Crunch, crunch. With each step forward in my worn down hiking boots, the noise and bustle of my busy, stressful life quiets to a murmur until all that remains is the present moment. A palette, acrylics, brushes, an easel, along with my camera, my lunch, and two bottles of water form a jigsaw puzzle in my day pack. It is weighted down, a constant tug at my shoulders. I hold a stretched canvas in my hands just so, in order to avoid indenting it.
It is morning, and the cool, crisp breeze caresses my face and I breathe it in deeply. I aim my face to the sky. The soft, low blue is only interrupted by the jagged red canyon walls. I am on the Colorado river, just downstream from Lee’s Ferry. It is late September in the high desert of Arizona, and Autumn is a foreign concept. I can already tell that the minute the sun rises from behind the sandstone cliff, the heat will be unforgiving. For now though, my skin prickles in the chilly shade.
I reach the river with a satisfied sigh. I drop my pack and remove my footwear to reunite my senses with the water. The Colorado River and I are old friends. I return a few times every year to reflect on my life and reroot myself in nature. This ritual has become a welcome constant in my life. I perch myself on the same sandy rock on the same bank, next to the same creosote bush looking out to the same view. Sameness welcomes me home, unchanged and stable even though I am not.
My world seems to be moving more and more quickly. I constantly am rushing around to complete the next item on my lengthy, never ending to-do list. It seems there is not quite enough time in the day no matter how I slice it, and organizing my busy life is a never ending task. I finally check a box and another gets added.
Working more efficiently or for longer may help chip away at the pending items on my queue, but it doesn’t restore my mind and body. Which is why I come here. I come for the stillness and the quiet. I disconnect from the noise with each breath of fresh air. I come to remove myself from my world and revisit the idea that there is a certain stillness and beauty in living simply.
I am an artist. A working one, but also a student. Art is in all corners of my life. It is what I study, produce, and consume. Creativity of all forms captivates me. It is my purpose on this earth to discover myself in expression and creation. I do not desire a life where I cannot let my imagination take me to the far reaches of possibility. However, the fact that my daily life is so saturated with art and pushing my own limits, I find I need projects that remind me of why I create. I need that taste of freedom and joy of letting go of the elements and principles of design. I need to take a picture for the fun of it. I desire the feeling of making a composition just because it feels right.
When I am here, on the river bank, I approach my old love and let go of all technical aspects of art. I simply paint for the feeling of it. I don’t give myself a chance to get caught in the details. For some reason, being indoors does not lend itself to the same freedom. I have tried to recreate this assignment of letting go in the studio and it never works. With the first touch of my brush to canvas, it all floods back. I reconnect to the value in art, the reason to make it in the first place. It is for the pure joy that comes with creating.
As I paint, I observe. I watch fishermen silently slip by on drift boats, birds fly between the canyon walls, the shadows swirl and shift as the sun rises higher. The desert landscape is my muse. The roughness of it all is emphasized with vibrant, illuminated color, almost as if it demands respect and awe. Our society, far removed from nature lacks this type of awe, the awe that has the power to awaken our souls. We need that experience to remind us of why we are here and what we are meant to be doing.
I believe that spending time outdoors is the cure for our stressors and time crunches and anxiety. It is the answer to most of our problems. Taking precious time to simply be in nature and observe the landscape may seem like just another added item in our busy lives, but I have felt the value. The return is far more worthwhile than the time spent. So close the Macbook. Put the to-do list on hold. Lace up those old hiking boots. Fill that day pack. Grab a sketchbook and camera. And take the time to take that hike. Feel what it is like to reunite with your true purpose.
Claire Sipos lives in Flagstaff, Arizona working as a graphic artist and studying photography and the visual arts. She is a photographer, graphic designer, potter, writer, painter, color enthusiast, lover of light, and aspiring filmmaker. Tomorrow, maybe something new will be added to that list. In short, she is a creator, a dreamer, and an explorer in pursuit of full self expression. She plans to never lose her sense of wonder.Photos by the author.