I had been riding down tight, crispy tree runs full of moguls in Jackson Hole early in January. The snow was packed and hard, not the soft powder that had been covering the mountains a few weeks ago. I was having a tough time riding. My legs were tired and I was getting frustrated. I couldn’t turn my board as quickly as I knew I could.
Being outside it supposed to be meditative, healing, and awe-inspiring. It is all those things, but not the way that a lot of us, including me, tend to “do” being outside. I am usually pushing forward with a goal or a pace in mind. A ridge I want to get to, a mile marker, or a time of day. It’s a really fun and exhilarating way to experience the outdoors. It’s fast-paced and you get to cover a lot of ground. That’s not a bad way to do it! This way, you miss a lot of things too though. You miss out on thoughts and you miss out on scenery and the smaller details. You miss out on animal tracks on the trail and rare mushrooms just off to the side. You miss out on the moss on the trees and the glittering quartz rocks. By the time you get to camp, it’s time to set up and gather wood and it’s dark out!
This has always kind of bothered me that I was missing out on the smaller wonders within the larger landscape. In the summer of 2015, I started to slow down. Not because I was out of shape or lazy but because I discovered a new way to experience the outdoors. I started to go on plein air painting trips with my mom, a professional watercolor artist. Plein air painting means, “in open air” in French. It’s paintings that are done on site outdoors. Painting outside appeals to me because it combines my interests of painting and outdoor activities. It also presents a huge challenge artistically because the light is always changing. Shadows and highlights shift as clouds come and go overhead. Dusk comes and sets an orange glow on the grass and trees. You have to learn to paint with conviction and trust that you can adapt your painting to however the scene will change in the span of two hours. The painting will never look like an exact moment in time, it will always reflect different moments in time put together.
Back to Jackson Hole. It was an unusually warm temperature inversion, 5 degrees at the base of the mountain and 22 higher up. I went to the car and grabbed by art pack. I had a new set up for my oil paints and was really excited to try it out. I rode up on the gondola and set up my spot near a flat traverse. Sitting on packed snow, my board on a rack, I sat in the snow and finally looked around me. It was a bluebird day and the valley was bright and white with snow covering the fields and flats down below. I finally relaxed and let go of my frustrations of riding earlier in the day and let go of any expectations I had for my painting.
This isn’t to say that we should all be painters. What I am saying is that there is a lot to be gained from slowing down and allowing yourself to enjoy the breaks. Enjoy the stillness. Maybe you like to sit and write poetry or describe what you see and feel. Maybe you stretch or go through some vinyasa flows. Maybe you listen to music. Maybe you sing or make your own music. Maybe you drop your pack or your bike and take out your camera and photograph what you see. There is space and there is time for creativity and reflection when you’re outside. It’s a new way to commit the experience and the scenery to memory. Not all trips have to be challenging and competitive or slow and introspective. There’s room for both.