As a sculptor, I sometimes travel for the unique purpose of “filling the creative well”. I love these artist trips because there’s no real itinerary – it’s all about letting go and allowing my mind to absorb new images. When my good friend Sarah invited me to go primitive camping on a remote lake high in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, where the campsites are accessible only by canoe, the artist in me immediately replied, “Yes!”……Then I remembered I’ve never really been camping and I’m terrified of canoes. But the Adirondacks had been calling me for a long time and I knew they could have a profound influence on my artwork. So with a little trepidation and a great sense of purpose, I set out with Sarah on this primitive adventure.
The Adirondacks are raw, wild and stunningly beautiful. I feel their power the minute our car starts climbing as we wind our way up into these magnificent mountains, past forgotten rural villages that seem to be stuck in the 1950s. My creative mind is already taking snapshots as we arrive at Little Tupper, a pristine lake deep in the heart of this vast wilderness. We load the canoe and Sarah ushers me into the front seat, my heart pounding as my fear of canoes slowly rises to the surface. I say a little prayer (something like: “Please don’t let our canoe end up on the bottom of the lake!”) and we push off from the shore. We begin our paddle in silence, releasing the last remaining shreds of our lives in the outside world. The lake is quiet and peaceful – the only sounds are the rhythmic splashes of our paddles rising and falling in the water as we glide past the slow-moving scenery. A loon appears and swims toward us, as if to assess whether or not we are worthy to proceed. We remain silent but acknowledge his presence as he nods his approval and paddles off. We have been accepted.
By the time we reach our campsite, I have made my peace with canoes. We set up camp and Sarah prepares dinner while I scout around for firewood and build a rather impressive campfire. Our site is on a point, with a pine-needle floor, high tree canopy and water on three sides, affording spectacular views of the lake. We enjoy our meal by the fire, our voices trailing off into the deep forest as we share stories well into the night. It feels as though we’re sitting in the middle of the last sacred place on Earth. There’s a strong sense of connection here – the same connection I experience in my artwork, only instead of witnessing the organic forms and earthy colors as an observer, I am living them.
Nightfall. I’m resting comfortably in my tent, wondering why the Adirondacks have brought me here. Is there a message for me? A loon calls…. haunting,…… another loon answers,….. their conversation echoing back and forth across the lake. And then, a gentle rain….just enough to wash away any traces of mental “baggage” I may still be carrying. I snuggle into the safety and warmth of my sleeping bag and drift off to sleep.
Awake at sunrise. Our little bay is perfect for a morning dip au naturel before starting a fire and cooking up a hearty bacon-and-eggs breakfast. Proud of having completely vanquished my fear of canoes, I am now eager to spend a day on the lake. It’s a perfect, windless day and Little Tupper is as smooth as a mirror. I take my designated spot at the front of the canoe and Sarah and I begin our leisurely paddle.
As we follow the shoreline, I notice an odd-shaped rock at the water’s edge, approximately three feet high, flat on top, with a pale green hue. It is reflected perfectly in the water, making it look almost like a work of art. I stop paddling to admire it, and an unusual thing happens. My eyesight suddenly sharpens, colors deepen, and the rock seems to be surrounded by a soft “glow.” I blink my eyes, wondering if I’m getting sunstroke. I describe my vision to Sarah who perceives nothing of what I am seeing even though she is a practiced healer and mystic.
As we continue our paddle, I experience more of these natural “sculptures” of rocks and trees, each one more beautiful and ornate than the one before, some incorporating extraordinary pieces of driftwood into their form, all of them glowing. I suddenly feel connected to nature, to the world, to the secrets of the universe as I realize I could truly “see” the essence of those forms. At that moment, I understood everything about what makes a certain piece of art great. It’s not intellectual, it’s a place art can take you, and anyone can go there.
I continue my exploration of this floating art gallery, soaking up each piece, hoping I will be able to eventually share this experience through my own art. After an hour, however, my “creative vision” begins to fade and I slowly return to the everyday world.
The Adirondacks made good on their promise. I stepped out of my comfort zone to come here and I was richly rewarded, bringing back to my studio an insight that will influence my artwork forever.
We leave our beautiful campsite the next day. As we paddle back across the lake, I notice our loon has come to us once again – this time to see us off.
Driving back down the mountains towards “civilization”, I am reminded of the following poem, a derivative of a quote by Zen Master Dōgen:
Before Zen, mountains are mountains and trees are trees.
During Zen, mountains are the thrones of the gods
and trees are the voices of wisdom.
After Zen, mountains are mountains and trees are trees.
Serena Kovalosky’s portfolio can be viewed on her website: Serena Kovalosky
As a novice camper, obviously lacking in canoeing skills, I would never have attempted primitive camping with an equally inexperienced partner. Sarah is not only a seasoned canoe-camper, at 72 years old she can still throw a canoe on her shoulders and carry it down to the water without the slightest effort. A gifted mentor, Sarah has been patiently teaching me the “camping tricks of the trade”. I’m still taking notes….
For more information on the Adirondacks, contact the Adirondack Mountain Club. Be sure to join or give a donation to help keep the Adirondacks “forever wild”.