Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Other Solstice

Mount Hayden Sunrise
Perhaps if I was skilled at meditation; the kind that’s done sitting in silence, I wouldn’t feel the urge to travel.  I think traveling solo to wild areas is my meditation.  It’s a tool, I’d say.

The weather was unusually hot at the North Rim Grand Canyon last week, nudging into the upper 90s in several places as the high country awaited the arrival of monsoon.  Morning and evening were great for shooting, and one night photographing stars was quite comfortable.  But when to sleep?  Usually I make up for the short summer nights by napping, but that’s tough to do in those temps, even in the shade.

So, I lounged in my hammock and read three entire books, made notes for blog posts, and waxed silently philosophical.  Except for my incessant whining about the temperatures, the trip was just what I needed.

Lupines at the edge of Transept Canyon
I have two very hospitable friends who live in the park.  I was grateful to be the guest of each of them for a night, and to plug the camper in and shower.  My solar panels are not terribly efficient in that kind of heat, you see, and the fridge becomes electricity-ravenous.  I also appreciate the opportunity to balance alone time with some substantial conversation about transition, writing, and other things that are real.

Early and late light are beautiful behind their homes, on the edge of Transept Canyon.

One of the hammock books was Alan Cohen’s A Course in Miracles Made Easy.  He summarizes by saying that every decision is made, simply, between love and fear, and that only love is real.  Hence my theme for last week, the real.

Wind-Pruned Tree & Crescent Moon, Marble View Point
I watched the merciful little cooling storm blow through while at Marble View, one of the windiest places in the North Kaibab Forest.  I knew enough to tuck the camper into the trees that afternoon. Protected from the worst of the wind, I watched the spectacular after-light.

Raindrops on aspen leaf, Kaibab Forest
The next morning, I wandered through the forest marveling at the little rain-beads on downed aspen leaves.

Benchmark at sunrise, Cape Final
Sitting in the little single campsite at Cape Final (one backpacking permit per night), life was reduced to basic sensory input; the sound of raven wings on the wind, smells of the blooming Cliff Rose, and feel of the rough limestone under my back as I tried to get comfortable.  This, I think, is my brand of meditation.

More from this trip are in the Gran Canyon Gallery on the website.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Expanding Violets

In my happy place last week, using my camera's remote control
 This one has been perking around in my head for a while now, and got catalyzed by a Facebook conversation around an interesting, encouraging article by Cheryl Hamer. I was honored to be used as an example in the discussion of a (ahem) mature woman who has outdoor adventures alone.  We called ourselves “unconventional.” Fair enough.  Judging from the reaction I get from most of my female friends, my idea of a good time is unconventional indeed.

To each her own, of course, but if a certain aversion to solo wilderness travel could justify the label Shrinking Violet, perhaps the rest of us are “Expanding Violets.”

I’ll add the disclaimer, before I go too far, that my comments apply regardless of gender, really.  I’m hesitant to ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­make sweeping, potentially sexist generalizations.  In our culture, though, women are not often encouraged to expand.

I’ve blogged about traveling alone before, especially its creative potential, but I guess I wasn’t done.  

Portrait of Lurch, inverted, in the Kofa Mountains this spring
In my case, solo travel is mostly in my camper, with the occasional backpack.  In pretty much all cases, it’s a means to an end.  I want to get out and photograph these places, so I’m willing to work a bit to get there.  Though I admit to liking my own company, I have to say that the main reason I travel primarily alone is that I have a strong need to get out there, and if I waited until I could coordinate with another person, I’d hardly get out at all.

A number of friends have asked me about safety.  I’ve thought a lot about mitigating risk. I have a satellite communication device in case I’m stranded and always let someone know my plan including where I’m going and when I should be out.  I have several days (in the camper, about a week’s worth) more food and water then I need.  I have lots of recovery gear and tools, as well as medical equipment I hope I never need to use and WFR training.  No, I am not particularly fearful of wild animals.

Other humans do pose a potential risk, though.  I take small precautions to avoid advertising that I’m alone, like putting out two chairs or a pair of very big boots given to me by a former patient. Only once did I have a conversation with a couple of guys in a pickup which perked up my Spidey sense.  I decided to pull up stakes and camp elsewhere that night.

The question of weapons is one for a future post.

Lurch, on the slopes of Death Valley
All that being said, I understand that there are risks involved with what I do.  I’m inherently a cautious person.  I wrote about this in another post, and loved Hamer’s admission that, when nervous, she needs to “give herself a stiff talking to.” I get it.  I often find myself moving more cautiously when I’m alone, perhaps declining to climb something, or turning back earlier on a hike on a very hot day. We all find our own balance, and there are plenty of women willing to take wilder trips than I. However, to shrink away entirely from this thing that I adore because of the small risks involved would be misplaced caution.  It’s a trade-off.

Alone, indeed
I’ve had a few conversations with my friend and mentor Jerry Dodrill around these topics, both because he’s rather bold himself and because of the tragic death of his friend who fell while adventuring solo in the Sierra.  This is a delicate issue of balance, especially when we think of the effect of our decisions on our loved ones.  The knowledge that he died doing what he loved only goes so far.

This sort of travel is not for everyone (hence, unconventional), but metaphorically or literally, we all need to step out of our comfort zone, at least a bit, to grow (expand).  I’ll choose this over karaoke without hesitation.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Three Canyons

Lurch at dawn, Howard's Pocket

What a difference a day makes.  There are no contour lines on my Kaibab Forest map and we ended up at a much lower altitude than planned.  In Arizona.  In June.  It was a little too warm and a lot too buggy.  Poor Luna had them flying up her nose, and in our scramble to get her into a safe space we got eaten ourselves by the nasty buggers.  We tried two other spots (one a mile away) and couldn’t get away, finally spending the afternoon in the camper. It has screens.

By the following day we were way out in the neighboring Coconino Forest, it was 15 degrees cooler with a lovely breeze, the view was remarkable, and there were no insect Jihadists.  I was in my hammock with a beer, Dog-face was in her bed next to me, and Marco was in the camper making chocolate chip cookies.  I felt as if I could stay there for days, and not just because I was nervous about the drive back (potholes the size of a bull elk).

Great overwhelming gratitude.
Moonlight and stars, West Fork Oak Creek

Sadly, this was the last of our three-night adventure.  Long summer days and a midnight stint doing astrophotography gave me the illusion of a much longer trip though.  I’ll be back in this neighborhood soon – there’s so much more to explore.

Stormy sunset at Desert View
Earlier we’d been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I was amazed to remember that Marco hadn’t been since 2001 when we did our rim to river to rim hike (affectionately dubbed the Death March).  I get there a couple of times a year, generally in winter but I’m something more of a North Rim girl.  We were treated to a little storm cell moving through at Desert View, and watched the sun come up at Shoshone Point.

Sycamore Point
And the buggy night?  Why didn’t we just drive away immediately?  I had my heart set on photographing Sycamore Point in good light, which worked out quite well.

So, The Grand Canyon, Sycamore Canyon, and The West Fork of Oak Creek. Arizona Classics from their rims.  And, Cookies and beer.

Thanks for coming along.

My girl, in the ferns
More images are in the on the website.