This multi-part editorial series was based on the “Rise and Thrive: A Lives in Landscape Exhibition” created by Milwaukee artist Brianna Joy Seipel. The project was produced in partnership with LOTUS Legal Clinic and the Untold Stories program.

The mountains are calling and I do not want to go.

Layer by layer, word by word, the girl that I was is stripped away until all that remains is a thumping heart. Pieces of me litter the mountain I climb every time the hurt appears until, raw and naked, I am left begging: one more breath, one more heartbeat, just one more, to make it through the day. Until the day comes when the hurt will not go away. I am not me anymore. I am shattered by the remnants of a life that no longer fits. The hardest mountain I climb is the one within, created from the parts of me left behind that are broken and damaged.

The mountains are calling and I must go.

Layer by layer, word by word, the woman that I am puts herself together from the pieces of me I find upon the mountain: the scent of huckleberry and pine, the creak of the branches, the whistle of the wind, the blue of the water. I fill the mountain with the truths, the experiences, the beauty that come from my damaged and broken parts. For the women that came before me and the women that come after me, I write a guidebook to the mountain that saved my life: it takes time coming back to yourself. Let your voice guide you.

I am the mountain and the view is fucking divine.

Brianna Joy Seipel: Artist Response: I sat at my computer and nearly cried the evening that I first read Alissa’s statement. I too assign a deep personal meaning to the mountains of West Glacier. Her photos and writing resonated within me, and for a moment, I was back in that place. What is it about certain moments in our lives that we never forget — where the beauty of an experience is so intense that it lives within us and becomes part of our story? When we first met, Alissa said that this image represents layers; layers of the mountain, layers of growth, layers of life and the healing process. We discussed various compositions of her photo to best convey this idea. After a few oil sketches to practice the piece, I knew this painting had to be vertical. I particularly love how the length of the waterfall accentuates the mountain’s layers, cutting through its rocky surface with power, clarity, and light.

Alissa Green

Waterfall in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Brianna Joy Seipel
Through her Lives in Landscape™ Project, Brianna Joy Seipel has worked collaboratively, curating exhibitions that honor the stories of remarkable human beings in Milwaukee. By telling their stories through “landscape narratives,” her work highlights the wild beauty of the natural world that is a reflection of the true self we all share. LOTUS Legal Clinic empowers survivors of sexual violence and trafficking. They provide direct, comprehensive legal services, advocacy, and community education, and they invest in survivors as change agents. Serving the state of Wisconsin since 2013, their vision is to create a national model for restoring the dignity, rights, and voices of survivors. As of 2019, Legal Clinic has served 117 survivors through the Untold Stories project, empowering men and women alike to bear witness and share their stories as vehicles for powerful personal and social change. Rise and Thrive: A Lives in Landscape Exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board, with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.