Force of W & Water

When bored as a child, I was instructed to make my own fun. Never was allowed to sit around shoulders rolled, head down feeling sorry for my bored or lonely self. So I did just that. If I wanted to go ride my Schwinn bike, I went on alone or knocked on the door of a neighbor. I climbed trees, slopped around creeks, rode my horse or went to a movie. Sometimes I could convince another to join me though going solo was never a problem. Wondering now if I didn’t frightened my friends (or especially their parents) with my independent behavior.

As I grew up I imagined up a story that the force of my personality could somehow manifest my desires into reality from my daring daydreams. I noticed audacious provocative people often scooped up attention and accolades. The bigger the personality the bigger the life it seemed. I worked at being entertaining but thankfully found it exhausting. Never made it as a show off; it simply took too much effort. As I grew older, I found forcing solutions by creating noise and chaos was a fragile superficial way to fill a life. Gratefully, those hollow assumptions for living slowly fell away.

During the pandemic, embracing a quiet life focusing on small miraculous moments was the last evidence I needed to toss those overfilled rowdy experiences out for good. Plein air painting started me on this journey, Covid rolled gently living into a way of life.

Recently, travel has become an option again as the fears of severe illness have subsided thanks to widespread vaccines embraced by those willing to understand practical realities and accept responsibility for our shared humanity. The wanderlust that was tucked away for the last two years, stepped lightly and carefully out into a bigger world.

My trips before and now even more revolve around walking and hiking. For as long as my legs will carry me, this is my favored mode of travel. The pace meets my need for close observation allowing space enough for new unexplored places to seep into my soul.

I have never been drawn to iconic, tourist ridden sights or crowds, finding the most interesting experiences in small less noticed spots. Congested cities post-pandemic have lost any appeal for the time being. My adventures are outdoor affairs, my first new locale to the remote archipelago known as the Azores (pronounced ah-zor-as) a string of volcanic islands ruled by the Portuguese Azoreans in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Closer to Boston than London, the islands have topography and weather similar to Hawaii with the culture of Europe.

Traveling last fall, the Azores provided views from the ridges of volcanos looking down to the sea, then calderas (fresh water lakes filling the basin of dormant volcanos), looking up. Rivers of trout, oceans of dolphin and whale observed on land or by boat. Gales of wet weather moving toward Portugal tossed us toward the edge of those high ridges threatening a tumble down lush steep inclines. Low clouds shrouded our paths, then broke for spectacular vistas. Black sand and rock beaches stroked by crashing waves from deep blue water to clear blue skies above the horizon. The travel to and from was tricky. The freedom to be far away though healed my heart in so many ways.

In May, rafting the Grand Canyon finally happened after a false start summer 2021, when a non-Covid respiratory illness snatched away this bucket list adventure temporarily. Finally launching with a group of total strangers, the expedition moved along187 miles of the Colorado River for a week off grid. Time there was as magical as any exploit I could have imagined. The bottom of this “ocean of air” is an extreme place feeling both intimate and remote, welcoming and treacherous. The scale of terraced rock walls is a crushing diminishing experience of vulnerability I will not forget.

Weather is everything there. Thundershowers overwhelm slot canyons in minutes throwing chutes of rock and gravel clouding the river in red silt and debris-life threatening for anyone who “goes for a swim” meaning falls from a boat. In fact 2021, was so wet it did take the life from one rafter washed into the river along with four others during a deluge that disintegrated their camp.

The conditions are so tricky boatman superstitiously warn against so much as saying a word that might conjure the canyon’s wrath. “We only say the letter ‘W’ here”, they preached. In fact, we had three days of sunny sideways “rain” from the unrelenting airflow whipping up white caps and flinging bullets of water droplets at our raft and us aboard. At night, a steep learning curve on how to position your cot away from “W” occurred on night one sweeping dust fine silt from pillow, ears and every other exposed surface while sleeping. Facing away from the breeze going fully cocoon inside the sleeping bag improved the nighttime enormously after that first gritty campout.

And oh the nights! The moon was waxing toward full as we tucked in under its luminous light glowing on pink sandy beaches. In the very early morning, skies so black and clear were painted with milky starlight. Before the final dawn, the almost full moon set in the ‘V’ of radiant rose canyon walls. Sigh.

Brought a dose of humility, a sense of awe and a sprained ankle home in remembrance knowing the next trip would happen only a month later falling into a completely different landscape. Northern Ireland was originally planned for May 2020. It was rescheduled more times than I can remember finally landing only a few weeks later. Hiking the NI coast was another wet and windy treat in a place that was a green as the Grand Canyon is red to gold.

First excitement involved a dangling foot bridge. It took all my courage to cross on double wood slants and woven rope suspended 100 feet over crashing coastline. Blasts of sea air randomly shook everything leaving me to wonder at my foolish decision to cross. The journey landed us on an enormous rock (island would be an exaggeration) formerly used by salmon fisherman before they greedily depleted the native catch. It only occurred to me half way across the swaying span that this was a twice times endeavor. I shudder still at that dual memory.

The plan for the first days involved traversing the Causeway Path in segments beginning at the Giant’s Causeway. It was a challenging day motivating us to rename the place “The Devil’s” Causeway for good reason. In terms of “over coming fear”, the bridge was just a start. Once up the unrelenting rock stairs carved into the side of the 300 ft+ cliffs overlooking our starting point, gusts of wind howling from God knows where hit. It felt as if the force would sweep us all over the precipice or into barb wired fencing keeping flat meadows full of wool puffed sheep from suffering the same fate. At least it was sunny as we hunkered down pondering the odds for making it back that night.

Sunshine was brief however. Irish rain was expected and delivered on and off along with beautiful waterfalls, rock strewn beaches, quiet rivers, fat grey seals, and more birds than could be counted over the next days. This abundance of birds noted here were staggering against those in the stark Grand Canyon. GCNP did feature a pair of Condors along with a smattering of other winged creatures inspiring in a completely opposing way.

After these outings, my wanderlust satiated for the time, I felt a special sense of peace coming home. My garden now past peak is struggling with early heat of the likes not usually felt until August. And yet, I was home where everything is mostly the same except the gradual turning seasons. Nothing audacious or provocative around my home-place just still and calm.

My adventures felt expansive. An intrepid willingness to voyage away into the unknown. Though in reality, the challenging moments will never replace the fullness of unhurried unfolding of life at home.

I carried away a number of lessons this last months. Best wisdom? That Life will happen without my participation or my willful grasping and longing. I can force my way into adventures, or relax into a world presented as one small gift each parcel of time. Choosing fear-filled, fearless or serenity, the days will roll out morning to evening never to repeat exactly the same. My hope is just to be and be awake to it all. With every choice, there will be moments missed and that is okay too. It is enough.

As always, I am deeply grateful for your support especially during these last two years. Hoping each of us and our most beloved will find a way back to a new life that feels safe in these trying times.

Here’s what is coming up at the studio…

New work arriving in Breckenridge Gallery this month. Classes continue at Warehouse 521 this fall and next year. Always something going on with The Chestnut Group as well. And the 3rd new video is up on the Collector’s Series: The Fox.


“Fresh Air Painting on the Mountain”

July 08 - July 12, 2024
Monteagle, Tennessee

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