To Our National Parks, Part One

I was ten years old when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was the culminating moment of what had been am exciting week-long trip to my new home, Arizona. Six months or so earlier, my parents had decided to relocate from Kittery, Maine, to the Prescott area (we ultimately went with Prescott Valley for its affordability), and during my February school vacation, we took a trip out West to look at houses and get acquainted with the area. It was all very thrilling at the time, as there were a lot of firsts for me: my first visit to Whiskey Row, my first encounter with the complex world of real estate, my first realization that the Arizona landscape is much more than a giant saguaro desert, and so forth.

The salient point though, was the Grand Canyon visit. It was the most expansive, bizarre, and awe-inspiring place I had ever seen, a yawning maw of rocks, geology, and history. It was my first real encounter of the sublime, that terrifying yet awe-inspiring realization of your own insignificance within the larger world. I would return to the Grand Canyon several times during the eight years I lived in Arizona, but that first experience was always the most profound, the most powerful.

Pictures can never fully capture the overwhelming quality of the Grand Canyon, but Thomas Moran comes close.
Now let's flash forward about fourteen years, to 2010. I had finished my Master's degree, and just relocated to Jackson, Wyoming for a summer internship at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. It was a great professional experience, but what I really remember is the setting. For three months, Grand Teton National Park was my backyard. Every weekend I went out hiking in those incredible mountains, taking in the majestic beauty around me. I scrambled along craggy rocks, listened to the almost musical rustling of the summer aspen leaves, and spent many hours staring out at the region's many lakes. I saw bison, moose, elk, and other animals, most of which I'd never encountered before.

One week during that summer, my sister came out to visit. We spent a weekend at Yellowstone, a place as otherworldly as Grand Teton is majestic. We saw weirdly-colored hot springs, spouting gysers, mineral-encrusted trees, and other oddities. It was hard to believe we were on the same planet, and yet we were. That summer in Teton reminded me of how wonderfully bizarre and beautiful this planet really is, and those three months remain among the happiest of my life so far.

Even now in Roswell, state and national parks remain an important part of my life. Bitter Lake is particularly sonorous for me. I love going out there to listen to the various birds, and the rustling of the wind in the grass. For a moment, it's like I'm back in Teton, listening to the aspens all around me. It's incredible really, how beautiful and diverse this country is with all its different environments. I've never been an especially religious person, but when I'm out in nature, I cannot help but feel immersed in some greater universal energy.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Out at Bottomless Lakes. It's a state park rather than a national one, but still a favorite of mine.
Which is why I'm disappointed to hear that Congress in considering a bill that would allow the parceling off of federal land. I generally don't get political on this blog, but these parks are our collective heritage. These lands are for the world's inhabitants to enjoy, the humans, the animals, the bacteria, and all other beings, not only for today, but for future generations. Regardless of your political affiliations, it's vital that we preserve these parks. As someone who has been fortunate enough to experience these places in person, I can say that it's salutary for the human spirit, and to destroy these environments would be to deny an essential part of our humanity.

Consequently, I stand in solidarity with our national parks and their commitment to sharing the facts, and have decided to put my own art to work for them. Earlier today, I rummaged through my portfolio and found this print:

At 15" x 22", this is the largest print I've done to date. It's based on a sketch I did at Teton, one that was done during the evening when the light was fading and the colors quickly transitional from bright blues and greens to muted grays. I remember sketching it very quickly, working as fast as I could to catch as much detail as possible before it became too dark too see. I always wanted to do something grand with that particular sketch, though it would be some time before I had the skills and equipment necessary to do it.

I finally printed this drypoint in 2012, the first of what would have been a series of larger prints based on my Wyoming experiences. Moving to Roswell put that project on hold indefinitely, but I still kept the few impressions I made of this plate, knowing I would do something with them in the future.

The site where I sketched, near Taggart Lake
Today, I have decided to finish this print. Over the next week, I will hand-color this work in order to give it the depth and richness it deserves, and once I have finished it, I will sell it for charity, with all proceeds going to the federal parks. I have more art-related projects planned, but this piece will be my first, as a thank you to the parks and an expression of solidarity. After all they have given me, it is the least I can do for them.

Stay tuned next week to see the finished work.