I had a lovely day going from Montana to Idaho. I had less mileage to go than any other day, so I decided to take a lovely looking two lane highway that followed the Clark Fork river a good way. It took a lot longer, and I was tired when I got there, but it was a truly lovely day. I sketched once along the way (top left, next to Mr. Darcy), and here are a couple of photos as well.
I spent a wonderful night at Long Branch State Park in Missouri on my way out west, and I have two, maybe three, prints dancing in my head from that one evening sitting on a tiny private beach with a Great Blue Heron for company. This is the smaller of the two that I’ve started. Brown ink is the only ink I have out here, so it’s what I’m using to proof, but this won’t be the final color. I just wanted to see how the carving is going before doing any more. I sat and watched this one single light out across the water, and it reminded me of Gatsby watching the light from Daisy’s dock. I’m not sure if I’ll try for green or just leave it white, but I’ve got a little way to go before making that decision.
I slowed down on the sketching as the week went on. Our next stop was Keyhole State Park in Wyoming. There was a nice looking trail running a long way around a deep blue lake, though our campsite was off a smaller bay. It had lovely red rock on the far side and geese the next morning at sunrise, but it was super hot when we got there. I turned the air conditioning on in Alice for the first and only time on the trip, and Mr. Darcy and I put the bed down and took a nap. Then I did the sketch above looking out toward the water from our spot. On a cooler day it would be a neat park to explore further, and we did enjoy a short walk the next morning with a lovely breeze. It had cooled off enough to sleep with the windows open, which is nice because the A/C is pretty loud. Here are a couple of photos from the morning.
The next day we got to Lewis and Clark Caverns state park in Montana. The landscape reminded me of the reddish hills and scruffy bushes in Turkey near Bergama where I got to stay and paint a decade ago. Very few trees, and an open campground with just circles of rvs, but some really nice trails. Again it was hottest, but we had a nice short hike after we got in. It’s another park that would be good to explore further in slightly cooler weather. I had thought I might need a full day off driving one of these two days, but each morning I woke up ready to go again, so I pushed on. I found that an average of 450 miles was very doable. I mostly got in about 3pm, and I’d have time for a bit of a walk, a little sketching, and a lie down if I needed one. I was going to bed early with the light failing instead of using lights in the camper, and then waking up early and enjoying the beauty of the morning and breakfast and tea before taking off again. I could easily have spent long and lingered on this trip, but Mr. Darcy was ok with the camper but still not that relaxed, and I was looking forward to seeing Jude for the first time since early January, so we just kept moving. I’ll definitely do some state park visits to just settle and paint when I’m not trying to make it solo across the country though.
My second night’s stop was at Lake Vermillion State Park just over the border into South Dakota. I had been excited about being able to sit right on a lake, and the view was pretty, but the riprap kept you from getting actually to the water, which was a disappointment for Mr. Darcy. Much like life, the less exciting photo in the Missouri state park actually turned out to be a more magical place, though I enjoyed this one too.
I ended up naming my camper Alice. There were all kinds of epic journeys to draw from. I always loved the Odyssey growing up. But I realized that I don’t want that kind of male-centric, testosterone-laden template for my own journeys. So I named her after Alice Steinbach, whose book Without Reservations was the middle aged version of Eat, Pray, Love ten full years before Liz wrote her book. Alice showed the way to step out into the world following your own curiosity, relying on yourself, enjoying your own company, but also making space for new friends along the way. It’s as a happy journey instead of a tortured. One, and one where she reclaimed her sense of self after subsuming it for years as a wife/mother/employee. That kind of gentle and intelligent journey is whaat I prefer to use as my model. Her wisdom was a huge influence on me as I stepped out of an overbearing relationship that spanned my 20’s and figured out who I was again. And I like having a female name without a lot of flourish or pretension. It suits the adventures I hope to have in this camper.
The biting flies drove us in earlier than I’d left the water the night before, but the sunset was glorious. And we had a lovely walk the next morning along the lake with a beautiful breeze before taking off. I also passed a milestone as an rv owner and managed to dump the sewage on my own without help (though I’d gotten a little early advice from a friend).
I just drove 2500 miles or so across the country in a smallish RV. I sketched every day but didn’t have the energy (or the wifi) to do blog posts as I travelled. So let me catch you up. I stopped in a different state park every night, which was delightful. I took all my own food and only had to touch gas pumps, water spigots, and the electric plugs ins at night (to keep the fridge going so I didn’t lose all my traveling food). I was much further away from people than I have been at home, where joggers routinely run up right behind me without warning while I’m walking in my park. It feels in some ways self indulgent to travel in these times, and my own safe traveling bubble is the only way I would even consider it, but I also hadn’t seen my partner since January, and if I didn’t go before snow hit, it would have been a full year and a half without seeing him in person. Part time is really perfect for me — I get deep art time and autonomous daily life while also having deep and loving time with someone else — but a year and a half was far too long. Plus, I really have felt safer walking where there’s not such a crowd.
My first night was my very favorite one, at Long Branch Lake State Park in Missouri. I lucked into a spot with a tiny private beach just down the path from my site. (I could see water in the photo of the campsite, so I chose it, and it turned out great.) The bigger RVs liked the level ground a little further in, so that worked out great for me. My camper is built on a Ford truck body. It’s exactly the perfect size for me and Mr. Darcy. I totally lucked into a 20 year old one. I would never, ever have dreamed of getting one before this situation, but I think it’s going to be the gift of the pandemic for me. Instead of driving across and schlepping a dog bed, banjo, cooler, and overnight stuff into a different motel every night in a not very scenic setting, I found myself sitting for a couple of hours on the beach, watching the sunset, hanging out with a great blue heron, and listening to the water lap the shore if a fishing boat came by. After the first night (and with some long distance consultations about how the fridge works on the various power systems), I felt easy and at home. I also loved the state park crew. There were lots of families, and I felt very safe staying on my own, especially with an 85 pound dog.
This is the cardinals nest that was just outside my kitchen window this past spring. It featured prominently in my Quarantine Journal several times, but this week (long abandoned) it had to come down to make more space for my A/C unit to breathe properly. I brought it inside, reluctant to have it just gone, and realized immediately I had to do a print of it. I set it on my desk and drew it, though I added the eggs I’d drawn from life back in April. It’s been fun to have a print just push on out since I’ve been doing so much watercolor work instead lately. I’m going to sit with it and see if I want to thin it out any more, but at the moment I’m enjoying the “noise” and energy of the extra pattern. This one happened so fast it will be good for me to hang it up and look at it a while before making any irrevocable changes.
I've been really enjoying Saturday mornings this spring and summer. For the first time ever I signed up for a CSA, a standing vegetable order of whatever they have any given week from my favorite farmers. It's pushed me out of my cooking ruts, and it's a little like Christmas every week. I also love that for the first year they're at the market nearer my house, at the other end of midtown, so I can loop through lovely older neighborhoods, pick up my produce, and loop home through the park. I mix up the streets I take, but it ends up being just over 10 miles round trip. Today my carrot greens hung way over the side as I cycled home, and I felt pretty healthy and virtuous. Which I immediately rectified by cooking myself blueberry pancakes for brunch, but that's another deeply happy thing I've done for myself occasionally this summer. Small treats are good for big challenges.
Yesterday the Mail Center let me do some curbside shipping. I can usually print my own labels at home, but I had prints to send off to Europe that included customs forms and other complications. I appreciated the outside service, and I sketched Huey's across the street, my favorite burger joint, as I waited.
I got a precautionary covid test today before my upcoming camper adventure. I've got a fantastic house sitter booked, I'm trying to get the forest book done (at least the artwork) before leaving, and things are falling into place. It was an impressively organized experience. Fifteen minutes, start to finish, and you never leave your car. I did a couple of quick sketches in line, but then I was home again.
I also did a sketch this morning in the forest. I loved that arching grape vine across the path. It felt like a portal to somewhere magical.
I'm still carrying my sketchbook every day on my early dog walk. Mr. Darcy is feeling the heat, so sometimes I sketch to give him a breather, sometimes I see a bird I want to try to capture, sometimes something just catches my eye, like the first one above. I used up all my ink on that one, so now I need to refill my pens before tomorrow.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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