Adventure of a Lifetime Upon Us

Stephen Quinn
November 19, 2010 share
Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition

Well, the adventure of a lifetime is upon us. My two travel companions, Jeff Whiting, President and founder of AFC and Will Richardson, our videographer and wildlife photographer, will be flying down from Canada tomorrow, to stay with us for the night. I couldn't ask for better partners in travel, both seasoned in travel and the outdoors, flexible to challenges that abide in wilderness treks, and both are blessed with a good sense of humor - always essential on the trail. My wife, Linda, will be making us a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, as I will be away from the family for the holiday. We'll toast to the success of the expedition tomorrow night and sleep well after the pre-holiday feast.

On Sunday, Nov 21, we fly to Amsterdam, then Nairobi, and finally arriving in Kigali early in the morning on November 23rd. From there, we will cross the border into the Central African Republic by vehicle a few days after.

A long trek, but not near as long as when Carl Akeley made the journey back in 1921 and then again in 1926. He sailed across to London, as there were no jets. In London he outfitted his expedition and steamed by ship to Africa. In 1921, he landed at Cape Town then made his way up through the heart of Africa overland till he reached, what was then, the Belgian Congo. Then he had to find the haunts of the Mountain Gorilla, which, in Akeley's time was a creature of myth and folklore. It took him months of travel before he glimpsed his first gorilla staring back at him through the lush undergrowth of Mount Mikeno.

Though our trek isn't as long or arduous as Akeley's, it will not be without its challenges. Lately, my mind is filled with the possible pitfalls and I'm trying, as best I can, to plan for them. What if we can't find the gravesite? If we can't find Akeley's grave, it will be nearly impossible to find the diorama site. To this end I'm pouring over maps and Akeley's journals. We will, in the end, need to rely on our Congolese veterinarians to guide us. What if we do find the diorama site, and we encounter torrential rains or hail, which can occur in the Virungas at this time of year, the same time as Akeley visited. How will I complete my painting if it rains constantly! To provide for this I'm packing a tarp and tent from which to work if weather necessitates. According to my research, William R. Leigh, the museum artist who accompanied Akeley in 1926 and painted the original onsite reference paintings, took two weeks to complete his sketch. He was provided with a tent and fly so he, at a specific time of the day, with matching light quality and shadow, would paint for an hour or two then abandon that painting for another until the following day. I will have less than two days! But, if the weather cooperates, I think I can do it. I'm determined to do it.

I've been to Africa several times before and have found it to be such a place of overwhelming beauty that ones eyes rush from one splendid landscape, creature, or sky to another, often experiencing and seeing the continents majesty through the lens of a camera. Akeley's tools were his motion picture camera, his collecting gun and skinning knife. On this trip, I'm determined to experience Africa with my eyes and paintbrush. I want to paint and sketch directly in the field with nothing but the brush, paint and canvas between the subject and me. Just as William R. Leigh worked to record what he saw. There is a fear that must be overcome with this approach. No studio to run to and rework in. No photograph on which to base a composition on or refer to. Only selecting a view from nature and responding to it with whatever talent one has. What if my work falls flat? It may well. But it will still stand true as my direct and honest record of an in the field encounter . It will be whatever I can finish while in Africa. Wish me luck and good weather. Soon we will be away.

Now back to last minute packing -

 

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