Valley of theTen Thousand Smokes

January 21, 2006

What a treat to see a gallery showing of Gary Freeburg’s photographs of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. As I sat in the audience watching him speak – his eyes got that far away look and I knew he was there – Katmai National Park and Preserve. This place is so remote, barren, and desolate, that Apollo astronauts used the locale to train for moon walks. And Gary – chooses to go there – to be alone – to be with the land – to make a connection – to be with himself.

As one who enjoys solitude – I ask myself if I have the courage to be in the world the way Gary shows me in his exhibit.


What follows is an excerpt from our local newspaper:


For Freeburg, 57, the trips were a pilgrimage of sorts: An opportunity to find a serenity he first experienced at a rock garden in Kyoto, Japan, while on leave from the Vietnam War.

In that Zen garden he found peacefulness and solitude; he’s been fascinated with desolate places ever since.

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is certainly desolate. Freeburg’s stark images show nothing but sky, stone and snow. Other than the white snow-capped mountains, it could be a moonscape.

It’s also remote: 290 miles southwest of Anchorage, he had to take two flights to get to a geologist’s outpost in the Valley.

Once his pilot flew home, he was 54 miles from the closest human.

“You’re totally alone for nine days,” he said. “Last time, they sent someone out after five days to make sure I was still alive.”

He used that time alone to think about how he relates to his family and friends.

“I think everyone should spend a few days alone,” he said. “It’s sometimes very difficult.”




“By being in a place like that you really confront yourself,” he said. ”You really have to rely on yourself.”


It’s the kind of introspection he came to appreciate at that Japanese Zen garden 30 years ago.


At the garden large black stones sat in a field of white sand. The sand swirled, always changing patterns, while the rocks stood firm.


The garden had 15 stones, arranged so that you could see only 14 at a time.


“You achieve enlightenment when the fifteenth stone is visible — when you can see it in your mind.”


At the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes he had a similar experience.


“It’s a fresh approach into your own mind,” he said.

Excerpted from:
Sacred Arts Program Explores Understanding, Faith
By Martin Cizmar – Daily News Record, Harrisonburg, Virginia


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