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Brooke Atherton’s Solar Sojourn

Brooke Atherton had a deadline to meet for a major SAQA exhibit. She also wanted to join her family on their annual pilgrimage to Montana. Here is the story of how they were able to do both.

Something I look forward to every year is our two week retreat to the Little Belt Mountains, part of the Rockies, in central Montana.  I grew up in Ohio where our camping was done in KOA-type facilities with daily showers, lots of other people, and trips into town for anything we forgot to pack.  Local wild life included giants—it was the training camp for the Cincinnati Bengals.  They traveled in packs, and even as a teenager I slipped my hand into my father’s and moved closer to him for protection whenever they were near.

Brooke Atherton sewing chair

Atherton’s favorite sewing chair in the middle of Lone Tree Park.

The places we camp now are full of a different kind of wildlife.  We share the woods with moose, elk, deer, black bears (but not grizzlies!), owls, coyote, and many other birds, animals and fish.  There were rumors this year of a wolf. Normally I pack notebooks and basic handstitching supplies and take lots of walks. I start every morning standing on the edge of the meadow watching the gray early morning turn into a beautiful sunrise, watching for signs of the life around me waking up or bedding down. Evenings are spent the same way; it is very calming and inspiring. Town is 45 minutes away, so we are careful to pack in everything we need.  We’ve aged out of truly primitive camping, but if the weather is fine we throw our bags on the ground and sleep under the stars. We’ve had plenty of trips, though, where we did have to tarp the campfire.

Deadline defines the solution

In August, my husband watched me working, stitching a five foot square canvas, facing an approaching deadline for my contribution to the SAQA exhibit, Earth Stories.  “You’re not going to be able to go camping, are you?” he said.

“I don’t see how,” I said.

“What if you were able to take your sewing machine?”

A week later, the afternoon before we were to leave, two portable solar panels were delivered.  We didn’t have time for testing, so packed a range of odd things—anything with a power cord.


Solar-powered sewing machine in the middle of the Lewis and Clark National Forest

And that is how I came to have my solar-powered Bernina in the middle of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, meet the deadline, and have plenty of family time around the campfire watching the moon and the stars.  We don’t run into many other people while we’re out there, so I was surprised by how many visitors we had in camp last year.  They could see something odd yet familiar from the road, and wanted to see what it was.  Most left saying “My wife’s going to want one of those.”  I’ll be back to stitching by hand next year, but it’s nice to know there are options.

Brooke Atherton

Brooke Atherton

Brooke Atherton is an award-winning quilt artist. Her piece, Springfield, won Best of Show at Quilt National 2013. Her art is a visual record of her life in the North American West.  She is inspired by natural forces such as fire and water, and a diverse range of objects and materials collected from countless walks across the landscape. To see more of her work go to brookeathertonart.com

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