over the pass
This process of creating a studio, like creating many things worthwhile, has tested my patience, my abilities and even my pocket-book, as I hang on to a special idea for my commitment to making art and showing art to the community. Progress in the last week, however, has provided us with extra energy as the studios are finally taking shape. We have gone over the hump, so to speak.
Hmm! ‘Going over the hump’ reminds me of another experience I had in 1968, while I was waiting for my draft letter, which I eventually got and which landed me in Southern Vietnam. My parents owned and operated a motel in Cody, Wyoming. My Dad knew a hunting guide named Tommy Thompson, who was scheduled to set up a winter hunting camp in the wilderness area southeast of Yellowstone Park, called the Thoroughfare. He arranged for me to join in a trip there to help set it up for the hunters. There were no roads, no privately owned land, no vehicles other than an occasional jet flying overhead. We only heard ourselves, the horses and nature, wind, water flowing, leaves rustling, rock falling, a bird, a chipmunk, a bug. That was the setting, and it was very remote.
I was pretty much a “greenhorn” when it came to riding horses. A horse pack train was the only means of entering the thoroughfare from the east via 30 miles of trail from South Fork Valley. Several men and I and maybe a dozen horses with packs of supplies for the camp rode into the wilderness. They put me near the middle of the pack train. Tommy led us in and others brought up the rear. We began single file northward along the bottom of a wooded mountain next to a riverbed, sometimes on one side, then the other. The grade was gradual. When the woods began to clear, I was surprised how high we had gotten. We crossed the end of a gorge and turned westward on the east side of a steep, rocky cliff, sharply ascending. We reached the pass leading to the thoroughfare.
The trail was just wide enough for the hooves of the horses, the wall being to our left and a nearly vertical drop on the right. As I looked past my foot in the stirrup I saw white cotton balls of clouds below me. As we progressed, my horse bit the rear of the horse in front, so that horse would kick mine. My horse kicked the one behind who was biting my horse’s rear. All along the train you could hear minor scuffles between horses attempting to get ahead or nudging the other forward. Rocks would give way from under their feet and drop down the mountain, sometimes with a muffled ringless thud, other times with a long-delayed echo. If that wasn’t unnerving enough, I could see bones of various animals at the bottom. It was treacherous. Now this is really the intended setting. Rocks and bones–isn’t that almost drywall?
As we approached the end of the canyon, a marvelous view opened up high over the thoroughfare pine wooded valley. We suddenly began our descent on the southern side down a grassy slope. It was here that the horses bolted in a free-for-all down the mountain to a yet unseen camp site they obviously sensed as the destination. I was struggling to stay in the saddle, looking for my horse’s rhythm, when my 40 dollar cowboy hat flew off with the updraft wind. I pulled on the reins of the horse barely able to control him, attempting to turn him against the flow of the other horses so that I could retrieve my hat. I managed to jump off, get to my hat, and hold on to the reins of my anxious horse all at once. The horse was eager to move and getting back on him was very difficult, because I didn’t have him fully in control. After going in circles, I managed to mount. I pulled my hat on so hard it crumpled my ears, but the wind could never get it off again as we galloped down the mountain in a fast, steady pace to catch up with the rest of the party, now a mile or two ahead of me.
That’s what I remembered as I worked on the studio. Like the horses who maybe smelled the camp fires burning, or the water to quench their thirst or simply remembered doing this before, and made a run for camp, we also are putting enormous effort into completing the studio, making our run for it. Pictures? Are you kidding? You’ll have to be satisfied with just the one.