A Gift, a Fox, and an Epiphany on Isle Royale

The most rewarding thing about this quest has been an unexpected gift. It’s proof of what happens when you leave your comfort zone – truly – ignore the cliche.

Both Andres and I have felt the rays of inspiration igniting a fire of creation, one that many artists can relate to. I think it’s what happens when you dive into the unknown; all the new sights, sounds, experiences and stories open avenues that lead us to the next version of ourselves. We are constantly changing, but when the outer change is extreme, the resulting reaction is equally extreme.

Imagine the best and worst moments of your life.

Those key moments probably felt like seeds being scattered by a hurricane rather than jostled by a light breeze.

In my case the reaction to this quest has been positively windy: a rediscovery of my painting voice. I first noticed the rediscovery in Yellowstone, and the reaction has been snowballing ever since.

This journey began as a child immersed in art school for six years, but diverted early in college when a thirst for knowledge drowned me out of the studios. I learned the theories and techniques, painted a lot, yet had nothing to paint about – not really. So instead I studied geography, cartography, then environmental studies, then design, then travel, and then national parks. Along the way I left a trail of unfinished paintings while holding odds and ends jobs to “gain experience in the real world”.

Now I’ve finished one of my first paintings in 10 years and it’s all thanks to a little fox who approached me in Isle Royale National Park. Here’s the story:

24″ x 36″ Digital Painting, A Woman and a Fox. © 2016 Karla Sanders All Rights Reserved.
Detail of 24″ x 36″ Digital Painting, A Woman and a Fox. © 2016 Karla Sanders All Rights Reserved.

A magical thing happened on Isle Royale.

I was sloshing along in boots heavy with rain water, my dark mood reflecting everything cold, weary and wrong in the world.

Suddenly, a blur of movement. I turned and jumped. The orange fox jumped back. Then he approached again, cautiously, slinking close to the ground as if I might strike. He was muddy and wet, and his snout sniffed toward my hand, clearly beckoning for something I could not give. All was still, all was quiet, save for the quickening of my heartbeat against the breath held tightly in my throat. He sat. I stood. We stared at each other for a handful of seconds. Then he vanished into the tall grass.

I had no epiphany then, no light bulb moment.

At the time I only felt a deep appreciation for this creature who melted my heart and brightened my mood. I cooed and laughed as those who love animals would do. It was so simple. He would stay there in the relentless rain searching for food, while I would soon go back to pure comfort.

Later it occurred to me: other animals simply exist and go on about their ways without complaint, running along from failure to victory to failure again. They get wet, they get muddy, they get food, they get cold, and many get eaten in the natural cycle of prey and predator. They are born and they die. Nothing tragic about it, only what we read into it all.

The brief encounter has stayed with me and its significance magnified over time, leading to a series of small epiphanies and bursts of creation.

I saw a fairytale there and decided to depict a dreamy reimagining of the moment. A woman kneeling in a sea of solitude, brought out of her turbulent thoughts by the presence of a kindred spirit. This is smiling into the face of simple existence, leaving behind all the trials and tribulations as we move ever onward, carrying a blue rose of impossible hope against any darkness of the day.

The fox, who come right up to you, were also drenched.
The real fox who approached on the island of Isle Royale, equally wet and equally muddy.


  1. To be able to paint (or even draw) experiences is one thing i’ve always admired about my artistic friends, and I’ve always wanted to have that skill. Your work looks amazing, Karla! You are so talented!

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