For our encounters project, our team is exploring awe walks, specifically thinking about how we can use artistic/creative modalities to document and share experiences of awe walks in ways that might encourage others to engage in what has been shown to be a wellness-promoting activity. We are interested in both our own encounters with awe (or the search for awe) on our walks, as well as how we can then share these experiences with each other and others.
Before getting others involved, we decided to spend the holiday break going on a series of walks and reflecting on these individually and then (soon) as a team. We are curious about what similarities we experiences, what differences, how do we document, what do we document, how can we evoke/transmit/transfer the positive experiences of these walks onto the page.
As an exercise I suggested to our team that we use themes for our holiday walks to see how this might shape how we perceive our surroundings. We decided on 4 weeks, 4 themes: Texture, Light, Color, and Shape/Form. I tasked the team to go on at least 1 awe walk a week and to work to focus on these themes throughout the walk.
While we are still working to process/compile how the thematic focus affected our walking and where to go next, the following posts offer a window into some of our early reflections on our walking experiences in search of awe.
AWE Walk notes Tucson, Arizona, Santa Catalina Mountain Range by Rebecca Thompson
Our world is rapidly changing, moving through agonizing throes of public, biological, and environmental shifts of catastrophic proportions and yet, my walks remain a calming force, a way to rescue my body and mind from potential despair. It is the body, the embodied experience that opens portals, communicating joy, discovery, and undiscovered possibilities.
Pedagogical theories surrounding embodied learning hypothesize that humans learn through sensory interactions that cannot be replicated by the mind alone. I agree as I observe the Mexican mockingbird jump from the mesquite tree to the cactus loudly proclaiming his territory. It’s not the same as the one I locate on google images. Similarly, looking at stills of desert mountains on a computer screen is never the same as walking near her, sensing a slight coolness during the desert heat.
We recently settled into a modest adobe brick house nestled at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, a deliberate return to the expansive vistas of the Arizonan Sonoran Desert. Moving often as a child and then as an adult, I counted almost 20 different locations. Enough – I need grounding, a place to rest, a place to dream. I’ve lived enough lives to know that I need mountains in my life. I crave their protective presence and their ability to ceaselessly shapeshift with every nuance of the light,
The Catalina’s, as they are known locally, rise to an elevation of 9,157 ft. (2,791 m). Formerly called Babad Do’ag or Frog Mountain by the indigenous people of the Tohono O’odham Nation, I strain to see the reptilian resemblance. Perhaps there are hidden tales of the gods or ancient reptilian connections we modern sojourners are not privy to.
Bavad Do’ag transformed from the crouching frog to a princess around 1697. This unexpected transformation occurred when Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a visiting astronomer who was also an Italian Jesuit priest, renamed the region’s northern mountain range for the beloved patron saint of his sister, Saint Catherine. Noted as a princess and scholar, in the late 4th century, Catherine of Alexandria was tortured for her consecration to Christ and finally martyred by beheading. She was best remembered for her enduring connection with healing miracles. As I traverse up and down her low lying hills and steep pathways I wish to claim those healing miracles. I walk, I pray, I seek healing of our lands and a return to peace.
I confess I enjoy change. Perhaps most artists dread being bound by monotony. S-a-a-n ta Cat-a-lina rolls off my tongue warmly, evoking both strength and beauty draped in yards of sundrenched fabrics shifting with the winds. As I hike the hem of her rocky robes, Santa Catalina – heals my soul. Every day I stride around her edges, remaining inspired, curious, and thankful. Photographing her over and over, I find that she’s never the same. Today she’s my Mona Lisa, a natural beauty with a timeless smile ever provoking a sense of mystery and awe.
AWE Walk notes Tucson, Arizona, Tumamoc Mountain by Sydney Streightiff
Throughout the previous month of Awe Walks, I find myself wondering if I can pinpoint what creates awe in myself and recreate it or if part of experiencing the emotion comes from the unexpected.
As I explore new places to walk I have found that giant expanses of space do not necessarily trigger awe and I often have to ground myself in the environment. For example, the mass of clouds pictured above is made up of smaller clouds that when combined cover the majority of the sky in this shot. It reminded me of pointillism and the idea that day-to-day life is made up of little events that create an overall experience for the day.
Throughout this month I have had the chance to walk in both Tucson, AZ and San Diego, CA, and found that different triggers gave me a sense of awe. San Diego is a place where I have lived my entire life and could describe the streets in intense detail while Tucson is a place that has a million places still to be explored. My walks in San Diego were often accompanied by family and I found that I was drawn to objects that were altered by people that had walked the same path or were seemingly out of place.
During a walk on Christmas day with my sister, we found a tree that had ornaments placed around it. Attached were instructions to take an ornament home to decorate and bring it back to the tree to share with the community.
12.21.20 – Week 1: Light walk – Sweetwater Preserve (Tucson, AZ) – Late afternoon, by Jennie Gubner
Cameras are all about capturing light, but, how to evoke awe-striking moments of searching for light in such a way that I can invite another into my exploration. Realizing what I found most awe-inspiring were the many variations in light on a December afternoon , or how light changed so much depending on tiny movements in position, or how light changed so quickly in time, I decided to play with collage and montage to tell these stories. Particularly in the late afternoon during the Fall season of Tucson, I found an abundance of light-related awe moments everywhere I turned.
12.30.2020 – Color walk – Catalina State Park (Tucson, AZ) – Late-Morning by Jennie Gubner
Looking for color was not as immediately awe-inspiring as looking for light. Initially I found myself wondering if these themes were constraining and not liberating, and if I had made a mistake in thinking about thematic awe walks. As I walked, I started to think about how maybe I needed to focus more intently on details, and subtle differences, and like a camera lens pulling into focus, I found myself starting to notice different patterns of colors and variations in colors around me. I decided on this walk to focus on shades of green, thinking about how many shades of green I could find in the desert, a place more characteristically portrayed through yellows and browns.
12.31.2020 – Color Walk #2 – Ventana Canyon (Tucson, AZ) – Late afternoon to Dusk by Jennie Gubner
On another walking adventure, I honed in on purples. I noticed that the process of assembling these montages only reinforced my feelings of awe of the incredible colors of the desert. Unlike the light walks, where I was instantly impressed, I found that my color walks became more meaningful the more I processed them and shared them with others. I keep asking myself how the desire to share awe shapes our experiences of it. I tried a few walks without a camera, and found I actually lost focus. The task of documenting awe has seemed to provide a process through which to keep my mind concentrating on these themes and thinking about how to creatively share them. As an ethnographer interested in visual research methods, I wonder how much this influences my desire to document/share, and how healthy this is, or how much it is a product of our “need-to-share-everything-on-instagram” generation. I’d like to think it is the former, and that processing and sharing these moments allows me to relive them, just like moments in fieldwork that I film and edit to tell stories about my encounters with music. As with ethnography, there are always pieces lost in translation. Do these images inspire awe for others? I wonder…