Jumping out of planes and painting along the way

Daniel Keys: I texted Caprario about skydiving next month. Gird your loins!

Me: Lets so it! (I fat fingered)

Daniel Keys: Good! Michelle wants to too.

Me: Awesome! lets really do it

     One month after this brief text conversation I found myself 10,000 ft above Phoenix, AZ in a rickety old prop plane held together with duct-tape and bumper stickers inspiring confidence with sayings like “IF YOU’RE SCARED, SAY YOU’RE SCARED”. I’m with my good friend and fellow artist, Daniel Keys, and two middle aged men respectively strapped to each of our backs via carabineers, straps, and I hope high quality thread. As we sat listening to the rusty growl of this flying sardine can, I contemplated the reality that my life would literally be “hanging by a thread” in the very near future, and also that 15 minutes earlier Todd had pensively slipped the words from his mouth with the desired effect of a skilled torturer, “Ever have that feeling you’re forgretting something?” “One minute!” the pilot calls out in time to jolt me from the contemplation of whether Todd was serious or not, and that’s my cue to pull on the plastic eye goggles given to me earlier on the ground “You don’t want any gap between your nose and the goggles…otherwise your contacts will slide back behind your eyes,” Todd casually mentioned. “Check my position,” the pilot said as Todd opened the side hatch door of the Cessna 182 prop plane...“We’re good…you ready?!” “Yep…” I doubtfully replied, and took one last look at Daniel and thought, “Wow, guess this is really happening.” Awkwardly, I swung my legs out towards the 1 ft x 1 ft jump platform and reached my hands out for…well nothing, before remembering that all I was supposed to do was “hold on to my shoulder straps and try to keep my back arched” and then suddenly I saw the plane fall away from me as we front flipped down toward the sun-baked, cactus riddled baron landscape of the Arizona desert and eased our way into a 120 mph cruising speed. It was all a pale burnt umber ahead of me. I yelled and screamed as loud as I could, though I could hardly hear myself as I felt it all pass through the back of my neck and slip past Todd’s helmet leaving a trail 5,000 feet tall in a matter of 30 seconds.

     It was an incredible experience to say the least and one that I feel is somewhat indicative of this past year of my life. Only one year ago, I was rattling down US 89 in Grandma’s ‘94 Dodge Caravan towards the same sands of southern Arizona lonely and broken.  It was in the depths of that trip that I made the decision to plow head-long into life as an artist. A journey, which has led me all across the U.S. in a grand adventure, and I am so grateful for every moment of it.

     I’ve felt for a while now a need to share a few of the highlights. It should be noted: these adventures aren’t ones that I deserved, and they were rarely of my planning. But I’ve realized that the highest caliber of life, the one that God calls us to is one marked by uncertainty, adventure, and a willingness to step out in faith and accept whatever it is He has planned for us--jumping when he says “Jump!” and being content when he says, “not yet”.

     In spring 2012 I found myself painting and exploring the stoic vermillion canyons of Zion National Park with my dad. A week later I was enrolled in Daniel Keys’ still life workshop which sparked a marvelous friendship and the beginning of many adventures. Adventures that had us painting together along the Merced River in Yosemite and the rugged cliffs of Big Sur. A few months later we were freezing and mooshing stiff paint around on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.


This year has taken me all the way to the sun along the famous historic highway that cuts through Glacier National Park, and it’s led me under the shadow of Mount Gould. It’s taken my roommate, his cousin, and I to the peak of Mount Villard rising 12,000 ft amongst the magnificent Beartooth Range…we all thought we were going to die up there on the spine of that great mountain as we reached the summit and gazed across half of Montana and Wyoming at 4:30 in the afternoon. Our judgment of time needed for the climb was grossly optimistic and we set out that morning from our disassembled camp thinking we’d be back by lunchtime and would even be able to hike the additional six miles back to the car and would be sleeping soundly in our warm beds at home before nightfall. Instead, that night we set the camp back up in the dark at 9:00.


I’ll never forget the great week I spent painting the Tetons and hiking around them with my friend Dan Lombardi, fueled only by his strict yet, to my surprise, delicious vegetarian regimen. Later, in mid summer, Lombardi and I adventured 9 miles into the heart of the East Rosebud to the majestic Rainbow Lake just 60 miles due west of the quiet small town I grew up in.

     I treasure the exciting days of painting and the lonely, even scary, spring nights I spent camped out above Canyon de Chelly when the moon was a great spotlight, beaming down on my tiny one-man tent. I felt so alone there. The canyon is an ancient place. It was home to the Anasazi who mysteriously vanished from the canyon leaving behind cave dwellings and pictographs. Later, the Navajo would discover the canyon’s ruins and to this day consider it very sacred. As I explored the canyon bottom, surrounded by the 800 foot vertical walls, I couldn’t help but feel small and insignificant, knowing that the canyon will go on unchanged for thousands of years long after my life has been tucked away in the folds of time.

     On a lighter note, in December, I embarked on the longest journey yet; a 37-hour drive and 2,000 miles that cut through whiteout blizzard conditions and ice-caked highways with my cousin Jesse, who presented me with the trip a mere 48 hours prior to leaving.  Upon arriving in Virginia, after driving nonstop for 37 hours and having eaten only oranges for the entire time, we were on the doorstep of Miss Ashley James (a very special girl in my cousin’s life and in fact the true reason for the trip though we’d lie and say it was a paint trip for me and a business trip for Jesse.) Later on in the excursion I left Jesse and Ashley to themselves and camped in Wal-Mart parking lots and visited the incredible art museums and the historic heritage found in Washington D.C.   I was ushered around and hosted by my friend Sammy, a 27 year old Ethiopian immigrant with an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit. He introduced me to the delicious Ethiopian dish “kitfo” (seasoned raw meat). He made me feel right at home amongst his Ethiopian friends and we attended worship services just across the street from his apartment in the Evangelical Ethiopian Church of Silver Springs, MD. Sammy whipped me in game after game of billiards before sending me back to Montana to lick my wounds for a week painting in my home with my four roommates who play guitars and piano, and we sing and find every excuse to slip into the hot tub that was given to us just in time for winter. That week I went on walks with my friend Tensy and her new silver lab puppy, Brody. We played fetch in the dried canal one block south of the house, and I remembered that earlier in the year the Stumberg brothers and I found it, filled with the swift murky water provided by the mighty Yellowstone River, to be the perfect summer time oasis despite the legends of flesh-eating virus and spikes set along the canal’s bottom to deter miscreants like us.

     Then, after a few days of down time, I once again boarded a plane bound for Scottsdale where exactly a year earlier I first met Daniel Keys. Putney Painter week was back in full swing and this year I was placed right in the heart of those Vermont artists and friends. The skydiving Daniel and I did on that trip was incredible, though, for me, not the highlight. In fact, it pales in comparison to newly forged friendships, late nights of sketching and painting, and coming away with a new found sense of direction and artistic identity. I came to the realization that my story, that these adventures, by which I’ve been so blessed, are perhaps my greatest asset. I now understand that what I want to paint are the moments we realize we’ve embarked on a grand adventure…uncertainty lies ahead and that is the very thing which pulls us in.