Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Mountain

The Mountain
11" X 14"
Monotype, Ink and Tempera

There was a point when I didn’t think I was going to make it. I had just stumbled over the scariest half mile of trail—that seemed like ten—in my life, with only fleeting glances away from the narrow path that jellied my legs and set the cloud of butterflies whirling in my stomach. Beautiful, but terrifying, each step carefully placed on the loose jumble of rocks they called a trail. Talk about mindfulness, I was nowhere else but right there, focused on one step in front of the other.

We stopped at the outside of a spire where there was a blessedly wide spot to rest. While we recharged, a couple passed us; the man was lifting his wife down the fractured rock steps of the narrow trail. In only two steps, the tops of their heads disappeared down the steep path.

Off to the north, was the mountain. It was impossibly distant, the summit hut barely visible from where we sat. There was an urgent whisper inside me:

I can't do it. I’m scared. I don't want to climb over scary rocks on the edge of a cliff anymore. What if I break an ankle? What if I fall, making a coyote cloud in the bottom of the canyon? That would sure ruin the trip.

I caught myself and immediately shut down the thoughts. Can’t think about it. Gotta just do it. Can’t be the reason we stop after getting so far. Pride—overruling fear and fatigue. We shouldered our packs and kept on moving.

I will remember that moment sitting there and looking at the summit of Whitney the rest of my life. Overcoming the fear and moving on was a powerful moment in my life. The image of the ridge is burned into the movie screen in my head. Sometimes it appears without my summoning it. Like with this painting.

This is a monotype. Starting out as a gelatin print, I don't think I had anything specific in mind when I was putting ink and tempera on the plate—or maybe I did—I don’t remember. What I do recall is that I was either out of time or out of patience when I tossed the print onto the table.

Over the weekend, I decided I needed some studio time or my head was going to explode. Climbing the stairs, I found the wind had blown my pile of sketches, half-finished watercolors, and various rejects all over the studio. I picked up the discarded gelatin print and saw the ghost of the mountain in it. The image was backwards and not exactly the shape of the ridge, but it was reminiscent of the image tattooed on my brain. I added a little more color and teased the shape into existence, bringing it back to life out of the hint of what was there.

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