Using Art to Stay Connected to Trails While Social Distancing
“Every time I paint a picture from the PCT I absolutely feel connected to the trail. I started painting the PCT to keep part of the feeling of the trail in my daily life.” In the time of social distancing, we’re all hanging up our packs and picking up new hobbies. Finding a way to stay connected to our community can offer a lifeline while being estranged from the trails.
Elizabeth “EtchASketch” Mordensky, Triple Crowner and independent artist, recreates her time on the trail in paintings. The process of selecting a scene to paint and thumbing through photos offers a chance for Elizabeth to become immersed in her trail memories.
“While I am painting the scene, I end up thinking a lot about that particular stretch of trail. I am currently working on a view of Mount Hood as you approach it from the south. We remember the spot where we took the photo, but it also provokes me to think about climbing up the sandy trail to Timberline Lodge, the AYCE (All-You-Can-Eat) buffet, the people we hung out with while chilling in the lodge, meeting one of our good friends (and former PCT thru-hiker) at the lodge so he could do a two-day section with us, and the tricky stream crossing as we descended the other side of the mountain. You can’t help thinking about the trail when you are painting it.”
We’re all looking for a way to transport to the trail while social distancing. Painting not only creates magnificent physical reminders of thru-hiking, it also allows Elizabeth to travel through her paintbrush.
“As I get close to finishing a painting with vivid details, I often feel like I am in that spot, transported right out of my studio. This feeling doesn’t happen with every painting, but when it does, it is absolutely magical.
Most recently I experienced this as I was getting close to finishing my painting of Kearsarge Pass. I truly felt as if I had my hands on the rocks, looking around to the south as I crested into the early-morning sun. It certainly causes an intense yearning to be in the mountains, but it also gives me a brief moment of feeling that I am already there. Feeling this connection is why I paint.”
In addition to painting full-size scenes, Elizabeth is creating a PCT book with these pieces of art and narrative. She’s currently gathering stories and memories from former trail families to add to her book. This has helped her stay further connected while at home practicing social distancing.
“If you are not an artist, I highly recommend journaling about some of your trail memories. Hiking friends that I have asked to contribute to my book have thanked me for asking. This is because it pushed them to think about specific memories in greater detail. We think about trail life all the time. However, it is rare that we dig deep into the specifics of a particular memory. It can be quite fun!
If you haven’t done a thru-hike before, and had to postpone this year, do the same thing but with overnight trips that you have taken. Reliving the best moments of a trip or any Type-2 adventure is a great way to lighten the burden of having to stay home.”
Instead of avoiding low moments of the trail, Elizabeth highlights the beauty still present when circumstances are less than ideal. She shares the story of such an evening with her partner, Dino DNA, in the Southern California desert. Despite the painful experience, a stunning piece of art was inspired.
“It looks like a beautiful evening that any hiker would enjoy, but there was a sinister side to the night… poodle dog bush. Poodle dog bush is a plant that excretes an acidic skin irritant that can cause reactions far worse than poison ivy for many people. It colonizes recent burn areas, growing in abundance on several stretches of trail.
On this particular evening, DNA and I overshot our goal campsite—we did not recognize the site as it had been overgrown by poodle dog bush. As we kept hiking, we ended up in a section of trail completely overgrown with the plant. The light faded. Our pace slowed to a crawl as we carefully wound around menacing tendrils of this hike-ending plant. My headlamp died, so with each plant DNA had to maneuver his way through before shining his light back at me.
Mercifully, we found a tiny opening near the trail, where our friend Foolhardy was already sheltering. In this secluded refuge, we spent the night on an uncomfortable slope, but unscathed by poodle dog bush.”
The inexplicable and incomprehensible moments of pure joy experienced on the trail are what keep us all coming back. On the PCT, Elizabeth recalls such a moment which left her speechless.
“The first paintings I created for the book depicted the evening we entered Glacier Peak Wilderness, WA. I remember being stopped in my tracks as I dropped over Red’s Pass by the mystical beauty of the world before me.
I felt like I had entered a fantasy land where unicorns might go running by, or a griffin would fly overheard. It was blissful to know that even after hiking 5,000+ miles, I could still be profoundly blown away by a new place. I will never forget this evening.”
In her book, Elizabeth is creating what is the largest-known collection of fine art pieces of any long trails. She is already planning to hold an exhibition to pair her book launch. Through her paintings, visitors will be transported along the PCT.
“I want hikers to be able to relive their experiences through that art, and for non-thru-hikers to be able to see why we love it so much. Art is a universal language. I have poured myself into capturing the beauty of nature for all to see.”
Part of the proceeds from this event will go back to trail-related organizations. To view original paintings and prints Elizabeth currently has available, head to her personal website.
Whether it’s a paintbrush, pen, or pencil, there has never been a better time to test your creativity. We’re all social distancing and staying off our beloved trails in an attempt to flatten the curve. Finding ways to remember and document past thru-hiking experiences can healing. Your paintings might not be as gallery-worthy as these, but you still may find yourself happily lost in memories of a simpler, and dirtier, time.
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