Discovery by Sketch:
Spring Unfolds in the Tongass

Six weeks by sea kayak

Over the course of a six-week sea kayaking trip in the Southern Tongass National Forest, I created a 22” by 30” fold-out sequence. My husband Ben and I paddled out of Ketchikan on April 20, determined to experience the Tongass in the first flush of spring. We planned to taste wild edibles when they are sweetest and skip the bugs. I expected a relaxed project of documenting plants at first sighting. I planned to organize the panels in three ways: chronologically by which plants I saw when, by color around the golden tones of emerging skunk cabbage, and structurally by the devil's club transition from dry thorny stalks to ebullient green fans just starting to produce fruit.

By the time I reached Wrangell at the end of May, I had many unexpected lessons about Tongass springtime under my belt.

Wild edibles aren’t sweet during the first month of spring because they haven’t yet sprouted. A few bugs aren’t so bad — they mean the weather is finally getting warmer. Don’t count on protective offshore rafts of bull kelp — not much of this algae appears on the sea surface until June. The degree to which sketching all the plants you see is overwhelming correlates directly with the weather becoming more conducive to drawing. In rainy weather, samples saved in a ziplock bag for evening tent time become unrecognizable mush – better to convince your companion that he wants a short hike while you pop the umbrella for a sketch session. A mammoth drawing project helps you forget that, once again, the weather has plastered you on the beach.

 

And finally, the enthusiasm of Tongass plant life to emerge from dead grasses and bare branches should inspire us all to live with equal eagerness.