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The Muse

[Editor’s Note: Artist and trail runner Hannah Green joins the iRunFar team today! With her column ‘Notes from the Trail,’ Hannah will bring you monthly missives from the wild spaces through which she roams. Welcome, Hannah, and thank you.]

In “Cut Piece,” performed at Carnegie Hall in 1965, Yoko Ono sat on a stage and had the audience cut pieces of her clothing off. In “The Artist is Present,” which took place in 2010 at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Marina Abramović sat at a table and engaged in eye contact with patrons for eight hours every day for almost three months. In her photographic series “Siluetas,” which she created in the 1970s, Ana Mendieta used the form of her body and different natural materials–like flowers, mud, sand, fire, and blood–to create images. And me? I use my feet to travel long distances and I take photos along the way. We call this performance art.

I just finished walking for two months, and roughly 800 miles, through the desert on the Hayduke Trail, a route connecting Arches and Zion National Parks through southern Utah’s canyon country. I had ample time to think about the intersection of art and adventure. Both are forms of self-expression. Both get you to ask questions. Both beg an answer to ‘why?’

My mom once told me, “Creativity is like energy or matter. It is the rearrangement of known material.” The land is there and I have to figure out my own path through it. I pore over maps, using the topographic lines to find the best route. I travel lightly and efficiently with my feet as my pencil. The terrain dictates the medium. Steep mountainsides have me digging my trekking poles hard into the ground as I powerhike up. Downhill or buttery singletrack or a dirt road means you let go, allowing your stride to open into a run. Gravel roads make the two wheels of a bicycle most appealing. Remote mountains and canyons require more food, a tent, and a sleeping bag and thus, we don a heavy pack to carry the gear. More technical rock means we engage all fours, using hands to pull us up big summit blocks as consequence heightens and our movement slows to deliberate problem-solving. And snow means you strap a couple of skis to your feet for floatation, breathing hard in the frozen winter air as you work your way up through the trees, and then you let gravity bring you back down.

We paint portraits of the trees.
We photograph the many moods of the seasons.
We write poetry about the smells illuminated by a warm summer rain.
And we use our feet to immerse ourselves fully in a landscape… the intimate connection of getting to know the space around us.

A friend once asked me, “Where do you feel most like yourself? Where do you feel most like Hannah?” It was winter, I was injured, and I just had my heart broken. I was feeling anything but happy. I replied simply, “Outside.” Mother Nature doesn’t give two shits about my gender, my skin color, the amount of money in my bank account, the brand of clothes I wear, or whether I run 100 miles or none at all. She quite simply treats me like any other animal.

Over the past few years, my view of getting outside has broadened beyond the scope of only running and my motive has evolved to just wanting to be in nature. After all, the earth is my best friend. The mountains have held me close when I’ve lost loved ones. The land has inspired me to keep going when I’ve felt like giving up. The flowers have given me color on gray days. The birds keep me company when I feel lonely. The soft blanket of snow has calmed me when my mind won’t stop its incessant questioning. Streaks of lightning and thunder humble me, reminding me that any second could be the last. Nature lets me be enough when I’ve felt anything but.

Many artists have a muse, often a lover or an idol or a mentor. The earth is mine.

As with anything we love, there comes the responsibility of caring for it.

We march.
We donate.
We volunteer.
We recycle.
We reuse.
We pick up bits of trash on the trail and stuff them in our pockets.
We call our politicians to let them know that we have to care for our best friend, our lover, our inspiration, our home, our planet.
And of course, we vote.

I pull on my MICROspikes and step out the door. The snow crunches loudly beneath my feet, sounding more like Styrofoam than a natural substance. I jog down the street. As the sun goes down, the light creeps up the mountainsides leaving a soft blue in its wake. The mountains are covered in white, aglow in the last of the evening light. The sky becomes inky, the snow continues to radiate. I don’t need the headlamp I have wrapped around my wrist. I feel happy, I feel calm, I feel grateful for the short time I have here.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Is nature your muse? Or some particular part of a wild place?
  • What has nature inspired you to do, think, or be? Something that you perhaps couldn’t do or be without it?

The Hayduke Trail, 35mm. All photos: Hannah Green

The Hayduke Trail, 35mm.

The Weminuche Wilderness, 35mm.

The Weminuche Wilderness, 35mm.

Hannah Green: wanders long distances by foot and takes photos along the way. When not outside, you can likely find her at the nearby coffee shop. Find more on Instagram and at Hannah Green Art.

View Comments (5)

  • I loved this post. It truly resonated with me. I had foot surgery over 2 years ago and have not been the same since. I lost my joy during recovery and lost my proficiency post recovery. I am not where I used to be, but I am fortunate I can still run. I needed to remind me to stop and remember to enjoy where I am and I can still do. Nature and the outdoors bring me joy. I can still explore, view and reflect. Thanks.

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  • Beautiful article. After a lifetime of "adventures"I now share with you the importance of immersing oneself in the natural world and how healing and re-energising that is. I like to explore and of course the confidence to do that results from all the shared experiences I gathered over many years. But even on familiar ground I sense new things if I allow myself to.
    Thank you for expressing so well something so important for the future of the planet and humankind. Being connected isn't having the latest high tech communications device. Its knowing the sights, sounds, smells taste and tactile sensations of the world that has been there since before humans stood on two legs.

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  • For all those for whom this resonates, I'd like to quietly recommend Upstream by Mary Oliver (for some reason I seem to recall that she is AJW's favorite poet, although it seems impossible that I would know this unless I once read it here?), which I read last night -- essentially, like this post, BP's pics from yesterday, etc., it's all making a case for a more careful, considerate, considered, meaningful and rewarding approach to our time on this planet...

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  • Thanks for your beautiful thoughts. I too am inspired daily by the Outdoors. It is the most important part of every day: I soak in the sun (or moon), the dirt (or snow), the trees (or desert sands). Whether I run, bike, ski, walk, or crutch, my time Outdoors is where I a feel blessed.

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  • Great job, Hannah

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