Recently I was invited to participated in the first ever Pecha Kucha presentation in Kalispell, MT. Ironically, I had just read about the term Pecha Kucha in a book about giving great presentations a week prior. It's interesting how that works. Anyways, for those of you who don't know, PK is a presentation format where a speaker works with 20 slides for 20 seconds each.
Our Kalispell presentation had the theme : BIG SKY, BIG LAND. Here is my story:
Without the influence of wilderness and public lands, I wouldn’t be making the art I am today. It all started five years ago at the Spruce Park Cabin in the Great Bear Wilderness just outside Glacier National Park. There, I participated in a residency called the Artist Wilderness Connection.
I was packed in with the assistance of mules - seven miles into the backcountry to stay in a secluded forest service cabin for a week with two musicians. In my experience, the real beauty of the wilderness is the solitude and simplicity - which is a significant contrast from my everyday life.
At the cabin, I had a forest service radio for any emergency contact. However, without a phone or internet access, the rest of the world was doing it’s thing without me. I loved it. It was liberating. What a luxury to have no obligations to fulfill outside basic survival and art making.
Even my experience making art was unusual. As a portrait photographer, it was incredibly rare to have no real client and also no preconceived notions regarding what I should produce. I was at my leisure to make whatever I pleased - and with a very relaxed timeline.
It was guaranteed that I would photograph the cabin exterior as well as the nature that surrounds it. However, with the freedom to generate good ideas, I experimented with the notion of documenting our experience through images of tools and artifacts found on site.
To my surprise, people love the tool prints. They relate to these artifacts on a personal level. A forest service employee once came up to me - “Hey!” I’ve sipped coffee out of that Conrad Mansion mug!” Because of this work, I was invited to be in another show - titled “Humans + Nature”.
I was free to make whatever art I pleased as long as it fit that theme. That is how my portrait taxonomy series started. This gave me the opportunity to meet several very interesting people who have chosen to work in nature for their professions. Like me, they also gain a certain sense of joy from their time in the wilderness.
For this show, I documented the portraits and tools of 13 people who’s work takes them into nature in some way. These subjects were often referred to me. I ended up meeting several people that I would easily be friends with, but might not cross paths with organically outside my project.
It’s a fascinating experience to meet people - to hear stories of their life and work, while you rummage through their possessions. The act of curating a person’s belongings is a very swift ice breaker. It’s amazingly easy to pull stories from the shyest person with the prompt of artifacts.
Listening to these stories filled me with ambition to seek out adventures of my own. I had completed the Artist Wilderness Connection - but hadn’t challenged myself in any real way. I felt compelled to push beyond my comfort zone, to see what I was really capable of.
I was born and raised in Montana. But I hadn’t spent a night alone in the wilderness. I never went on a solo backpacking trip. I had never stepped foot in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I actually felt ashamed that I had made it this far in life with so little serious adventure.
So, when I announced to my husband that I was going to do a multi day solo trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness - I was met with resistance. It is true, I had no solo experience. And It was going to be a lot harder than I imagined.
"Well", I said stubbornly --- "You have experience. So you can help me, or I’ll find someone else. Either way, I’m going." I started the ball rolling by making a couple of phone calls. I tracked down people that had spent a lot of time in that area and asked them - If they were to take a trip like this- where would they want to go?
Once again the Wilderness was giving me the opportunity to meet new and interesting people. Greg Shatz is a Backcountry Horseman and on the board of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation. He gladly offered information on horse care, must see locations, favorable routes and multitudes of other good advice.
Suggested by my father in law, I took a Backcountry Horse Packing class by a veteran packer : June Burgau. She taught me how to care for and pack a horse, to tie a high line, essential knots and how to keep the backcountry in good shape while traveling with stock animals.
A few months later Josh delivered me and Ben the Horse to the Silvertip trailhead - 16 miles past the Spotted Bear Ranger station. My plan was to hike - with horse in hand, over the continental divide, just under 100 miles - to meet him in Augusta the following week.
Six miles into my journey, fate delt me the adventure I was seeking. I was nearly turned around by this fallen tree that was too tall for my horse to step over and too much for me to cut through with hand tools. An hour and a half and lots of patience later, I finally Solved the bushwhacking maze to get past this obstacle.
The following day I would watch helplessly as 150 lbs of gear would Slip over Ben’s head and tangle around his legs on the steep slope of Switchback Pass. While I attempted to repack him in the middle of a scree field, he would step on my day pack- denting my can of bear spray and luckily miss the loaded firearm.
With a few more incidents along the way, Ben and I completed our journey. It was beautiful, and it was challenging. It was also rewarding, to persevere under your own power when faced with serious obstacles, no outside help - and no alternative.
The Wilderness has taught me a lot about tools, and ways of survival. All of our gear must be essential, measured and carefully curated, because we carry it with us. I learned that there is not much room in the wilderness for the burden of excess. And it’s remarkable how comfortable and capable we are with less.
If you would like to hear the original audio of this presentation, please visit the Pecha Kucha website here. You will also have the opportunity to watch the presentations from the other speakers!
Let me know what your thoughts are on this story, and also how you feel about this place of Big Sky and Big Land. Please leave a comment below :