Mountaineering at Mt. Olympus

I just spent an extended weekend doing one of those things I don’t tell Mom about until after – this time summiting Mt. Olympus. It’s not an extraordinarily tall peak, but the remoteness and climate of the Olympic National Park make it quite an adventure. I climbed with my friend Adina Scott, who recently finished up a super rad trip on Denali that you might have heard about and should definitely check out.

The basics: The summit of Olympus is 7,980 ft, but it’s pretty much impossible to see from anywhere populated because it’s so deep in the Olympic National Park. The standard route (which we took) is through 18 miles of rain forest along the Hoh River on the west side of the park, then over various glaciers and snow fields to reach the rocky ridge that leads to the final summit block. The trip can be done in about 3 days (4 is more typical), or a bit less if you’re traveling light and fast. We decided to take 5 days and explore the glaciers a bit more once we were up there. Here’s how it happened.

Friday. Packing, checking gear, sorting out food. Got to bed around midnight. In retrospect, probably should have aimed for a few more hours of sleep here.

Saturday. 5:15 AM wake-up to catch the first ferry to Bainbridge Island. Drove 5 more hours (with a quick stop at the Wilderness Information Center to pick up bear bins) to the Hoh River Trailhead. Quick lunch and bag organization, on the trail by noon-thirty. We hiked 17.5 miles and 3,500 feet elevation to get to our first camp site, Glacier Meadows, which is where the maintained trail ends. The rain forest is beautiful (and yes, there is an official rain forest in Washington). This hike was somewhat devastating toward the end, as our packs were heavy with 5 days of supplies and lots of mountain and camping gear (ice axes, crampons, gaiters, pickets, ice screws, harnesses, rope, 4-season tent, sleeping bags and pads, cookware). We got to camp around 9, made some dinner and got to bed around 10:30 PM. Long day.

Our first view up the valley to the glaciers above.

Our first view up the valley to the glaciers above.

Sunday. We were hoping to get a nice early alpine start (like, by 4 AM), but Saturday took too much out of us, so we accidentally slept til 6. We packed up camp and made breakfast, hit the trail by 7:30 or 8. Most people leave the their camping gear at Glacier Meadows and only take what they need for the summit at this point, but because we were planning to stay on the glacier for a few days, we had to pack everything. The heavy packs definitely slowed us down, and it was a relief to start wearing a lot of our gear rather than carrying it on our backs once we got on the glacier. The first glacier, Blue Glacier, was all blue ice near the toe, which means there is no snow and all the crevasses are exposed. It sounds scary, but it’s actually safer because the dangers are obvious. Also, it’s really cool because you can see what’s happening inside the glacier and hear the water rushing beneath it and echoing up.

Ice falls and seracs coming down at the steep sections from the summit

Ice falls and seracs coming down at the steep sections from the summit

Once we crossed the first glacier, we decided to cache our bear bins and most of our food to lighten our packs. We took a few bars and snacks with us for the summit, and our condensed bags were a blessing on the steep terrain to come. We headed up over Snow Dome and continued on toward the summit. It was midday by now, but the glaciers were very mellow and the snow conditions were great. We plodded along toward the summit, continuing up another 4,000 feet from our morning camp. By about 4 PM we made it to the false summit, had a snack, ditched our bags, and got ready for the final summit block. The rock in the Olympics is very flaky and fragile, so this final summit was definitely the sketchiest part of the trip. We ended up taking the route that is considered “fourth class”, but it’s really more like fourth class with a couple moves of 5.6, and unprotectable. We made it up fine, though, and got to the top around 6 in time to enjoy some beautiful views.

From the summit!

From the summit!

It would have been a quick trip back down to our cached gear, but we decided it would be worth skipping dinner to be able to stay at the summit for the night. Sunset, stars, sunrise. Unreal. Or maybe more real than anything else. It’s hard to tell at this point.

Sunset over the summit

Sunset over the summit

we had snow for dinner

Our summit camp


Sunrise glow

Monday. Early on, we had considered tacking on a traverse of the Bailey Range to the trip following the summit, but it was clear by this point that we weren’t going to be able to do the 5-day traverse in the 3 days we had left, especially with the little snow that was still clinging to the slopes. So we took things relatively easy from here. We departed the summit and swung by a maintenance building/weather station we had noticed perched on an outcropping on the way up. We were expecting it to be abandoned, but there was a guy there, Dave, who put out lawn chairs for us and gave us Kool-Aid while we traded stories. He’s been up there every summer for the past 40 years, doing various types of maintenance and research, including cleaning the mountain of gear and trash that was left there in the 1950’s. Super friendly guy, a personification of love for the mountain and the whole national park.

After our surreal refreshments, we skidded the rest of the way down to our cache and made a much needed and delayed pot of spaghetti. I had a quick accidental nap and we packed up and headed over to Glacier Pass, which separates the Blue Glacier from the Hoh Glacier. It was only about 3 PM, so we decided to cross the Hoh Glacier and head up to Camp Pan for a night. After a bit of a tricky rock scramble, we made it up to the camp to discover a beautiful oasis of tiny trees and huge vistas. A thing that was starting to make more sense to me at this point was the idea of “mountain time.” I’m pretty familiar with “forest time”, which is already totally different than time in civilization. Forest time is measured by rushing rivers and trickling creeks, by bird calls and berry plants and the occasional wildlife sighting. Mountain time is slower, almost stopped. Here almost nothing moves, and when it does it is a big deal. Ice falls and landslides and rarely any life. We saw a falcon and watched it for ten minutes as it weaved in and out of cliff banks. Time is measured by the slow progress of the sun across the sky, the gradual shortening and lengthening of shadows. There are waterfalls rushing on the cliffs surrounding, but they look like still white lines. It does strange and wonderful things to the brain.

View down the Hoh Glacier to the start of the Hoh River from Camp Pan

View down the glacier to the start of the Hoh River from camp

Tuesday. We had a leisurely morning at Camp Pan and decided to grab some day packs and take a peek at the next valley over Blizzard Pass. The vastness of this place is so striking. We had already been able to see into most of the valleys from the summit, but actually walking there made the proportions a bit more real. We looked over the Humes Glacier down to Queets Basin and the headwaters of the Queets River. Blizzard Peak had just about the most evil rock I’ve ever met, an unhappy combination of sharp and crumbly.

Humes Glacier down to Queets Basin

Humes Glacier down to Queets Basin

We soaked in the views for a bit, then headed back to pack up camp and start our trek back out of the park. We crossed the Hoh Glacier up to Glacier Pass, scooted down the Blue Glacier all the way down to the blue ice, headed up the lateral moraine, and found ourselves back on a trail by about 6 PM. We continued another 6 miles through the forest to a camp surrounded by life and blueberries and comfortably thick air. Dinner by about 10, and straight to bed.

Blue Glacier on our way back to the forest, summit in the distance

Blue Glacier on our way back to the forest, summit in the distance

Wednesday. All we had left was to walk out the downhill and flat section of the rain forest, about 13 miles. We got moving at a decent hour, and again, the rain forest was beautiful. My ankles started to hurt from all the downhill on hard terrain, but the rest of my body felt great. Our packs were a little bit lighter from all the food we had eaten, and our legs were stronger from all the walking. We got to the car around 2 PM, ate lunch, exploded and sorted all our gear, and hit the road. We bought milkshakes, which were wonderful. The drive was just as long as before, and we rolled into Seattle around 9 PM. Tired and happy. Pretty epic adventure.

Adina at our false summit camp

Adina at our false summit camp

Hiking Wonderland

I spent the last ten days in the woods of Washington state hiking the Wonderland Trail. It is a 93-mile loop around Mt. Rainier, and is considered one of the most spectacular hikes in the world. It was certainly one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, but what was most special about the trip was the mental evolution it allowed. The combination of the natural beauty and the length of the trip allowed me to break through the crust to deep layers of mental clarity.

The trail itself is relatively difficult, including about 22,000 ft of elevation gain (and loss) over the length of the loop. Ten days is a moderate to easy length for the trip. We saw some people doing it in five, and others taking twelve or thirteen. Ultra-marathoners even do the whole thing in twenty-four hours. That would be a different kind of experience, though, and ten days gave us ample time to enjoy the gifts of the mountain.

Rainier from the southwest.

After some last-minute injuries, our group ended up being four strong. I knew all three of my travel companions before the trip, but had never taken on such an adventure with any of them. This added some uncertainty going into the trip, but worked out better than I could have hoped. The group dynamic was wonderful, a real joy. The team was positive and supportive, which made the camping easy and gave a lot of space for play and reflection.

Columnar basalt formations at S. Puyallup River campground.

I started the trip not knowing what to expect. I had never been on a backpacking trip longer than five days before, and I had never done any hiking in the wilderness surrounding Mt. Rainier. I summited the mountain a couple months ago, but that was very much about going up and down quickly, not taking time to circle around. I approached the trip with an open mind; I was very excited in an abstract way, but without concrete expectations.

I love rocks.

We started the trail at Longmire, a populated put-in at the southern edge of the mountain. Preparations had gone smoothly and we had two food caches waiting for us at patrol stations along the way. This meant we would never have to carry more than three days’ food at a time – a luxury for long backpacking trips.

Our schedule gave us two short days right off the bat to get warmed up to the trail, which was a great way to loosen up our legs. These first days felt like typical day hikes. We were still close to society, both physically and mentally. The vistas were gorgeous, but I got antsy being socked in by the forest for long stretches in between. The uphills were tough, so we took our time and our legs adjusted. We did a good amount of lounging about on the ridges and around rivers, knowing that our longer days ahead would not allow for it.

Spray Falls near Mowich trailhead.

Things felt good. We were getting used to being in a group together. We made jokes and started making references to jokes we had already made, slowly building experience and camaraderie. By day three or four we comfortable as a unit and realized that each person could hold their own in the woods.

The team at our Spray Park lunch spot.

Around day five things started to coalesce and we began to get deep into the flow of the trail. Each day’s walk became more enjoyable than the last. Physically, our legs had become strong and loose. Time began to feel more fluid. We would occasionally look at clocks to get a sense of how we were doing, but the day was no longer broken up into fifteen or thirty minute intervals. There was morning, midday, afternoon, evening, night. Each had its own joys and unique feelings associated with it. Every minute was filled with the beauty of the national park.

The landscapes we walked through began to take on a whole different character. The ridges brought unparalleled beauty. The views were almost too vast to comprehend, too picturesque to feel real. They were literally breathtaking. As we approached a pass connecting the northeastern corner of the mountain to the eastern side, we were exposed to an expansive view to the south. Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood stood clear on the horizon, our path crept for miles ahead through snow patches, rocky ridges, and lush valleys of wildflowers. The air was pulled from my lungs in awe.

Forests no longer made me antsy, rather just the opposite. The long sheltered uphills and downhills laid the best foundation for introspection. They gave me a chance to process the unbelievable vistas from the ridges and to empty my mind of built-up clutter. The trees were gorgeous: thick, coarse, full of life. We chatted a lot, talked about movies, solved riddles, but there was plenty of opportunity for silence and deep breaths. The forest trails were soft on the legs from pine needles, and they became a place for active meditation.

Sunrise from Summerland camp.

On day 7 we camped at White River on the north side of the mountain. This was the same spot my previous group had started for the summit a couple months earlier, and it is a popular car camping area. Seeing so many day hikers and cars was overwhelming. We had very much closed ourselves off from the outside world in the past week, only interacting with each other, the mountain, and a few other groups of hikers. It was only by seeing these hints of society that I realized how simple our hike had been. Each day we would walk, eat, and sleep. Occasionally we would play a game of cards or sing songs. We had no access to the news, the media, text messages or traffic. Only with the pressure of these everyday stimuli lifted did I realize that their weight had been enormous. It doesn’t seem like much to fit one little worry in our minds at a time, but the collective burden of all these small things we think about everyday is enormous.

Same sunrise, other direction.

Losing these distractions had been so easy. They vanished without my realizing that they were gone, and in their place my mind expanded into calm and clarity. Stress was nonexistent. All this clutter in my routine back in society was not making my life better. Rather, it was making it harder to live life consciously, hardly to appreciate small joys, and harder to be honest and playful in my interactions.

So much depth.

One of the benefits of traveling with a group that I hadn’t experienced on my solo hikes was this access to playfulness. With so little stress and such simplicity in our day to day lives, playfulness and joy moved closer to to surface of our interactions. We spent lunches laughing to the point of tears, something I rarely approach in my city life. Our conversations could be serious and playful and the same time; sarcasm and irony melted away. Our time was full of joy, and our relationships grew much stronger because of it.

We covered a lot of mileage on the last couple days of our trip, and were treated to some of the best views we’d had. I was glad to have a chance to process some of the thoughts that had come up during our brief encounter with the outside world. I resolved to take some concrete steps to living closer to simplicity at home, such as incorporating yoga and meditation into my daily routine and giving away some of the physical clutter in my apartment. I also realized that creating more access to joy and play will likely be a theme throughout my life, and that a trip like this does wonders for reinvigorating those ideals.

Made it!

By the last day of the trip we were surrounded by day hikers and cars for large periods at a time, but we had come to terms with our reintegration into society. It was terrific to see that so many families and children were enjoying the beauty of the National Park.

My favorite.

We stopped at a diner for some greasy dinner on the way home, and realized that we hadn’t stepped indoors, sat in chairs, showered, or been in a car for ten days straight. No wonder our bodies and minds felt so good.

Summiting Mt. Rainier

I climbed Mt. Rainier a couple weekends ago. The summit was a new high point for me, 14,411 ft. It ended up being one of the most fantastic – and difficult – adventures I’ve had. What a beautiful mountain.

It started Thursday evening when my rope team met up to do a gear check and talk about plans, goals, and logistics for the trip. I had borrowed a lot of gear, and it turns out I’ve never been mountaineering before. I hike and rock climb, so I have some basics like a harness and helmet, but glacier travel was totally new to me. A friend lent me an ice axe, glacier glasses, extra carabiners, collapsible shovel, an avalanche beacon (despite low avalache risk for the weekend), cramp-ons, double plastic mountaineering boots, and a balaclava (full head and face mask) in case of extreme cold at the top. I ended up using everything except the beacon and balaclava. This trip was wild.

We confirmed that everyone was fully equipped, had a couple big bowls of pasta, and enjoyed a beer over discussion. It was really good to talk about goals for the trip, summer camp style. Mine started out as pretty much just wanting to reach the summit, but I started to realize there was going to also be a huge opportunity for learning and practice over the weekend, and I started getting more excited about that. The phrase “mental elevation” came up, which I thought was cool but wouldn’t really understand until about 60 hours later.

Satisfied with our discussion and bags packed up, we set our alarms for 4:45 am and got in sleeping bags to catch as much sleep in the remaining 5 hours as possible.

And 4:45 came quickly, as it always has in my experience. We secured our packs, loaded up the car, and took off for the mountain, about 2 hours southeast of Seattle. We had reserved campsites ahead of time, but still ended up getting caught in a line at the ranger station for about 45 minutes. You don’t expect a line at 6:30 am, but that is how the mountain works. We filled out our trip plan and set out. We ended up with a campsite at Glacier Basin for Friday night (about 3.5 miles in at 5,000 ft), Camp Schurman for Saturday night (another ~3.5 miles at 9,500 ft), and another night at Schurman on Sunday if necessary. We wouldn’t be doing the rush up and down the mountain that some people do, so there would be time to practice glacier skills and get a bit used to the altitude. Pretty much ideal.

So we strapped on our packs and got moving. I think we were all hauling about 40-50 lbs, but even so, 3.5 miles goes quickly. The trail was nicely maintained and mostly snow free. They had had a serious wash out a few years back, and the trail has been completely rebuilt. All in all, an easy walk. We got to our first campsite around 11 am, leaving plenty of time to practice knots and self arrests. We set up camp and took a breather. The 4:45 am wake was pretty apparent, and our conversational skills were in a serious decline. I looked over a mountaineering book and dozed off on a sunny rock.

Evan, Greta, and Justin scoping out what lies ahead

After a bit of back and forth between half-wakeful studying and half-restful dozing, we all got back together for the hands-on practice. We roped up, did some laps around the snowfield, practicing commands and arrests. Informative and necessary, but definitely clouded by lingering exhaustion. Around 5 or 6 we decided to cook some dinner and get tidied up for sleep. The plan was to hit the trial while the snow/ice was still good (i.e., not slushy yet), so we set our clocks for a 4 am wake up. We were in our bags by 10 pm, and these 6 hours would be the longest rest of the trip.

Snowfield at Glacier Basin

And this time I was a little bit more ready for 4 am when the alarms started chiming. It is a good feeling to be up before the sun. The moon and stars were beautiful. We had a quick breakfast and chai tea and packed up camp. By the time we got moving, the sun was starting to shine on the western edge of the basin. It felt good to be moving in the shade – things would clearly be getting hot when the sun surfaced fully. We worked our way slowly up Inter Glacier on the way to camp Schurman. There weren’t any crevasses on this one, but it did get pretty steep toward the end. Our early start paid off, and we were rewarded with some pretty spectacular views by about 9 am. At the top of the ridge we roped up to move onto Emmons Glacier. We were expecting minor crevasses, but mostly we wanted to get some experience on the rope and with our knots. We snacked and hiked, practiced setting some gear, snacked and hiked some more. We might have taken our time a little too liberally and ended up at camp around 1 pm. We were greeted by David Gottlieb, a reknowned mountaineer who has climbed Rainier enough times to be “too embarassed to keep track” anymore. He gave us some tips on our knots and packing and wished us luck. We were reassured to find out that he would be summitting Sunday morning about the same time as us.

Sunrise on the mountain

1 pm may not seem like a late arrival into camp, but we were already moving pretty slowly. At 10,000 ft everything takes longer than you expect. We set up the tents, got a water-drip going to fill our bottles, played a game of Euchre, and suddenly it was 5 pm – later than we had hoped for dinner. We cooked, ate ravenously, and cleaned. Suddenly 8:30 pm. We decided on a very early start – 12:30 am. So we set our alarms for 11:30 pm and got in our bags for a glorious 2.5 hours of rest.

All geared up, heading for Camp Schurman

I actually didn’t realize that we had planned on so little rest (or I didn’t know what time it was when we went to sleep), and I felt surprisingly good when the clocks went off. Adrenaline and excitement for the summit certainly had something to do with it. It was beautiful out. The snow and ice were nice and solid, the sky was clear and full of stars. The moon was just rising and the whiteness of the mountain made the landscape feel extraterrestrial. Again, altitude and lack of sleep contributed. Either way, really amazing. We roped up and got in line. There were already other teams leaving, and we ended up being about the 7th team to set off. More would be coming up behind us, and it would clearly be a busy day on the mountain.

Arrived at Camp Schurman – Photo courtesy of Evan

Things got steep right off the bat, but we were in a pretty good zone. Circles of light from headlamps were moving up the glacier ahead of us and behind and it was easy to fall into a rhythm. After trekking a good way up the first section we stopped for snacks and realized it was already 2:45 am. There was one tricky section involving a snow bridge that had lost some of its integrity the day before, but it was still cold enough that there were no issues moving across it. We pressed on and it was 4:30. The sun was starting to rise directly opposite the glacier, giving us a wonderful light show. It got bright and things warmed up a bit, with the wind picking up as well to counteract the heat.

Sunrise over Washington

This continued for some time. We had some trouble with the pace and congestion at this point – we kept having to stop behind slow groups, but couldn’t get enough momentum to pass them and stay ahead. So we alternated between getting cold and getting tired, not ideal. Around 7:30 am we stopped for a longer break, about 15 minutes. We were about 700 ft from the summit, but we were getting worn down. The altitude was kicking in and it was hard to stay focused. We chatted about our energy level and motivation, and decided that if we weren’t on the summit by 10 am we would turn around and head back. Pretty generous, but it seemed like a good goal at the time. We had another snack and got our legs moving again.

The slightly longer rest and chat had motivated us, and we ended up being pretty solid the rest of the way to the summit. We slowly realized we had arrived as we saw rock and climbers resting. 8:30 am. There were some wispy clouds around and the wind was whipping across the crater. Not a very hospitable place. We could see north to Baker, but a light haze kept the views from extending more than a couple hundred miles. It felt really good to be at the top, and a huge relief to know that we wouldn’t have to go up any further.

Team Kraken at the top – Photo courtesy of Greta

I am upsidedown – Photo courtesy of Greta

The wind was keeping us from enjoying the rest too much though. We were feeling the cold and decided it would be best to make our stay short. We snapped a few photos, tightened up our gear and set off for the descent. We kept our cramp-ons on in case we came to any icy patches, but things were getting pretty slushy and we probably could have moved a bit faster without them. Still, the descent was a relief and it felt like we were covering ground in no time. We stopped briefly a couple more times to snack and plodded on. We found that the snow bridge we had crossed earlier had melted out a bit more, requiring a short jump to get across. We played is safe and set some protection in the snow in case of a slip and made it across without trouble.

It is a long way down – Photo courtesy of Greta

A short leap over a crevasse

After some final knee-high-slush trudging, we made it back to Camp Schurman where are tents were waiting for us, 1 pm. We shed our packs and crawled into sleeping bags for a quick rest. We could stay another night there if we wanted, but we had heard that there were thunder storms were on the way. We slept about an hour and a half and packed up camp. We loaded up our bags by 5 pm and got on the rope for one last stretch of glacier travel. We were exhausted but happy, and everything went smoothly. We got to Inter Glacier, the steep snowfield from the second day, and were greeted by a nicely groomed glissade track. Strapping our gear on tightly, we sat on our butts and got ready to slide. It felt terrific. The 3-mile snowfield which had taken us 3-4 hours to climb a day early quickly receeded in about 15 minutes of amusement park-style enjoyment. The snow cooled our legs, pretty much bliss. Within the hour we were back to our first camp and on our way out on a 3.5 mile dirt trail. Our heads were clear with the reduced altitude, but foggy from exhaustion. The hike felt more like about 7 miles, but we made it. We got to the car at 9 pm and took our boots off to great relief. Success! We had reached the summit and made it back down in one piece. It felt incredible. And it was really hard. We were totally beat, loopy, hungry for something other than Power Bars.


We got in the car hoping to find burgers, but Enumclaw is a sleepy town at 10 pm on a Sunday, so we settled for the 24-hour Safeway. Another meal of snacks, but at this point it didn’t really matter. We got back to Seattle around midnight, ready for some hot showers and warm beds. In bed by 1 am, up at 8 am for work. 7 hours felt luxurious. What a weekend.

Made it back!

My hand

Rock Climbing on the Right Side of the Brain

What do rock climbing and drawing have in common? I’ve been spending a good amount of time doing each recently, and I’ve found that they are more similar than I would have guessed.

I’ve done a lot of drawing over the course of my life and filled up a number of sketch books in the process. In the past couple years, though, I’ve shifted more of my creative energy to painting, and drawing has fallen by the wayside. To get back into it, a friend recommended to me Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I’ve started working my way through the book, following the exercises on contour and shape. It turns out I’ve done most of these exercises at some point previously, but I’ve never been consciously aware of the shift to right-brain mode that goes with them.

As for rock climbing, I’ve dabbled for about eight years, but I started getting serious about it three and a half years ago. It has worked out that I’ve had the most free time (between jobs, unemployment) during the winters, which has made me very familiar with the rock climbing gym. I’ve had a number of plateaus in my climbing ability, but I’ve put it some solid effort and training this winter and have progressed to a fairly advanced level.

So what’s the deal, how are the physicality of rock climbing and the creativity of drawing connected?

In essence, they are different ways of interacting with the same things: space, dimensionality, and texture. In drawing, you use your eye to follow an object, to perceive the way light reflects off the grooves, indentations, bulges, and flats. In rock climbing, you use your hands and body to do the same thing. You perceive the physical properties of the rock through your sense of touch. In both endeavors, it took me quite a while to realize the importance of utilizing this perception.

Rock climbing is very difficult as a beginner. It engages a whole new set of muscles, so even someone who has gotten incredibly strong through weight lifting will probably have a lot of trouble (and there’s something cathartic about watching beefy guys struggle to get up a wall). You spend a long time grasping for something to hold on to before building up the finger and core strength and awareness to move through routes smoothly.

My hand

Drawing of a hand familiar with rock climbing.

As the fingers strengthen, though, one gains awareness of subtleties in the body and the rock. I especially notice this in the climbing gym where the same hand holds get reused over and over again. As I improve (over months, to give a sense of scale), my sensation of a particular hold changes. This evolution happens slowly, maybe I find there is a certain angle and finger position that feels a little bit more stable than I remember. A groove feels slightly deeper, a ridge sharper. At some point, holds which I couldn’t imagine clinging to before are suddenly accessible, even easy to hold on to.

New awareness in the fingers leads to new awareness of the whole. The space between the hand holds becomes more concrete. With additional core strength, the body can navigate this space smoothly and efficiently. This becomes ingrained in the body’s movement; the brain quiets and lets the perception of shape take over.

This may be beginning to sound a little bit more like drawing. Although I’ve been engaging in a shift to my right-brain while doing art for years, I wasn’t conscious of what that really meant until I started working through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. The main focus of the book is teaching the reader to see. Not just to recognize an image or object as something it already knows, but to explore the edges with the eye, see the negative shapes between objects, experience the subject as it really is. It turns out the right side of the brain is really good at this, and the left side of the brain is really bad at it. Unfortunately, the left side usually wins out for our attention and suppresses this deep right-brain perception with logic and symbols.

Now that I have an idea of what to look for, I’ve noticed some changes that occur when I’m able to reach that right-brain mode. The most obvious shift is to extreme focus. Time drops away, external stimuli become difficult to process, distractions lose their appeal. I am able to look closely and carefully, and to slowly trace an object with my eye. My hands are well trained enough to respond to this perception by copying it. I can quickly tell if there is a discrepancy between the object and my interpretation of it and make an appropriate change. The deeper into the zone I get, the clearer the textures, contours and shapes become, and the easier they are to translate onto the page. It is a blissful feeling of awareness.

I’ve improved my level of perception of shape through sight and touch, and I am curious how perception through the other senses evolves when well trained. I imagine there must be corollaries for smell, taste, and hearing. Although I’ve played music my whole life, I can’t say that I feel a deep connection to hearing. Perhaps the creation of sound is distinct in the brain from the perception? I’ll have to look into that. I think my music could use a good dose of right-brain focus.