Alli Harvey Art

A new no normal

Wes’s alarm went off at 4:45am. He peeled back the single bedsheet we’d pulled up at some point in the night, moved to the foot of the fold-out bed, walked three feet across the floor, and tapped a small battery operated puck light in the bathroom. This was enough to illuminate the trailer in the early morning darkness.

4:45am is a strange time because it’s too early for me, but not by much. I can be persuaded to get up at 5am for something cool. 5:30am is an easier sell. And, here in the desert, the earlier I’m awake, the greater number of hours I have to do something outdoors while it’s hospitable out. The contrast in my energy between morning and afternoon is significant. Even as someone whose IQ usually drops in the afternoon, here in the blazing summer of southwest Utah I am stupid by 2pm.

I decided to get up. Not just to drive him to work and then come back to the Airstream to go back to bed. I was going to get fully up-up. I started fumbling around for pillows, stacking them on the small corner table and stuffing them to the side so I could fold the mattress back in on itself and scoot the pullout frame back in to half its size, thus creating our couch by day (queen sized bed by night). The sheets got stowed in a cabinet cleverly installed at the head of the bed just under the front wraparound window, iconic to many Airstreams.

Awake though I was, I made Wes drive the truck to his work, over in a nondescript warehouse about 10 minutes away. He grabbed the Utah Gazateer from the dashboard, which I grumbled about because I imagined I might need it although I have looked at it all of twice in the month since we bought it. He got out of the truck, dumped his gear for the week on the ground, kissed me, and walked away toward the warehouse where he stages trips. I hopped out and pulled myself up into the driver’s seat.

I slowly navigated the truck back to the trailer in the still-deep darkness and refreshingly empty roads of early morning in St. George. Turn-signaling here, and waiting for the light to go green there, I immediately missed Wes who’ll be gone for a full week. But I also felt excited for the enormous energy and focus I knew I’d be able to expend with my significant other out of the daily equation for six days. The temperature gauge on the truck read 70 degrees.

Back at the Airstream, I made myself coffee and actually took (significant) time to wake up. I decided I’d spend my best, early morning energy today, Monday, catching up on consulting. I’d just finished an original painting yesterday and had just enjoyed an entire week of hiking, painting, and art/life related tasks.

On my second cup of coffee, I cracked open my Dell laptop, the company-owned one I use for consulting, and realized that something that typically happens when I do that was not happening: my heart wasn’t racing. I didn’t feel like something was about to chase and pin me down.

I prodded myself mentally. “Email!” I thought, reminding myself what was about to happen when I clicked that icon. My heart raced only a tiny bit. I decided not to overthink it, and if email wasn’t stressing me out, let email simply happen.

A few things: I share all of this to illustrate not a typical, but a typical-in-that-there-is-no-typical morning. Some of the features are similar if not the same: the wake up routine, the immediate need for caffeine to catalyze me into a coherent and pleasant human being, and the weighing of how to best use my time and energy in a day where I’m the one largely making decisions on how to spend both.

I also share this to illustrate my changing relationship to work. The lack of the feeling of being chased was a big deal moment for me. No, there’s no one actually chasing me at work, but for the longest time I’ve felt that email is something out to try to get me. I’ve felt a lack of real choice in what I do with my time, in a world where I’ve entered into agreement that I get paid a certain sum in exchange for my work. This is particularly heightened in consulting, where the hours I’m paid are directly correlated to the work I bring in or accept.

Now, I no longer have a salary. I’m hourly. The agreement of my employment is explicit in that some days and weeks I might work a whole lot; others I might work very little or none. The flip side is, almost all of the responsibility to bring in and sustain work rests on me now, and if I work very little in consulting, I make very little. But in that I have freedom. I have a lot more grounding when I look at my inbox to know that I always have the option to say no and feel perfectly okay and ethical about it. That gives me great peace of mind.

Today I worked a little over four hours on consulting projects. I’m smack in the middle of one, asking some questions so I can follow up; another project is coming to a close in the next two weeks and I’m emailing reminders of what we need to complete the work; another one is just in contracting and startup phase, so I’m drafting a list of things I need to discuss with the client this week. It feels exciting. It feels manageable. It feels like I’m giving something I have to give, and am competent in.

Then, I spent a couple of hours on Alli Harvey Art related writing projects and social media.

I had it on my list to paint. But you know what? By 4pm, I didn’t have the energy anymore. I decided not to push myself.

I sat down and wrote this instead. There’s still tomorrow. And the days after that.

Asthma defined me, and it’s not all bad

I don’t know how many people know this about me. It feels like I share pretty openly and freely, but it’s still so outside of how I come across now (yet so deeply shaped my identity and how I approach my life) that it feels worth repeating.

I had chronic asthma as a kid. Due to frequent hospitalizations, cut with recovering at home and big/tapering doses of prednisone and all of those thrilling side effect, I was often unable to participate in life stuff growing up. One year I missed 130 out of 180 days of school.

What that looked like in real time was a lot of quality time in the world bound by the four walls of my bedroom, with its daytime TV, landline phone, desktop computer, journals, sketchbooks, books, and magazines.

Some of the stuff I was by and large okay with not participating in, like, oh I don’t know: school. I got my assignments and completed them at home. But when it came to the social stuff – field trips, sports, what have you – I felt apart. I was apart, and I was occasionally brutally reminded of that thanks to the kindness of high school peers (read the sarcasm between the lines). Luckily, I had some good, close friends.

Still, there was a lot of space to fill; big open days of not being in school. In my early teens, I focused much of my attention inward because it had to go somewhere. I filled my journals and sketchbooks, made the most of what was then AOL Instant Messenger, wrote and read poetry, cultivated my burgeoning interest in music by taping songs off the radio and making mixes. I attached great significance to those moments that I was healthy and asthma-free enough to be present for: the sleepovers, movie and mall trips, vacations, and even a backpacking trip my then-stepdad schlepped a battery-operated nebulizer for so that I could participate. Normal stuff, but it was so outside my daily reality that those experiences were uniquely meaningful.

When my asthma disappeared nearly overnight after I changed school environments, I found myself suddenly…self-less. Who was I without asthma as my core identity? Without that black-hole center of everything I “could not do” wheezing and sucking in all of the possibilities, it meant all of the pieces of my self were in free form, with no gravitational pull. I was free, sure, but that was confusing and scary. If I could do anything, what did I want?

It turned out I wanted a lot of things, but most fervently I wanted to be as fully engaged in the world as I could muster. I looked around me for some ways people seemed to do that – be engaged, be present – and I happened to see a lot of hikers and runners.

The idea of me, as an asthmatic, as a hiker or runner was so antithetical to my life experience so far, yet so representative of engaging the world in a way I’d previously been largely unable to, I was drawn to it. Could I do that? Could I be that?

There is a lot of middle here between then and now, but ultimately the answer continues to astonish me because, apparently, it’s yes.

These days perhaps I come off as a fitness fiend. I am active. I’ve been on a pushups kick in the past few years, and recently discovered dumbbell workouts. Me?! Enjoy lifting weights?! Apparently, yup. I hike and backpack competently, if not quickly; ditto with running. Mountain biking is thrilling. I’ve been swimming laps again recently, dipping my toe in the proverbial waters of joining a friend for a triathlon race.

I like working out because it gives me freedom. Fitness enables me to say “yes” to things I want to do, and to do those things comfortably and with enjoyment. I am still acutely aware of that having spent so much time as a kid experiencing the opposite.

I love being able to go do a hard run because it’s there; go on a big backpacking trip, ride a bike in the mountains. I never EVER take that for granted. Every time I’m out there, or every time I lift a weight, there’s the voice in the back of my head that marvels I’m able to do this at all. The awe is, I think, healthy – it’s not a nagging, “you’ll never be this” imposter voice. It’s a feeling of overarching gratitude and appreciation for life’s longevity and my own physical health and presence, with acute understanding of what it means to inhabit the opposite. When you perceive my awe or my “extra” approach to life, this perspective is, I think, at its root.

That feeling bleeds over. It’s good for my art. It’s good for my mental health and perspective on life. It’s good for my connections to the world and to others. I share it here because it is so intrinsic to who I am and my every day, even if the origin story is from an entire lifetime ago. It’s amazing how much we carry throughout our lives, and how much change is possible.

When the high is 117F

Cars line the parking lot at 7:30am when we show up to run the red dusty trails. By 8:30am, there are only two cars left.

There’s a neat hidden flat tab of fabric woven on the inside upper edge of my sun shirt sleeve. I loop my middle finger through it to keep the shirt pulled up as far as it will go across my skin, covering most of my hands save for my fingers. My hood is up over a wide-brimmed hat, creating either a Bo-Peep or Handmaid effect, depending on how sinister I feel in the moment.

When I sit, I sweat. I feel it snake down my chest, behind my knees, and where my thighs meet my butt. It’s horrifying and unbelievable, realizing how much water my body is expelling simply to exist. I’m constantly drinking water: hydroflask, empty, refill, refill, refill. I’ve lost track of how much water I consume in a day.

In the early afternoon, I feel my eyes get heavy. Where has my energy gone? I can easily take a nap, or sit very, very still for a preternaturally long time. It feels impossible to think about doing anything. Even grilling feels daunting, and I consider whether I really need dinner. (Spoiler: I do!)

In an intellectual sense, the heat is sobering. I think about it when I’m driving. If my car broke down, do I have extra water? Do I have a way to create shade? I’m aware of it, always, as the temp ticks up: this is a killer.

I used to be of the camp, when asked, that I’d prefer cold to heat because “you can always add extra layers”. I think about that now, still, but after years of “adding extra layers” I still felt cold, and I got so sick of feeling cold. This past winter I wrote the phrase “hot red rock” in my journal.

Again, all caps: HOT RED ROCK. Is that a poem, I wondered? The phrase hung around as an anchor to what I was working so hard to create those many, endless final months in Alaska.

I laugh now. There’s plenty of that! The hot red rock is an amphitheater in this town. It radiates. It is absolutely gorgeous, and also a visual touchpoint to – again – the heat.

We knew what we were in for when we said yes to a summer in Saint George. And, I tell my husband, we’ll get our cred for enduring this. It’s life experience, like getting through Alaska winter. It’s humbling; it puts me right at my edge, which is a place I both (apparently) love and hate to be, like the best and worst of being alive.

But I think next summer we’ll migrate someplace a little kinder; even a few degrees cooler. There’s no need to endure this level of heat beyond one season of our lives. We already put in our time with Alaska winters, and those were beautiful and wonderful until they absolutely weren’t.

For now, we just take it day by day, hour by hour, a little awed and a lot put in our place by truly understanding and experiencing heat. I’m a little slower, a little dumber depending on which time of day you find me.

It’s the price of admission

The morning of my first-ever trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, one of my many bucket-list level destinations, Wes and I had a terse conversation. We were driving, and interspersed with us talking was Google Maps’ crisp robot female voice instructing us to take this exit, that right, a left in a quarter mile. Our own tones of voice changed as we switched from our own tense conversation to affirming directions; then back to the still, thick air of a not fun conversation. It wasn’t exactly a fight, but a stressful exchange, shaped roughly like health insurance. Because, of course.

The basics were that it was the last day to lock in our market healthcare and it hadn’t happened yet. Meanwhile, because we are us, we were rollicking our merry way toward a trailhead and a day of walking through a world class National Park.

These are decisions we make. We had the wherewith-all to wryly observe this of ourselves even in the moment.

The tension eventually dissipated as we started to form a plan: we’d go to Bryce, hike Fairyland Loop, and then once back at the trailhead at a comfortable 2 or 3pm MT / 1 or 2pm PT (we were getting Nevada insurance, where we are legally domiciled – it was too early to call before the hike) we would use our fancy pocket computers aka phones to call and follow up on our application status, and (fingers crossed) lock in our new insurance.

The rub is that this meant we’d have to go on the hike with this basic life logistic still unresolved, hovering and looming somewhere over and amidst the hoodoos in the views we were taking in.

At the trailhead, I decided to do my best to shove the health insurance stress aside in favor of immersing myself in the place. We walked, gawked, and took photos. One snapshot later ended up serving as a photo reference for my first-ever painting of hoodoos.

When we got back to the truck, we were happily tired and sun/view filled. Tailgate down, water and snacks out, ankles caked in red dust and shoulders sheened with sunscreen, we got a very patient person on speakerphone who walked us through finalizing our insurance. Apparently, some emails were lost to spam, but we’d been approved and just needed to sign some forms and pay. Again, with the miracle of pocket computers, we were able to do this all over the phone with a mix of two phones on the case and Safari, speakerphone, and surprisingly abundant cell service.

Later, when I told a friend on the phone about this not-really sob story, she reacted with immediate and emphatic sympathy: that’s not what that experience is supposed to be about, she said. Meaning, the health insurance monkey wrench was a blight on what is meant to be filed in the category of fun and enjoyment.

What she said helped me realize something, though. The price of admission for the kind of life that Wes and I are choosing is that the day-to-day nuts and bolts and checkboxes and hurdles of modern life are interwoven with what we do with our freedom. Meaning: our lives no longer fall neatly into 9-5pm, 5 days a week, with weekends and evenings for decompressing and fun, and vacation over some weeks a year for pure release. Vacation is kind of all the time, but that also means the Stuff of Existing in Our Modern Age is, too. We’re semi-constantly dealing with vehicle and trailer maintenance, health insurance aka us maintenance, monitoring our spending and income, etc. All of this is intrinsic to most peoples’ lives, of course, but with ours it’s less neatly segmented into categories of work vs off time.

This is teaching me to hold both the supremely enjoyable and inspiring experiences I feel lucky to create and inhabit with a kind of astounding frequency, and some degree of unknown, stress, and discomfort; sometimes all in the same minute, and absolutely within the same day. This isn’t something I’ve been particularly good at before. I like to fully deal with things so that I can move onto the next. But often, these days, I’m just not going to be able to operate that way and still enjoy my life (the to-do list is never ending, as it is for anyone). I just need to accept the constant lingering something, and still be able to enjoy moments for what they are, as they happen.

On that note, we are just back from a five-day backpacking trip that was characterized by both delicious meals and slightly burnt breakfast; incredible lush views but also bad water due to cows; long days of walking that exhausted me in the best way but also parked two giant blisters on my toes; and a beautiful road trip there/back that also had our truck acting up.

Paintings are inevitable. I’m excited to be back at the Mobile Studio and getting to work this week, and I have ideas!

Here are photos from the trip! For anyone interested, this was our route.

A summer playlist breakdown

I have had many thoughts ricocheting around in my brain that I’ve wanted to share this week. Now that I’ve officially given myself the go-ahead to blog again, the inspiration just keeps coming.

Which explains why when I sat my tanned-and-sun-giddy self down at my laptop in the lovely air conditioning of the mobile studio this afternoon, the cursor blinked emptily back at me. My fingers were poised above the keyboard.

What…did I want to write about, again?

I think the best I can do is enter in the many thoughts and feelings from a different angle(s). I’m going to start with a playlist, because of course I am. Playlists are another form of art that I don’t pretend to be expert at but I do love creating them.

But instead of just sharing it with no context, I am going to crack these knuckles (but carefully, because I suspect my finger is broken – another story) and write out a little context for the songs. The playlist is linked here and below so you can listen along (don’t shuffle! Please don’t shuffle!), but really it’s best for playing in the car or while out walking/running/what have you.

Worms – Ashnikko. Last year while hiking with friends and having the kind of long, rambling hiking conversations you do, we discovered that at some point in our old age we’ve become prudish. And, entirely unbeknownst to and independent of one another, we had the same evidence: we heard the song Slumber Party by Ashnikko and were scandalized by the lyric I gave your girlfriend cunnilingus on your couch. I know, right? We were practically whispering it on the trail, and then laughing hysterically at ourselves. What and who have we become?! What are the kids up to these days?? Anyway: this song is not that song (which is, by the way, a good song). The feel of this is how I feel at my best right now. I imagine that I listen to it while rolling down some long, lonely desert highway en route from one destination to the great and exciting unknown; in reality I listen to it while walking the mile to the gym in the blazing 90+ degree sunshine wearing a UV hoody and hat and hoping to dear god the drivers of St. George see me at the crosswalk. It puts a little pep in my step.

Howl – Junip. Honestly? Boring story: it came up on Pandora recently and I remembered/enjoyed it. The un-boring part of this story is that even though I’m still a paid Spotify subscriber because of the ease, having access to full albums, and yes creating playlists; Pandora remains the undefeated master of music radio. There’s a whole reason behind it with the music genome project that’s cool to look into. Also, Junip has a song on my favorite movie, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. So.

When You’re Lonely – Cash + David. I love songs with sad lyrics that are upbeat (in my book the classic example of this is Train in Vain by the Clash). I was hiking recently in Snow Canyon’s Padre Canyon, and as the sand sage smell ballooned in my nose and I picked my way through seemingly glowing red sandstone in the morning shade of a canyon I’d never seen before, with a dazzling array of phosphorescent green plant life contrast against these massive and often surprising rock formations, I felt so completely happy. I also felt so completely aching. The same joy I felt at the experience of simply inhabiting this place, of feeling the combination of heat interspersed with shade on my skin, laying a hand on rock as I moved along and up, seeing lizards skitter in my peripheral vision bled over into this painful bursting feeling, like there is just too much, and I am just missing everything even while I feel (maybe because I feel?) so perfectly content. It makes no sense. It makes so much sense. The way this song builds and defiantly sings about missing something all the time falls along those lines.

Lithium – Nirvana. This song is the focal point and why I decided to come up with this playlist. It got lodged in my head one morning when I realized Sunday morning is every day for all I care. That works for me right now on a lot of levels, both in terms of caring less about what is a weekday and what isn’t (I tend to work more on weekends, and save up adventures for weekdays when we can evade the crowds) but also Sunday here in Mormon St. George, Utah is a THING, and I am…not Mormon, nor a church observer. Then, I don’t need to explain the raw joy and beauty of Kurt Cobain scream-singing yeah multiple times or, again, the upbeat song with the mix of love and pain. That’s life right now, feeling many things every day (everywhere, all at once. Sorry. Couldn’t not).

Attrape-reve – Polo & Pan. This came up on some sort of radio recently and it stuck. I have no idea what they’re saying. But it sounds like how I feel much of the time: a grounded, focused kind of woozy and dreamy where I spend a lot of time dreaming and thinking, but also sitting myself down to do (she writes).

How It Ends – DeVotchKa. This is about me, a drain snake, and a plunger. I was concerned I didn’t know how that particular mobile studio plotline would end. And then there was that voice yowling in my inner ear: you aaaaaalready knowww. It ended with me fixing the clogged drain! I expanded on this triumph on the phone with a very patient and supportive Wes, who has worked probably over 100 hours this week on his first solo guiding trip and made the questionable decision of calling me to say hello. Side note: if you haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine…

leikara ljoo – Susanne Sundfor. She put out a new album and Wes and I listened to it at many a campsite on the drive down to Utah from Alaska. Notably, I remember hearing this song one glorious night when we decided to fully unhitch the trailer. Generator! Heat!! We were in go-mode, so often we would just boondock by the side of the road but this was the first night we treated ourselves with a full on campout. This was also before it was warm enough to add water to the trailer. We built a campfire by a lake in Yukon Territory and made a delicious dutch oven dinner. We were surrounded by snow on opening day of the campground, but we were happy watching spring light push through skeletal tree branches and thinking about a future that included a little more warmth.

A Baby for Pree/Glow Into You – 1995 – Neutral Milk Hotel. Agggh, my HEART. I understand this song will not be for everyone, but for anyone it IS for you will get it. I tried to explain my love of Neutral Milk Hotel in a rambling post from earlier this year, and I’ll leave it at that. …but ALSO I was delighted to find out there is now an album full of previously unreleased recorded work that included this updated rendition of a song I know well, and yes, I listened/scream sang along with the album several times along the drive down.

Do You Remember – Jarryd James, Raury. Playlist order and arc is very, very important to me and this song I happen to like and comes up frequently on my suggestions fit nicely here. It’s kind of brooding, which I like. Enjoy.

Hallucinogenics – Matt Maeson, feat Lana Del Ray. The song I kind of wanted to include here is another Lana song, Taco Truck x VB from Did You Know There’s a Tunnel off of Ocean Blvd, her most recent album. The reason I wanted to include that other song is because I love it and listened to it an unhealthy amount earlier this year. Specifically I listened to it while pacing the snowy, then slushy, then mucky little loop of road our tiny home complex dreaming of a different life that was then a few months and change away. I didn’t include that song because, while it is an amazing song and you should hear it if you haven’t, it is now of a different time (thank god), and this song popped up one night and I liked the duet, build, and lyrics.

Sleeping on the Blacktop – Colter Wall. The best at playlists is one Kyle Martin, my friend in Alaska. I asked him for his rec’s for a few languid hot desert nights boondocking in Nevada’s fabled Black Rock Desert, and he sent over this album as part of a suite of ideas. Nailed it, as always. This song is actually already on this year’s draft Fall Mix (yes, those drafts start…early) but you know what? We ARE often sleeping on the blacktop. This song is probably going here vs fall.

Non-Believer – London Grammar. It’s pretty simple: I always love strong vocals, and again I like the contrast of beautiful and building music with kind of a struggle bus of lyrics because these days that totally speaks to me.

Straight to Hell / Satan is Real – Medley – Hank Williams III Lol. That’s all. Again, this speaks a little to the feeling of being a bit of an outsider here. But. Mostly, just – lol.

Here is the playlist again. Give it a listen, and like I said somewhere back there, buried in text – please, please, play it in order. I take such great PAINS. You wouldn’t believe the listens and relistens to truly get those transitions just right. Enjoy!

This is how it ends

I had a silent adult temper tantrum last night just before bed. I’d pondered leaving to go pick up a plunger and drain snake to deal with the clogged shower drain. But I knew troubleshooting at that late, hot, tired hour was a bad move. If anything went awry (and doesn’t it always?) I was too drained to cope like a rational human. I knew The Move was to put myself to bed and deal with the drain in the morning.

The shower drain in the trailer only semi-functions in the best of times due to the floor being too flat. Weird problem, I know – basically water that is lucky enough to hover exactly above the drain, drains. We lift up the teak floor to squeegee out the rest. The glamour, I know!

But, when it overflows the black hand towel we use as a mat just outside the shower door is the first tell: it gets soppy, sodden. This happened last night after I showered. But, lo and behold, when I lifted up the teak flooring to squeegee, the water just swished around.

The first primal (in my head) yell, of course, was “WES!”. But Wes was/is out doing this thing called “working”. Wes won’t be back ’til later this week. And, come to think of it, I realized, when he’s back from his long days of being outside, Wes is going to need to shower. (I am going to need Wes to shower).

So, I ran a quick Google search for “clogged trailer drain”, learned some things, and pulled out my yellow note pad ongoing check list. “Snake, plunger, dawn soap”. Then I made the bed and parked myself in it.

Enter “the thought”, the aforementioned silent tantrum (like a terrible silent disco, in which an adult just stands and scowls while staring into nothingness) which was:

“I just want to know how this ends.”

Here’s the funny thing, and it was funny in the moment too – immediately on the heels of that thought came another one. “No I don’t.”

From knowing how the plugged up drain ends, I realized, would come a cascade of knowing how so many other things end. I’d already know everything that happens in our upcoming staycation with Reesa. I’d know where we’ll be in five years. I’d know what lovely things are in store, and what grief is on its way. I don’t want to know how it ends at all! That’s just my fear that somehow the clogged drain is terminal. I’m not exaggerating. These little blips can feel like a complete eclipse of my human experience; an impediment to getting to fully experiencing my life.

Meanwhile, these blips and hurdles and successes and challenges are life.

I know how it ends. One way or another, the drain gets fixed. It’s a funny, annoying, hopefully ultimately triumphant little chapter that gets wrapped into the bigger chapters of days, of which I truly don’t want to know the ending. I want to stay lucky enough to experience it all as it unfolds.

And, ultimately I fixed the drain. I played DeVotchKa’s “This is How It Ends” as the literal soundtrack to me gunking around in there, just for some extra strings and drama, and laughed at myself as (with a good night’s sleep at my aid) I got ‘er done.

What is this thing in the sky

In Wenatchee, Stef and I had a choice. The table outside, in the sun? Or the table inside?

I had a lovely time reuniting with Stef (and Trev, not pictured!) after TEN YEARS since Alaska! Here we are on our sunny hike pre-lunch.

I wanted the sun, but grudgingly went along with the more responsible choice. We’d already spent the whole morning hiking under the blazing blue sky and all the sunscreen in the world couldn’t prevent some level of exposure. I conceded to good judgment, gently affirmed by Stef, and we had a lovely lunch.

This morning I wrote in an email that the sun is “bright enough out midday that I feel like I’m on set of the horror part of whatever film where someone’s stumbling around in the overexposed light of their acid trip.” That’s just me stepping outside the trailer at noon. Sunglasses help.

“Hiking the Narrows” last week entailed toeing our way through sometimes chest-deep 65 degree rushing water. I was so excited for the first few miles I didn’t realize I was also quite cold.

St. George is an oven, even compared to the overall hot environs of southeast Utah. A pretty typical scene is Wes and I driving back from whatever jaunt on an afternoon, watching as the temperature gauge on the truck ticks up, up, up until we hit home sweet furnace.

After a legitimately chilly evening and early morning at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon last week, where the temps hit 40, the sun hid behind a cloud, and the wind picked up, I remembered what it felt like to be cold. Wes and I went on a morning run and commented that we couldn’t feel the soles of our feet due to numbness.

Same after the adrenaline had worn off three miles into hiking thigh, sometimes chest, deep through the Virgin River in Zion’s iconic the Narrows; a section of slot canyon with walls as tall as 1,500 feet high on either side with the river (the hike) running along the bottom. That water was 65 degrees Fahrenheit and my clothing was almost entirely wet and clinging to my body. In all the shade of the canyon and continuing to exert myself one step at a time pushing upriver, I realized when we stopped for lunch that my fingertips were numb.

Like…much colder conditions. Pictured: Wes exploring the bergs out on Knik Glacier, an incredible place that one can “snow bike 20ish RT miles to” “for fun”.

In those moments, I am dimly aware that I have pushed through much colder phenomenon than that water in my lifetime: how many Alaskan winters? These last few years felt the most punishing, because the awe no longer outweighed my discomfort.

I remind myself that a few moments, or even hours, of discomfort will soon be soothed by equally punishing, but still-novel to me desert heat.

That said: it is nearly July in St. George, Utah. I am getting my fill of direct sunlight on my skin. I’ve stopped taking vitamin d, and invested in a couple UV-protectant sun hoodies. I even wear these god forsaken HATS to protect my schnozz and forehead. I don’t seek the sun out anymore because I don’t need to. It’s basically the one constant.

A month and a half after feeling torn at the eatery in Wenatchee, I almost always choose shade.

Finally, here is a photo of one of my two dumb shade hats. This 90’s-era bucket design is specific for running. Apparently.

Can I say more?

In 2011 I would tell anyone that’d listen that I was moving to Reno, Nevada “for true love”.

I said it with conviction, but also anxiety. I was leaving my chosen home of Anchorage, Alaska, my first real job, and a wonderful community of friends to give a relationship a go. Even sharing that now, my knee jerk reaction is wondering if it’s a stupid decision.

Just to ruin the ending for you: the “true love” thing worked out. Here’s an early photo of Wes and me doing some light trail work while on a volunteer camping trip. You know, as one does.

My way of dealing with doubt was to blow it up. Not only did I share frequently, and loudly, about my big life move. I documented it.

Almost every day leading up to and through my move to and the process of building a life in Nevada, I wrote a blog. The name, a cheeky reference to my decision making abilities (and also wordplay on “talk back”)? “Smart Alli”.

Here is the very first post, and some of my earliest posts, which are sweet for me to re-read. (Side note: years after I started and maintained it, the blog served as a writing sample that helped me land a weekly column in the Anchorage Daily News!)

Now, in 2023, in partnership with aforementioned true love and husband Wes, we’ve embarked on a new kind of adventure. This one is also foolhardy on its face: we’ve sold our house, bought a trailer, quit our jobs, and decided to live full time on the road. I’ve gone full time artist, and Wes is a backpacking/outdoor excursion guide – neither of these vocations are terribly lucrative, but they are aligned with how we want to spend our time.

This life move, like going to Reno for true love, is bold, exciting, affirming, and the intuitive next step for me and us. It’s also terrifying, sometimes maddening, confusing, and – most shockingly of all – seems to closely resemble real everyday life. Did YOU know that even after you hustle, scrounge, plan, buckle down, and grind in order to make an enormous life change and then you’re successfully “in it”; that EVEN when you’ve made it to that green grass on the other side, the day to day moments of life are still suspiciously recurring, just like always, in beauty and joy, but also irritation and pain?! Did you know, to quote the obnoxious but true cliche that are also words of advice from a good friend in sticker form on the door of our trailer: wherever you go, there you are?

What’s a gal to do?

I’ve decided to take up my former winning strategy in embracing big life change and all the (normal) uncertainty that comes with it, and use this blog as a way to share the day to day experience of actually going full-time-artist.

Yes, I’ll still share the process behind my paintings and the many lessons learned along the way. But I also want to share about how Wes and I have made and continue to make our decisions independently and in concert with one another, particularly with so much in motion. I want to talk about actually building my life and managing my energy to grow and sustain Alli Harvey Art the business, while also protecting the focus I need to actually meaningfully (happily) paint. I want to tell the story of getting to the remote and cell phone service-less North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a three hour drive from St. George where home currently is, and our truck threatening to crap out on us. What did we do?! (We hiked. And then drove home two days early).

It’s all connected. It’s part of the same bigger picture that enables me to inhabit and continue to create this time in my and our lives. And when I wait too long between posts, or wait for something “big” enough to write about and share here, the funny, difficult, human details that actually comprise my and our lives at this time get lost.

So, prepare! I’m going to write more. It’ll be right here. Don’t want to miss out? Go ahead and subscribe by adding your email below, and you’ll get a notification whenever I publish something. Or, you can follow me on Instagram or Facebook to get periodic links to posts. As always, comment away! The whole point of this is to share and connect, and I love to hear your stories and reactions.

Learning how to paint (red rock)

Every day here in still-new-to-me southern Utah I feel a little dazed.

Do I really need to drink this much water to survive? Is that red rock fake, or is that truly its glowing color? How does this one city have so much ice cream (not complaining)?

After years of painting mostly snow and the jagged, glacially carved mountain landscapes of Alaska, I’m currently intrigued by what’s all around me: sandstone. I want to paint hoodoos. There are so many new flowers. The textures are so varied.

With all this newness, I get excited to sit down and paint. While I’m out doing whatever ridiculous and, for me, bucket-list level excursion I enjoy it, take lots of pictures, and think about how I might translate what I’ve experienced to canvas.

Later, I choose one photo reference to hone in on. I study it carefully, and then get my whole painting kit set up in the Mobile Studio – easel, paints, water, brushes, palette knives, and the tupperware I use as a palette (the lid helps me retain the mixed colors longer in this dry climate). 

And then, brush hovering above the blank canvas, I remember: I’m learning how to paint something entirely new.

One of the things I love and hate most about painting is, like life, it keeps me on my toes. No two paintings are alike. I never sit down to paint and think, aha, I know exactly how I’ll do this. Think art, not science. 

While that keeps painting exciting, it also can give me enormous anxiety. I have to do a lot of self-coaching around taking deep breaths and backing away from fear, or at least refocusing. I can hold respect both for what I know and what I don’t, and trust that I can and will figure it out. But it takes consistent work to maintain that perspective, especially when I’m not yet familiar with the subject.

When, mid-painting, the colors don’t look right, or the contrast is too brutal, or the texture isn’t quite how I want it, I have to talk myself down. See what you see, I remind myself. Try something new. Or, keep going with what you decided and see where it takes you.

Play. Breathe. Enjoy it. You’ll get there.

I took on not one, but two red-rock inspired paintings recently. I started with hoodoos, such a fascinating and otherworldly geologic formation. Scrutinizing my progress, I found the knife edge between uncanny vs glowing and vibrant narrow, and I had to keep playing with the colors to get the balance right.

Similarly, painting tafoni (which is the most exciting word I’ve learned in a while!) taught me patience and trust with layering yellows, indigo/purples, and pink/red hues until the balance finally (finally!) came together.

It turns out, this perspective of coolly managing uncertainty with patience and play is a good approach for approaching new things, generally. I still make it to my end point. I like the results of the two paintings I completed. But I’m working on, and in some ways painting difficult and new subjects teaches me, enjoying the process itself more, even and especially when I’m creating and learning as I go.

Photos from my recent paintings, including progress pictures along the way, below!

In awe of the looming hoodoo

Good friends have the uncanny ability to state the obvious. For those of us who consider ourselves fairly in tune with who we are (raises hand), these kinds of observations can be jarring, in ways both good and bad.

On a casual walk earlier and many degrees northwest/cooler ago this spring, my good friend said the following while out for a walk on an icy, sunny path: “I’m excited to see how being in the southwest influences your art.”

What?! My art will be influenced??

My head jerked up. 

She was right, of course. Being immersed someplace else would naturally influence the choices I make about what to paint. It’s true that I tend to crave the opposite season of whatever I’m in, and Alaska reference photos will come in handy during the high heat of the summer here in Utah. But it’s also true that I find myself fascinated by what surrounds me. Part of my way of engaging with the world is to scrutinize, explore, and derive from it something ephemeral, and yet permanent, by way of painting.

Fast forward several months, and picture me gawking like the classic NYC tourist. Instead of looking up at tall buildings, I can’t get enough of the bronzed, ruddy, soft and yet still stone, sandstone formations that characterize this place that we live in right now in southwest Utah. It looms, it towers, it folds. It has flat-bottomed patterned holes and sockets that look like you could use them for decorative shelving. The colors range from white to tan to that classic burnished and almost unbelievable red that glows proudly against the blue sky, especially early in the morning or before sunset.

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park

So it made sense that I’d choose to study what I have been lucky enough to be immersed in every day by way of painting. My friend, turns out, was right about me (as friends so often are).

Today I completed a painting based on hoodoo formations at the stunning, eerie, and surprising Bryce Canyon National Park. Just as it’s humbling being in an entirely new landscape and learning about what it is and what it means to be here, it’s humbling to attempt to engage with that landscape through painting. I’ve said it before: I am constantly learning as an artist. There’s no there-there; there’s no painting I look at and think, oh yes, this will be my exact approach and process. 

That’s part of the discovery and what keeps me engaged. It’s also maddening. 

Progress pic

I thought a lot about my early days painting snow. At first, I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) believe my eyes. Wasn’t snow white? Well, no, artist Alli. I tried laying down white, and it didn’t look right until I figured out that snow is blue. And pink. Purple. Slate gray. Yellow. Orange.

Similarly, the hoodoo appeared orange, with a little yellow. But actually there was umber. And pink. Some white. But many times, the surface of the rock was a little of a lot of different colors, all layered and caked together and punctuated by the deep etchings, folds, and shadows I mentioned earlier.

My learning hasn’t and won’t stop. This will be the first of many more red-rock inspired paintings. But this one will probably have required the most effort, as I learn to inhabit and translate what it is I’m seeing and experiencing in a way that honors both the external reality and expresses how I feel within it.

In case it’s not obvious: elated. Calm. Content. Awed. I am supremely grateful to be here and to be trying on what this place and this new life feels like and means for me, and I am grateful for all of the people I am so lucky to be connected with that know, celebrate, and see this with me. Thank you!

Completed painting! “Hoodoo Spring”, 9″x12″, acrylic on canvas. $450.

Writing my way into the unknown

In the beginning of the trek south, I imagined pieces of writing in outdoors-column sized blips.

“I want to write about learning to embrace a road trip as a means of being outside,” I announced to my husband, “even as someone who, apparently, doesn’t really like driving.”

“What do you think about ‘how to exercise while on the road?’” I asked him later. “Little hacks like bringing a jump rope, having flash cards, doing pushups while we’re dumping, jumping jacks. You know.”

I scribbled these ideas and more down in my journal. But I also wrote down other things, unrelated to “the outdoors” as a topic. Some fragments:

“5/4. Friday?! Friday. Who cares. On the road. How will hot hot summer feel w/o the pressure of artificial scheduling? Will it be a great, languid slow down, the inverse of AK winter? Active in the am and pm, slowly moving/reading/napping/drinking water in the slow mo shimmering heat of the day. Yesterday watching the fire I wondered if I could paint that shimmer.”

“I have to remind myself that this constant shift – good/bad/neutral/repeat – is trailer AND life-life. Modern conveniences slow everything, dull. It dulls ME. Here, I’m tired I’m elated I’m crushed I’m crabby I’m content I’m excited. I’m also now missing a chunk of my molar due to chomping on an errant olive pit while exultantly consuming leftover tagine, roadside w/campchairs as is now our v gourmet o’clock habit…so yea, I tried to file the particularly jagged edge where the tooth broke w/a metal nail file, in the Command-brand tiny mirror at the front of the trailer, while Wes asked me questions about where the stove top gets stored while towing, etc. Then we drove into greener forests + rising temps and visibly thawed water, and I tongued my tooth anxiously, and then I told myself I’d get used to it and it would feel normal. I told myself to sense the sunshine + view. I enjoyed listening to Devil Makes Three, old friends of songs.”

Painting is one way I create presence. Pictured: “Pioneer Sunrise”, 8″x10″, $250

“Could I just melt into experiences and sensory? Wouldn’t that, too, be a kind of death? Or would that be fully living? I’m getting better and better at simply being, noticing, enjoying. What is my impact on the world if it’s just moving thru me – what I do I bring, create, change? Do I need to? Is it ego?”

Now, today, May 24th is the first full “let’s do anything we want to today” day. We’ve driven almost all the way to our final (for now) destination. We’ve spent our time at the DMV, the bank, and on I added “write!” with a checkbox on my list, and when I sat down in a camp chair, in the sun, all I did for ten minutes was sip chai and ponder.

No one is assigning me to focus on the outdoors as the lens for my creative outlet anymore since I wrote my final column for the Anchorage Daily News earlier this month, after ten whole years of near-weekly pieces. I can keep writing this type of thing if I want to, and perhaps pitch around to different outlets, but I can also try something new.

That “something new” is brewing, somewhere in my journal entries, and somewhere in lived experiences and personal growth I haven’t yet experienced. It’s tempting to go hard on myself right now and push toward a next big idea; big project. 

It’s tempting to churn out a few pieces about how to exercise during van life, or learning to enjoy a road trip.

But in this new phase of life we’ve worked hard to bring about, I’ve been trying not to recreate what I know. I have a hard time with discipline, in that I have plenty of it to overcompensate for what I fear might otherwise be a slow, lovely slide into nothingness. Objectively, I know having observed myself for some years that that is ridiculous. So, today I’m going to let myself be in the murky, scary, openness of not exactly knowing yet. Instead, I’m just relating – in my journal and now here – those fragments of ideas and experiences that are coming up, so they can sit for a while before I make choices about where I’d like to train my focus from here. 

In free fall

I turned to Wes somewhere in southern British Columbia, as our truck bounced and pushed us along yet another stretch of highway along too many miles to count, valiantly hauling all 5,000 lbs of Mobile Art Studio in its wake.

“This trip has had an overarching feeling of unease.” 

He considered it, and said that he wouldn’t have come up with that description on his own. But it was true.

Over several years we have worked, scrapped, been supported in numerous ways, and decided our way toward this moment: escape velocity from Alaska, at least for a time, and toward geographic and economic mobility. In plain English, we wanted to create a phase in our lives where we could explore and have the cash on hand to do so. One way to do that – which we did – is to both build up and pare down our lives to the point where we don’t actually need all that much, and therefore can work (what is typically considered “work”, anyway) less, or differently.

And on May 2nd, at 4:30pm on a sunny early spring Alaska afternoon, we finally hitched up and hauled our earthly belongings (save those in a storage unit) away. Where, exactly? Ultimately, St. George, Utah. But even that’s temporary, just a seasonal gig for Wes’s first hitch as a backpacking guide.

It was late afternoon, after a long day of packing, dealing with banking and health insurance logistics, making one last trip to the dump and grocery store, and cleaning up our rental. Maybe it would have made the most sense to stay put one more night, but we were keen on hitting the road. We grabbed coffees to go on our way out.

Wes was pensive. I was excited. Already, that’s a marital recipe for a thunderstorm, and that happened over the course of the first couple days as we got into little spats about both normal trailer logistics, and our own dynamics.

Add to that, those first few nights the trailer was both incredibly comfortable and also not. It would be too cold to add water to it for some miles, which meant that we had a glorified sani-bucket for our daily constitutionals. If you’ve never shit in a bag, you haven’t lived. (Or something). We were also boondocking plenty right off the side of the road. In case we needed to move fast we would frequently not bother to unhitch – that meant no generator, which means no electricity, which means no heat. It was essentially very upscale, sheltered early spring (lows in the 20s) tent camping. We slept under a down sleeping bag and blanket and were quite cozy, until we had to get up.

This was all small potatoes though. We encountered our first real obstacle early on in the journey, about 100 km / 60 miles into our decided route, the Cassiar Highway. There are essentially two highways out of Alaska, and we chose the more remote, slightly slower but shorter in mileage, and more beautiful way – but were thwarted with a washout that had cut the highway off completely until TBD.

So, we backtracked and rerouted onto the more popular, and also more commercial, Alaska-Canada (Alcan) highway. No biggie, really, except that now we basically just had the one route out, and fingers crossed that nothing disrupted it.

We noticed the smoke faintly from the Cassiar Highway, but it got thicker as we pushed our way toward Canada’s interior on the Alcan. A roadside lodge owner at the foot of the Canadian Rockies bluntly told us “there are fires everywhere”. At first we chalked up his description as limited to his small, and incredibly cigarette-smoky lodge filled perspective, but as we pressed on the smoke only seemed to be getting denser. There wasn’t much to look at as we skirted usually breathtakingly scenic Muncho Lake. It was just that unnerving, wan, choked light, with faint outlines of mountains in the backdrop. Sometimes.

The smoke got even thicker and as we approached Fort Nelson, British Columbia fluffy white ash filled the air and wafted like apocalyptic snow across the barely-visible landscape. 

I stared at the trees flitting by and thought about the word “unmoored”. No real home, save for the trailer. There’s no one place to go “back” to. We’re at the whim of climate change events. For a second, I tried to console myself with the thought that we’d still likely put some money down on land and a cozy cabin in Alaska. But the thought that chased it was the adult reminder that even that is only a semblance of safety in a world that is constantly changing, and legitimately off kilter in ways that are unnerving for homeowners (also kind of a made up concept, in a human invented and adhered to legal framework) and official vagabonds alike. There are pros and cons to the decisions we make. Ours was to be more footloose.

Dimly, I knew that in southern British Columbia there was fire’s opposite happening: flooding was wreaking havoc in communities deluged by both water and snowmelt (which had caused the washout on the Cassiar). But the first obstacle presented to us was fire, and we had to figure out a way to safely navigate that first. Alarmingly, a western route toward Alberta had been shut down completely due to the fires, which left – literally – one way south for us.

At this point, Wes’s and my dynamic had settled – we were both on the same proverbial wavelength, and balancing each other out well. Read: as I was freaking out and catastrophizing that Alaska would never, in fact, allow us to leave its icy grip by working with its co-conspirator Canada to natural disaster-ify our entire journey to the point that we had no choice but to turn back, he was suggesting it might be nice to stop for the night, turn off our phones, take a shower, make dinner, and read. We could regroup in the morning.

I let my heart rate settle enough to agree.

Ultimately, we did make it through wildfire-choked northern British Columbia, and pilot-carred our way through flooded southern BC. We celebrated the clean air. We also drove longer than we wanted through those rainy, mountainous stretches to make it through what felt like sketchy terrain, especially as the sky continued to dump on us. Our truck’s faulty gas gauge spiced up the trip even further by falsely claiming “empty” at the tippity top of Jackass Mountain (you can’t make this up), which is when I finally started to cry. But just as quickly, Brian the F350 remembered he was fine, the gas gauge rose accordingly, and we pressed on, adding diesel to the tank at the earliest opportunity (just like always).

In early May, I started to think about the trip in terms of “freefall” because we’re in this strange, interstitial period in terms of both of our incomes where our last salaried paychecks have hit, we are spending whatever we need to spend as we (literally) fall our way down south, and at some point we’ll hit a landing spot where we regroup, pay off our credit cards, and “start” our new lives and budget. This is the phase that’s transitional, and in a lot – a lot! – of motion.

“Free fall” and “unmoored” have negative connotation, and there is truth to that/we experienced that side of the coin.

But there’s another side.

Our trip turned its first corner when we hit Osoyoos, British Columbia, which we selected exclusively for its weather forecast and proximity to U.S. Highway 97, which winds down through Central Washington. Little did we know that once there we’d find a glorious campsite on a sandy spit jutting into the middle of a provincial lake, discover a road cyclist’s mecca, find a lovely mechanic to do a once-over on the F350 and give that poor truck an oil change, and – AND! – discover we were smack in the middle of Canadian wine country. We cycled and sipped our way around a 25 mile radius one sunny, breezy day through high desert sage as the truck was worked on. That’s when the triumph started to set in.

We reconnected with some of my old friends, for the first time in nearly a decade (I’m old enough to have friends like that?!) in Wenatchee, and catching up felt both like a lot of time and experience had passed, but also like rediscovering them. The experience was meaningful in both getting to spend quality time and catch up, and remembering that even as we are far from our community in Alaska, we will recreate community, of a kind, woven with friends near(er) and far.

We went on an impromptu two-night “shake out” backpack, remembering our hiking legs and pack-hoofing skills, and dealing with the unexpected with grace and humor. The trip made me feel strong, warm, and happy.

So, yes, I and we are unmoored. We’re presently about two thirds of the way on the official journey to St. George. I’m wearing a crop top at every opportunity as the temps climb into the upper 80s and low 90s. I journal furiously, walk, run, make and eat delicious food, and think vaguely about landing somewhere, settling in, and finally getting to pull out the easel and start my new notion of work.

I think it will look something like a blend of what I’m experiencing now and a new routine of creating, whatever that is. I’m excited, but also content to simply, right now, feel content. I’m learning and enjoying what it is to be myself within so much change.

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