Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Celebrating Our Independence

Wild Iris
11" X 14"

We went on the most wonderful hike on July 4th. It had been a while since we’d really gotten out and stretched our legs, and boy-oh-boy did it feel good. To celebrate our independence, we went out to the San Gorgonio Wilderness near Jenks Lake and hiked out an undulating trail to a beautiful lush creek near an area known as Johns Meadows.

As with darn near every trail we’ve hiked, it starts out going UP. I like to think of this first, ovary-busting section of the trail as “the proving ground”. It’s usually hot, dusty, and rutted from heavy traffic. It is the section tackled by women in cute sandals, men who rarely leave their easy chairs, and Game-Boy-athlete children (thumbs of steel!) who huff and puff their way about two-thirds of the way up that first big hill. Thinking they have traveled many miles deep into the wilderness, they begin to worry about bears—and realizing they have no water left, and they are kind of hungry—give up, turn around, and slog the half mile back to the trailhead—later bragging about the killer hike they tackled over the weekend.

What they don’t know about this testing part of the trail is that once they crest that first big ole hill, they are rewarded with a path that gentles, coming alive with wildflowers and plant life. They are gifted with the trees' earthy, piney, cedar-y scents that soothe the soul, generously shade the trail, and welcome you to the wilderness.

I believe this is your reward for sticking it out—for having the gumption to get up that hill and the determination to continue on to your destination, while, of course, savoring every step of the journey. Ah, Wilderness!

Our first reward was this breathtaking wild iris that I’d never seen before—we almost overlooked it. We were nearing the end of the winnowing part of the trail. Our breath had fallen into an even rhythm and as we curved around to a fork, we found the delicate lavender flowers with dark purple veins, bobbing in the light breeze, displaying the most beautiful and perfect shape. It was a photo moment, that’s for sure. We snapped away and I knew it would make a great painting.

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.