In August of 2012, I participated in the Artist Wilderness Connection as a creative collaboration with the musicians Josh Harvey and Bettreena Jaeger from Betty and the Boy. We were also joined by guest musicians Kati O'Toole and Alex Hogle. Our project included the help of video editor Jeri Rafter.
Together, Josh, Betty and I stayed a week at the Spruce Park U.S. Forest Service cabin located seven miles deep in the Great Bear Wilderness of Northwestern Montana. We were granted this privilege by the foundations that sponsor the Artist Wilderness Connection:
Just after dawn, Josh, Betty and I met with our packer Tug Lieberman and his assistant Johnny at the Bear Creek Trailhead. It was here that they assessed our gear and packed their mules. The string would carry the majority of our camping and creative gear for our week long stay in the wilderness.
Despite our coordinators briefing us that our packers were capable of bringing the "kitchen sink", upon our arrival we were promptly informed that we had packed TOO MUCH. Tug wouldn't pack anything of value on the mules because of their unpredictable nature. To remedy this, Josh and Betty each hand packed fragile musical instruments, and I carried 55 lbs of camera equipment seven miles into the back country.
Josh was generous enough to swap loads with me here and there. We had anticipated an easy hike in with full assistance from the mules. This change of plans lead to a "leisurely" trek with ample allowances for rests and photo ops. During one of these rests, Josh insisted that Betty try my pack on for a little misery perspective.
After several hours of hiking, we were very excited when we reached our cabin and new home for the next week.
Our cabin and barn wore evidence of "bear activity" in many places. We found some very sound advice in one of the informative pamphlets we received before our journey:
"If a bear enters your home, leave immediately".
The interior of our cabin was quite cozy.
Our stay was fairly rustic, and included basic wilderness practices such as filtering and boiling our drinking water. Below is a sample of some pre-filtered water.
One morning I had the brilliant idea to surprise Josh and Betty with a delicious breakfast of Pillsbury cini-buns. Rising early to get a jump on this, I quietly lit the gas oven, popped in the buns, checked my watch for the time, then headed outside to take some photos...
When I returned to the cabin to check on my baking progress, I was greeted by Josh inquiring about "that *blasted* smell". "I think its just the oven warming up..." I guessed. "It smells like burning piss."
After some brief detective work, we concluded that I had just cremated a urine-soaked rat's nest. The smell lingered for the duration of our visit.
I made a last ditch effort to save the buns by cooking them in our wood stove. I proceeded to burn them to a crisp until they were destroyed entirely.
After a revised breakfast attempt, I headed down the hill to sit by the river and escape the smell of burning urine.
As I sat quietly in the warm sand, I watched the butterflies and let them land on me. With every click of my camera's shutter, their wings would flick open from surprise or curiosity. I had to time my shots and pop off two at a time to capture their pretty colors.
During the day we would each make art or explore individually. Often Betty would sit inside the cabin and paint pictures of animals, while Josh spent the day fishing the river.
One of my favorite personal creative projects was the taxonomical categorization of objects found at and brought to the cabin during our residency.
These Spruce Park Taxonomies are available as Fine Art Prints.
*As a side note- I'm super stoked that this image was featured on the "Things Organized Neatly" blog as well as accepted into the juried exhibition "Earthly Posessions" by the Los Angeles, CA Linus Gallery.
Among the specimens collected on site were these bugs:
*These prints were also represented locally in our "Artist Wilderness Connection : Logan Dirtyface Sessions" show at the Rare Bird Gallery in Whitefish, MT.
As the sun dipped down below the tree tops and evening would creep in on us, the stories and songs would spill out casually as we sat warmly by the crackling fire, sipping hot booze and smoking rolled Top.
The brilliant thing about these sessions was the incredible ease we felt, so far from it all. We entertained ourselves somehow- with unexpected simplicity.
Several nights we sat together in the cabin playing card games. Josh and Betty taught me how to play Rummy. I experienced beginners luck and won.
One particularly sunny day, we congregated down at the swimming hole. I photographed and filmed Josh and Betty performing their song "Higher Ground".
Later that evening, as we sat around the campfire in complete darkness, Alex, a friend of Josh and Betty, appeared silently out of the inky night. We had been expecting him, however, his entrance took us by surprise.
After several days of seeing only myself, Josh and Betty, the arrival of Alex was wonderful. He settled in right away to enjoy our fire and entertain us with his mandolin.
The following morning we were happily surprised by the arrival of some new guests - my husband "Bones" and our dear friends Kati and Darin. They showed up with smiles and supplies. I was very grateful for the extra battery pack Bones carried in (as a response to a radio request). Receiving more battery power allowed me to document more freely without the worry of conserving energy.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. Our private little swimming hole provided sweet relief from the heat of the day. The ladies indulged in a brisk swim while the boys tried their luck with the fly rods.
I spent time capturing the beautiful scenery around us as the warm sun drifted down below the horizon.
For the duration of our stay, we feasted on barbecued delights, recorded live music around the campfire and observed local wildlife.
Our project concluded with a video that proved to be a beautiful collaborative effort.
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