Two years passed since our last desert encounter, yet our fourth meeting in this land of comb and canyon feels fresh as the first. Here boundaries between natural and manmade blur. Cut by water, worn by wind, canyon corridors provide for people movement too. Sand solidified, crumbled, muddied, hardened, cracked, returns to sand, leaving fanciful formations. Side canyons beckon scrambles over freshly fallen rock. We sense geologic motion, gain grand perspectives. From our camp beneath tall ponderosa pines, sunrise dawns beyond rock spires, coloring sky. Another form of sun, etched on rock wall. We try to understand on our terms, but what were theirs, mysterious people past, people of the ground, and of the place. Beyond the canyons, stretch expansive sagebrush meadows with moody, moving spring skies of gray greens and blues. Evidence of ancestors draw us back into the folds and wrinkles of these part solid sand dunes. We look in at impossibly perched places looking out over centuries. Weathered and worn, stone becomes shelter, protects from wind and rain. Where have we been, where are we going? We look, and know we go where others went so many years before. Through trough and over crest, they traveled then, we travel now. From high, we follow spreads of wrinkles and waves, a land map of rock, to be read like ancient patterns inscribed on cave walls.
Creating these artworks connected me to the wild areas in Southeast Alaska where I sketched. I plan to share them through notecards and at art shows. I hope they bring you inspiration too!
I’ve seen my second full moon rise over the snowcapped peaks of Sitka. Etched in the clouds, a streak of golden light swelled to a shimmering globe.
Through the dense tall tree trunks, I’ve glimpsed the silhouette of a small Sitka deer, as he startled and disappeared. In my ridgetop tent, I’ve been woken by a clucking ptarmigan, with snowy white plumage, a handsome black head and red beak. Through the night, the landscape glowed in shades of silvery gray.
As the red blush moon sinks into the sea, fresh light brings focus to the day.
In May, my second month, the forest understory shows off its green plumage like a peacock’s emerald tail. I walk among carpets of starry mosses, colorful lichens and sun sparkling leaf sprays. In soft moist bogs, tentative stalks burst into bold skunk cabbage soldiers. Like the spring forest, I sense a deeper layer, a growing connection to this landscape.
A magical place is the promontory of Totem Park, where forest meets ocean. Tentacles of water ebb and flow rustling pebbled beaches, discarding ribbons of red-brown seaweed, broken white clamshells and white-washed wood.
Where the Indian River estuary joins the sea, there is a wealth of sound and activity. A merganzer duck family paddles around a floating log, watched by bald eagles perched on tree tops high above. I hear multitudes of birds’ sound – calling, screeching, wings flapping, and sometimes just a whir as they pass by.
The aliveness of this place enraptures me. I pause mid-stride while running, watching as an eagle swoops or a sunray lights the water gold. From stillness in sketching, I step out to tidal pools where orange-tentacled seastars stretch and scrawny crabs scurry.
When on the trail, my inspirational backpacking partner and I would often contemplate the beauty of our minimalist lifestyle and our raised awareness of being a human in nature. Casey Lyons captured that feeling in these excerpts from his recent article:
“Then one morning, you open your tent door and you know, sure as dew glistens in the sun, that you are just exactly where you should be. There’s no distinction between you and the woods and the trail, because you are all part of the same bigger organism…
You’re floored by the way a tree bark looks when the afternoon shadows give it infinite depth, the sight of a caterpillar silhouetted through a beech leaf, the way a summer cloudburst sounds when you can’t get out of it and don’t care, because being wet has been a condition of life forever and now it’s part of yours, too.”
Lyons, Casey. “More is better: Long-distance hiking.” Backpacker June 2014: Pages 12-14.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
― Sagan, Carl (1994). Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Random House.