musings from the studio and beyond ~
dawn chandler’s reflections on art and life. . . .
I love Vermont and I miss it.
Though not a physical resident, in the last couple of years I’ve become a resident of the soul of Vermont.
I’ve so much more to reflect on and share about my long walk through the Green Mountain forests.
But I am a physical and soul resident of New Mexico.
And I’ve returned home in the midst of this land’s richest enchantment.
Autumn: that blessed time of year when dry arroyos and woodland floors fill with the gold coins of cottonwood and aspen leaves. New England is renown the world over for its brilliant autumn color. But autumn in New Mexico dazzles no less. Though we may lack the Northeast’s scarlet seas of red maple, our gilded specie is spun with that quintessentially New Mexico fragrance of roasting chiles and pinon wood smoke. And Blue. Sky. Clear and sharp as a jewel.
Journal Entry ~ 8 September 2016 ~ evening ~ Day One
Returning to a personally sacred landscape after a long hiatus is an extraordinary experience.
In a way, it’s as though you never left.
If you’re lucky and your sacred place has not been altered by development, then it’s all so familiar — the terrain, the moss, the breeze and sound of leaves turning, the smell of birch bark and balsam and pine…. It’s as though the year(s) since you left never existed. You were here then, and you’re here now.
And that’s all that matters.
I came off the trail with 100 daunting miles ahead of me.
Today I am back to finish those last 100 miles.
It has been a good day.
I am not without my fears.
I have no idea if my knees — my body — will hold up.
I don’t know if the weather will cooperate.
I don’t know if the terrain will cooperate.
There’s so much I don’t know.
But one thing I do know:
I had to come back.
I have to walk 100 more miles.
What’s funny is I wasn’t going to return this year.
I’d decided this past winter that I would wait until next year. For planning my 2015 journey was so completely consuming in the months leading up to it last year that I just felt it would be wise to give my life a break from that kind of intensity. My body could use a long rest, too, from that kind of endurance.
And my art career needed a long injection of focus after months of being largely distracted by the minutia of preparing for a thru-hike adventure.
So No. Not this year.
I would wait until 2017.
I was determined to wait until 2017 — it was the responsible thing to do — and told myself this again and again and…
Then….on a warm summer Saturday Santa Fe afternoon in June when my thoughts were once again hijacked by an intense yearning for The Trail, a voice in my head suddenly announced, Screw it. I’m going back THIS year.
Which is why
I found myself
on September 11th 2016 summitting Vermont’s highest peak….
two weeks after that
I found myself
finally at my Journey’s End….
More on Dawn’s journey hiking Vermont’s Long Trail:
A week ago my pup and I hiked up to one of our favorite spots high in the forest above Santa Fe.
Take one of the major thoroughfares, then turn off onto a well-used ‘unofficial’ trail; after a ways cross a meadow; make your way through the far evergreen grove and eventually you’ll find another, hidden, meadow. Cross that to the rise on the far side and you’ll find our favorite perch. There’s a decent view there of the surrounding ridge-lines peeking over the treetops, and on some days if we sit just right we can see the plains of the high desert reaching from the outskirts of Santa Fe to the distant blue outline of the Ortiz Mountains.
About this same time last year when we were perched up here painting….
We were just packing up when we heard voices. It’s kind of fun because our perch is really only a few dozen yards from the trail, so we frequently hear hikers, though they are unaware that they have accidental eavesdroppers. In this case it was a man and a woman who seemed to be making there way across the first meadow.
Suddenly I panicked, speculating that they might be searching for a sunny spot for a romantic tryst, soon to be interrupted by my pup and me.
Moments later, after their voices and language became more distinct, did I realize a romantic tryst was definitely not on their agenda. Rather, now I was worried that they might kill each other, with me bearing witness. For they were yelling and calling each other the most unspeakable obscenities all the while hunting for mushrooms. The vitriol shouted back and forth through the forest was enough to discolor my painting. So much for solitude.
I let out a piercing whistle.
I whistled again, even louder.
Then the woman’s voice, a tone of questioning worry, called out, “Hello?”
“Just letting you know you’re not alone up here!”
All was quiet….for less than two minutes, when the battery of shouting insults and expletives reignited.
My Pup and I cut a wide swath around the yelling so as not to encounter them, though their shouts carried through the forest a good ways.
Soon a pair of Australian Shepherd-ish mutts ran up to us and moments later their green-eyed owner appeared — Johnny Depp’s twin brother, I feel sure. Clothed in a way that said gypsy, he was armed with two Trader Joe’s sacks plump with foraged mushrooms.
“Are you with the Love Birds?” I asked, their obscenities reverberating off the trees.
“Unbelievable, eh? Well here’s hoping they shut-up soon, and you’re able to enjoy some solitude and peace up here.”
“No kidding. Thanks! Peace to you, too.”
A year has rolled on since our encounter with the Angry Couple, and mushroom season is upon us again. I expected—hoped—to see some when we returned to our perch a week ago.
But there were none that I could see.
Then Sunday — just a couple days ago — on a different trail, I almost tripped on autumn.
Back to our perch this morning, where I’d hoped to find—now a week later—our small meadow dotted with the spangled red domes of Amanitas as it was last year. But no red appeared, save a swag of paintbrush here and there.
We settled onto our perch. Last week we sat in the sun, with me facing the eastern ridge-line and sunshine. After a few minutes The Pup was panting in the heat, I had to rig a sun shelter for her with my pack and rain jacket.
This time, we sat in shade — easier on The Pup, as well as my eyes as I try to decipher color. After a few minutes of sitting still though, The Pup got up to move into the sun, and I noted with some surprise a definite autumnal chill to the breeze. I pulled my wool sweater out of my pack, the first time all season.
An hour later with clouds building we made our way back down our path, stopping briefly to converse with frustrated mushroom hunters:
“The rains have come late this season. Maybe that’s why there are none.”
“Maybe they’re just delayed, as the rains were. ‘Hope so, anyway…”
Later, back home and on toward dinner time, I turned on my phone after several hours of being ‘unplugged.’ It buzzed — a text from a friend who works near the plaza; he’d sent it 45 minutes earlier: Look up on the peak!
I couldn’t image that whatever he’d seen — maybe a rainbow? a unique cloud formation? — was still there. But it was time for our late afternoon walk, so we’d scope it out from the park.
There, peeking up over the city was….
On Santa Fe Baldy!
16 August 2016.
I never imagined when I felt in the high forest a chill breeze this morning, that it was not autumn in the wind, but rather winter.
I hope the mushrooms don’t mind.
…was the sound as I emptied my PO box this afternoon, depositing most of its contents into the waste bin of recycled trees. Of the 4-inch stack of mail in my little locked cubbie-hole, the only thing worth saving was one magazine: the latest issue of The Long Trail News, the quarterly publication of Vermont’s Green Mountain Club.
I sometimes hesitate to look at The Long Trail News. Because I know I’m going to feel pain when I look at it. The pain of near heart-bursting longing to return to Vermont; to get back on The Trail.
This afternoon was no different. Upon returning home I considered leaving the magazine in my bag, for I felt weary. Weary of the interminable election. Weary of alarming news stories. Weary of the day’s heat. . . of cleaning house. . . of not enough sleep. I needed a break.
Hmmm…Maybe I did want to look at it now, and let my mind escape to Vermont.
Settling into a comfy chair in my living room, mug of tea in one hand and The Long Trail News in the other, I started, for whatever reason, at the back, on the last page. There I found “From the Journal of Idgie,” by a woman I’d met on the trail. Though she likely wouldn’t remember me, we shared a room with several others at Inn at Long Trail two weeks into my hike. She started her hike on September 13th and finished on October 6th. Four weeks — just a little shy of what I’d hoped to hike it in.
But she finished.
And I haven’t.
My heart tightened a little with envy.
I skimmed forward a few pages, noting articles and announcements I’ll return to later, for more careful reading.
Then I got to the center of the magazine, where my heart constricted as I read the huge bold headline:
YOU DID IT!
171 Hikers Complete 272-Mile Footpath Through Green Mountains: Congratulation to the following hikers who walked the rugged footpath over the Green Mountain Range from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border and became Long Trail end-to-enders.
And there listed were the names of the 171 thru-hikers of 2015.
I would have been 172.
I swallowed hard, and read through the names, my mind a stew of envy coupled with joy as I recognized my trail brethren: Mathieu “MapMat” Bastien – Montreal, QC; Justin “Juke Box” Bondesen – Bryant Pond, ME; Fred “Tater Salad” Beddall & Kristen “Swift” Sykes – Florence, MA; Reid “Mowgli” Van Keulen – Kingston, NH; Anna “Idgie”Stevens – Storeham, VT.
No “Dawn ‘TaosDawn’ Chandler”
My lips tightened across my mouth as I wiped the corner of my eye.
Next year, damint. My name will be there next year!
I let out a sigh, turned the page, and admired a beautiful two-page spread of photographs of Long Trail Shelters.
Upon the page these rustic structures sit like wise Buddhas, nestled among the trees. Some I know intimately from nights spent and meals had upon their plank floors. The one in the center on the far right is Montclair Glen — the last Long Trail shelter I laid eyes on, for it was there on September 27, 2015 where I limped off the trail. . . .
My eyes curved around the page . . . .
. . . and There was my name.
Above my name was a poem — my poem — one I’d written earlier this spring, and submitted on a whim to The Long Trail News.
Amulets Along Vermont’s Long Trail
My hand bolts
the alarm on my watch
tucked in the spidered corner
of this worn wooden shelter.
No one rises
earlier than I
slow with the weight
of a half-century
so as not to awaken
strangers with whom I’ve shared
intimacy of sleep.
Narrow funnel of light
channeling from my forehead
I stuff my bed, my food, my sodden clothes
into my pack, gather
my pen, my pages, my damp socks
lace my boots, and stagger,
hefting my small, heavy world
onto my back.
Patting my pockets,
my map presses my hip, my
compass my breast, my knife
folded against my waist,
as I bandage my prayer within
my father’s red bandana
wrapped around my knee
as I entwine my prayer
etched in two bands of silver
encircling my wrists.
I breathe in and breathe out
Rumi’s prayer in curls
of wet birch bark
as I step into the damp night
by Dawn ‘TaosDawn’ Chandler
2015 Long Trail Hiker
When My Good Man revealed this weekend that he is on the “waiting list” for this year’s La Luz Trail Run, and that he wanted to do a training run up there this weekend, my painter’s mind started scheming.
My last plein air painting excursion was in early April. After an enthusiastic kickoff to plein air season with 12 paintings made in March and early April, I fell off to zero this month. ‘ Just got busy with other things. Busy with studio painting. Busy with computer work and the busy business of being an artist. But we’ve been having another unusually moist and green and gorgeous spring, and really it’s been frustrating that I haven’t been out painting it.
So there we were: 6:15 Sunday morning at the La Luz Trail. My Good Man took off running in shorts and a t-shirt and a plan to turn around in an hour and hike back down. I set off in my paint-spattered “man pants” (a pair of Orvis canvas men’s pants handed down from my brother and which I utterly love due to their supreme baggy comfort) + a raggedy paint-gungy sweatshirt + a broad-brimmed straw hat purchased on a blindingly sunny day at Ojo Caliente last summer + my small paint pack (as opposed to my large paint pack). [We left The Pup back home to enjoy a leisurely Sunday morning to herself. Much as we love to take her with us on our trail excursions, if one of us takes off ahead of the other, then she pulls on the leash fiercely and incessantly trying to bring us all together, making it most unpleasant for whoever is holding the leash.] My plan was to hike uphill for 15 minutes, find a spot to sit and try to pull together a painting before catching My Man on his descent a little while later.
Off he went, and off I followed. The morning was cool enough that, despite already wearing two layers, I threw in a wool sweater just in case I got chilled while sitting and painting.
Fifteen minutes later my phone alarm buzzed and, looking around, I spotted a great vantage point just above one of the switchbacks. Got comfy, opened my mini paint box and…. DAMNIT! No paint thinner in my little jar. Ugh. This meant I had no way to clean my brushes between colors, nor any way to moisten the stiff paint. Grrrrrrr. . . . My first plein air painting in weeks and already I’m off to an inauspicious start. Crap.
I was half tempted to just call it quits right then, but DANG IT! I really wanted to paint! So I decided to make due with stiff paint, and just wipe my brush with paper towels, which fortunately I had plenty of.
Of the three panels in my kit, I chose one that I had stained a dark purply-blue brown. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I usually stain my panels a warm orange. But if I know the scene is going to have a lot of deep shadows, sometimes I stain the panel dark. And being so early in the morning, most of the landscape was still in deep shadow, with the sun still low behind me and the Sandias.
Sometimes capturing a scene with paint is a real struggle. This morning though, despite lacking paint thinner, something just clicked. So much for inauspicious!
Okay. That was fun. And satisfying. And peaceful. And meditative. And it felt kind of sneaky, too, for as I sat there, at least a dozen hikers and runners passed not four yards from where I was sitting, yet I went completely unnoticed. ‘felt like I was getting away with something.
Indeed, I enjoyed myself so much, and so reveled in the light and color and refreshing coolness of the early morning trail that I decided to do it all over again the next day.
Monday morning 6:45, armed with coffee and my trusty sidekick whining in the backseat with barely bridled anticipation, I turned off Tramway Blvd. onto Forest Service Road 333. With an 8:30 appointment to meet a friend for breakfast at Flying Star, I was feeling a little pressed for time and wondered if the La Luz Trail was realistic.
No, it wasn’t.
Rather, I took the first right up to La Cueva Picnic Site — some place I’d never been, having only learned about it the day before from a USFS elder volunteer, who described it as “underused.” I’d say that’s an understatement, for The Pup and I had the place to ourselves and— AND!—we saw not one speck of trash nor bit of graffiti.
Incidentally, the pay fee here and at La Luz is $3. But because it’s Federal land, my handy America the Beautiful National Park Pass gets us in. Best, most worthwhile $80 you’ll spend all year. Get one.
A scramble up an unmarked trail, and soon we found ourselves perched on a rock above the morning city.
Once again we were hidden just a few yards from a trail, and once again we went completely unnoticed by hikers. The Pup seems to know the game of stealth, and knows to sit alert and still, watching quietly as the hikers walk by.
Two perfect mornings in a row. You can be sure we’ll be coming back.
And next time I may just purposefully leave my paint thinner at home!