Climbing mountains, getting Covid and making drawings

Fruit definitely tastes better when you pick it by vineyards on a hike.

Whew! After a trip to France followed by getting sick, I am back in the studio/office.

My husband, our son and I went to France as soon as our son’s school let out in June. We visited family and friends we hadn’t seen since the before-times and went hiking in the Alpes with my brother for a week. We got home after 3 weeks on the road and promptly got sick with Covid – all 3 of us.

I’m starting to feel like myself again though, so I wanted to write about some things we learned in the last month:

  1. Hiking difficulty ratings are off the charts in France. One of my cousins took us hiking near Dijon on the Chemin de Felix Batier. The route we took was marked as Difficult, but we felt prepared since we consider ourselves fairly experienced hikers. We ended up doing what amounted to climbing without ropes. It turns out this Felix Batier character created the trail in the 1950’s to help train alpinists for the difficulties they’d face the Alpes.
  2. Always stop and pick ripe fruit you find during a walk (unless it’s near the ground of course). See the image above of us eating cherries we found along the aforementioned hike.
  3. Stag beetles don’t typically bite unless you accidentally grab them – which is exactly what my son did during one of the climbs on this hike. Luckily he did not fall off the rocky climb. And yes, it hurt like hell. He had the marks to prove it.
  4. Don’t trust the guy at the gear shop who recommends the perfect hike for your family. After telling him what we do and don’t enjoy when hiking and letting him know we had a 9-year old with us, he recommended a hike up the Crête du Vars. Instead of making a loop, we ended up turning around at the summit because we were so terrified by the exposure. When we saw the crest from the bottom, we thought for sure we’d be hiking around it. No, we would be hiking on it. Lesson learned: if you’re so scared that you’re not enjoying the views anymore, it’s time to turn around. Note, this hike was marked as Moderate in the hiking app we used, which is shocking to me given the level of exposure we experienced up there. But I realized that steep (up to 30% grades here) or sustained climbing doesn’t add to the difficulty level in France. It’s the technicality of a hike that matters when rating them.
  5. We survived Covid. I think we caught it on the plane ride back Stateside when a woman near us took off her mask before having a coughing fit for 5-minutes. We’re still tired and needing to sleep a lot, but we are ok. I’m also thankful for Zoom which allowed me to teach a workshop virtually rather than in person when I was sick.
  6. Drawing is the best. We knew this already, but I’ve been reminded again as I make drawings and watercolors in my sketchbook. From taking notes and color references, to practicing drawing skills, to trying out new techniques, to figuring out what to do with a painting, the humble sketchbook is the place to do it all. This summer, I’ve been drawing a lot. And my son is old enough to model without moving too much now too. He even likes modeling! See the drawing below to see what my son has been up to…
  7. I am still afraid of everything until I do it once. I’d wanted to try Paris’ bike share program Vélib since I’d heard about it, but hadn’t had the chance to do it yet. Well after a day of walking around the city with my brother, I decided it would be a good idea to ride the 45-min ride back to our apartment by bike. I hadn’t ridden bikes in a city since we lived in Australia, and WOW I had forgotten how full-on city riding is, especially in a place where there are so many things going on at once. Cars, city busses, other cyclists, scooters, motorcycles, pedestrians, trams… the list of possible ways to get hurt goes on. I almost got squished by a bus (my fault entirely) and was afraid to get hit by the eerily silent trams, but thankfully I made it back to home-base in one piece. And it was so fun that I’ll probably do it again next time we’re there.
The Crête du Vars. We were way up there on those rocks.
My son making the most of summer and reading in bed

Camping, grit, resilience and mountains

 

I spent a long weekend camping with my family at one of our favorite spots, Pilot Mountain State Park. We love spending time in this special place, and we hike there year-round.

We went to the summit one evening just before sunset and I couldn’t resist shooting a short video to share this landscape with you. The first views above are from that evening, looking toward Winston-Salem and then the Blue Ridge.

The second view is from one of our hikes in the morning, of Hanging Rock and Sauratown Mountain toward east of Winston-Salem. One of the unique aspects of this spot is that as you do different hikes in the park, you’ll have the chance to see 360 degrees of landscape from Pilot Mountain. Since the mountain’s rocky formation juts out of the surrounding hills, it’s not surprising that it was used as a navigational landmark and was called Jomeokee or “great guide” by the area’s first inhabitants.

My family and I often have interesting conversations as we walk. One of the ideas that came up was the meaning of the words grit and resilience. My husband took the position that they are one and the same. I argued they aren’t, but that there is overlap and that the two qualities can go hand in hand. In the last year since the pandemic hit, I’ve been thinking of resilience a lot. I didn’t realize it until relatively recently, and it feels like an important quality to cultivate now. Anyway, my brother, being the rational person he is, recommended we simply look up the definitions. So here they are from my good old American Heritage College Dictionary:

*grit: indomitable spirit; pluck

resilience: the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy

I often feel gratitude to have such beautiful places just a short drive away from home. Spending time at Pilot Mountain walking and looking and listening fills me with contentment and with inspiration for my work. Now it’s back to the studio!

Find some paintings inspired by my time at Pilot Mountain here and bring some peaceful energy of the outdoors into your space.

 

*I like the way Angela Duckworth talks about grit in her aptly named book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. You can watch her TED talk here.

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