-------------- Varied adventures in the art of doug keil aka dkeil --------------

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"The Grand Tetons" painting by Douglas Keil (dkeil)

"The Grand Tetons" by dkeil (Douglas Keil) 2012   24x24.2in.  acrylic on board

When I was 22, a close friend of mine and I were dropped off at the western edge of the Rocky Mountains somewhere near Rexburg, Idaho. It was a dirt road; the two-track type of road that spit gravel at the bottom of your truck and issed a suffocating cloud of dust as each lonely vehicle passed.  This was a low budget operation. I had a trashed pair of Teva sandals strapped to my feet, a tarp, sleeping bag and blanket, a pocketknife and my hatchet, my journal, and a stuff sack with twenty pounds of grains. Aside from that there was a roll of leather I bought from a mountain man in Rexburg and two woolen boot liners I recently made by felting some sheep's wool.  They would gradually be made into boots by the time the snows came in the mountains. My buddy had some nice modern boots, a sweet internal frame pack, and a convertible sidearm that could fire both bird shot and .357 slugs. We had a couple #10 tin cans for cooking stews and boiling water. We were pretty rugged.

When Nate's brother drove away, I sent my old SLR camera with him. I figured it would be a burden. We liked to travel fast and light and, besides, confronting the high mountains on foot without a camera bag seemed like a great way to thrash a perfectly nice camera.

 We were stoked for the adventure at hand. Nate was like my big brother, my closest friend at the time. In fact, it was his invitation to work for him as a guide that brought me from New Jersey to the vast high deserts and mountains of southcentral Utah.  We had become friends while interning at the famous Tracker School, basically fulfilling duties as cooks and camp assistants, while we both applied ourselves in our personal studies of natural history. Upon his return to his homestate of Utah, he found employment managing a wilderness therapy company called Sunrise Leadership Academy. The company brought at-risk youth into the desert of the San Rafael Swell of Utah to rough it for a while; attempting to help them find a healthier perspective on life. He wanted me on the team, and it really was a great program. I think it worked out well for a lot of kids. Eventually, that company floundered and the assets were bought out by a larger, more regimented operation called Aspen Achievement Academy based in Loa, UT. After a year of their endless therapeutic drivel and micromanagement, it was a good time to escape.

We finally had both received some time off and, since our schedules coordinated, we took advantage of the circumstances to go exploring in the bigger, wilder mountains of the northern Rockies. The mountains of Utah that we worked in- the Henry Mountains and Boulder Mountain have similar ecology but these mountains go straight up to Canada- populated by wolves, grizzly bear, moose, big horn sheep, mink, martens- this was true big-game wilderness! In fact, I had a few days earlier stalked within 20 feet of a moose, in the middle of the rut, its antlers shedding bloody velvet. The rest of the story no one would believe so I'll omit it...if only I had a video camera, I would have won prize money!

We were ready to explore, but we knew that these mountains commanded respect.

There was a small creek down in the hollow of the canyon where Nick left us, so we dropped down to a grassy clearing by the creek and started a fire. We had to orient ourselves and set up our gameplan because we didn't really have one.
It was September. The first signs of autumn were in the air. Our goal was to push eastward over the mountains and eventually reach the tourist town of Jackson, Wyoming. Even though it was at most about 60 miles as the crow flies, in reality it becomes 2-3 times that when the obstacles of elevation are considered. With the exception of one paved North/South highway some ranges to the east, there was nothing but pure and unadulterated wildness between here and there.
the mountains between Rexburg, ID and Jackson, WY

Since all my gear was wrapped up in my sleeping bag, folded up into a brown tarp, and tied with some surplus parachute cord, my first order of business was to build a a packframe- and fast!
Along the creek there was quite a bit of willow, which has great utilitarian use to the survivalist type.
Pack frames, though, are not one of them. It's a pretty weak wood.
Fortunately, there also happened to be some scrubby chokecherry trees; little bush-type shrubs.
My hatchet ate them for dinner and by the light of a campfire, I constructed a pretty sweet ladder-frame pack. I worked most of the night getting the notches of the frame right so that it would have the rigidity and stability that I needed to hike through the rough mountain terrain ahead. Before I started carving the frame, I had placed some strips of rawhide I had in water to soften. Before catching a few hours of sleep that night, I used the rawhide strips to lash the packframe together. Then I set it to dry next to the fire.

The lashings were pretty solid in the morning; acceptable for a day's walk, at least. I took the large leather hide that I had and cut a few pieces to construct some shoulder straps. Then I tied the tarp bundle to the frame. Over the next few days I refined the shoulder straps and lashings and made a thick leather belt to help distribute the load. Aside from the first day, the pack couldn't have served me better! It even still exists. Across from the table where I am writing this now, leaned up against the wall, is that pack frame- still serviceable all these years later. I found it recently buried in a box and pulled it out. There have been so many interesting things I've built over the years. I always marvel at our ability as men to modify our environment; to create realities.
We focus on what we want, envision it, and it happens!

The expedition was epic.

We saw the colors of the mountains explode, spread our sleeping bags out under the stars and camped in groves of aspen and fir. We hunted pine grouse, saw bear, drank from springs, savored wild berries, met mountain men and even wandered in to the remote basecamp of a group of rich cowboys - the type sporting sidearms and riding their own horses, camping in canvas wall tents by a mountain creek... A Hollywood script writer would have had a field day in their company. The distinction between their "Americanized" version of camping and our more Native-based ideas seemed to be lost on them; we were just a couple of "grizzly-Adams" dudes on a big trek. They thought we were great though, and treated us like royalty for a night. It was like taking a time warp. These fellas were decidedly less nature-oriented than me and my friend. Their wilderness prowess was authentic, but their motivations were subject. Booze, whiskey, poker, and horses filled the days in their remote camp- a circle of canvas frontier tents with enough gear to please the stockholders of Cabela's. Their wives spent the day cooking together and chatting around the campfire. Zohner's Hunting Camp was their name for the remote gathering place,  they were all close friends and had been frequenting the site for generations. It may have been a Forest Service camp that one of Zohner relatives had served at. It may have been put that way, but I didn't make a note of that in my journal.
As the men put it, Zohner's Hunting Camp was where they came to hunt whiskey and beer.

It was an interesting place, but I remember a certain uneasiness and dread of possibility in their company. My buddy enjoyed their association much more than I did. I don't think I drank a drop that night, deciding to hold a vigil for diplomacy in case tensions arose over the card games. I couldn't help but think of all the western movies I watched growing up; and prayed civility would reign. I sat by the entrance of their large mess tent on an old wooden plank bench and sketched the scene in my journal. Comfortable in my detachment, I busied myself with my art, while I kept my ears on their games long into the night.

sketch from my 2002 journal of that night

Their ladies wouldn't think of letting us leave before serving us a hearty cowboy breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy. If the night was uneasy, breakfast was the antidote! I've never had better biscuits and gravy in my life. They were legendary. After breakfast, Brad, one of the cowboys, took me downriver to where his family's camp was and showed me his horses. He breeds Tennessee Walkers on a nearby ranch and brought along a young colt that he had just broken and was training for the saddle. A beautiful horse, with such a graceful gait. I rode the young horse bareback for a bit a mountain trail along a creek. Brad was a nice guy and promised me a job on his ranch, but for whatever reason, it didn't work out when I called a few weeks later. After Brad and I returned to the "hunting camp" with the horses, It was time for Nate and me to head back on our trek. After parting, we walked east up a mountain canyon until we found a grassy hillside meadow and passed out in exhaustion from the night. We encountered the first mountain snow that night- the same night that I finished sewing the remaining leather into some boots!

There is a certain peace in the wilderness; a tensile calmness.  Humans can be so unreliable and fickle. The tension of the wilderness is more baseline. The rules are more rigidly defined and universally accepted. People tend to scorn standards for personal advantage and the lack of reliability in humanity is frustrating. With our feet back on the trail and miles of mountain continuing before us, life was good.

We finally reached Jackson Hole. Nate went back to work; he caught a bus to Utah.
I had only a few dollars so I stayed in town hoping to find a job.

Jackson, Wyoming is a resort town situated in a valley with an entrance from the east and west. North of town is a small mountain and south of town there is a huge mountain with the Snow King ski resort on it. It's a very wealthy place. A few people around town even casually joked to me that the millionaires we being edged out by the billionaires. As a tourist destination for all things Western, Jackson basically booms year 'round due to the ski resorts in town and its proximity to Yellowstone National Park- located an hour north.

I had no money for lodging, so I bought a sheet of black plastic at the hardware store and headed for the mountain where I built a shack high above town in the shadow of the ski resort. Life was good on the mountain in Jackson. I had the prime ten-million-dollar view all to myself- camped up in the mountains. I would awake at dawn and see the sunrise on the Grand Tetons in the northwest horizon. The early morning orange glow would set the mountains on fire with each new day. The days were getting colder though, and I new that winter was quickly approaching. Within a few days I found work as a laborer for a construction company. I dug holes and planted ornamental plants, along with other boringly repetitive and unappreciated work. Mostly I enjoyed the beautiful autumn weather and meditated on portions of the Bible that intrigued me. Since it was about two weeks from arriving in Jackson until I received pay from my newfound job, the real story for me (and this painting) starts here.

I had enough money to buy a gallon of milk each day.
You can live on milk, baby cows do; I did too.
I tried eating at a Christian "mission" house in town, called the Good Samaritan Mission. They gave out free meals to the fringe of society. I figured I qualified, given my current circumstances. Basically, a motley bunch of alcoholics, drifters, and freeloaders showed up each day to spin their tales of smut and eat a free meal. It was a disgraceful scene. They all had to endure a short "motivational" sermon each evening before the meals was served. Since I was so interested in the Bible, I paid attention and during the course of a few days there asked pretty much everyone individually what they thought of the Bible and the sermons. No one cared, they just came for the food. Seriously.
I thought it was so lame. There was hypocrisy everywhere- just what everyone hates about "Christians," I felt a few of their scriptural takes were incorrect, but I didn't turn my back on the place until I was severely reprimanded for bringing some bread to dinner to share with everyone.
Then I realized those people were nuts.

Soon after arriving in Jackson I made my way to a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses.
I liked Witnesses- they knew the scriptures.
You could talk freely with them, they didn't judge me and give me guilt trips. Though I wasn't for organized religion, I thought of all the churches I examined, the Witnesses seemed to come closest to being genuine Christians from a purely scriptural standpoint. They also didn't just go along with all the obviously pagan holiday celebrations throughout the year and wouldn't participate in warfare- both of which I thought took a lot of guts. I had studied with them in the past, and I knew I could get a Bible from them. I was particularly impressed with the reception I received among them. All haggard and dirty from a month of life of living in the woods, I cleaned myself up as best I could and went to a Sunday meeting.
Still, I was a far cry from a clean-shaven young man in a suit and tie. I had on a woolen plaid lumberjack shirt and cowboy hat, I smelled like a campfire and had woodcraft stains all over my pants. Besides that, I was carrying a distinctly unconventional large packframe with me.
It didn't phase them one bit. I was greeted kindly and promised that my pack would be safe leaned against the wall. they found me a seat and the meeting began.  At that point in my life, sitting inside for two hours was almost unbearable, but I loved what I heard. The Bible verses were expounded reasonably, not emotionally.

After the meeting, a man named Bob approached and chatted with me. At one time he had been a mountain man, and could relate well to my current adventure. He gave me a copy of the Bible and asked my thoughts on some scriptures. One of which struck me as particularly intriguing. In the course of chapter 24 of Matthew, Jesus is speaking to his students about signs that would indicate his return, or presence, as the promised king. He talks about many problems that there would be on earth, etc., but Bob mentioned that Jesus asked one question in particular without giving an answer. He read a scripture about "food being given to people at the proper time by a faithful and discreet servant- under the authority of Jesus." He asked me who I thought this servant was. I had no idea. I thought it was even a strange question really; but Bob was very sincere and intelligent. He also seemed to feel it was a very important question, so after he replied that "I ought to give this some thought;" I filed it away in my memory and did give it thought during the coming weeks.

Now, it so happened that subsisting on a gallon of milk each day became difficult after refusing to eat at the mission. While I was walking into town on my way to work one morning, I decided to see if I could get some free bread by checking a dumpster behind a high-end organic bakery. It was a goldmine! There was every kind of delightful treat discarded- still clean and ready to eat because they had  been placed in plastic bags before being dumped. I had raspberry tarts and scones, delicious organic bread and rolls- as much as I could possibly eat- all for free! Until I got paid for my work with the construction company, I found the food I needed behind the bakery. Throughout the days at work, I would meditate on different passages of scripture and think about Bible proverbs and principles. All the while, I remembered Jesus' question about "who really is the faithful and discreet servant giving food to his domestics..."

Well, the day I got paid, I decided to do my last dumpster-diving bread reconnaissance mission.
After entering the alleyway, I opened the dumpster and found a sack of delicious looking bread.  I thanked God for the food. As I continued on down the alley, towards downtown, there was another dumpster.
I remember saying to myself, "Who knows... I have all I need but.. let's see what's hiding in here...."
I lifted up the top. It was full of boxes and construction debris, and on top, right there in front of me, was a stack of Watchtower and Awake magazines- published by Jehovah's Witnesses.

It was a moment of clarity.
Here I was on a food-searching mission... I found food. But this was the answer to the question of who was "the servant" providing "food at the proper time."  It was spiritual "food."
That's what I really wanted, needed, in my life. I loved these magazines and the literature Jehovah's Witnesses gave out. I knew that they helped me understand the Bible and draw closer to Jehovah God, that they refreshed me, even sustained me like food. It was such an exciting moment; an epiphany.
I decided to study with Jehovah's Witnesses again and this time apply myself more fully in my research.

That was one of the best decisions of my life- one that I made in a back alley of Jackson, Wyoming.
As the chill of the cold evening descended, I recall huddling up in a little corner of that alley, so delighted with my discovery. I munched on organic rolls and read an article in one of the Watchtower magazines, savoring each bit of "spiritual food."
It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Seeing the Grand Teton Mountains brings back such wonderful memories of personal discovery!

The painting at the beginning of this post is of the Grand Tetons, located just to the northeast of Jackson, Wyoming. The perspective is an angle looking southwest from the top of a bend in the Snake River. It’s a scene of the American West that photographers and painters have captured for years, probably most famously by the iconic black and while depiction of Ansel Adams. For me, the Grand Teton Mountains are simply hard to define.
The best word, I think, is majestic!

Thanks for staying a while to read. Feel free to say hi and leave a comment!
You can also purchase a print if you love the painting. The link is below.
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-Doug Keil (dkeil)

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  1. I loved your story, what a treat! The painting is absolutely beautiful, and the adventure was a bonus. Quite insightful ...

    1. Thanks so much for liking my work and leaving a note. I really appreciate that!

  2. Wow! Your painting was beautiful but after reading this...I find it exquisite! Thank you for sharing your story with us...especially on how you found the truth and it being "one of the most happiest moments of your life." Your life has been quite an adventure Doug Keil!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Janice. This painting really is one of my favorites. It's so much looser than a lot of my work, I really played with the painterly brushstrokes thing here. Life is definitely an adventure, not as vividly exciting as it was then or will be soon though! Big things happening, keep on the watch!! Stay awake, stand firm, grow mighty! Thanks again for the nice comment!

  3. Beautiful picture and story. A perfect example of how Jehovah's creation cries out. The epiphany was awsome and the scene of the Grand Tetons was truly breath taking.

    1. Thanks Melinda. There are so many ways to see the magnificent mind at at work. He is searching the earth to show his power in behalf of people whose hearts are complete toward him. Thanks for visiting, reading, and liking my art!

  4. Replies
    1. I like painting too Nathan! I'm lookinig forward to doing lots of painting with you when you get a bit older. Thanks for telling me you like it. I love you!

  5. I say:
    wow. now I like this painting so much more. whereas before it brought me back to a scary frozen night when I acquired a fear of winter mountains, now i see it as a beautiful, clean view of the place where my brother began to serve Jehovah. I know lived somewhere else when you got baptized, but finding out where the HEALTHY spiritual food comes from is a big step toward everlasting life. I've heard you tell part of this story but knowing the connection to this painting has really increased my appreciation. Thanks.

    1. Thanks. I'm glad you like the painting now, and see more than the cold colors. Thanks for taking the time to read about it; now you know why I painted it!

  6. wow doug thank you for bring me on your journey, one i wish i could take with nyana but because of the world in which we live this is one journey that will have to wait until the new world is here, but i thank you for the letting me experiance the thrill of jehovahs natural creation . your painting is wonderful i can just imagine waking up in the morning is the dew rises ang the sun splits through, your thoughts at the moment .hmmmmmmm

    1. Thanks for taking the time to go on the adventure. I'm sure we'll have some of our own someday! It is pretty amazing waking up and seeing mountains like these around. Some days I miss it more than others, but at least there are nice memories and hope for even better times in the future! Thanks for taking the time to write a comment too!