lees ferry week 3
4.16.12 – 4.22.12
The beginning of this week & the end of last was marked by quiet solitude because the other occupant of the house is only here every other week. Alone with only my own activities & thoughts, I have been connecting with the rhythm of this place, which for me is probably a much different experience than what it is for the many visitors who come to stay in the nearby campground for only a few nights or for the Park employees—law enforcement rangers & maintenance personnel—who reside in this tiny community of 6 dwellings. I am not surrounded by other campers, nor do I have to rise at a specific time to begin working a long shift. I awaken on my own, early enough to beat the sun before he rises over the cliffs, greeted by a baritone chorus of great horned owls & the insistent chatter of a western kingbird who favors a tree outside my window.
I sit outside whenever the weather permits, bundled against the chilly morning while sipping a mug of piñon coffee, accompanied by the rush of the river below & the warbling tangle of house finch song above, breathing in the sweet fragrance of the clover grass in the backyard, watching the sun begin to burnish the surrounding cliffs, a whisper of breeze tickling the leaves of the trees. I can almost feel the cliffs breathing, waiting for the day to begin. In the evenings, I gaze over the river which flows copper with the carmine reflection of cliffs glowing in the sunset. This is what an artist residency is all about… gaining a sense of the place & defining what the layers of meaning are for yourself. Exploring how they affect your perception & your creativity. Having a good chunk of time without other distractions to do so.
On Monday, I was finally able to return to hike in Upper Cathedral Wash, eager to discover what I might see at the end of the trail, which is the head of the wash where it originates from the base of the Vermilion Cliffs. I was not disappointed… a tumble of multi-hued boulders & rocks, carved cliffs, & the layered evidence of the previous oceanic life that existed here accompanied me to the massive base of the cliff.
More car sized boulders awaited just the right moment to crash down, yet seemed so perfectly balanced as to remain in place for at least another century or so.
I hiked in solitude, never seeing another person, the only sounds the crunching of my feet over sand & gravel, serenades from the black throated sparrows who flitted back & forth between blooming bunches of Prince’s Plume & the lower cliff tops, & the “swoosh, swoosh, swoosh” of a raven’s wings as it flew by.
After about an hour of hiking—my hour most likely measuring distance a bit differently than the “seek & conquer” kind of hiker as I am a “seek & wonder” kind of hiker—I was greeted at the base of the cliffs by the sight of a fantastic series of sculpted pourovers in the cliff face marking the spot where the storm waters cascade down somewhere from the top. The entire cliff face is not visible here because the cliffs are ruggedly stepped back, not smooth vertical walls, but what I was viewing was massive enough to give just an inkling of an idea of the sheer mass of the Vermilions.
After a brief rest on a handy lounge spot the size of a giant’s hand…
I started to hike back out, stopping for awhile to do a field watercolor of angular chocolate cliffs juxtaposed with airy wands of vibrant yellow-green Prince’s Plume.
That evening, determined to do a little stargazing now that the skies had become very clear & the full moon had waned, I stepped outside. I had become intrigued with the morning view from my bedroom window that looks out to the southwest towards part of the Johnson Point formation & the Vermilion Cliffs; I wanted to see what it looked just as night fell.
As soon as I made it outside to stand in front of my bedroom windows, something quite large swooped in front of my face. I suddenly became aware that I was surrounded by diving, tumbling, & flapping forms—bats! I don’t know my bats very well, but I could tell there were two species, one small & one large, & my ears told me they were quite close since I could very distinctly hear the flapping of their fleshy wings. I quickly realized that my glowing bedroom light was providing the bats quite a feast with the insects it was attracting! Although I am not afraid of bats & I know they have such good sonar that they rarely run into things, I decided to forego stargazing just in case one was having an off night & slapped into the side of my head. I really didn’t want to take the chance of letting out a scream in the dark while living in a community full of armed law enforcement rangers!
The following evening my stargazing efforts were successful; I set up my chair outside as dusk fell & made sure all house lights were off. A few bats were tumbling about, but nothing like the previous evening’s swarm. Just as a few stars began to appear, I went to check the view out front that I had been seeing from my window & was enchanted by the sight of the constellation Orion hanging in the neon blue sky over the silhouette of the cliffs. I decided that this would be the subject of my next tapestry if I could manage to finish upriver in time. I returned to my chair in the backyard & wrapped up in a blanket, listening to the river’s rush & watching the stars slowly appear by the hundreds, shimmering like diamonds in the velvet ocean of sky.
The next few days were spent journaling for my blog & weaving. I was determined to finish upriver so I could begin & hopefully finish the new tapestry before my residency ends. By late Thursday afternoon, upriver was completed & I had begun weaving the bottom header in the empty warp above it for the new tapestry.
With upriver, I was experimenting with creating the illusion of depth in a flat surface & trying to continue to develop my work in the direction of abstract realism. I want to create works that are not so abstract as to be unrecognizable, but which are not carbon copies of the scene, object, or image I am trying to represent. Photographs can capture statically beautiful images, but photographs cannot capture what one sees & feels in the soul or mind. They are cold reproductions of what is real. I have come to feel that while weaving directly from & rigidly reproducing a photographic image takes much skill both in technique & material selection, it does not express what I felt about a scene, object, or image that inspired me to interpret it to begin with. There has to be more than just copying. I think upriver is my most abstracted effort yet & I am pleased with it.
After spending a couple of days squirreled away inside the studio, it was time to get out again. Upper Cathedral Wash was calling me to return for an early morning hike, to seek out & capture an image of a wondrous offering I had observed during my last hike…
Upon my return, I was ready to spend the afternoon in the studio again; the days here are heating up as they do when May approaches the desert. Temps have been reaching high 80s & low 90s, which can feel even hotter at higher elevations or when surrounded by cliffs that soak in & radiate the heat back out like a solar oven. I completed a simple watercolor of the view outside my bedroom, which had started as just a rough sketch of the landforms’ outlines I quickly did on a previous evening as dusk fell. This little painting is the study for the next tapestry, vermilion sky.
Saturday was completely filled by the activities surrounding my scheduled program at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. Many people, children (& Rangers!) were enchanted by the looms, the completed tapestries I displayed, & the act of weaving itself. I was set up in front of the giant curved observation windows that overlook the face of the Glen Canyon Dam, which offered wonderful natural lighting, an amazing view of the dam, & a constant flow of visitors.
Ranger Cindy, a quilt artist in her ”spare time”, quickly became comfortable enough on the teaching loom to introduce young visitors to weaving…
Sunday--Earth Day—a hike was definitely in order! During my other two hikes into Upper Cathedral Wash, I had noticed that the wash split into two branches & both times I had hiked up the right one. Today I took the left branch. This one turned out to be the wild sister—longer, narrower, less sand, & more boulders to clamber over & around. Even more fantastic evidence of the forces of water, erosion, & messages left by a forgotten sea.
The reward for the harder hike came when I reached a cavernous natural amphitheatre, too large to photograph in its entirety, at the base of the Vermilion Cliffs. It appeared as though it had been chiseled out of the cliff face; a water carved slot towered above that would produce a breathtaking stream of water during storm runoff.
After marveling at the scale of the space & my own smallness in comparison, I was preparing to hike out when a hummingbird buzzed past me… it seemed to disappear into the cliff face, but in a moment buzzed back out again & down the wash. Suddenly, I spied the day’s treasure—a wee little nest the hummingbird was constructing on a delicate ledge, protected by tons of cliff above.
As I hiked out the day burned brightly, & I was accompanied for a short while by a rock wren. He flew from boulder top to boulder top as I hiked, taking advantage of every moment to serenade his suddenly available audience with his bright song.
The afternoon was spent at the loom, getting vermilion night underway & contemplating what I should consider doing during my last week in residency. Already scheduled is an uplake trip to Rainbow Bridge with my Ranger, Michelle H.; Michelle also has invited me to stay in residence a few days longer to do another program at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center next weekend for Junior Ranger Day, an event Glen Canyon NRA has planned for National Park Week. During National Park Week, admission is free to enter all National Parks, so if you live near one, get out there!
This work by lyn hart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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