Stowe Vermont autumn leaves collected by artist Dawn Chandler
Last year when I came crippled off my backpacking journey, I left the trail two weeks earlier than planned. October lane in Stowe Vermont photo by artist Dawn Chandler
The frugal thing to do would have been to change my travel plans and return promptly home to New Mexico.

Fourteen days earlier and just five days into my Long Trail thru-hike, when my knees first started arguing with me, I feared I would have to abandon my walk. Sick with anxiety and the question of what to do, a fellow hiker urged me: Don’t give up. Change your plans if you have to. So you make it a section hike rather than a thru hike? Go take a zero day. Rest and ice those knees. Then come back to the trail. Maybe just for a day hike. Check it out. See how it feels. Then another day hike. Maybe you only make it this time to Killington. But you go back and you try again. You’ve done all this work to get here, you’ve put aside all of this time to be here in Vermont. Then be here.

Be here.

That’s what I wanted to do, even after leaving the trail: Keep myself immersed in Vermont — in New England. Now. But in a different way. Let my journey continue, but maybe from wheels rather than feet.  Maybe along back roads rather than forest trails. Maybe staring out to distant mountains from the swaddled warmth of a woven blanket and a white rocking chair on a maple leaf garlanded porch while my knees rested….Or from the northern Vermont acreage of an old tree farm and a mowed pathway through autumn fields with a new canine friend as companion….

my Hinesburg Vermont sanctuary photo by artist Dawn Chandler

Thanks to the touching generosity of my ever-expanding Vermont tribe, I was able to reshape my journey in a deeply healing way. Part of the gift My Tribe gave me was that of solitude: Time to reflect on my path. I spent the last days of my sojourn alone in a beautiful home with no real connection to the outside world. No computer. No cell phone. Just me. And quiet.
Somewhere in there I purchased an inexpensive set of watercolors, brush and paper. For, though I could be without news and music for days on end, I couldn’t be without Art. And so in those silent days of healing I wrote. I read. I thought. And I painted.

travel watercolor set and studio, here in Vermont photo by artist Dawn Chandler

 

A year later…and I’ve now finished my journey.

This year within 24 hours of hiking past the final white blaze of my 274-mile walk, my senses were accosted by the jeers of a media carnival. The world exploded into my solace.
Now with each unfolding media drama, the connection to my walking peace seems ever more tenuous, as though access to that tranquility were a fairy tale magic doorway that’s accessible only for a precious short time before evaporating in a cloud of faerie dust.  My focus since returning to the [un]real world has shriveled, as each headline fights for my attention; my usual early bedtime protracts later and later while my head spits and spins with the mental vomit of media-fed thoughts.

No.

I can’t do this.
I won’t do this.

This morning before sunup I lock away my laptop and phone in the cabinet.
I enter my studio.
Deep breath.
I spread my Long Trail map on my table.
I dig out my journal from last year’s hike and — what’s this?

…out spill those little watercolor studies I’ve not seen in a year.

I trace my finger across the painted contour of a maple leaf.

My mind is peaceful again.

 

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