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Friday, May 22, 2015

Into Scotland's Wilds, an overview

Friends and regular readers of this blog will be familiar with this Scotland project of mine. I have been scheming on its details for a couple of years now, and with more intensity over the last 18
Hiking up to the Old Man of Storr. Isle of Skye, 2009
months as it comes closer to realization.  The post you now read is mainly intended as an introduction and overview for the members of Slighe nan Gaidheal, but even if you are familiar with the project's basics I encourage you to read on, as the project has certainly evolved since its initial inception.

On July 1st I will be embarking on a multi-faceted solo adventure, not to return to the Pacific Northwest until August 26th.  Initially I had intended 4 to 6 weeks for this, but in the reading and the maps and the research it was concluded that this must be treated as though it is the one and only chance I'll have to do it. No toe-dipping, let's give it everything we've got!

The project began as a gathering of photographs and research in order to produce a new body of artwork.  My method of travel and discovery is unusual though, and not many would or even could attempt it the way that I do - but I am convinced that many would certainly enjoy reading about it, and travel vicariously along with me.  I want to show folks what it's like - to travel all on one's own with a backpack and a tent, to immerse and lose one's self in the landscape and culture so far from home and well off the beaten tourist routes.

Some of these places I hope and plan to get into are quite remote and will necessitate a fair amount of isolation and wild camping.  The journey will begin, however, with the first few days in Edinburgh.  I'll meet with a couple of good friends who are Edinburgh residents who generously agreed to take me to very worthwhile places within the city that are missed by most tourists.  From there, it's a couple of days in Inverness.  After that, the journey will get a bit more rugged. I'll camp at Cannich, then walk across Glen Affric, over the western mountains by Kintail to Loch Duich, and across the Skye Bridge to Broadford. I estimate this leg of the journey to take at least 4 days.  A couple of days on Skye will be spent, along with a two-day walk and camp up the Trotternish Peninsula to meet the ferry to Harris.  I hope to catch the Heb Celt Festival on Lewis, which is celebrating its 20th year.

Beyond that point I am keeping my schedule very open and flexible.  I don't want to rent a car unless it's absolutely necessary to reach some of the places I hope to visit.  Some of these places include Torridon, Loch Maree, Mull, and Knoydart to name a few.  The only other part of this journey that is set in stone is Glasgow and the piping festival.  I want to retain a certain amount of agility in this adventure - to get far and away and into places seldom visited by the usual tourist - to slow down, touch each moment, absorb and notice - to linger when drawn to do so, or take a detour to take advantage of an opportunity which might suddenly present itself.  Immersion and a good deal of flexibility are key.

What will come of this
During all these wanders and experiences, I will be photographing, field sketching, painting, and writing the whole way through.  New bodies of work will come from this - the feather paintings for which I am most known, but also other media and in quite a few cases, mixed media. I'll be keeping a sketch journal throughout this adventure to capture wildlife, villages, scenes and more which I anticipate will be encountered along the way. I've been developing skills with pen and ink, watercolor and colored pencil, often on location, for this purpose.

Upon return of the trip, I will be producing a book - an artist's travel journal - filled with photographs, field sketches, polished art, and literary documentation of the adventure.  I intend to utilize every method available to me within its pages in order to really capture the sense of the adventure and present the full picture.  I wish to show people what it's like to remove one's self from the tourist treadmill and really experience Scotland's heart and spirit.  I hope to have this in print before the next Fèis, and I wish to donate a portion of each sale of this book (which will also be available on Amazon) to Slighe nan Gaidheal in support of its language, music, and cultural education programs.

Another body of artwork I hope to bring about when I am home again involves use of multiple artistic media, and including source water which I will collect with great deliberation, as this water will be used in the depiction of the places where the water was collected.  Imagine a painting of the mighty Liathach which uses water from the wild burn that tumbles down its side, or a painting of the recently dedicated statue of Tom Weir (who has been a massive inspiration in this journey), painted with water from his beloved Loch Lomond where the statue stands.  I truly do feel that the inclusion of such source water will make these creations all the more special. I have found 4-oz. shatterproof bottles just for this project, and continue to experiment locally with its development. I'll try salt water next as I would very much like to paint Eilean Donan with water from Loch Duich.

How you can participate, and help me bring this about-
Last Autumn I introduced a package and made it available to any who wish to support this project.  Those who purchase will receive much more value than the price of their initial investment.  Right away you will receive a limited edition print certificate which is signed, numbered and embellished with a hand-painted thistle, suitable for framing. You'll receive a postcard of one of my Scottish paintings with a personal message mailed to you from somewhere n Scotland. when I am home, I'll upload a sizeable selection of photographs and you may go through them and tell me what you would like painted, and I will create for you a multi-feather painting that is matted and framed at 8x10. My paintings of this size normally sell for $200 to $220, but the entire package is only $85 ($95 Can, $115 int'l). That is the full price, nothing extra for any of the shipping. This package is my way of saying Thank You!  Thank you for your interest, your support, and helping me make this all it can be!
You may find the package here, as well as a photograph of a feather painting like what you would receive.
I can only offer this for a bit over  a month longer, to allow time to produce and paint on certificates before I fly.
Thank you so much for your time and your interest, and I will keep blogging as I continue to prepare for the adventure, and once the adventure is underway... when I have a connection and may do so. Mòran taing!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Shelters - or, "Home is where you... happen to stop for the night!"

'Behold, the Trail Snail.... She may be slow, but she always gets to where she's going. Eventually.'

This pen drawing in my journal was inspired by a little snail down at the bottom of the canyon and above the Falls at Palouse last April during my preparatory hike and camp-out. Yes, I stopped right there and drew her, and those words entered my head as I did so, for she is surely me.

Perhaps one of the reasons she's slow is she's carrying her house on her back.  That will be me too, come July and August.  I'll be far away from home, but 'home' in its basic sense will be with me, and wherever I happen to stop for the night - no matter how wild or isolated that stop might be.

The two-night camp at Palouse Falls in April let me know precisely the current state of my gear.  Some needed replacing immediately. My old worn out tent let me know that pertinent bit of information as I set it up. The carbon pole split when I bent it into position, and I felt a seam on the fly begin to give when I pulled it taut.  The shattered pole could be made to endure that one last camp though - wrapping it tightly cord convinced it to stay put for those two nights.  This particular tent is only guaranteed three years, and here were were, going into year 8.  I think I got my money's worth out of it!

Indeed, the little tent has been so good to me, I opted to replace it with another of the same make and model - a Saguaro backpackers tent by Texsport.  When the new one arrived, I took note of the changes they made since I bought the other 8 years ago; the most noticeable and significant was the reflective silver on the fly.  When I realized this silver was on the outside and not the underside, I thought surely this was a manufacturing blunder - why on earth would you want to keep heat out??  Should this not be to keep heat IN?  It turns out that it was intended this way, which is not a thought that would cross the mind of a typical camper of my latitude.  I pitched it in the back yard and slept in it during rain and calm. It definitely keeps solar heat down to a minimum, and it also seems to stay warm and
any wonder why I'm calling it the Silver Slug?
cozy at night.  I suppose silver really isn't any more obnoxious than bright red or yellow in the grand scheme of things, and if I manage to get myself lost in the west highlands, that silver might make me locatable with a few aerial passes by Search and Rescue!  I am kidding, of course. I've since nicknamed it the Silver Slug.  It's heavier than its predecessor, weighing in at four pounds.  It's bigger though, and could comfortably contain two people.  It has reinforced stitching at stress points, where the predecessor had none.  Another nice feature is the addition of velcro tabs to further secure the fly to the poles.  Having camped before in the high winds of Glen Shiel in the west of Scotland, I know that will be a welcome thing.

Now Scotland, particularly the west, is notorious for wet weather at any given time of year - much like our mossy Pacific Northwest.  With that in mind, a rain fly for cooking and dining is vital.  I went without on my last trip there, and regretted it on more than one occasion.  Amazon sold me a very nice 8'x12' tarp of good quality and of a minuscule 4 ounces in weight.  After a few embarrassing and futile attempts at setup with cord and trekking poles in the safety of my yard, I turned to Youtube for advice.  There were many videos with fancy flies and fussy configurations, but thankfully I found one fellow in the UK who subscribes to the 'Keep It Simple' philosophy.  I include here a couple of views of the configuration I'm settling with (for now), with the 90-pound retriever clearly under the impression that this is his new house.  I'll also include at the bottom of this post the video I found that has allowed me to set up a rain fly with a bit of confidence, two trekking poles, and no trees.
As a friend rightly stated, "It's a pup tent!"

This should keep the rain off my back and my cooking.
And hopefully the wind too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Building a writing habit.

The title of this blog post may seem overly ironic, as I have been in the unfortunate habit of neglecting this blog.  In the midst of gathering up all the strings of this summer's project and pulling them all together, I've let a couple of things rest by the wayside - this being one, and Gaidhlig studies being another.  Time grows painfully short and I want confidence that I've put my attention to the most necessary matters.

It is not to say building up writing skills has been neglected, however.  When I want to fully commit to something, I do it with pen and paper. The tactile act of writing triggers parts of the mind that typing on a keyboard does not. So it made sense to pursue this through use of a paper journal over the past year, and also by expanding this learning through the reading of several books produced for such a pursuit of improvement.

The summer's project is about more than producing art, and it is about more than travel in immersion, slowing down, and getting well off the beaten tourist track.  It is about presenting such travel to people who might not be able to visit another country in such a way.  To do this to the best of my ability, I need to be able to do so through carefully crafted words as well as through photography and art. It's the only way to present the full picture.
Palouse Falls, in Southwest Washington
Allow me to paint for you in words some of what I intend in this journey. 

Marmot babies
A life which awakens to birdsong in the early morning breezes, and pauses to bask in the late afternoon sunlight.  A life that slows down to touch every moment, that lingers to learn from and appreciate the people and places encountered along the way. A life that cherishes and savors the growing of friendships, old and new, and notices and appreciates new landscapes and each creature that crosses one's path in the journey.  This is travel that is fully experienced.
Field study of the yellow-bellied marmots at Palouse Falls.  Produced in
watercolor and colored pencil, and using source water gathered from
the Palouse River in the canyon above the Falls.