Finding power in the landscape and creation close to the sky

Mountains in distance
View from the Lehman Cave Visitor Center in Great Basin National Park
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” —Terry Tempest Williams

Earlier this summer I traveled with a friend to Eastern Nevada. We’d been talking about taking this trip for a long time, and this year it finally came together in a clatter and clank of camping stoves, tent pegs, and way too much painting equipment.

In late June the hills of California already rolled golden and tinder dry, but the deserts and mountains of Eastern Nevada were fresh and minty green. In some parts of the Ruby Mountains, the snow had melted only a few weeks before we arrived, and it made me giddy, the sight of so much water—it gushed off cliffs, roared through valleys, or just spread over the ground like it hadn’t a care in the world.

At higher elevations, spring ran crazy like a wild child, ribbons trailing and bare feet muddy, splashing up flowers at every step. Columbine, paintbrush and penstemon spangled meadows and glens; starry white clusters of Queen Anne’s lace dreamed in the flickering light of aspen groves; and cactus blossomed prickly under pinyon and juniper. If the earth laughs with flowers, the planet was falling out of her chair, cackling until she nearly peed her pants.

I felt like laughing too, trailing along these high mountain trails beside water and flower. And I felt something else: a sideways space of awe and joy that slid into my chest and made my dull-thudding heart want to leap and shout and spin.

This feeling was something so big and so full that it took my breath away. Gasping so close to the sky, I felt a belonging, a coming home, a connection that thrummed from the ground into my feet, shook my body, and shot like a rocket out of the top of my head. For a moment I became a small, bi-pedal conduit to a power far greater than my tiny humanity.

I’ve felt this way only a few times in my life, and all of those times have been when I’m outdoors: on a beach, or a mountain, or deep in a redwood forest. In between times, I forget these places of power, and I know I need to seek them out more often, for it’s in those places I find my life. I hope they help you find yours.

Aspens and rock painting
Spring meadow at 9,000 feet
Watercolor 5″ x 7″

Some people catch the spirit and speak in tongues. Others fall and writhe. Still others weep or sigh or sing. Me? I paint. I write. I create because the world spills out of me; to do anything else would be to waste what the earth gives me. And I owe it to the beautiful blue marble that gives me my home.

Peak at Lamoille Canyon
Oil on canvas panel  5″ x 7″



At the peak of liberty, I don’t want to see disposable diapers

Purple cliffs
Liberty Peak in the Ruby Mountains
Oil 5″ x 7″

Today of all days, when we celebrate our nation’s independence, I’m happy to post this little painting of Liberty Peak in Nevada.

There are many reasons why I’m proud and glad to be an American citizen, but in my opinion, one of the best and most important things this country has done is protect our wild places.

I’ve lived in other countries, and believe me when I tell you that what we have in the United States—national, state, and county parks; wilderness lands; vast tracts of undeveloped space that we all may visit—is nearly miraculous. Only a few countries protect as much of their land as we protect of ours.

Recently our wild lands have been under renewed attack on many fronts: People who want to rape the land to get at her resources, scar her for entertainment, build upon her for their profit. And then there are the people who are simply so clueless that they just don’t care.

It’s the clueless ones who bother me the most. The people who litter while they are in our magnificent places; who tramp off trail and destroy fragile eco-systems; who poop on trail (or leave disposable diapers or bags of dog poo behind) because they can’t be bothered to carry out their waste); who won’t turn off their boomboxes so that we can all hear the complex warble of a tiny wren.

They bother me because I think they do not to love the land, and their carelessness seems to be contagious. They do not recognize the gift that we have been given by visionary Americans: open, untrammeled space. And if they don’t care about what they do, why would they care about what anyone else does?

There are not only a million small wounds on our land, there’s a distressing lack of voices heard in defense of her. And if we little people don’t value our great open spaces enough to band together, how then will we fight against those big ones who would turn our country into one huge open-pit mine and cesspool?

I came of age with the image seared in my mind of a Native American man weeping at the trashing of his/our country. Yes, people complain about it being racist, maudlin, etcetera. But I think it helped change a way of thinking for a generation. And it seems to me that that Native American man is still weeping. Our tears mingle.

I hope you’ll visit our national lands this summer. I beg you to treat the land with respect. Out of patriotism at the very least; out of deep, abiding love at the most.

And since I know that you, my dear reader, love the land and would not leave trash on her, please pick up after those who don’t know better.