Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Look Back

Steps and Cliffs
16" X 20"
Acrylic on Canvas

A year ago this week I accomplished something that I never in my wildest dreams thought I could—or would—ever do. This week marks the one-year anniversary of when my husband and I, and our dear friends Bob and Peter hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney.

For those of you that don’t know me well, I am not lean and athletic. I’m about as willowy as the dancing hippos in Fantasia. Growing up, I was the last one chosen for any sport. If there was a ball involved, it usually hit me in the face. I was the one they put in the way-out outfield. So for me, this was a huge accomplishment.

A large part of my success is owed to the love and support of my hubby and friends who encouraged me the entire way up the hill. It was an emotional and cathartic trip. So please indulge me this moment of remembrance (then I promise to move on).

Over the past year, I’ve shared the enormity of this challenge with you through many stories and paintings. I’ve described the trail and the rocky terrain and if I were to distill the trail down into a word or three, it would be rocks, steps, and cliffs.

I thought I was fully prepared for the trail. I read every account and looked at every photo I could lay my hands on. Clint had even made a chart that broke the trail into sections, providing the distance, elevation gain, and average grade for each section. It was part of his “how to eat an elephant” strategy (one bite at a time) to get me up the mountain. Laminated and hung off my backpack, this chart was my road map. I knew what to expect and mentally prepared myself for each section (10% grade for 2.25 miles—a cinch!).

However, that road map didn't tell me anything about the nature of the trail, whether it was smooth, rocky, or full of steps. That's what left me slack-jawed in surprise—the number of steps. I don't mean how many times I put one foot in front of the other. I mean stair steps—that ranged from six to a honking eighteen inches tall—cut into the rock in places, naturally occurring in others. I expected steep—but not all those damn steps.

 Steps and Cliffs
9" X 12"

By the time we arrived at Trail Camp, six miles into our journey, I'd climbed enough steps to last me the rest of my life. I had to take three breaths and then heave-ho to get up many of them. I was carrying a 33-lb. pack and with my extremely short legs, some of those steps were above my knees in height. Somehow, I made it.

It was three days of extreme focus: getting up (and then down) those steps and calculating every foot placement to stay balanced and in control. I was so intensely alert, that in my dreams I was still hiking. I couldn't stop. The second night, after we summited Whitney, when I was drifting off I dreamed I misjudged a step and stumbled—jerking myself awake, my heart pounding, my mouth like paste.

And so, not long after the trip, I had to draw and paint that unforgettable memory of steps. Steps ascending a trail hung on the edge of the world.

I worked quickly and completely from memory.

I wasn’t sure about putting these pieces up on the blog because, well, who wants to buy something like this? When we trotted out the pieces to decide on which of them to frame, I put these in the “No” pile. Who would want them? They are kind of Mordor-ish, disturbing, alien.

I thought about painting over the canvas. Why not re-use it? But I can't. If I cover it up, it will nullify all the hard work and dogged determination I put into that trip. Failure was not an option for me.

In honor of this anniversary, I wanted to share these pieces with you. They may not be my best work, and are not likely to end up in anyone’s living room, but they truly represent what my art is all about, releasing my feelings onto canvas and paper. Whether that is joy, awe, euphoria, or fear, there it is.

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