As an artist, I tell stories through the things I create; I listen to others' stories by viewing or listening to or otherwise experiencing their artistic creations.
Art, whether it's a priceless ancient sculpture on display in a museum or a flimsy photograph of a special moment in nature snapped by a disposable camera, is a key part of human memory. The things we remember while creating our own art or experiencing the art of others enables us to go back in time.
Last month I spent several days camping in New Mexico. One night, around midnight, I lay curled like a cashew in my sleeping bag, painfully trying to stave off my extreme altitude sickness by thinking about the various animals I'd seen hiking that day: Elk, mule deer, ravens, red-tailed hawks, turkeys, frogs, skunks.... Then suddenly my train of thought was broken by quick, excited yips and a few long HA-HA-HAWOOOOOOOOs.
Ah, the sound of coyotes. In real life. I grew excited; they were close by, within a mile or so radius of my tent, which I had pitched myself on a relatively flat bed of ponderosa pine needles.
The coyotes' yipping and hawoooo-ing increased in frequency and volume. They were coming closer. I clutched my flashlight, but wasn't sure if it was better to turn it on or keep it off. I opted for off, relying on the white light of the moon to illuminate the shadows cast upon my tent.
The coyotes suddenly grew quiet, so I shut my eyes and again tried to sleep and forget about the altitude sickness. Cool, I thought as I began to drift off. Nice having coyotes around.
Seconds later I was jolted back to full consciousness: feet were crunching the needles right outside my tent. RIGHT outside. Then, an odd sound, kind of like a snuffly sniffing mixed with the rustling of my nylon tent. Did I dare to check whom it was?
Of course I did. And when I slowly blinked open my eyes, I saw the black outlines of at least five lean, leggy dog-like creatures with big pointed ears. Their faces were inches from mine; their noses pressed up against my tent, they inhaled my scent.
Was I scared? A little. But I was also quite mesmerized. I was almost a little sad when they decided they had enough of sniffing me through my tent and yip-yip-yipped away to see what else was happening in the forest that night.
I can remember it all so vividly that I was inspired to make a collage of one of the coyotes that visited me that night. It will help me to remember just as vividly when my unaided brain has trouble doing so as time goes on. That way, I can remember. That way, I can continue to share my story.
Memory is sealed in art; art becomes a part of memory. It's incredible.
Related read: How Collage Made My Life Whole (Center for Humans and Nature's City Creatures blog)