We hiked, by my count, around the girth of three or four gentle old mountains. It was a beautiful hike that balanced cliff-clinging climbs, descents and straightaways. There were a few pretty, small streams to cross along the way. We landed at a campsite where we could pitch our tents beside a rushing stream and have water music all night.
It was an easy descent to the water where there was a little sand beach big enough for three camp chairs. There were also wild trout, mayflies, rounded stones and the play of light to watch. It was an east-west running stream, so the sun rose at one end, and set at the other, raking light across all its twists and turns at both ends of the day.
Summer’s leaf cover had not yet appeared and the light of the sun hit the forest floor and everywhere there were wildflowers. They were subtle and small, and the game was to detect them, and share the siting. Then we would all hover, taking multiple photographs of them, collecting them in our minds and cameras like stamps.
It’s amazing to me to have reached this age when the body begins to wilt, and find that the mind and spirit have outgrown their container. I feel my body’s reluctance. I now carry a couple of prescriptions to take me safely from domestic life to the wilderness. The passage of time is a shared experience, at least, and there’s comfort in that. Sometimes, now, we adjust the trek to fit our circumstances. No one wants to stop. We all want, instead, to adapt and continue.
Backpacking is a little like business travel for me. I backpack to gather images for the next body of work. I also go to relax and recover from a world laden with trash of every kind— tons of single use plastic all generated in my lifetime, exhaust from cars, media born from mediocrity, trashy thinking built on greed and self-absorption.
Another reason is to experience, even if only for a couple of days, a life with very few possessions—all one’s necessities coming in at under 25 pounds, fitting neatly into a little bag on one’s back. We are turtles walking upright.
From this campsite, the hikes all involved multiple stream crossings. The last time we were here, we crossed 23 streams in a day, stopping at each one to take off shoes and socks, and, on the other side, to put them back on. By day’s end, shoes and socks were soaked anyway, and I finished the hike barefoot. This time it was colder, and we wore shoes made for fording streams. It was cold enough for coats, and I dreaded those stream crossings like a tooth extraction. But like so many things I dread, they turned out to be nothing. With trekking poles and great care, I crossed the widest and fastest one with ease. My shoes wicked the water away, and the wool socks were still warm even when wet. We descended to the bottom of a thundering waterfall, and ate lunch on a big rock.
At the end of the hike up from our creekside camp , back at our truck, my phone had a weak signal. I received a message from a wonderful writer and friend asking me to sum up my sense of my newest exhibition for an article. My heart was so full of the woods, and so empty of the human world that I spun out an instant answer with my thumbs stumbling over one another in great haste. I realized in that moment, that those paintings are an attempt to have a creek crashing through my living room, and a monumental rock face occupying the wall of my bedroom. The paintings are scraps of my dreamscape, I wrote. They are there to stand in stark contrast to our constructed reality and to remind me of these hard won moments of purity and complex perfectly interwoven beauty. They are there to take me back home.