Note: This was written for the Moab Folk Camp Staff Concert in Oct, 2015.
I think a lot about how there is often so much story, so much context, behind art. Some say art should speak for itself, that you shouldn’t have to support or broaden the impact with words — which certainly makes a kind of sense to me. However, as fate would have it, to get inspired, I go on long, often difficult trips in the back of beyond, with all sorts of drama — bruises, dehydration, bliss, hangriness, hysteria, hilarity, immense peace, and some bickering.
Most of the time, all I have to show for all of that stuff is one piece of art (and/or a limp). In this case, it’s even more ridiculous, because all I have to represent a big trip, is this tiny little thing made up of simple shapes and lines, four colors, and a coupla brush strokes. But, the imagery does convey, at least for me — its creator — all that background stuff — to the point where when I look at it, I get goosebumps. So — here is a brief tour, a quick history of what had to happen for me to create this single multi-color linoleum block print I’ve titled Folly’s Fulcrum. And not only that — it also proves to anyone out there that needs to know that this trip was absolutely a legitimate business expense.
Last September, my friend Matt and I put together a fairly ambitious seven day backpacking/packrafting loop trip through the three districts of Canyonlands National Park. Packrafts are lightweight inflatable boats that roll up really small and fit nicely in your backpack. The Park is divided into three districts — Island in the Sky, Needles, and the Maze. There are also the river corridors of the Green and Colorado rivers, and Cataract Canyon below the confluence of the two. Matt and I had decided to celebrate, in our own way, last year’s 50th anniversary of Canyonlands becoming a National Park.
The trip officially began at the Moab Diner. Matt and I were busy eating our breakfast burritos and sipping our coffee, but not talking much or making eye contact. We were distracted and a little scared, by the sheets of rain slapping against the Diner windows and the flood warning that had been issued. I think we were afraid to make eye contact because we didn’t want the other to get up the nerve to cancel the trip — even though we were both thinking that might be a good call. We made our way through breakfast without bailing, and soon enough found ourselves strapping on our heavy packs in a completely socked-in, fog-enveloped, and rainy trailhead at Island in the Sky.
As we descended toward the river, the landscape revealed itself in looming towers, brief sun breaks, and vibrant color. The storm subtly moved on, the waterfalls stopped running, and as it would turn out — the weather that almost scared us off is what made the trip possible — the heavy rain filled the potholes and recharged the springs, giving us plenty to drink for the next seven days.
Our itinerary in a very small nutshell was — Island in the Sky to the Colorado River, paddle the river quite a few miles, hike into and through the Needles District, down to the Colorado below the confluence (just upstream of Cataract Canyon), cross the river to the Maze district, hike several canyons there, descend to the Green River, paddle downstream, hike up to the Island in the Sky, back to the truck. The days were tiring — we’d move all day long and into the night a few times. We’d sip coffee before sunrise and try to get our legs going again, see all kinds of country during the day, set up camp near or well after dark, scarf our food, drink our rationed capful of bourbon, attempt a joke or two, and collapse into sleep.
As we were traveling through the park, we quickly found solace and comfort in the buttes and pinnacles and mesas and mountains that served as landmarks. A lot of the time, we would get our bearings in one district by locking onto a natural feature in another district. One landmark that kept appearing throughout our trip was Ekker Butte, which is the landform featured in my block print.
A few highlights from the trip — traversing a limestone ledge along a tomato soup colored Colorado River. Getting spooked by a full moon rising in a spot different than we expected. A quick skinny dip in the river after a long hot slog. Being completely dependent upon the next pothole or spring that may or may not be around the corner. Finding a swimming pool sized pothole at a placed called White Crack after a long dry stretch — and while drinking, hearing a car door shut that would turn out to be our very-much-hoped-for ride down a long stretch of the White Rim Road.
When I’m actually on a trip like this, I’m usually pretty focused on the task at hand — making it to the night’s camp, finding an obscure route out, searching for a water source. But after the trip, and especially when telling someone ‘what I’ve been up to lately’, I often find myself trying to justify why I go on these trips. How it could possibly be a responsible, worthy, healthy, sane way to spend one’s time. How in hell this does anything to improve the world. I don’t have the answers completely figured out, and I probably never will. But — I do know that my sense of belonging in this landscape, my desire to protect it, my respect for the natural world, and my passion to convey these feelings through my art, are all strengthened in a way that nothing else can really touch.