Sunday, April 16, 2017

Last Days at Sperry

Shadow of Gunsight Mountain at sunrise.

I had an unusual dream on my next-to last night at Sperry Chalet. In the dream, as I was hiking over my favorite section of the Sperry Glacier trail between the two waterfalls, I encountered an old man dressed like an Indian chief. He asked me what I was searching for... and I responded that I was looking for beautiful flowers to paint. He climbed up without effort to a rock ledge jutting above the trail and brought me a Columbine plant with flowers of three different colors: most were pale yellow, like the Columbines I'd seen all over the park, two or three were pink, and there was one single white flower. I was delighted, thanked him, and told him I would paint this most unusual plant. He vanished while I wasn't looking.

I woke up feeling the dream had been a communication from beyond... perhaps just my subconscious, but very telling, none the less. I had taken the old man's question literally in the dream, but the question was really a metaphysical one--what was my spiritual quest in this remote place? And the symbolic answer, the three colors of the flowers: yellow for remembrance, pink for platonic love, white for purity... charged with meaning!

The sun was just rising above the ridge of Gunsight Mountain and I could see clearly the shadow of its twin peaks cast on the valley way down below. I'd been told this shadow was the reason for the mountain's name, which one could easily discern.

I went down to breakfast early, determined to paint some Columbines on my last day here. I told Kali about my dream, and she was intrigued. She told me of the Blackfoot Indian legend about Akaiyan, which I had not known about, and that the second waterfall on this trail bears his name--which I had not known before. We both marveled at the coincidence, though I don't really believe it's coincidence as much as divine providence. I suspect these instances may be more a case of our subconscious contacting something beyond our normal senses that is actually present. I sometimes experience these revelations in dreams.

Trail crew member at work.
Trail crew at work.

On my way up the trail I saw two young men who were working repairing the trail near the first waterfall. They were members of one of the park's many trail crews. I had remarked how well-maintained the trails were and they told me trail maintenance is done all throughout the short season. The crews move from camp to camp as they work on different trails. Working in pairs, the work is grueling--they dig runoff trenches, move and stabilize rocks, cut down fallen trees blocking the trails, whatever the vagaries of nature call for, all with only basic hand tools--mallets and chisels, shovels and a crosscut saw.

A bit farther up the trail I saw some nice Columbines, and set my gear down to sketch them, giving as much space as possible for others to pass by. It was still nice and cool in the mid-morning, and a number of guests walked around me to continue up the trail to Sperry Glacier. I worked diligently as the sun rose overhead, and the day warmed. Whew--I shouldn't have worn a black T-shirt, the color absorbs too much of the sun's thermal spectrum.

Painting Columbines

A couple stopped and offered to take the photo above, which I accepted gladly. After finishing the Columbine I started to add other plants to the background. I ate my lunch, and by two o'clock, it was so hot I was ready to call it a day. I have yet to finish the sketch I started there, even though I've worked some on it since getting home.

Columbine (Aquilegia flavescens) with Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), color pencil, 10" x 8"

The composition needs to be resolved--the pale yellow flowers of the Columbine need a darker background to stand out, to give the impression that they are growing on a rock ledge, like the ones in my photo below. But this is a decent field sketch to use as the basis for another painting.

Columbines and blue harebells on a rocky ledge.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around Sperry Chalet, taking photos of the staff and storing up memories of my wonderful two weeks here. I have a sense that these are the memories that will sustain me through those rocky patches every life must traverse, particularly as we age.

Kali, Karen, Ranger John (AKA "The Plumber") and Josh relax in the kitchen of Sperry Chalet.

Kali washing dishes.

Katie and Renee by the vintage cash register.
The vintage cash register has been in operation since Sperry Chalet opened as a park concession in 1954.

Renee and staff under the Sperry Nation banner, made by a young guest who loved the place.

Hikers stow their gear against the exterior wall of the dining room.
The dining room at Sperry Chalet.