This is the second of Elizabeth Conner’s posts about her Tolt River artist residency where, over a six month period, she will be working with staff in King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Water and Land Resources Division. She will be tracking the changes to the river in its flood season as it is monitored by ecologists, and will look for ways to bring that research forward visually and conceptually to the surrounding community and visitors. This is her first report from the river.



What is beautiful?

I grew up in a converted barn in a very rural part of upstate New York, next to a farmhouse belonging to my paternal grandparents. Around 3 o’clock every Saturday afternoon, beginning at the age of six, I walked uphill to the farmhouse, where my grandmother helped me lace up a borrowed pair of “Bean boots.” With our matching boots and jackets, we forded the brook running next to our houses, and wandered for hours, until the sun set. I remember the winter walks best, possibly because of the quality of the light.

I was thinking about beauty when I took a solitary walk in early January through King County’s Tolt-MacDonald Park, where the Tolt and Snoqualmie Rivers meet at Carnation. The heavy rain stopped just as I arrived, but I put on my old yellow rain gear, left over from working on small ships in Southeast Alaska, just in case. I saw one man walking a dog, but otherwise I was completely alone for almost three hours.


tolt_mistIt was a good day to listen to the surroundings, to smell and feel the air. Birds were singing, chirping, and rustling in the vegetation. Water appeared to flow at different speeds in the Tolt and the Snoqualmie. The sound of rushing water changed continuously as I walked, amplified or dampened by surrounding topography and vegetation. Mist rose above the trees, moving slowly in a way that made me wonder how currents of air and water might be related.

The waters of the Tolt were high and, at dusk, it was difficult to distinguish the sound of the river from the sound of “rush hour” traffic entering town from the south on Fall-City Carnation Road. Late afternoon light intensified the normally subtle colors of the low vegetation in adjacent wetlands. As the sun began to set, I thought about what might be the fourth dimension of this place: a kind of magical “temporary landscape” created by the reflection of sky and trees in still wetland waters.

I began to notice, through the lens of my camera, patterns of the “natural” and built worlds merging and mimicking each other. Questions of “what is natural?” and “what is beautiful?” dance around each other, keep me company, and make me wonder. My grandmother might not have understood what I do as an artist, but she understood the power of walking through land and water. She and I might also have had conversations about beauty when I was very young.


Photos by Elizabeth Conner