  Curried sweet potato, vegetables and rice, so delicious.  I thank my past self who made this  for me now and chuckle at the concept of time.  There was a Sky in the past who cooked, dried and packaged this meal and then here I am, opening and re-hydrating this little packet of nourishment and love.  It feels complete.

Time… I’ve been thinking about time on this leg of my journey.  Reading the Power of Now will do that to you but being away from my normal time centric life also puts these concepts and ideas into the forefront.  Everything happens in the now… even planning for a future event is something you do in the now.  Ruminating over the past happens in the now.  I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of time travel.  As if one could leave the present now and actually zoom forward or past and actually make that your now.  But in a way, when we project or remember, we are time travelling!  In our minds, we leave the present now to visit these memories or imagined futures.  Problems occur when we cannot see the difference between what goes on in our heads with what goes on in our NOW.

I’m getting it… slowly.  I keep re-reading these concepts and each time, it becomes more and more my reality as it reminds me how to focus on the now.  How to be kind to myself as I learn, how to withhold  judgments of others and  judgments of myself.  The more I release these pains and sufferings, the more I surrender, the greater (faster?) my growth.  My peace, my understanding… my accountability to my soul.  The less ego, the less mind…  the more integration of my body, mind and spirit.

That’s a lot to digest for one day.  I step out and take pictures of the setting sun.  The sky is on fire with the end glow of another glorious day and I feel immense gratitude for my place in the world.20160813_055903

Pushing the Reset Button

(Dear Readers, this is not a usual art related post.  If you read my blog looking for an image, well, you may want to skip this one.  Thanks for following along, next post will be about my newest commission, a dog portrait of Elton the wonder cur!)

Pushing the Reset Button

When an electrical system has an overload of current, a circuit is tripped, effectively breaking the connection of electrical power to the receiving agent. Be it a motor or a relay, the object no longer has access to current and thus maintains its ability to function. Without the tripped circuit, too much amperage can disable the object, rendering it broken or useless. After the power surge, one can reconnect safely to the electrical source by pushing a reset button.

And so it happened to me. Metaphorically, of course.

On Sunday, March 13th my head exploded violently. Sudden nausea, vomiting and pain which felt like I’d been shot. It’s called a thunderclap migraine episode, and usually signifies something very, very bad. The next day, my head still aching, I did some internet research and learned more about this phenomenon. I was ignorant about migraines as I had never had one before, I rarely get headaches for that matter. I called my physician about it and she promptly sent me to the hospital for a CT scan. It was inconclusive, no hemorrhaging. Was there an aneurism waiting to go off? Only a MRI would show. I didn’t have to do it, but the on call doctor said, (when I asked what would she do) that she would. “For peace of mind.”

Now, I know my busy mind, my creative-worrying mind, my alarmist mind… so I agreed. I needed that peace of mind. Big time. I was wheeled back down to imaging for another test after which I was wheeled back to the emergency room to wait. The room was darkened and quiet. I had no reception, so my phone could not entertain nor inform. I told my husband who was out of town working, that I was driving myself to the ER under doctors orders. That was the last he heard from me until later that afternoon when I was released. He was going to have to wait as well.

In the meanwhile, I started my second solo wait. I didn’t mind, I had wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to be thinking about anyone else during that time. I disobeyed doctor’s orders by driving myself in; the idea of calling a neighbor then corralling my thoughts about how I was messing up their day, their schedule, their whatever…. silly of me, yes, but I wanted that space. I didn’t want to allay anyone’s fears or concerns or have them reassure me and mine. Because as odd as this sounds, I didn’t have any. To worry is to think about the future. To get creative with what could happen, to what my life would be like when they gave me the news, whatever the news may be. I just wanted to focus on the moment and I needed to be alone in order to keep my focus.

Lately I’ve been working on that busy, creative mind of mine. Getting a handle on all it’s wild ways… the over thinking, the catastrophizing, the micro-manager of my life. It has been said that worrying is a waste of imagination. Well, in my case, I seem to be blessed with a massive supply of imagination. I often have to dial down the imagining; worry and talking myself out of worrying is an Olympic sport. And yes, it is fucking exhausting at times. In the previous months I had been subjecting my mind to a barrage of high voltage imaginative current… a continuous assault of intense thought, worry and mental gymnastics.

I finally found something that seemed to work like a surge protector, or maybe more like a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. It came to me as a book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I heard about it in January but it took me a month to get my hands on a copy. There is so much to this book, I don’t want to get into it, read it for yourself if you feel intrigued, but the main premise is a simple one: now is all there is. If you can focus your mind on being here, being present in the now, then you can erase your worries, your ruminating, your anxiety and depression which are all based on the future or the past. I loved Be Here Now by Ram Dass, which spoke to my 20 year old self quite deeply. But The Power of Now made more sense to my older self, it has affected me in a powerful way.

As I lay in the curtained cubicle of the Emergency Room, I focused on my breath. On listening to the sounds around me. Not thinking about “what if”. I just focused on being there, in the room, being alert, aware and waited. Which was all I could do… just wait. I don’t know how long I waited, time seemed to stand still, though I do know I was there for well over 3 hours. And then the waiting was over.

The doctor beamed back into the room. They found nothing. No enlarged vessels, no aneurysm, no tumor, no bleeding, nothing abnormal. The MRI was clean! The sudden migraine? A fluke, who knows? But whatever it was, I made her day and I was cleared to go. The nurse was all smiles. He said, “We give people bad news all the time. They come in here with a massive headache like that and then we see something. Usually not good. I’m so happy for you!”

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough… out into the cloudy skies. The sun broke through a gap as I walked back to my car, pausing on the way for an ambulance to pass. Someone else on their way to bad news perhaps, but not me. Not today.

I’ve been thinking about this moment for the past few weeks. I finished my Eckhart Tolle book and started another. I’ve watched his videos on Youtube, perused his website. Learned more about him and how he’s met with the Dali Lama, worked with Ram Dass, been interviewed by Oprah for her Super Soul series. I had never heard about him before this January and he’d been teaching these universal truths for years and moving in some pretty famous circles. I keep thinking about a circuit breaker… how I had felt overwhelmed and how learning about Tolle’s teachings gave me a respite from all that high wattage.

I’m not the same person I was before. I am, but I’m not. Maybe in an alternate reality I did have a brain aneurysm and was changed. How imaginative of me! But in this reality, I got to walk out of there with all my electrical parts in good working order, that surge didn’t fry my circuits. Now I can push that reset button. And start all over again.

 

In the Eye of the Beholder

Though the artist must remain master of (their) craft, the surface, at times raised to the highest pitch of loveliness, should transmit to the beholder the sensation which possessed the artist.

~Alfred Sisley

I’ve pondered these ideas… is the art in the eye of the beholder, or in the artist’s rendering of that thing, that image, that concept?  Is it both or neither? Is it, as Sisley suggests, a vehicle of transmission?  Art being the thing that carries the sensation, the feeling of the artist to the viewer who can then somehow share in what it was that possessed the artist?

Well, lots to think about there.  And many have.  For me, art is a very personal thing… you, and only you, know what you like.  Sometimes you know right away, and sometimes it grows on you, but regardless which way you fall in the spectrum of like or dislike, no one should tell you what to like.  It’s up to you to decide. For me, I gave up a long time ago trying to please my audience, because that’s an impossible task really, and so, I decided to please myself.

The other side of that same coin is, sometimes, in my own personal work, I may not care for a piece.  If I hate it, I will paint over it so I can get some more miles out of a canvas.  (Most artists are into recycling… even the old masters did it, it’s not a new concept.)  Or I will stash it away as a reminder that not everything I do is gold… far from it!  I really should get rid of some of the old crap, but I’m rather nostalgic about the old stuff… even the bad old stuff.  So, I keep it for me, and show it to no one.

BUT, one day, a friend was in my studio and she gushed over an unfinished piece that I happened to think of as bad enough to recycle. There it was, propped up against the wall waiting for a coat of gesso so I could stop looking at it’s horribleness.  I really disliked it.  However, much to my surprise, she loved it!  Something about the colors spoke to her and when I gave it to her she was thrilled.  I made her day with something that meant very little to me, but meant so much to her.

Now, rather than focus on the part about me handing over something I had no attachment to (as if that makes my gesture less than noble and then less than worthy) focus instead on the part about Maria.  She loved it.  She was happy.  She was so pleased to adopt this little wayward canvas and give it a home.

This was the third time this happened to me.  It took this happening three times before the significance of the act held any meaning.  And that was this: for me, even as a creator of art, am not the sole person to judge the value or beauty of my own work.

While I am making it, while I paint and create, I get something intangible.  And if, at the end, that thing pleases me, then great. If it doesn’t, then that’s ok too.  I still got something from the process.  BUT that thing that I don’t care for aesthetically does not mean that it’s bad.  In fact, someone else may love it.  More than one someone… maybe even lots of someones!

Case in point,  Purple Repose:

Purple repose

Purple repose

I hated this painting.  In fact, I was planning on recycling it but while I was waiting for the paint to dry I changed my mind.  My husband saw it and liked it, so, with a shrug, I kept it.  I hung it in the house and after a while, it grew on me too.  I came to like the blue colors, the broad strokes, the way the horse’s shoulder bumped out.  Later that year, I included it (as a print) in a series of blank greeting cards.  It became one of my best sellers.  People loved it!

The same thing happened with Walker Pass, only in reverse:

North of Walker Pass

North of Walker Pass

By reverse, I mean, this is by far my absolute favorite painting (right now).  I LOVE this piece.  It only got a couple of dozen Facebook “likes”.  Granted, this painting has yet to make it out of the house, but still… my dog snapshots get more “likes”.  I didn’t take it personally, because I truly believe in my heart and soul, that art is a personal thing.  I may take it personally if you tell me you hate it and why it’s awful and say other mean things about the thing I love, but hey, I’m only human and that kind of behavior is mean spirited and small.  You are entitled to your opinion, just keep the details to yourself if you hate something (or someone!) I love.

On the other hand, my next piece, I just didn’t love so much.  It’s not recycle worthy, not by far… you’d never see it if it was.  And I still wouldn’t post or show any piece I found embarrassingly bad, or trite or derivative or unworthy.  So, just because I don’t love it, doesn’t mean I don’t like it.  I may just think of it more as a second runner up.

But, it was a challenge.  I worked hard on this one.  The drawing was complex, the details, intense.  It is the 3rd in my series of images from the wilderness, photos taken by women hikers on the CDT or the PCT.  I’m calling the series, The Wilderness Of Women.  Now, here is where I love social media.  On Facebook, I asked women hikers if they would share with me (for the purpose of painting) photos from their hikes and I got an amazing outpouring of images to choose from.  So, choose one I did (thank YOU, Judy Flexer) and got to work.

Sketch for Spectacle Lake

Sketch for Spectacle Lake

I thanked Judy online and somehow, I don’t recall how it happened, but Judy kindly sent me a high resolution image of her photo.  I thanked her politely, but inside I was worried.  All those details… how was I going to block out all those details?  “Oh, buck up, Sky… you’ll be fine!” I told myself.  But I was worried.

And so, I bucked up and promptly fucked up.  It became a horrid mess of tiny, detailed, muddy strokes of paint.  Not the sure and swift flight of color that signified I was “in the groove.”  I bravely soldiered on, slogged up one muddy hill and down the next… madly mixing, swiping, swooping, adding, subtracting and aaarrrggggg!!!!  Nothing was working.  I was in utter despair.  So I did the only thing I could do.  The thing I have never done before.  I almost couldn’t believe what I was doing.  I took it off my easel, laid it flat, and poured turpentine over the entire painting.  I took a rag and wiped it clean.  All of it.  Even the sketch.  Gone.

I waited two days to go back into the studio.  I just couldn’t bear to look at it.  I had never scrubbed out a canvas before, it felt like a failure.  But two days later, I was ready to get back to work.  I followed the faint leftovers of pencil lines that were under the first orange outline and redrew the sketch.  Instead of the high resolution image, I went back to my original Facebook clipping.  That picture, I altered to be bolder, more saturated in color than the photograph Judy had taken.  I made it small and took off my glasses to blur the details.  I needed to see blocks of colors, not every single rock and tree.  I put on a favorite CD and lost myself in Spectacle Lake.

This second go round was tricky… I still had some issues and some personal demons to slay, but it finally came together and I was satisfied.  I signed it today, so that pretty much means it’s done.  It may not be a favorite, but it’s good, I’ll say that.  And when I posted it to the woman hikers page on Facebook…. well, it got 75 likes, right off the bat.  Goes to show you… beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Oil on Canvas 14x16

Spectacle Lake on the PCT
Oil on canvas, 14 x 16

 

 

 

North of Walker Pass

With all the recent attention given to the Pacific Crest Trail because of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, and the movie, and the Oscar nominations, there seem to be some who worry that their beloved trail is going to see a huge spike in activity. While most hikers are generous, caring, helpful and kind, there is a seedy underbelly of fear that has prompted a few on social media to be… well, less than kind in their criticism.

From what I can see, it’s all just a tempest in a teacup.  Twenty six hundred miles of trail is a long, long haul and the dedication and hard work involved in just getting to the PCT will thin the herd.  The trail will not be loved to death, there is still plenty of long, lonely miles to cover.  If anything, more attention to the PCT will ensure it’s protection in the future.  Sure, there may be some growing pains, but time marches on and interest will ebb and flow.  There are many other trails out there and new ones to blaze.

3FJack

I myself have trod more than  a few of those miles and will continue to visit the wilderness for its beauty, solitude and the replenishment of my soul.  I love it out there and always have.  I was the girl who  played in the woods, and I grew up to be the woman who dives deep into the forest.  Spending an afternoon following a deer path almost always sounds like a good idea to me.  When I die, I’d like to curl up under a tree on the edge of a meadow with a view of the mountains and let my soul escape to the wilderness.  My idea of heaven has craggy peaks, moraine lakes and clear blue water.

Fishes and Wishes Oil on Canvas 12"x16"

Fishes and Wishes
Oil on Canvas
12″x16″

The older I get, the more all the facets of my life appear to converge into one vanishing point.  That point seems to be focused in a small cedar sheathed studio in my backyard.  As I painted Hope Pass (https://skyevans.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/hope-pass/) I was struck by how easily this landscape came to me.  I hadn’t done a landscape that I felt so moved by until Hope Pass. It spoke to me and brought life to a seed that I had forgotten.  That seed was my favorite place and I found myself longing to see it again.

Three Sisters Oil on Canvas 22"x28"

Three Sisters
Oil on Canvas
22″x28″

So I am returning to the wilderness, but this time, I am returning to be inspired.  Because it seems as if images of the trail inspire me in that lightning bolt way that I am yearning for.  That bolt struck me last week as I was flipping through Facebook, reading posts by women hikers.  I came across another image I had to paint; thank you Jennie Norris for taking that wonderful photo and generously allowing me to use it.  That is the spirit of the hiking community, a heart that is so full of joy from the trail that they just want to share it with the world. It’s not the trail itself, the hardships, the gritty, dirt, sweat, heart pounding work that we want to share.  It’s the joy and the feeling and the emotion of wonder.  That’s something that can’t be boxed or quantified.  You can get out there and experience it for yourself or you can find someone to recreate that feeling.  Someone to move you.

Moving tools

Moving tools

It takes poets and writers, musicians and artists to do that.  Which is why Ms. Strayed’s book is so powerful.  That’s what great writers do, they move you to feel something.  If she didn’t move you, well that’s ok, she’s not for everyone.  But she DID move thousands and maybe eventually, millions.  And that, my friend, is powerful stuff.

I hope my art can move you too.  Because it is moving me.  Tremendously.

North of Walker Pass on the PCT

North of Walker Pass on the PCT

The Inspirational Stretch

Where does inspiration come from?  One can never tell, really.  I like to think of it as weather… a storm that blows in strong and unexpected or a misty rain that slowly seeps into everything.  Sometimes you see it coming and can shape it to bond and meld with your own will.  Sometimes however, there are bolts of lightning that make the hair stand up on your head and scare the bejeezus out of you.  I like those moments of inspiration, they are electrifying, thrilling and exciting.  But I also love the slow seep, where an idea builds and builds and before you know it, you’ve created something magical out of nothing.

Inspiration is where you find it.  this frozen puddle makes a cool fractal!

Inspiration is where you find it. This frozen puddle makes a cool fractal!

But lately, I’ve been all over the weather map.  It’s been raining, sunny, stormy, foggy.  And since our Western Oregon weather pattern has been matching my inspirational mood, I’ve been spending a great deal of time outside.  I’ve been hiking and testing equipment and getting ready for a return to backpacking.

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That’s me in the corner… getting in touch with my hiker self.

Maybe it’s all the hiking… or all the thinking and research I’ve been doing, but my muse has kinda skipped out on me.  It seems as if I didn’t have a single idea.   Well, that’s not exactly right… I have ideas but what I want is lightning  bolts.

So, when in doubt, clean.  I straightened the studio, scraped off the old paint on my palette and checked my inventory.  That’s  when it hit me… I was out of canvas!  How did that happen?!

Ok, so I know how it happened.  I’ve been painting.  Duh.   I thought about getting on line and ordering a new batch but I came across some stretcher bars I bought on sale and decided to do something I hadn’t done in quite some time.  Stretch my own canvas.

What’s that you say?  Stretch… canvas??  Well, well, children, gather round.  Way back when granny was poor as… well, a starving artist, she learned how to stretch her own canvas so she could paint.  Nowadays, she usually buys pre-stretched but she still knows how!  All you need is canvas, a wood frame and a staple gun.  I used to grip my canvas like a mad demon, but then I discovered canvas pliers which made all the difference in the world.

Tools of the trade... so to speak.

Tools of the trade… so to speak.

You can use regular duck canvas you buy at a fabric store (if you can find a heavy enough weight for the job) or you can order specialty artists canvas.  They even make pre-gessoed canvas.  Gesso is the sizing that is painted on a raw canvas to prime the surface for paint.  More about that later.

First things first, the frame.  You can build your own, or buy the premade and ready to put together “in whatever size configuration you like” kind.  These slip together at the ends with some clever tongue in groove joints… a couple of taps with the hammer and you are good to go.  Cut the canvas to size, (larger than you need, obviously) then, starting in the middle, staple to the frame.

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Canvas pliers doing their job.

Canvas pliers have a nice wide mouth and a foot to pry along the edge of a frame or stretcher bar. They grip the canvas, you roll them over the edge of the bar and pulling tight, staple the snot out of it! I couldn’t hold the camera, the canvas and the staple gun all at the same time, so you’ll have to use your imagination.  I staple each middle section, turning the canvas as I go, then work the corners in turn.  To get an even stretch, you need to put in a few staples, turn the canvas, do a few more and so on.  Rotation is the key to an even stretch.

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All finished stapling and trimming the excess canvas. I like to wrap my canvas around the edge of the frame and then paint the edges of my work. Eliminates the need for frames.

Probably the trickiest part besides the stretch is how to fold the corners.  How?  Trial and error, my friend, trial and error.  Just do the same thing on each corner, and make your folds as even as possible.  If you are not handy enough to make a neat corner fold, then canvas stretching may not be for you.  No worries though… it is kinda a pain in the ass to stretch canvas.  There is a reason why I don’t usually do this anymore!

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Next step, Gesso!

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Gesso… two types. Cheap and the not so cheap.

Gesso is just fancy primer. You can use regular wall primer but it is usually very thin unless you buy a top of the line product like Benjamin Moore which has some nice primers. Artist quality gesso is made with high quality materials such as titanium, plaster, clay, gypsum and marble dust suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion.  They will be thicker, cover better, and have the ability to be tinted.  But several coats of the cheaper stuff will most likely do the job.

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I use a wide brush that is dedicated to primers as the thick material is hard to wash out and will ruin my finer brushes.

If I had ironed the canvas before stretching I probably wouldn’t have this fold shadow in my fabric.  I thought I could stretch it out, but alas, it is still there.  The Gesso process will eliminate it, since as it dries, the sizing (glues and acrylic polymers) will shrink, further tightening the canvas.

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I paint several coats in perpendicular strokes. Even though this image shows a diagonal stroke, it was just to lay down the Gesso before smoothing it left to right. You can see how thick it is.

As I was writing this post, I stopped to do a little online research on Gesso and was surprised to find a number of YouTube sites that showed how to make homemade gesso with white glue, titanium paint, plaster and of all things, baby powder.  You can save $$ by making your own gesso, but I wouldn’t  suggest following unreputable sources.  Some of the videographers couldn’t even read the label on the Plaster of Paris box, which threw all credibility out the window for me.  However, they are on the right track.  Gesso in it’s most simple terms is white stuff and glue… painted on a surface so you can then paint on something white.  Done poorly, it will flake off and ruin your work.  Done well and it will last hundreds of years.  Keep in mind those old masters of yesteryear didn’t have access to the wealth of materials we can find in our local home improvement store.  So, really, in all probability you are going to be ok no matter what you use!

Finished canvas ready to rock and roll!

Finished canvas ready to rock and roll!

Best part of stretching my own canvas… I can make a non standard shape (this one is about 16″ by 34″ something you cannot find anywhere) as well as the satisfaction of DIY.  And I saved about $35.  Ten paintings later, that’s $350 so not too bad in the savings department. Oh yeah, and I also found my inspiration for my next piece! That lightning bolt was lurking about waiting for me to stroll by. So stay tuned!

Hope Pass

I heard back from my thru hiker.  (She’s mine, I claim her!!)  The photo she took is of Hope Pass.  I love this name, it’s so full of promise and the whole time I’ve been working on the painting, I feel happy and uplifted by the image.  So of course I have to rename the painting.  A rainy day kept me indoors and I finally got everything right that I thought was wrong with it.  Here is the completed work:  Hope Pass

Hope Pass, Colorado

Hope Pass, Colorado

Aerial Home

A Change In Perspective

Ever since moving to this property I have been obsessed with the idea of an aerial image of the place.  I managed to wrangle a small plane ride over our place early on in our history, and though I took snapshots, they were grainy and awful.  It didn’t matter, I was only going to use the photo to create a map of the land.  The snap shots sat on my drawing table for years… mostly gathering dust, never culminating in any sort of accurate representation of what we had been doing.  Maybe what I had been obsessed with was documenting our progress as we took 10 undeveloped acres and built a shed, a house, a barn, a studio.  Once the record had been made, I relaxed.

Years later, a professional aerial photographer took a nice shot and we bought it, hanging it in a spot of honor in our home.  This fired up the old desire to somehow draw the land myself.  Especially now that I had completed my civil technician program which included mapping software and surveying coursework.  For awhile I thought I should use my newly acquired skills to render a plat map of the place.  But I couldn’t get fired up about actually measuring and then working on the computer.  Finally, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted anyway.  What I wanted was the exercise in thinking about what I liked about our home and aesthetically recreating the features.  I wasn’t going for letter perfect accuracy… I just wanted to use my own two hands to creatively “map” our property.  For fun, for the hell of it, and most importantly, for me.

Aerial Home

Aerial Home (North orientation)

Dark Shadows

Being outside heals me.  Outside is bigger than all the sadness in my head. Getting out of my head is a good thing.  I spend far too much time in there.  -Me

 

Dear readers… this next post is personal.  Since my blog is The Work and Ideas of Sky Evans it seemed time to post some ideas.  But maybe it’s more of a confessional?  Either way, if you like my art more than words, and you want to skip this wordy post, rest assured you aren’t missing much in the way of visuals.  The art I used to illustrate this post is from my early years.  Not very good IMO, but interesting to see this other side.  Having said that, bear with me while I try something new.  Not instructional, or piece specific musings but thoughtful, as in full of thought.

 

I can't remember when I did this dragon in the clouds... but I kinda like it!

It was 1983 when I did this dragon in the clouds… I never really cared for it, but for some reason I kinda like it now!

In the past few weeks I had the art show in the vineyard and summer time visits with relatives, (both most enjoyable) but lately the weather has rolled in HOT HOT HOT which makes it hard to get much done if you don’t get up early.  I like the cold, it sharpens up my brain.  Hot weather has me laying around with sweaty glasses of ice tea clutched in my paw, moaning about the heat.

Okay, so it’s not that bad.  But the day after the show I did wake up and sigh.  Not a “oh woe is me” sigh, or “damn I am about to be evicted” sigh or even a  “the world is fucked and my life is ruined” sigh.  Just a soft, weak, puppyish whimper… (I invoke the puppy image hoping to come off as cute instead of pathetic).  It was a “what now” sigh that I have come to associate with the let down after a long slog uphill.  The long slog was all the effort and energy getting ready for the show.  Which was good, and productive but definitely falls in the “uphill” category.

My display at the show.  All the hard work paid off.

My display at the show. Doesn’t look like that much hard work, but still….

Eight days later and it’s still not all put away. I seem to be having trouble getting my rhythm back after revving my engines for a week in anticipation of that 5 hours at the show. The hot weather does not help.

A thought and this post has been percolating away in my head since waking up with a “what-now-blues” feeling.  It’s about temperament. Specifically, artist’s temperament.  Somehow, somewhere, I picked up the notion that there was such a thing.  And that kind of temperament meant that artists were moody, prone to jags, hard to get along with and somewhat bi-polar, though in the old days, we called it manic/depressive.  As far as old days go, I am, literally, a child of the 60’s.  Andy Warhol and Peter Max were household names.  Jackson Pollock’s death and eccentric style was still in the forefront, and the music of the era included Don McLean’s famous “Vincent” which sparked a fresh look into Van Gogh and his famous mental illness.  (His work is among my personal favorites.)  Maybe these kinds of artists perpetuated the idea of the “artist’s temperament”.  Regardless of where it came from, I somehow grew up with the notion that there was such a thing.  And I was determined to prove it all wrong.

I Am The Endless Sky 1985

I Am The Endless Sky 1985.  Gravity defying tubes of paint and the cosmos.

Determined is a good word to describe me.  Not the only word, but a good one.  It irked me that artists were considered touchy and had to be “handled” for some reason.  Fuck that shit, I was as normal as normal could be.  Wasn’t I? With a flip of my locks, I would snort derisively.  I was determined to be happy, healthy, smart and together!  Reasonable, logical, empathetic, someone who was kind, a good person.  I wanted to be the best person I could be… I would not be a stereotype.  No dark shadows here!!

If I was reading this aloud, here’s the part where I would laugh.  Knowingly.  Maybe even sarcastically.

Because no one is really normal.  Normal doesn’t exist.  Decades later, I am finally coming to the realization that normal is an average and averages are made up of numbers that are added together and divided by themselves.  How can people be normal?  The world is a crazy place (watching the news will prove that) so normal must be crazy.  Maybe we should just embrace the crazy and applaud those who manage to cope and thrive amidst the chaos.

So then, is there an artistic temperament?  For a long time I didn’t even want to admit to being an artist. Even after I had a degree in Art, one in Art Education and had been an art teacher I was in denial.  I think I was denying the stereotype… but often stereotypes exist because they ring of truth.  Sigh. So okay, here goes.  Here’s my truth: I sometimes dance on the edge of depression.  Not a  “dancing with the stars” thing, but a little tap dance. I don’t believe I qualify for a full blown depression as outlined in the DSM-5 (not that I’ve read the description… I’d actually rather not know to what level I may rate) but little dark clouds have been a part of my life for a long, long time.

My Life, circa 1984

My Life, circa 1985

It’s my version of normal, those little dark shadows. When I was a pup myself, it was like waves of sadness.  In my childish mind, I could image I even heard voices whispering to me.  Nothing bad, but lonely and very sad.  I told my mother about it once; bless her for not minimizing or ridiculing me in any way.  I felt safe telling her about it.  But that was as far as it went.  Which may have been a good thing as it set me up to believe there wasn’t anything wrong about it and so, I didn’t worry about being sad.  My coping technique at the time was to sing.  I memorized the words to the Eagles song, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and would invoke it whenever those shadows came a calling.  It always worked.  One run through and my brain was back on track and feeling peaceful and easy.

 

The inside part.

The inside part.

 

Well, I grew up and out of my imagined whispering and as life got busy and hectic, the shadows ebbed and were kept at bay with activity.  Alcohol in judicious amounts is also a tool for ignoring those small voices.  I never was much of a drinker though, I have a fine line for it’s toxic effects.  I’m basically a cheap date. Instead I hiked or rode away the sadness.  Being outside heals me.  Outside is bigger than all the sadness in my head.

 

The Zoo 1985

The Zoo 1984 In this piece, the protagonist is covered in flowers, she’s an exhibit in an alien zoo. She wants to escape her companions, the fuzzy slugs. But at least she’s OUTSIDE!!

 

But here’s the funny thing about little dark clouds.  They come back around when you aren’t looking. You wake up in the morning and there they are raining on your personal parade.  They leave you with a low grade sadness that is aptly named “The Blues”.  As a color, I like blue, but as for “The Blues”, well, they fuel my passion for leaving them behind.  If I get up and get moving and do something I can outrun them.  Maybe that’s why runners run.  I’m not a runner, but I can paint.  And when I paint, or create, I get out of my head.  Getting out of my head is a good thing.  I spend far too much time in there.

Fishes and Wishes Oil on Canvas 12"x16"

Fishes and Wishes
Oil on Canvas
12″x16″

 

In effect, I create because I have to.  So maybe there is something to this Artist’s Temperament after all.  Am I an artist because I have the temperament or do I have the temperament because I am an artist?

Either way, it’s also telling to me that I spend the most time with people who I believe fall on the low end of the crazy spectrum.  I can do edgy people, but only in small doses. But if indeed it is normal to be a touch crazy, then that puts me in the small doses band for everyone.  In other words, I can only “do people” in small doses.  Which makes me an introvert.  And indeed I do need alone time just to recuperate from normal social interactions.  Sometimes trying to stay dry under my own clouds is about all I can manage.

The Golden Chair

Chair two took twice as long.  I hope this isn’t a trend.  The last big problem wound up being color… I couldn’t find just the right color for the chair itself.  But after some experimentation and blending, I got it.  So, without further ado, here it is!

The Golden Chair!

The Golden Chair!

So far, here is the family of winged chairs.  For your imagination to play. Fly!!

Fun in the sun.

Fun in the sun.