Thursday, September 24, 2020

More from Great Basin National Park

(Above:  ELK ... as in big, bugling to potential mates, and way too close to me!)

I would have enjoyed blogging every day from Great Basin National Park but the Internet connectivity between my old, 3G iPhone and my laptop just doesn't always seem to find a "sweet spot" ... aka a "hotspot".  Even when it does, the speed at which data moves is almost like my hiking ... the speed of a snail!  (Well ... not quite!  I'm actually finding that I'm rather "normal" on these high elevation trails and have every right to be very proud of my sixty-one year old body navigating trails deemed "moderate" or even "strenuous".)

After hiking the Osceola Trail, I returned to the distance parking lot that was at the far end of the trail.  Of course during the first hike, I had to walk back the entire trail to get to my cargo van ... but I decided to drive to the far end the next day in order to hike the Sage Loop Trail and the Strawberry Creek Trail which started from that very remote place.  I was the only vehicle when I arrived.  I was the only vehicle when I left.  Basically, it was just me and the wilderness ... and an elk!

I'd heard that elk lived in that area of the national park and that this was the season for bugling.  Yes ... bugling.  That's the official word for the sounds elk make, and it's a good one.  I didn't realize how metallic the sound was.  So starting off down the trail ... in the middle of a high desert sort of pasture with nothing growing above knee height ... I heard this strange sound coming from two places on the nearby mountainside.  A similar sound seemed to be coming from ahead of me.  I wondered if it might be elk.  I hoped to see an elk!  I should have hoped that the elk NOT SEE ME! But that's not what happened.

As I peered at the mountainside looking for elk, I nearly walked into one!  He was laying on the ground.  (In my imaginations, an elk would have been standing proudly ... and obviously ... not not blending into the short shrubs ... and certainly not with his back to me and allowing me to stupidly come within about twenty-five yards of him ... but that is what happened!) I was petrified. 

(Above:  The beautiful aspen and pine forest just off the open field where the elk was.)
Thankfully, one of a few, burned and downed trees was only about ten feet away.  Quietly, I shuffled over to the bare branches thinking it might make me look bigger if the elk turned his head (or at least put a few dried twigs between the elk and me!)  Of course, the elk bugled a few more times and turned his head in my direction.  He saw me.  He stood up. He stared at me. I could have fainted but that would mean moving.  I didn't move a muscle.  
Last year when Steve and I visited Rocky Mountain National Park.  We saw an elk.  A park ranger was also there.  He told us that elk are very skittish.  They will only charge if feeling threatened. But, how does one know if an elk feels threatened? If he felt half as intimidated as me, it could be a problem.  Then, the elk slowly walked about ten yards, stopped, stared at me, and walked another ten yards.  I had my camera in my hands. I aimed and took the photo.  For more than twenty minutes, I watched the elk as he walked, stopped, stared back at me, and got further and further away.  I waited until he was out of sight.  Why?  Well, of course he was walking in the general direction of my trail!  I sort of tiptoed up the path which finally turned into a lovely aspen and pine forest (away from where the elk went ... though I hear more bugling for another half hour!)

(Above:  Example of graffiti carved into the trunks of the aspen trees along Strawberry Creek Trail.)
I felt much more safe among the trees and aimed my camera at the literally dozens and dozens of aspen tree trunks with cut graffiti. This area is known for these inscriptions. Some of the signatures were dated to as early as 1911.  Many were from the 30s and 40s. This is, of course, wisely prohibited nowadays. I also snapped pictures of the eye-like patterns on the trunks.  I was so busy taking pictures that I hardly noticed the trail ascending over 1000 feet in elevation.  The trail is two miles up and two miles back.  

(Above:  Eye-like formations on the tree trunks.)

Every day I have walked over my Fitbit goal of 10,000 steps.  On the day I saw the elk, I hit 20,241 steps.  That's 8.84 miles!  When I initially wrote my proposal for this residency, I said I would hike during the day and stitch at night.  Honestly, I never thought I would hike for as long or as far or up so many feet in elevation.  I never thought I could be outside walking for five to seven hours ... but apparently I can!  What's even more eye-opening is how little stitching I am doing.  Sure, I've stitched a little every day, at least an hour, but that's not like me!

In the past I've always been driven to be productive, focused on the process of making in which I could lose myself, and happy to have plenty to show for any time spent during an art residency. That isn't happening here at Great Basin.  Something different is happening ... something meaningful on spiritual, emotional, and even intellectual levels. 

What do I mean by that?  Well, about fifteen years ago (shortly after I decided to "become an artist when I grew up" despite having no academic background in art), I went through Julia Cameron's twelve-step program called The Artist's Way.  It is a process meant to unblock artist, help them reach their potential, take their work and their creative calling seriously, and find internal support and confidence.  In a nutshell, the program teaches artist to do two important things: 1) write daily, stream-of-consciousness journal entries and 2) take a weekly "artist date".  Like millions of others (yes ... millions ... as the book has been translated into just about every known language since it was first published), my life was changed.  I've been writing my "Morning Pages" on my laptop since 2007.  Before that, I journaled long-hand.  I know that this habit propels me.

Because I've been so successful being "unblocked" and so easily productive, I never really put much stock into the weekly artist date.  Yet, Julia Cameron insisted it was important for maintaining inspiration and awe and spiritual/emotional balance in life.  She called it "filling the well".  For the first time, I'm experiencing what she really meant.  I thought I understood before, but I really didn't.  Here at Great Basin National Park, I am amazing myself with my own physical ability to hike, the awe found in nature, and the feeling of relaxation.  I am working but I am taking it easy, putting my brief time here with nature as the first priority ... putting "output" in second place.  This is new.  I always seem to learn something new during an art residency and this is most unexpected but certainly welcomed.


Margaret said...

Ah, dear friend! Glad you and the elk survived your encounter -- and I'm thankful it wasn't a moose! I also am proud of you for doing so well at altitude. I live at about 3,000 ft. above sea level -- and for 32 years lived even higher (3,500 ft.) in Calgary. It was always a treat to go running when I visited my Vancouver, B.C. in-laws (sea level). But that was decades ago now. You have combined older age with higher altitude -- and are doing well physically which is great. Seeing and learning about new forms of nature -- and the fact that your 61-year-old body appears to tire out before you get in your stitching goal, be it! You are filling your well with Good Things and as long as you have recorded them, you'll have time to produce, produce, produce when you get home (God willing). Hugs, and stay safe!

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

What a wonderful experience...

And just maybe you are supposed to be doing this kind of "viewing the artistry around you" versus stitching. It will be interesting to see what you do when you return home, will you searching your materials and supplies for items that resonate with your current experience...

Ann Scott said...

Wow, such a trip. I really enjoyed reading this post. Last time we were at the Grand Canyon an elk was lying head up on the lawn of a restaurant we were headed to. It was dusk, we were only a few yards from him, he was huge, and at first I thought he was a statue! I'm glad you ended up safe and, what a bonus, snapped a photo. The trees are wonderful too.

I wonder this year of life changing Covid-19, if you feel that has changed "filling the well" for you as well.