This is one of my more personal painting stories. Nine months pregnant with my first child, I had a vivid dream of climbing up Forester Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, in the high Sierra mountains of California. This pass, also part of the John Muir trail, is the highest point on the PCT, which I had hiked several years earlier with my husband. In my dream, I reached the top of the pass, pregnant and exhausted, where I found my baby safe and brought him home.
I woke up inspired to paint the place in my dream, secretly hoping that it would somehow bring on labor. It worked! Twelve hours after finishing the painting, labor began. Just like in the dream, I finally met my baby after a difficult journey that took several days. I like to imagine that this place is where he came from:
Origin, 30″x 40″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals
I decided to keep the surreal, dreamlike aspects of the scene, over preserving the realistic details and colors of the pass. This is probably my very favorite painting now, although just looking at it made me sick for a few weeks after the birth, since it brought me right back into the dizzying feelings of labor, mixed in with memories of altitude sickness. I like it when I can harness a powerful memory into a piece of art.
Here’s the southern approach to Forester Pass, the place in the Sierras that the painting is loosely based on. We spent a day walking towards that pass, wondering how we would possibly climb over it since it looks impossible, but when you get right up close, you can see the steep trail zigzagging up the rock.
This is me, hiking down the other side of the pass quickly just as a storm rolled in. You can tell it’s a high pass (13,153 feet) when there’s snow, in California, in July. The high Sierras have such an otherworldly feel, and I find myself coming back to paint them again and again.
I also filmed video of the painting coming together. The video quality’s not great since I didn’t have my new camera and tripod then, but I’m glad I filmed it anyways. Look how pregnant I am!