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  • Writer's pictureJenna Gustafson

Sandhill Elegance

Some of my earliest memories include sleepless nights in anticipation of bouncing out of bed at 4:30 AM, grabbing worms at the nearest gas station and six McDonald's breakfast burritos as a special treat, and driving with my Dad and little brother to the pond of choice for that weekend. The boat would be in the water by sunrise and we would spend hours gliding silently over the glass-like oasis, often in compete concentration and relaxation at the same time, waiting for a monster pike, bass, or even a perch to hit our bait for a few adrenaline filled moments.

This is all to say that I have been blessed to spend many hours of my life studying the natural world surrounding Montana freshwater, whether that be at a random pond, the Yellowstone River, of Fort Peck Lake. My favorite animal to watch above the water has always been the stunning Sandhill Crane! Cranes simply drip with elegance, whether on the ground defending their nests or in flight.

In this painting, I tried to encapsulate the Crane's delicate and calculated movement of leggy perfection, as well as the magical quality of those gold-tinged mornings of my memories. Red and metallic gold combine to emit a slightly oriental/zen feel in real life, which is appropriate as I attempt to capture a piece of my happy place. My hope is that this painting can bring some of that profound peace into your home for you to enjoy as well.


The detail of this painting took me around 30 hours to complete, and it taught me two things. First, a meditation on patience. The very idea for this painting is based on fishing trips, which in themselves are an exercise of enjoying the process...enjoying the waiting and the beauty of the moment, even if nothing particularly exciting is happening. I am always driving super hard for the finish line on any goal whether I'm working on a painting, going for a hike, or achieving career benchmarks and I often forget to take a breathe and relish the moment, just because. Being present is always something that takes effort for me, and meticulous projects like this painting force me to remember, or risk being entirely overwhelmed.

The second lesson I took away was to continue to celebrate and notice the vast complexity of the natural world, and to stay full of wonder even as an adult. It's fascinating to try to wrap your mind around the infinite configurations that it takes to create something as carelessly magnificent as the natural world! Trying to replicate such complexity leaves me humble and wondering, which is probably why I continue to paint! Scroll through the photos below for a brief summary of my process:


One of my Dad's favorite stories to tell includes fishing with 4 year old me on the Beaver Creek near Wibaux, MT, and also includes a silly lesson on patience in the Sandhill Crane's environment. It was a cold morning, and I stubbornly kept edging closer and closer to him as he fished from one of the grass covered islands despite his warning to watch out for the landmine of beaver holes that plagued every foot of the bank. Suddenly, SPLOOSH!!! I got what I deserved and remember a quick flash of reeds, mud, and then complete submersion in the spring-cold water for one second before Dad somehow leaped over and snatched the hood of my jacket, pulling me out just as quickly as I had slipped in. The rest of my morning was spent waving at Dad from the car with my clothes hung on the dash and the heater on full blast as I happily munched on numerous bags of fruit snacks- the perfect ending to a grand adventure in my mind. Oh, to have that childhood joy again. Clearly, I still have to work on that patience part though, and now I have big girl consequences haha. :)

Can you relate? What has nature taught you in life? I would love to know!

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Feb 01, 2020

Whoa cool

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