After finishing up my month long volunteer gig in Lincoln Montana I headed South as the first snows of the season were falling. After a round-about way of getting there I ended up in Bisbee Arizona. I stopped first in Laramie Wyoming to see a friend’s exhibition at the art museum on the campus of the University of Wyoming, Waste Land by Brando Ballengée was a great installation of work that Brandon has created over the years and it was so nice to see the evolution of his work and his process. The next stop was at the Flaming Gorge dam on the Green River, to look around and fish for Colorado River Cutthroat there in the tail water. The fishing was good and the scenery was breath taking. I had never driven highway 191 south before, I recommend that drive and encourage you to take your time on it. The desert and canyons are beautiful and ever changing. I experienced driving south during the golden hour and seeing Monument Valley off on the horizon backlit and gorgeous. Too many nights I ended up finding a place to stop after dark, occasionally I awoke to a beautiful scene at the edge of a canyon. I made a stop at Cottonwood Campground at Canyon De Chelle for a couple of days to give the Dodge a brake job and I wanted to visit the White House ruins that were made photographically famous by Timothy O’Sullivan and then again by Ansel Adams. I was not quite ready for what I found. The ruins are but a tiny speck on a giant canyon wall. Those guys really used their cameras to create something that could only exist in a photograph. My image is much different than theirs. Just about to Bisbee I decided to stop in Tombstone for a visit to look around and shoot some film. The whole reason for heading South and my discovering the wonderful things that I did along the way was a ceramic pit firing happening at Cochise College in Douglas Arizona, South of Bisbee right at the border with Mexico. Tate Rich runs the ceramics program down there and is an old friend of Dave Turillo who I met in Lincoln a few weeks before. The pit firing was an interesting experience and true to my way I showed up early and offered to lend a hand. I beat Dave there by a few hours so I helped out with loading their brand new, just finished, wood kiln. Once Dave arrived we sorted pallets for the rest of the day to make it easier to build the bonfire the following day. On Friday we helped out with the construction of the giant bonfire built atop the pit where all the pots were buried. It was a huge pile of wood. To my surprise the fire didn’t last all that long that night. It flared up and got incredibly hot for about half an hour and then settled into a slow burn that lasted well into the night. The weekend in Bisbee also corresponded with the annual Bisbee 1000 race. Bisbee is built in a canyon and there are staircases all over the place. Apparently part of the race involves 1000 stair steps. I didn’t run the race, my hours of wading rivers and hiking are not enough training to take that on. I met some wonderful people down there and made many new friends. One potter that I met is a real sweetheart, her business is called picklepottery and can be found on Instagram and etsy. Look her up, her work is good and it hits my sweet spot for form vs function and a level of craft that I really appreciate. Bisbee is a very cool town and has things that remind me of several of the places I’ve stumbled into on this journey. Good people, interesting landscapes, and a sense of community where people know each other and care about what’s going on.
I have been involved with a nonprofit in Lincoln Montana for the last several years, the Blackfoot Pathways Sculpture in the Wild is an international sculpture installation featuring some of the world’s foremost artists making land art and environmental sculpture. Go to www.sculptureinthewild.com to learn more about the artists and this amazing project. I spent the month of September in Lincoln volunteering my time to help construct the new pieces by Chris Drury and Tyler Nansen, mostly working with Chris and our intern Dave Tarullo assisting with the building of “Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Whirlpool” that is a 45 foot diameter piece comprised of native logs and rock.
Since I started full-timing in the Airstream back in April I have had a limited income stream so I was unable to financially support the project as I have in the past and since I am wandering around the continent making photographs and chasing trout it was an easy decision to come to Lincoln for the month and give my time. Over the course of the project I donated over 200 hours of labor running tractors, peeling logs and solving logistical problems. I had a lot of fun! Lincoln is located in the Blackfoot River Valley not very far away from where I lived in Helena and home to the Blackfoot River, one of my very favorite places to look for Cutthroat and Brown trout. I managed to get in a couple of days on the river and enjoyed reconnecting with this landscape and the animals and fish that live here. Moose, elk, deer, beaver, mink and eagles we all my companions on the river at one point and the trout did not disappoint either. My time here was wonderful and I was able to make a few photographs as well as meet many new friends. This adventure has become as much about meeting people around the country as it is about making photographs. People are what matters, seeing the world through their eyes and understanding the little that I can about who they are and what matters to them has become the joy in my adventure. In Lincoln I was able to meet Chris Drury and his wife Kay Syrad who are from Brighton, UK and get a glimpse of our country from their view during this weird time where we have two people trying to be president that most people aren’t very excited about. It was a nice perspective and then there is Kevin O’Dwyer the Irishman who is the artistic director for the project. Kevin is a remarkable silversmith and artist with a vision for Lincoln that I am still in awe of, he is passionate and energetic to the point of being contagious to those around him. He also has an interesting perspective on our country during this time, many evenings were spent with CNN on the tube and Kevin reading Huffington Post articles aloud while arguing with the talking heads on the screen. I found it all very entertaining. I spent a month with an Irishman who is more passionate about, and interested in, our politics than the average American that I have met on the road.
This adventure is a great experience for me, I have started to have a deeper understanding and love for myself and grown more aware of the need for community that I have in me. As I move around the continent I find that I am engaging with folks who have a strong sense of and love for their community and I am finding ways of being helpful or useful to them. It is a great feeling to briefly be a part of a community and lend a hand, make real and meaningful connections and then move on. I hope that I am able to be of some help in the places I visit and by photographing the people who make up these communities I am collecting a document or a body of evidence that ordinary people working together are what makes our communities great, not the media hyped individuals who are trying to tell us what we think and what we should care about.
I am heading South now that snow has started falling this first week of October and it’s a sweet sorrow for me, I love this place and my friends here but I am looking forward to being on the move again. Next stop, Bisbee Arizona.
After leaving the upper Midwest I headed back to my adopted home in Montana for a couple of days before heading up to Canada for a few weeks of wilderness camping and some serious fishing. Crossing the border turned out to be a bit of an ordeal as I apparently set off every red flag with my answers to the questions Where do you live? Nowhere, I live full-time in my Airstream so wherever I’m parked is home. Where do you work? I’m currently unemployed but actually I’m a photographer working on a project. Are you a professional photographer? I suppose I am. Do you have permission to shoot photographs in Canada? No, I didn’t know that I needed to ask permission. The conversation went on like this for a while and eventually they searched the entirety of the truck and the Airstream. There was nothing to find. It turns out that they just didn’t believe that I didn’t have any guns with me since both vehicles are tagged and registered in Montana. Lesson learned.
I initially landed in Fernie BC but quickly decided to head over Crowsnest Pass and explore the Oldman, Livingstone and Highwood rivers. The landscape up there is beautiful and the few people that I met were kind, generous and easygoing. On the Livingstone River the Cutthroat were like no others I had encountered, the fish were very picky and extremely bug specific on top of being wary and shy due to the amount of fishing pressure that the river sees in the summer. After a day of watching and looking under rocks I came up with a series of fly patterns that worked like a charm, a greenish sparse bodied nymph with no flash and a wisp of a thorax, a wonderfully fun to tie emerger using a Klinkhammer hook so the majority of the fly is under the surface tied in the same colors as the nymph and a dry that is based on a traditional Wolff pattern but using the same muted colors of the other two. All three were tied on size 18 hooks. All over central Alberta where I camped I continued to see cow patties covered in mushrooms, I also found campsites that had been recently used and throughout the woods around them I found random rocks painted in bright colors...Three weeks of random camping in the Canadian Rockies was a great break from the heat and humidity that I had been experiencing since late May but I needed to get back to Montana for a volunteer gig helping to build some sculptures in Lincoln. I had never explored Alberta before, it is an amazing landscape that I only just scratched the surface of. I will be going back.