Instead of a journal entry about my spring 2016 residency at Acadia National Park in Maine, I made a video. Many thanks to the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park for sponsoring me and to Maneesh de Moor for permission to use his lovely music.
Have you ever visited someplace remarkable, a place where you feel compelled to stop and wonder? Join me on a journey to protected areas that have been set aside as parks and preserves. These natural and cultural sites are protected by federal, state, and local entities and include those of conservancies and non-profit organizations. Perhaps my postings and gallery will inspire you to explore the ones I've visited or will serve as approaches for deepening and sharing your own explorations elsewhere.
Artist in Residence Programs
Making art accessible to all, developing ways to use artistic means to enhance the experience of nature’s majesty. At Grand Canyon's North Rim, I taught 2, hands-on programs on the sundeck of the lodge. The Park Service put up a shelter, some tarps to protect the patio, and a couple of tables. The shelter kept us comfortable, and the curious were drawn-in just by it being there. The tarps allayed the Park Service’s fear of damaging a historic building with spilled dye. We got around 20 visitors each time. (no dye was spilled)
The first program sensitized visitors to the colors in the vista before us. I organized them into the red team, the blue and neutral team, and the green team. We used paint store swatches to match against the scene. Each team came up with 3 or 4 colors which I mixed using my dye. (I had mixed up some base colors from my palette experiments of the previous week – so I only needed to adjust them to match – this saved a lot of waiting-around time.) Once our 2 p.m. color palette was ready, each visitor painted the colors onto "bookmarks" of watercolor paper to take home as a remembrance. I also printed the scene lightly onto watercolor paper so that they could paint-over it later. I suggested markers, acrylic paints or watercolors. I was pleased that so many were glad they took the time to tune-into color as a way of appreciating the view in a new way.
In the second program, visitors began a collaborative silk painting. (The finished work was donated to the park.) I printed a simplified photograph of the vista before us onto a 13 x 19 inch piece of silk. I used the color palette of silk dyes the visitors from the first program selected. Each participant got a paintbrush and in turn painted parts of the sky and the cliff shadows onto the silk. Once the image was broken down into shapes and areas, the painting was easy. I was surprised at how successful they were. We had children as young as 8 in the program. It was easy for them to do the sky in a wet-on-wet manner. The adults did the shadow shapes. I got several of the participants to sign their names so that I could give them credit for their work when the piece was donated. The education coordinator hung the finished piece I donated in her office as an example of inspired artist programming.
On my own in the park…..I visited all of the overlooks and day-hiked most of the trails. I went to every geology talk I could. I completed my color and time experiments. I trained my eye in composing the “grand landscape”. I spent a lot of time in silence and gratitude.
The images that have or will find their way into completed works of art were gifts. No matter how many miles of trail I walked, or how strategically I planned for the proper angle of light, the images were still gifts.
Programs Back Home
One of the requirements of my residency was to make a presentation about the park and the artist-in-residence program in my home community. The Ann Arbor District Library graciously agreed to host and to promote my talk. I used my painting, "Colors of Time" to illustrate both geologic time and being present throughout the day as the light changed the colors of the landscape. Other programs for various community groups followed, The Sierra Club, a creative writing course at the University of Michigan, and 2 of our local camera clubs.
Colors of Time Silk Painting
“Colors of Time” is huge: 4 feet tall by 71/2 feet wide. I enjoyed discovering patterns in the lines and shadows that must have inspired Native American art and graphic sensibilities. As I let my imagination flow, so did my brushstrokes. When I looked at my color/time studies, I decided on the image with 8 a.m. shadows. However, from my color studies, I found the greatest variety of colors culminated between 2 and 4 p.m. I found that greens began to differentiate around 10 a.m. At noon, the magentas arrived. Between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, the reds expanded into peaches, mauves, cranberries, rusts, and oranges plus the yellows of the sandstone sprang into view. So, my piece, “Colors of Time” used the photo from 8 a.m. and the color palette from mid afternoon. I used many of the same colors the visitors chose in my first program.
To inspire folks to enjoy their park lands, to metaphorically “dip their brushes” by using artistic means (music, words, images, constructions) to tune into nature, and to become stewards of the environment and supporters and protectors of these national treasures.
Sometimes we need to remember to pause and understand that travel details usually do work out.
I hurried from Badlands to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota (near Mr. Rushmore) - so worried about finding a camp site. (I got one of the four available.) Another camper recommended that I go on the scenic drive to see strange rock formations called the “needles”, and then on to beautiful Sylvan Lake. I parked at several of the overlooks on the way, camera in hand, wanting to take in as much of the scene as I could, yet worrying and hurrying - would the light fail on the treacherous drive back? Worry, hurry, gather up, and be afraid. Sound familiar? I’m starting to wonder if my trip westward was about ACHIEVING or if it was about RECEIVING. This image was a gift and a reminder.
Two Medicine campground near East Glacier is considered the "Mayberry" of Glacier National Park. The Two Medicine area is special to the Blackfeet Indians who consider it the backbone of the world. The name commemorates 3 talented native women. Two ceremonial medicine lodges were started by 2 holy women and the nearby Running Eagle Falls honors a famous woman warrior known for her ability to infiltrate enemy tribes. (The falls appear and disappear among the rocks).
"Mayberry RFD" - as in Andy Griffith's famous sitcom. The campground has a friendly, small-town feel. Campers are compliant by keeping their campsites food-free so bears are not a problem. YaY!!!
Huckleberries - look like blueberries, taste like heaven and are now in-season - they only grow wild in special eco systems in and around Glacier. Bears love them too.
Bear-Free - Glacier is home to a large population of bear roaming at large. When hiking, you are supposed hike with a buddy and be noisy so as not to surprise those bruins. As to the "fight or flight" instinct, bears often choose the fight option.
Since hiking is the "in-thing" here, I found a hiking buddy. She's a lovely high-school biology teacher and birder, experienced in the wilderness, and walks a perfect pace for me. (I have also armed myself with pepper spray.) 20 bear-free miles and counting…..
Each night I fall asleep to the sound of rushing water in the shadow of Mt. Sinopah ("Fox Woman" in Blackfeet). The clear water reflections and changing weather patterns have inspired some lovely photos and plenty of silk-painting opportunities for later.
Many of us visit national parks to see wildlife. However, our proximity to these fascinating animals can habituate them to us and eventually put them at peril of being put down when they start to seek us out. We want them to think of us as yucky humans to be avoided, yet we want to see them too. Such a quandary! Yet, as good stewards we keep them safe from us, keep them wild.
We secure our food in cars and bear-proof cabinets. We stay 200 yards from bears (when they are not attacking) and 25 yards from mountain goats, deer and big-horned sheep. One morning I saw a female moose swimming across Two-Medicine Lake in East Glacier through my telephoto lens. Believe me - it's still good.
The photo came from a hike with ranger, Lynne Dixon, to Noname Lake. Yes, the water is turquoise from Glacial runoff. We climbed the rock pile at the base of the mountain, looking for pica. Pica are small creatures related to rabbits. They live at high, cool places because they cannot regulate their body temperature when it is too hot. One entertained us for a few minutes - very sweet. Another 5 bear-free miles added…..
The "Native America Speaks" program at the campfire was very moving. We listened to a rendition of Iz's "Somewhere over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World" where the Beetles "Let it Be" added at the end gave us all a tear or two. The speaker explained the tribe's vision of God as an empathetic process of connection to all that is within and around. Caring came to mind. Feelings of deep connection to place and to each other resonated around Pray Lake by the time the program ended.
I ended my 2-week stay at Two Medicine saying a big "Thanks". In nearby East Glacier I say goodbye and thank-you for the bear spray and hospitality to the Sherburnes at Mountain Pine Motel. Many thanks as well to Brownies Bakery and Hostel for reliable internet, delicious huckleberry muffins, hot showers, and clean laundry facilities.
I arrived just as the "campground full" sign went up. I was about to ask where else I could camp when the host said, "I've got one RV site left. You can have it but it's $28 per night". I showed my senior pass and the price dropped to $14/night! So, here I am a week later, counting my blessings.
Throughout my "walkabout" in our national parks, I have been amazed at the bounty of fresh air, healthful activities, excellent ranger-lead programming, interesting stories from folks all over the U.S. and abroad, and the deep silence at night - heavenly. The real estate can't be beat - oh, did I mention the views? This image appeared just after the sun set on my first night. A highlight of my stay was lying in a meadow at the rim, watching the Perseied meteor shower.
Crater Lake is open year-round and hosts 400,000 visitors each year. The park covers 183,000 acres; the lake represents only 7% of the area. In winter, folks cross-country ski or snowshoe around the lake - it takes 3 - 4 days to do so as they have to route around avalanche areas. Between September and early June, Park personnel plow an annual snowfall of 44 feet of snow - they can only plow 1/4 mile a day because they also have to cart it away.
Now, the cost to taxpayers. 200 rangers are on staff during the busy summer months (I'm not sure about the winter staffing). Add in "search and rescue" and infrastructure maintenance. All this for - Crater Lake's annual budget is only $5 million! Do you think park superintendents should run health care systems?
In the Badlands, I was most likely to filter my experiences through the sense of touch. I felt the wind and constant erosion. Colors were tactile, broken down into sediments of pigment. I felt the cycling of light and shadow as wind drove the clouds overhead. The textures of grasses and shrubs were soft, crisp, brittle, porous, and sticky. Everywhere felt palpable and temporary.
Because of the human scale of the formations, I could move quickly through them on hikes, navigating by their undulations as much as by sight. The tactile was a more sure way of orienting. Viewpoint was insufficient as it changed so quickly. Despite the open trail policy - I stayed on trails. When I occasionally lost sight of trail markers, I steered by the feel of trail worn down by others.
Here's my favorite, formation, "Yellow Mounds". I imagined them tasting of butterscotch and caramel. I saw them as soft, warm, and smooth. But, I felt them as cold, dry, and brittle as I raked the grasses through my fingers.
On, Sept. 16, 2013, The clouds began to lift as I entered Badlands National Park. Mid-70's - ah… Pretty full of myself too - feeling proud for being selected for the role and anticipating a teaching gig well within my comfort zone. My contacts at the park service, Cathy and Julie, gave me a warm welcome. I introduced myself to last spring's artist-in-residence, Judy Thompson, a dear person and artist of highly appealing watercolors. She was there as a consultant. The housing was clean and very comfortable. My dear roommate, Lainey, a recent paleontology grad, was finishing her seasonal work assignment. Let's just say I eased in with alacrity. Little did I know what was in store for me… that my time at Badlands NP was every bit what any adventure should be.
The park encompasses 244,000 acres in southwestern South Dakota. It is known for its fossil resources (of way-cool mammals but no dinosaurs), an alien-planet style landscape of eroded mounds and buttes, and a mixed-grass prairie ecosystem where the buffalo (bison) roam.
The landscape at Badlands National Park was formed through deposition and erosion. The sedimentation we see in the Badlands formations began some 69 million years ago when a great inland sea covered the area. Uplift to the west encouraged rivers to carve down into the sedimentary rock layers in the last half a million years. The rocky divide where waters flow to either the White or Bad Rivers forms a backbone 100 miles long called the "Wall". The nearby town of Wall gets its name from this feature.
Badlands National Park is pretty spread out and, as many national parks, quite remote. Exit 131 from I-90 takes you 7 miles, past the Minuteman National Historic Site, a Prairie Homestead, and then to the northeast entrance. Here you find the visitor center, housing, main campground, and lodge. Two miles down the road is the town of Interior, South Dakota.
As you can see by the sign, Interior has had an interesting history.
My first buddy in Interior was, Sue, proprietress of Cowboy Corner (CC). Here I was welcomed into the community with a home-style lunch. I also learned from Sue's employee, Joe, that he relocated from Michigan because the folks are so friendly in Interior. CC is an eclectic business conglomerate containing a gas station, casino, used book library, an eating area, and grab-n-go grocery stop. Sue makes homemade lunches weekdays, chicken-fried steak Friday evenings, and prime rib on Saturday evenings. Park employees and locals alike gather daily with everyone sharing tables, and news.
Badlands Cowboy Corner:
Next a brief tour of Interior:
1. The old jail - ain't no bad guys get'n me!
3. Central Business District. With my back to Badlands Grocery Store / Post Office, I caught a view of the central business district.
4. School. I took a gander at the elementary school where I planned to teach 3 sessions to each age level. 46 students in all. Yes, I was ready.