Artist Bench on East Fork River


We woke to smoke, miserable thick lung biting air that stung eyes. I was determined to find something to use for painting subject matter and adjusted my expectations, forced my focus downward to smaller things. A hike around the cabin revealed some hand carved logs placed as benches with views of the East Fork River. This place became my daily refuge, a quiet spot with soothing sounds of glacier river coursing over gravel and rocks. Throughout the week I saw animals cross the distant bars and tributaries to graze and disappear, a grizzly sow with two spring cubs, a cow moose with twin calves, a single bull caribou crowned by antlers in full velvet, overhead two Golden Eagles worked the draw between steep ridges of Polychrome pass to the hill south of the cabin. Circling, swooping down, riding the updrafts they were magnificent!

I found a dusty journal tucked away on a high shelf over the cabin window and immersed myself in the writings and observations of those who shared this place before me. Tales of adventure and encounters with weather and wildlife gave me a better perspective of the shelter provided by these ancient timbers. Adolph Murie’s book “Wolves of Denali” became my daily companion and the connection to his early work in the park and his cabin where I’m staying, built in 1928, moved my thoughts and mind back to a different time where men walked 20-30 miles a day and lived without creature comforts. I became ashamed at being such a prima-donna who whines about smoke in the air, when others are fighting uncontrolled flames to save their homes. I felt myself slowly decompress from the hectic habits of email, blogs, facebook, talking heads hyping the latest newsworthy catastrophe, and cell phones that ring like door bells or concerts. Out here nature dominates, pure unadulterated nature and the wildlife within.

My bench with a view to the world of nature, my haven, a place to rest my soul and contemplate God’s work. And it was good.

Gail Niebrugge, Denali Artist-in-Residence

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  1. Wow, Gail. Just….wow. I’ve always been so in awe of your talents as an artist. Then after seeing some of the pictures you’ve taken, I’m so impressed with your photography skills. And now your writing. I felt myself relaxing and experiencing to some degree the decompressing that you described. Your pictures, your photographs, and your gift of expressing your thoughts are good medicine!

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

  2. Vicki; For some reason I’m compelled to write, it is weird. Thank you for your nice comments, they are good medicine as well. Gail

  3. Vicki says it beautifully!

    Thank you, Gail, for writing and sharing this experience, and transcending the disappointment of the smoke by letting go just ‘to be’ in full appreciation of God’s creation. This is a gift!


  4. Thanks Noella, sometimes we need to be reminded of the “smaller” things. Gail

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