Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pomegranate Block Print

Every year I promise myself that I am not going to print my own Christmas cards again because it is a TON of work... and yet something compels me to do it.  The path to developing and printing the cards was long and full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and all sorts of life lessons.  So I thought I would share a glimpse into the process in this post.

This year I intended to make a gnome-related design.  I wanted to have gnomes holding hands in a line or a circle.  I spent a fair amount of time developing this idea and was disappointed that in the end I felt kind of "meh" about the design.  So I let go of the gnome idea and started playing around with using elements from my folk door design for the card.  I definitely liked it better, but the design involved two colors and I knew that would double my dry time so I was a little concerned about that.  Below you can see some of these options. 

"When you let go you create space for better things." - Unknown

It is a tremendous amount of effort to hand-print over 100 cards and I decided I still wasn't excited enough about my design. So I continued exploring and eventually I had the idea to play with a pomegranate shape.  At first I liked the idea of having six pomegranates on the page in different positions and styles.  I played around for a while with that idea but a friend came over and told me it looked like a bee's head.  After she said that I couldn't get it out of my head.  So I played around more with putting folk designs inside...which I loved.

Below you can see my favorites.

“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” Abraham Maslow

I thought I was definitely going to go with one of the above designs but I decided to do a little more sketching.  I came up with about 6 more sketch designs that I really liked.  Below was my favorite one.

I scanned the sketch and made the design in Illustrator.  I have to say that as soon as I saw this design I knew in my gut it was the one.  Once I finished making the design in Illustrator, such a feeling of elation came over me and I thought..."This is what the struggle is about!"  The high one gets after tenaciously working with a design until you fall in love with it is indescribable.

"People actually feel happiest and most fulfilled when . . . bringing highly concentrated effort to some compelling activity for which they have a true calling. . . . Fulfillment happens not in retreat from the world, but in . . . profound engagement." Stephen Cope, The Great Work of Your Life

After the basic design is finished it is then so much fun to play around with the subtle details.  If you are a detailed person you might notice the tiny differences in the designs below.

After I chose the design on the lower right  I still wanted to play around with seeing what a border would look like.  Sometimes playing is a dangerous thing because I liked both options so much it stalled me out for a couple days.  I printed the designs out and stared at them for two days pestering anyone who walked by for their opinion.  You might think it is a small decision but it does have implications for the carving and printing.  If I chose "no border" I would carve the plate very clean.  However, if I kept the "border" option I would leave more carve marks to make it look old and worn.  Also, having a border helps hold up the brayer when printing, but it is harder to line up with the edges of the paper.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;"
Robert Frost

After days of fretting I decided to go with the "no border" option.  This experience reminded me that life is not a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book.  You can't follow one path and then go back to your next favorite path and read that option.  You have to choose one way and then give it your all.  If it doesn't work than you can try again.  However, in this case ". . . knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back." (Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Below you can see the drawing transferred to the plate and the carving process.

Once the plate is carved it is good to clean the pencil lines off with a little vegetable oil because sometimes the pencil will transfer to the first few prints.

It is always exciting to ink the plate for the first time and see the design appear for the first time.  George made a short video of the first inking below.

For some reason I started printing at 9:30 pm on a Friday night.  The basement happened to be pretty cold and the ink was WAY too thick.  Every time I tried to print the paper would smear and the print was blurry.  Plus I was losing all my fine details.  I ended up heating the ink on my light table and it finally thinned out...but it took me a good hour to pull a good print.  I stayed up until 2:30 that night printing because once you get going and the plate is primed it is good to keep it up.  I printed 45 that night.  In the photo below you can see all my rejects at the top.

"Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th." - Julie Andrews

The next day I printed the rest.  My goal was to print 111 because I like that number and that is approximately the size of my Christmas list.

Now I just have to title and sign them all, print and apply my labels, put them in the envelopes and stamp them, and off they will go to their new homes!  I wish I could send everyone a hand-printed card made with love.  I like to think it is my small way of spreading joy in the world.  And in addition, I have been given the gift of learning how to let go, play wholeheartedly, commit and engage deeply, and persevere.  

“Scatter joy!” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The curmudgeon in me also wanted me to add one more life lesson...learning to let go of making Christmas cards every year!  We will have to wait until next year to see if I learned that lesson.

As this might be my last post of 2017 I would like to thank all of you out there who read the blog.  Your support means so much to me and I love having you on this journey with me.  Wishing all of you so much joy in the new year!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gourd, Cat, Light, Dark, and Silence

Yesterday I was thinking about taking down the Thanksgiving decorations and decided to do a little photo shoot of this gourd in a bowl.  I recently bought the bowl at the Ohio Valley Antique Mall and loved the way this gourd fit perfectly inside the ring of flowers.

I was happily surprised with how moody the light became when I started taking photos.  When the trend for "dark" photography started I wasn't so into it.  But as with all trends, they slowly seep into my pysche and soon enough I was loving all the beautiful, dark photos that were appearing everywhere.  And when I looked at these photos on screen, I was struck by how the gourd seemed to glow and the darkness created an exquisite silence that seemed to emanate from the photos. 

That is, until my silent session was photo-bombed by one very curious cat who was determined to get my attention.  But it didn't take much convincing to turn my "gourd" photo shoot into a "cat and gourd" photo shoot.  And I ended up loving this top-down shot of Otus sniffing the gourd.

The photo below didn't fit with my dark and moody theme but I thought Otus's stance was so cute I had to include it too.

In the end, the cat, the gourd and I all settled down and enjoyed the silent play of light and dark on gourd and cat.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Closet Renovation - Let's Call It Mango!

Ever since we bought the house I knew this closet needed to be orange. So when the closet shelves fell down a month ago I knew it was finally time.  The color scheme of the whole room is based on the above pillow cases.  These are my favorite pillow cases in the world and are actual vintage pillow cases from my childhood that my mom gave me.  I LOVE the orange, yellow and green combination.  The room is painted tan but I have these pillow cases on the bed and pops of orange around the room.  The closet, however, has never quite fit the color scheme.  Before this renovation it was painted a very bold yellow that resembled the color of a banana.  Besides the color issue, the closet had a very large crack that needed repair and the plaster on the walls looked like rubble in some spots where old molding had been taken off. 

The original shelves were an interesting combination.  The upper two shelves were supported by cleats that ran all the way around the closet.  The cool thing about these two shelves was that they had a side shelf that was routered out to fit perfectly into the large boards.  It was a clever, simple way to use the space.  The bad thing about the closet was the bottom three shelves were put up with brackets that were only supported by drywall that finally gave way.  So in typical Vanessa fashion, I got it in my head that we should make the lower three shelves match the upper two shelves.  It was really the only proper thing to do (besides hanging a bar and calling it a day!).

When George heard what I wanted to do I could feel him cringing.  He convinced me we should hire the person who built our porch.  Unfortunately for us, he was busy and couldn't do it for a month.  On top of that all of the contents of the closet was strewn all over the room and we needed the room for Thanksgiving. I knew the quickest way for it to be fixed was to do it myself (poor George, I know!).

But lucky for me I had LOTS of support.  I borrowed a chop saw from our friend Brent.  I certainly am no carpenter but I was proud of myself for mitering the corners.  My Dad ended up coming down to help me hang the cleats.  He put up with quite a few expletives when I cut boards too long (requiring LOTS of sanding) or when I cut boards too short (requiring an extra trip to Home Depot to buy more wood).   He also suffered along with me when screws just turned endlessly failing to grab onto anything behind the drywall and plaster.  Some boards were riddled with holes by the time we found two screws that would hold.  On top of all that the far wall of the closet is brick!  Ironically these screws were probably the most secure of all because we knew they were in tight because they were incredibly hard to put in.  Luckily Brent also loaned us his hammer drill and George used Tacon screws that worked great.  After my Dad left I continued on repairing the walls with drywall compound.  I think I sanded for two days and my arms certainly felt it.

The "funnest" part of the whole project for me was supposed to be choosing the paint color.  I couldn't wait to banish that banana!  I happily left the house that day with three paint swatches in my hand.  But on my way to Sherwin Williams I realized Benjamin Moore was on the way and stopped there just to peruse their colors.  Of course I also ended up picking one of their colors too and thought I would just have them all made at SW.  But when I arrived at SW there were five contractors in line in front of me and no one at the counter so I decided I couldn't wait.  After a trip to Huber lumber to buy my wood for the shelves I went back to BM and asked if they would make my three samples.  It turns out they can only make sample sizes in their own paint but I couldn't bear the thought of going back to SW so I bought quart samples instead.  When I got home I excitedly painted my three samples on the wall.  As the paint slowly dried my hopes turned into fear as it dawned on me that these colors were dangerously close to the most dreaded color of all... "Band-aid"! 

I decided to splurge and buy one more color sample.  I quickly returned to BM, purchased my sample and high-tailed it home.  After painting it on the wall I was confused.  Something was off and I realized the color was wrong.  Needless to say I was not a happy camper and the store was going to close in fifteen minutes!  I quickly made my way back to get another sample and barely made it there in time.  When I got home and re-painted the wall with my sample I wanted to cry because the color was still wrong!!!  And not just a little bit wrong...but really wrong.  I was so tired at that point but I had to choose a color because my friend Tim was going to come bright and early the next day to help me paint.  So I ended up choosing Benjamin Moore "Bread 'n Butter 0960", the color that I could never quite see on the wall because the sample was incorrect.

As I mentioned earlier my friend Tim had luckily offered to help me paint the closet.  I don't think he was too happy when I told him I wanted to paint it orange and he realized how much time it would take to cut in around the boards.  But when he realized I wasn't budging about the color he happily painted the whole closet while I went to cut the boards for the shelves.  Thank you Tim!!!  A side note for anyone painting shelves...I used Benjamin Moore Advantage paint that is a waterborne alkyd paint that dries hard so shelves won't get sticky.

As you can see above it was no small decision to make the side shelves.  Lucky for me again, my friend Mark owns an incredible array of woodworking tools and offered to help me router out the shelf boards.  I guess I shouldn't say he helped me because he cut all the boards for me and for that I am extremely thankful.  Below you can see how the shelves fit together. 

"Be in love with your life, every detail of it." - Jack Kerouac

 In the end, the color was not quite what I wanted.  Every time I would see the color I would try and convince myself that it was orange and not yellow.  In some light I would be delighted and the color would look like a beautiful orange sherbet.  But in other light, especially at night, the color would be decidedly yellow.  George would walk in on me staring at the closet and tried repeatedly to console and convince me that it was indeed orange.  George must have really taken pity on me because he even found an incandescent light bulb that he had banished to the basement pile of non-energy-efficient bulbs.  When he screwed it in it really did "orange" the color right up and I was happy that he had fixed the problem.  However, in certain lights I am still unconvinced.  I toyed with the idea of re-painting but couldn't stomach the thought.  Finally, it occurred to me..."Let's call it Mango!"  I had indeed traded my banana for a mango and it was a very great improvement in my opinion.  Maybe next time around I will get my orange sherbet.   

A very big thank you to Brent for his tools, my Dad for his time and patience, to Tim for his cheerfulness and painting, to Mark for his meticulous woodcutting skills, and to my Georgie for his incandescent love.

ADDENDUM:  I have to admit...I painted the closet two more times after this.  I just couldn't help myself and had to tinker with the color more.  Every time I walked into the room the color was just too yellow.  I found a whole new range of oranges when I happened to be in Ace Hardware.  They have a line of colors by Clark & Kensington and I was drawn to a color called Cantaloupe Slice (14C-4).  I bought a sample and when I got home and painted it on the wall it was almost the exact same color as the original (maybe a hair oranger).  So I ended up buying a gallon of Cantaloupe Slice and a quart of the next darker swatch called Orange Options (14C-5).  My plan was to pour off half the gallon into a bucket and then mix in Orange Options until I liked the color.  It worked great and the color was almost right, but it was now too orange.  I probably could have lived with it like that but because I had a whole half gallon to play with I mixed it again with less Orange.  I was nervous to do it again because it was a lot of effort, but I am now totally in love with the color.  If you are addicted to color like me I highly recommend doing your own mixing to get the color just right.  Now instead of banana or mango I have the perfect shade of cantaloupe! 

Here is a quickie photo of the new color.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Sedona Sketch

Last week I attended a meditation retreat in Sedona.  I didn't have a lot of time, but I completed a quick pencil sketch of these beautiful rock formations one day while walking .  On the trip my friend Jodi gave me my birthday gift and guess what it was?... watercolors and colored pencils!  She had hand-squeezed the paint into a beautiful, flat paint bin and labeled each color!  She also gave me a great set of 36 Prismacolor pencils.  My previous set of colored pencils were from a Prang set I have owned since I was a child so it was definitely time to upgrade.

When I got home I worked from a photo to add color to my pencil sketch.  I have never combined watercolors and colored pencils so it was an interesting experience for me.  I fretted and fretted whether or not to go over the major lines at the end in ink.  I usually start with ink and add watercolor.  But in the end I liked the soft look of the rocks.

As you can see below I also experimented with adding salt.  You can barely see it in the blue sky, but it is there nonetheless.  In hindsight I would have made the sky darker blue but I didn't want to destroy the beautiful effect the salt had already made.  It is funny to see my reaction and difficulty in trying new methods.  I like to stick with what I know but sometimes the payoff can be so great if you find something you like.  For instance, I never even knew I liked watercolor until I took Amy Bogard's class - check it out if you are inclined.  It introduced me to a skill I will use the rest of my life!

“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves,
or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.”
-Charles Schaefer

Next time around I am going to try combining watercolor, colored pencils and ink but for now I am calling this one done.  Thank you Jodi for such an awesome gift!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Folk-painted Storm Door

Since we moved in this house fourteen years ago I have wanted to paint the storm doors to match the trim.  I have also wanted to paint folk patterns going down the basement stairs.  So last month the urge to paint the porch storm door finally materialized into action and I thought it would be perfect substrate to work out the design for the basement stairs.

I first had to search the basement cans of paint (which I dread doing) and I found a fairly recent-looking can of paint that was the right color.  Although it was the right color, a tiny part of my brain noted that the sheen was "flat" and that that was a little unusual considering I don't think we ever painted any part of the exterior in flat.  So in my usual sense of haste I painted the door.  Of course when I was finished, I didn't like it because it looked so flat.  And in typical Vanessa fashion I had to re-paint the door because I am a perfectionist...but also because I didn't want to go to all the trouble of painting a stencil on a door in which I didn't like the sheen.

Somewhere mixed in with all this painting was excessive designing.  I have always been obsessed with folk designs.  Maybe it was reading Gnomes by Wil Huygen when I was a child, but folk patterns and joy are synonymous to me.

I began with the design on the photo mock-up of the door above (middle-right).  At first it starts off fun.  I get excited and have to try things this way and that. I love changing the color and seeing how it affects the design.  I can easily spend hours playing with it.  However, at some point the fun turns into tedium and I know it is time to stop.  There was a lot of pressure on this design because I not only wanted to paint the back door with it, but also use the same design elements to paint the basement stairs.  I am not even showing you the pages of designs I did for the stairs (that will be another blog post).

Eventually I narrowed the designs down to my six favorite below.  You can see the designs for the stair risers and side treads below the door panel design.  At this point I liked all of them and I posted this on Facebook just for fun and to get feedback.  In the end I always choose my favorite but it is nice to hear the comments and take a little break from looking at it.  Many times people point out things I hadn't thought of before and it helps me to take a step back and look at it with fresh eyes.

In the end I decided to go with number 6.  It was torture for me to eliminate the use of green, but that is how it went.  The process reminds me of when I was a kid and read the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of books.  In those book you could choose various routes and it would lead you on an adventure.  I liked them because you could re-read the book and essentially choose all the routes to see what happened.  Alas, in real life we have to choose one path.

“What you're missing is that the path itself changes you.”
― Julien Smith, The Flinch

I ended up using my Illustrator files to make a stencil.  You have to add connector lines to all the elements that would "fall away" when the stencil is cut.  I sent the files to Stencils Online and received my custom stencils within a week.  They were very helpful and added a few connector lines where my stencil needed more support.  I thought the actual stenciling would take longer but I was able to sponge-paint it fairly quickly.

The lower section of the storm door on which I was stenciling was a corrugated metal and from the beginning I suspected it would be difficult to get a perfect stencil.  And I was right.  When I peeled the stencil off you can see below what happened.  I have read that it is better to paint the stencil first with the background color to make a seal around the edges and then paint the colors.  But, of course, I didn't do that because I was excited to get going and just charged ahead.

Luckily, I am not easily deterred and spent the next two days meticulously painting around all the edges of the stencil. If you look closely it is not perfect...but from five feet away I think it looks pretty good.  Below you can see the before and after shots.

It brings me such pleasure to complete a project like this.  I love coming up with an idea and bringing it into reality.  At this point I am not sure when the basement stairs part of the project will happen... it might be next spring before I get to it.  But for now this pattern will bring me joy every time I walk in the porch door and will hopefully let all the garden gnomes in the yard know they are welcome too. 😉

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lake House Sketch

Last weekend some friends invited us to visit their lake house for the day.  I had never been invited to a lake house before and was excited to see the house and lake, and to do all the water activities.  We lucked out and the weather was absolutely beautiful.  When we arrived at the house we got the full tour.  My friends had actually built the house themselves and it was beautifully decorated with my friends' artwork and photos from their scuba diving trips.  After the house tour we got a tour of the lake by boat.  We then used the jet skis and attempted to water ski.   George was the only one who made it up on the knee board.  We also went for a swim in the lake and the water was deliciously warm. 

After a day on the water we gathered for appetizers and drinks on the back porch and listened to our friend tell stories.  And finally we ended the day with dinner and dessert.  I can't remember the last time I scheduled a day of fun and relaxation like this.  It was so nice to be with friends in such an incredible setting.  I am now determined to have more days like this.  Days spent with no other purpose than to chat with friends and relax.  Lately I feel a strong need to slow down and concentrate on only what is in front of me...  to pay attention to all the lovely details of life that one can only notice at a snail's pace.  And when I do this there is always beauty, peace or joy.

“Just slow down. Slow down your speech. Slow down your breathing. Slow down your walking. Slow down your eating. And let this slower, steadier pace perfume your mind. Just slow down…” – Doko

Thank you to Anne and Freddie for a wonderful day on the lake!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

My word for the year was "openness" and I had no idea how much that concept would be tested when I agreed to go on a trip with my husband to Alaska.  By "openness" I meant that I wanted to be open to all that came my accept both the "good" and the "bad" with a welcome heart, or at the very least, with an observant curiosity.

So last year when my husband told me he had the opportunity to go to a remote region of Alaska on a bush plane with Xavier Expeditions and I could go too,  I kept an open mind.  At first I thought I would let him go the first year and see how it went.  But then I met the other professor and he was not only a fellow bear biologist but was also interested in Native American spirituality...that was when I decided to go.

So in early August, George and I (plus 13 Xavier students and Dr. Chartrand) boarded a plane heading to Fairbanks, Alaska.  We spent one day (and two nights) preparing for our trip, buying groceries, etc. The next day we headed out on the Dalton Highway which connects Fairbanks with Deadhorse, near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on the Arctic Ocean.  If you are planning on traveling this route and are renting a car, be aware there are only two car rental agencies that allow their cars to be driven on the Dalton because of the rough conditions. 

As you can see from the photo above not all of the Dalton Highway is paved.  I learned from Wikipedia that it "is one of the most isolated roads in the United States" and "anyone embarking on a journey on the Dalton is encouraged to bring survival gear."  It has also been featured on the "BBC's Word's Most Dangerous Roads".  The Highway was actually better than I expected, although it was definitely slippery in places where it had rained. Here is a short video clip from our truck.

One of the fun attractions along the highway was a rest stop at the Arctic Circle.  We had fun posing by the sign that states we had entered latitude 66°33′.  The Arctic Circle "marks the northernmost point at which the noon sun is just visible on the northern winter solstice and the southernmost point at which the midnight sun is just visible on the northern summer solstice.  North of the Arctic Circle, the sun is above the horizon for twenty-four continuous hours at least once per year (and therefore visible at midnight) and below the horizon for twenty-four continuous hours at least once per year (and therefore not visible at noon).  The position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed; as of 21 August 2017, it runs 66°33′46.8″ north of the Equator. Its latitude depends on the Earth's axial tilt, which fluctuates within a margin of 2° over a 40,000-year period, due to tidal forces resulting from the orbit of the Moon. Consequently, the Arctic Circle is currently drifting northwards at a speed of about 15 metres (49 feet) per year." (Wikipedia)

Our first destination was a tiny town about 6 hours north of Fairbanks, called Coldfoot (so named because early settlers got "cold feet" when they got there and turned around).  I read somewhere that the population is 35 in the summer and 10 in the winter.  The town mainly serves as a truck stop to truckers driving oil rigs to and from Prudhoe Bay.  The other main service in the town is the airport.  Below you can see "Coyote Air" which is the company we used to fly to our final destination.

When we pulled in, there were three hunters sitting around the building who informed us the pilot was backed up three days due to bad weather.  They told us he wouldn't be back until later and we best head over to the truck-stop to eat.  Needless to say we weren't very happy to hear that news.  We hung around a bit hoping the pilot would come back but eventually headed over to the truck-stop.

Next door to the truck-stop was an adorable post office.  I sent my family post cards because I thought it would be fun to get mail from the Arctic Circle.

After filling our bellies with surprisingly good food from a truck-stop in the middle of nowhere, we stopped by the airport where we were happy to hear that we might be able to fly out the next day if we drove a couple more hours north to the Chandalar shelf.  The pilot's son was going to drive up with us and that way our flights would be shorter.  We ended up camping in the Coldfoot campground that night.

The next day the drive to the Chandalar shelf was stunningly beautiful and we were happy to see our little plane fly into sight.  The plane is a de Havilland Beaver and was built in the 50s.  It has been described as "arguably the best bush plane ever built"(Wikipedia).  The seats are removable and it can seat 2-6 people.  Because our group had 16 people we had to take three trips.

Below is a video of our take-off.

And here is a video of our plane leaving us in the Brooks Range.  It is pretty amazing how quickly it can take off.

“It was beautiful, ...but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scored you clean
so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.”
― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

I took a ton of video and photos from the plane but they don't do it justice.  The plane ride was truly stunning and I enjoyed every second of it.  I also enjoyed meeting our pilot, Dirk.  He was a wiry fellow with an intriguing personality...definitely someone who you knew had a ton of fascinating stories and who had had his share of adventures.  I wish we could have talked with him more.

George and I were on the last flight to camp and when we got off the plane we were greeted by all the students wearing full-on mosquito nets.  But our tent was thankfully already set up for us and we proceeded to help set up camp. 

As you can see below there weren't many trees on the arctic tundra.  So instead of hanging our food we put our food in a "food tent" a little ways from camp.  We ended up using the area around the tent as the "peeing grounds" so as to deter anyone interested in our food (mainly bears).

In hindsight, we should have been more worried about the smaller mammals.  The only one to break into our tent was this little guy.  We not only found a couple bread bags bitten into but we were also rewarded with a little arctic ground squirrel scat in the food tent.  George took this amazing photo through the scope with my phone.

Below you can see our fire circle.  You can also see the women are sporting the pushed-back mosquito-net "do".  The mosquitos were really only bad at certain times of day when there was no breeze.

The first day was relatively relaxing.  I walked around the rocks near camp and photographed lichen.  But around 5 o'clock someone mentioned we should hike to the glacier across the way.  When I looked over at it I thought, "That is a good 8 hour hike!".  But there was only perennial light with a couple hours of twilight, so I guess it didn't really matter.  So everyone booted up and we headed down to cross the river.

But the river was not so easily crossed that evening.  It was wide and composed of about 6-8 streamlets.  We ended up taking our boots off and putting on our crocs and crossing several streams.  The water was FREEZING cold and I couldn't help but yell out expletives every single time we crossed (not surprising considering the river was fed by glacial streams).  But we finally reached a sandbar where we couldn't find a crossing.  The stream was too deep and swift and it was getting pretty late.  So that night we turned around and headed back to camp. 

The next morning I woke up not feeling so great with a terrible dry/sore throat.  George suggested it was just from sitting too near the smoky fire and not getting great sleep.  I told myself he was right and got my boots on ready for our big hike.  After breakfast we headed out again.  Below you can see all 13 students and 2 professors in the middle of crossing the Ribdon River.

After crossing many cold, cold streamlets we finally made it to the other side of the river. Relieved to be across we were greeted by a VERY steep and slanty hike next to the glacial stream coming down from the glacier.  I am not sure if it was me being terribly out of shape or if it was the cold I was starting to come down with, but I very quickly started to fall behind.  Hiking on tundra is hard is like walking on sponge that sinks down under your weight...sort of like walking in mild quick-sand.  At one point I stopped to catch my breath and could feel that horrible feeling of having overdone it.  My legs were shaky and my breathing was maxed out.  I told George I was done and that they could pick me up on the way back.  He told me I had to keep going (we didn't have bear spray).  We finally caught up to the group as they were trying to find a crossing on the glacial stream. 

Everyone had crossed but George and I and I didn't like my options.  The stream was too strong and steep to wade through and the crossing required hopping from one wet rock to the next.  At times you had to ricochet off one rock and use all your strength to propel yourself onto the next tiny, slick-looking rock.  I consider myself a seasoned hiker but I have never been fond of hop-rock-river crossings.  My main concern was that my leg strength was gone...but somehow I pulled this old girl together, mustered all my strength and attention and rather un-gracefully made it across.

After crossing, we again started up another steep, angled grade.  Another student wasn't feeling well and she, George and I slowly, slowly made our ascent as the other students climbed on ahead.  There were three peaks.  A lower flat peak, and two higher peaks closer to the glacier.  There were numerous times when I didn't think I could even make it to the first peak.  George finally left us and made it to the first peak.  The other student and I rested and then rested some more but we finally met George at the first peak.  Below you can see the view back towards our camp.

While we were recovering at the first peak we could see the other students like tiny ants making their way toward the higher peaks.  Strangely we could see the other professor coming back towards us.  When he finally got down to us he said, "Well, this has never happened on a trip before...but I lost the satellite phone."  At that point I was so tired that it didn't really sink in what that meant.  But we told him we were going to start heading back to camp and we would keep an eye out for it.

As we started hiking down the mountain the other student started vomiting and it was at that point that I decided we weren't going to re-trace our steps looking for the phone, but we were going to take the most direct, easy route we could find.  After an hour or so we finally reached the big river.  Being in the river basin was the only time you couldn't see a far distance due to the thick willows.  As we made our way through we found some extremely fresh bear scat full of berries.  Being a bear biologist I am normally quite excited at the thought of bear scat...but in that moment it was not the thing one wants to find.  We were not only tired, but we didn't have any bear spray and I have to admit I felt wary and nervous.  At that point I started to feel like we were in the movie, "The Hobbit."  I felt like the journey was going on forever...we kept crossing cold stream after cold stream but there was no option but to keep going. 

Finally after eight hours we returned to camp.  That night I was expecting to sleep really well even with the midnight sun.  But as fortune would have it I barely slept because I started to have cold chills up and down my spine.  At some point I "woke" to my neck aching terribly and I couldn't get comfortable no matter what I did.  I sat up for some time and eventually nodded off slumped over.  When I woke up the next morning there was no question...I was sick.

The next day it was too hot to sleep in the tent so I drug myself to a small hill overlooking our camp and spent the whole day sketching.  All parts of me felt achy and sore but it helped to try and focus all my attention on drawing a patch of bearberry that I happened to be sitting next to. 

The following two days I didn't leave the tent.  It was an odd feeling to spend so much time in daylight in my tent.  I longed for sleep and was so happy when it came...but much of the time I was awake.  It felt like I was being forced to witness myself and this sickness whether I liked it or not.  The days seemed endless because they were.  It felt like an eternity of drifting in and out to the sound of students laughing by the fire, George bringing me food, and fits of fever.  I would be freezing cold and put George's sleeping bag on only to wake up burning hot.  But the whole time I knew there was no way around this...I had to go through it.  No pilot was going to come and rescue me from my yellow-tented prison.

There were interesting interruptions I have to mention.  One night I heard the students saying, "Look at the moon."  I pulled myself out of my feverish stupor and looked out the tent window to see a full moon which proceeded to skip sideways along the mountains before slipping below the horizon.  Another night I was abruptly awakened to a student yelling "Dr. Farnsworth, there are porcupines!".  Again, I was up quick as a flash and we were able to put the scope on two adorable porcupines.  I would have stared at them all night but that night was cold and I was happy to get back to my warm sleeping bag.

Another rather unwanted "interruption" was having to go to the bathroom (and I don't mean number 1).  I dreaded when I had to use the "poop bucket."  Even the small hike up the hill to the latrine caused my lungs to ache.  Plus the whole time you were doing your business, mosquitos and flies would swarm your bum...but you just had to sit there and finish up.  And on top of all that the bucket was rather unstable so you really had to concentrate on not falling over.  Once you finished and got your pants back up you still had to take a pile of dirt, open the bucket lid again, and throw some dirt in the hole.  On the bright side, I can't imagine I will ever have a more stunning view from the lieu.

One day I finally learned to keep taking Advil and George and I went for a walk to some beautiful rolling knolls across our the little stream where we got our water.  (I have failed to mention that one of the funnest parts of the trip for me was dipping my water bottle in the stream and drinking it straight up.  It was cold, delicious and probably the cleanest water I will every drink.)  Below you can see the 360 degree views were stunning.

On our final full day I was still feeling surprisingly bad and there was an intense wind storm that made sleeping in the tent impossible.  (In the back of my head I was also worried it was going to make landing a plane impossible too).  But I just needed to move my body so I lugged myself out to lay near a gigantic rock about a quarter mile away.  The hike was not uphill but my lungs felt like I had knives in them.  When I reached the rock I thankfully collapsed into it and was glad to get a break from the wind.  As I sat there I felt strangely happy to be exactly there in that moment.  Yes, I was sick as a dog, but that couldn't stop me from appreciating the excruciating beauty around me.  The landscape held me and I was part of it. 

“A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect.”
― Jonathan Lockwood Huie

The final morning, we were hoping against hope that the pilot was on his way to pick us up.  We were supposed to call him on the sat phone to tell him what our weather was but sadly our phone was probably deep in the Ribdon River.  Everyone packed up their sleeping bags and pulled up camp in hopes that we would leave that day.  I packed up my belongings but fell asleep in the tent waiting.  I awakened to the sound of someone yelling "Dirk!".  I have never been so happy to hear the sound of plane engines in my life.

“As the glow of the cabin windows turned to flickers through the trees and then to black, her eyes adjusted and the starlight alone on the pure white snow was enough to light her way. The cold scorched her cheeks and her lungs, but she was warm in her fox hat and wool. An owl swooped through the spruce boughs, a slow-flying shadow, but she was not frightened. She felt old and strong, like the mountains and the river. She would find her way home.”
― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

It was a long day flying back to the Chandalar shelf, eating real food in Coldfoot and driving the Dalton Highway back to Fairbanks.  That night my fever finally broke and I started to develop one heck of a smoker's cough, but I could tell my ordeal was over.  The next day was my birthday and even though I sounded like I could cough up a lung, we went to the Large Animal Research Station (LARS) to see musk ox and reindeer.

After LARS, George dropped me off at the Museum of the North.  I really enjoyed the art gallery there in addition to seeing the natural history displays.  If you ever get a chance to go it is worth a visit.

As I said in the beginning I think this trip was about learning to be open to what comes my way.  I didn't want to be sick, but that was what was being offered and there was no other choice on the menu.  I have learned that much of suffering comes from resisting what is.  The fact was that I was unwell in a stunningly beautiful location and there was no changing it.  No matter how badly I wanted time to move faster, it wouldn't budge.  The only choice was to surrender and I think this trip was trying to show me how to do it, if not gracefully then at least not begrudgingly.

“Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”
― Eckhart Tolle

A big thank you to Dr. Chartrand for allowing me to go on this trip and to Dr. George Farnsworth for keeping me alive.  And a big thank you to you if you actually read this whole account!