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musings from the studio and beyond ~

dawn chandler’s reflections on art and life. . . .

 

walking away from social media ~ one year later

What was getting to me was the sense that I was being manipulated, that someone else was controlling my attention.

I’d login with seeming innocent intentions — to see what friends were up to, or if anyone appreciated what I’d shared — and plan to spend just a couple of minutes doing it.


But of course it never ended up being “just a couple of minutes.” Inevitably it would turn into quite a few “couple of minutes.” I’d glance at the clock upon logging out and feel an ache of regret. Did I really just burn up that much time?!

Clock on fire image by Sergy Nivens.

Image by Sergy Nivens.

It didn’t matter how little or much time I spent there, it always — always — sapped my focus from how I had intended to spend my day. My mental acuity vanished as my thoughts scattered and ricocheted after scrolling FaceBook and Instagram. Even if my engagement was primarily upbeat (I’d blocked politics, news and unpleasant people ages ago), social media always carried my imagination away from the focused work I wanted and needed to do. Every time I logged on, I tacitly agreed to have my attention and energy hijacked away from my here and now.

Tech Eye Image by Sergy Nivens.

Image by Sergy Nivens.

Furthermore, despite promises of enriching my life and deepening my friendships, I had the strong sense it was doing the opposite. Although some interactions were enjoyable, I noticed that my social media engagement seemed to be dulling my attention and mental sharpness with a predominantly slick and sticky film of crowded nattering, glibness and evermore mental and emotional clutter.

I sensed this during my years of social media use, but it wasn’t until I finally walked away from social media last June that I realized the absolute truth of it.

When finally I hit the Permanently delete my account button on FaceBook, I was overcome with an unmistakable rush.

It was the rush of LIBERATION.

Definition of the word Liberation from Lexico.com

Definition via lexico.com

It was as though I’d been released from a surreal other dimension. In an instant I felt lighter, carefree.

Until I remembered that I was only partly liberated.

I’d freed myself from FaceBook, but I was still chained to Instagram, and the thought of that chain made me queasy.

Instagram was harder for me to leave. As a visual artist, I’m a sucker for all things visually enticing, which is pretty much the definition of Instagram. And I had been convinced that social media — and IG especially — was required to be a successful 21st-century artist.

Grid of Instagram Like hearts.

But Instagram took even more of my time and energy than Facebook. I spent hours carefully tweaking images and curating my post feed with an eye toward artistry, beauty and cohesion. I paid for image apps, advertising, and compiled lengthy lists of hashtags all in hopes of enticing more Likes/hearts.

I took a workshop in How to Build a Following on Instagram, and paid a hefty annual fee for a social media scheduling app that allowed me to plan my posts days, weeks even months in advance. I blocked out hours each week to create, plan, schedule and engage with “content.” And of course I checked for approval compulsively, my validation as an artist sinking to how many cartoon hearts and “followers” I’d gleaned.

Guess what?

Time spent on Instagram supposedly promoting my art meant time away from the actual making of art.
If I was scrolling, then I sure as hell wasn’t painting.

Originally when I made the decision to leave FaceBook, I decided I would stay on Instagram another month or two at least, and then assess how I was managing it. Was it possible for me to maintain and reap the purported benefits of IG without letting it hijack my time and ego?

Maybe?

Not. A. Chance.

Maybe other folks can do that, but I knew from past experience that I could not. The fact that monstrous fortunes have been invested to engineer social media to be as seductive, irresistible and addictive as possible is too much tech and psychological wizardry aimed at ensnaring my ego for me to fend off the seduction with “moderation.”

And even if I could, the thought of still being tethered to any of these addictive platforms turned my queasiness into literal nausea.

In the end, it was a 19-year-old professional sport climber who removed any hesitancy I had about leaving Instagram. A couple hours after I deleted my FaceBook account, I read On Social Media and Character, a post by Cal Newport, author of the indispensable Digital Minimalism. In it he relays the story of sport climber Madison Fischer and her struggle with — and ultimate release from — her obsession with social media.

First I read Cal’s post, which promptly lead me to reading Madison’s own post Why Ditching Instagram Earned Me the Podium

That was all it took: Four hours after deleting my FaceBook account, I deleted my Instagram account.
Permanently.

Leaping woman runner image by Sergy Nivens.

Image by Sergy Nivens.

That was a year ago.

What has life been like since?

It has felt…. s p a c i o u s.

More than anything what I have experienced is an opening-up.

The first time I went to paint after killing my FaceBook and Instagram accounts, I experienced a remarkable feeling of weightlessness, of freedom. I remember standing in front of my easel, my eyes suddenly wide and saying aloud to myself with a tone of awe, I can paint anything I want now!

Which is interesting. For of course I could always paint whatever I wanted.

Yet now without the crowd on social media judging what I shared, suddenly I became aware of just how much I had let my desire for Likes dictate what kind of art I worked on and shared.
Now liberated from the gerbil wheel of garnering Likes, I had freed myself to focus on work that likely would have been less “popular” on my FaceBook and Instagram feeds, but was ultimately more challenging — and therefore more interesting and satisfying — for me to create. Work that stretches me.

Another thing I noticed was that the instant I deleted my accounts, I became calmer. It was as though a stadium roar in my head was suddenly silenced. I felt present, my thoughts clear.

Having eschewed FaceBook and Instagram, I don’t look at screens nearly as much as I used to, and that has opened up time for more analog pleasures like reading real books, writing real letters — two slow and thoughtful activities among many that are deeply important to me but that had become diminished by time on social media.

Leaving social media has made space and time in my life for more solitude. For contemplation.

Book transforming into a grass road with distant solitary woman backpacker image by Vitalii Bashkatov.

Image by Vitalii Bashkatov.

Also, it’s interesting to note that some of my friendships have deepened since leaving Facebook and Instagram. Rather than “connecting” via public broadcasts shared with everyone and no one in particular, certain friends and I are back to having real conversations. We are picking up the phone, we are writing letters. Our communications have become slower, yet more considered, more enriching.

It’s been lovely.

As to the worry about whether a 21st-century artist can survive and succeed without being on social media, that worry proved to be for naught. Case in point: a rather astonishing creative opportunity has come my way despite not being on social media. I’m convinced that the space and creative focus I’ve found since leaving the distractions of FaceBook and Instagram allowed me to do the creative work that ultimately lead to this opportunity.

I should emphasize that by leaving social media, I neither left the internet nor walked away from technology. Rather I’ve become much more mindful of and deliberate in the ways I engage with tech. To use Cal Newport’s term, I’ve sought to become a digital minimalist.

Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.

~ Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Since walking away from FaceBook and Instagram, there are people whom I was very fond of on those platforms with whom I’m not in touch much anymore. But I am confident that if they and I are meant to have meaningful friendships, then the universe eventually will find a way to put us in touch.

And sure, I’m not up on the latest fad or meme or viral video or political grievance or whosie-whatsit.
I don’t miss any of that.

You know what the real downside of my leaving social media is?

.
. .
. . .
. . . .

When I think of it, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Tech eye image by Sergy Nivens.

Image by Sergy Nivens.


recommended reading

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

Deep Work by Cal Newport

The War of Art by Steve Pressfield

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown


Artist Dawn Chandler walks along an Oregon beach with her sweet pup. Photo by Joe Beman.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings. If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Peruse and shop for my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020

My sweet pup & me on the Oregon coast.
Photo by ace photographer Joe T.R. Beman.

spring & the hardest color to paint

Watercolor washes in Dawn Chandler's sketchbook

As a young art student I often heard that one color is especially hard to paint .

Care to guess which one?

For the untrained eye it can be intimidating to look out to a verdant landscape and figure out now how to differentiate and mix green.

Maybe that’s why a comment my Aunt Anne made to me more than thirty years ago was so eye-opening to me.

It was late May of my first year in grad school, and I had just arrived on Mount Desert Island to spend the summer living with her. The lilac were just coming into bloom in Maine — quite a bit later than down in Philadelphia.

Soon after I arrived my aunt gave me a tour of the island. At one point during our drive, she gestured to the trees ahead and said, “I love these soft greens of Spring; they’re so varied. By mid-summer the trees all become the same green and it feels heavy and oppressive.”

Watercolor sketches by artist Dawn Chandler celebrating the subtleties of spring greens.

I was struck.


How had I, an aspiring painter, lived into my twenties without noticing the variety of green before?
Was it because in my childhood the showy pinks, purples and yellows of springtime blooms stole my attention?

Or had I simply spent too many springs dreaming of being elsewhere?
Year after year of my high school and college years I obsessively yearned for summer. For summertime meant heading west for three months of adventure in New Mexico! In my youth, spring was something to get through till summer.

No wonder I paid no mind to spring subtleties; they were beyond me.

Watercolor sketches by artist Dawn Chandler celebrating the subtleties of spring greens.

In the decades since those youthful summer high-adventure obsessions, I’ve striven to become more present. I don’t know if that’s just me, or an age thing. But I do know that this year especially I’ve been even more attuned to the nuanced greening of spring. I’ve thought often of my aunt’s observation and how resonates for me still.

Watercolor sketches by artist Dawn Chandler celebrating the subtleties of spring greens.

I’m writing this in Summit County, Colorado. As I made the drive last week from 7000 ft Santa Fe to 9000 ft Frisco, it seemed I was traveling backwards in time. Spring is a longtime coming up here. As I climbed in elevation, I was let down to realize I’m too early for the aspen leaves. In late May the Rockies in these parts are cloaked with the drab brownish-green of lodgepole pine, and tawny grey curtains of leafless aspen glens. Snow still caps the surrounding peaks, and streams are edged in ice. The other day a hike up to my favorite aspen grove was an immersion into brown, black, white and grey, with nary a sign of green in the branches.

Watercolor sketches by artist Dawn Chandler celebrating the subtleties of spring greens.

But today?


Today all that seems to be changing. On sunny slopes the color of the Rockies is beginning to transform. Along a bright brook the first hint of green is exhaling among the aspens; brown buds are beginning to unfurl into young yellow-green leaves. As I pause again just now and let my gaze linger, I note subtle variations of green and think of how pleased my aunt would be.

And when I swirl my brush on my palette just now, I realize that, whenever I pause to really notice and consider the color in the landscape and on my palette, painting green isn’t so intimidating after all.

Dawn Chandler's watercolor palette.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings. If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog so you catch all my occasional musings. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy these writings, please feel free to share this post with them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Peruse and shop for my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

Me in my studio with my Watercolor Wanderings Series on the wall.


big sky and the war of art

For years several 24’ x 36’ stretched canvases were tucked in a corner of my studio. Every time I looked at them I had a smoldering desire to transform them into paintings. Yet year after year they sat there, untouched.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Ahhh the War of Art, as Steve Pressfield rightly calls it. Another of Steve’s accurate words for it: Resistance.

Even though a part of me longed to paint these larger canvases, subconsciously I’d made up all kinds of excuses to not paint them:

I’m too busy with other art projects…

I don’t know if I have the energy to shift creative gears like that

Do I have enough studio space to work larger

Do I even have a market for larger landscapes

Will larger pieces even sell on Etsy?

RESISTANCE, every one of them.

Finally this winter I realized I was just plain tired of painting small.

So I pulled out those 2′ x 3′ canvases and began preparing them for paintings. My theme for these canvases would be — SURPRISE! — the New Mexico sky, and the new series would be called New Mexico Big Sky Vistas. I have thousands of sky photos that I always figured would make majestic larger paintings; now to choose a few and get busy.

Digital collage of photos of New Mexico skies by artist Dawn Chandler.

What’s funny or kismit or serendipitous or beautifully coincidental is that within a few days of pulling out those canvases, the husband of a dear long-ago friend contacted me: He was seeking a special gift for his beloved’s 50th birthday this April, and, when coming across one of my cards, he suddenly had the idea to give her one of my paintings.

Evidently there was some planetary realignment going on, for he was seeking a large — 2’ x 3’ — New Mexico landscape, ideally with an emphasis on sky.

Kismit indeed.

Unfortunately I had decided a couple of years ago that I would no longer do commissions. Although everyone I’ve ever done a painting for has been lovely and appreciative, the truth is I don’t enjoy the pressure of painting to please someone other than myself. And besides, I have far, far too many of my own painting projects that I want to focus on.

However — fortunately! — what he was seeking was exactly what I was planning on creating, and soon.
I was confident that I could have two or three Vistas completed within a few weeks. I offered to let him see the paintings before making them available to anyone else, and if one really spoke to him, it was his to purchase.

laura’s new mexico

To our mutual delight this played out exactly as proposed, and I’m deeply satisfied that come April he presented New Mexico Big Sky Vista, No. 1 to his wife, my friend Laura:

New Mexico Big Sky Vista, No 1, contemporary landscape painting in oil by artist Dawn Chandler
New Mexico Big Sky Vista, No. 1 ~ Laura’s New Mexico
by Dawn Chandler
oil on canvas ~ 24″ x 36″ ~ private collection

He made the perfect choice, IMHO, for it being the first painting I did after our arrangement, I had Laura on my mind a great deal as I painted it.

The scene here is in Rio Arriba County, on that stretch of land between Espanola and Velarde. Any time I drive that section of road my gaze is pulled like a magnet to those hills east of Hwy 68. The maze of arroyos and mesas holds so much mystery. My mind brims with imaginings of history and stories that I I’ll never know. And the clouds! Especially on a summer’s afternoon the clouds can just be …well, enchanting.

The photo which this painting is based was one of dozens I snapped during a summer’s afternoon a few years ago, during one of our all-too-rare “rain years.” The high desert was green — for when the high desert gets a good rain, it literally turns from brown to green overnight.

THIS DAY I was coming back form Colfax or Taos County and the clouds were especially magnificent. My eyes shone bright as I snapped image upon image, knowing these photos would make wonderful paintings. Despite that realization, it wasn’t until this year that I finally got around to translating one of those photos into a painting!

abiquiu afternoon anticipation

New Mexico Big Sky Vista, No. 2 — Abiquiu Afternoon Anticipation will be familiar to my TuesdayDawnings circle and anyone who follows my Dawn Chandler Painting Folio blog, for I revealed this one to a few weeks ago:

New Mexico Big Sky Vista, No 2, contemporary landscape painting in oil by artist Dawn Chandler
New Mexico Big Sky Vista, No. 2 ~ Abiquiu Afternoon Anticipation
by Dawn Chandler
oil on canvas ~ 24″ x 36″ ~ available here

As the subtitle reveals this is out in “O’Keeffe Country.” I’ve countless fond memories of this landscape, especially from last year, when it served a welcome escape from Covid isolation for My Good Man and me. For a string of late summer weekends, we’d drive out there each Saturday afternoon, enchanted by the clouds dancing over red earth and sage brush. Eventually we’d make our way to a secret spot, and dine on homemade sourdough bread and soup, while watching the sun set over the lake.

taos calling me home

With the third New Mexico Big Sky Vista I return to a view loved by so many of us, and one which I’ve painted several times before (and which I’ll likely paint many more times). I can’t imagine ever tiring of it:

New Mexico Big Sky Vista, No 3 - Taos Calling Me Home, contemporary landscape painting of Taos' Rio Grande Gorge, in oil by artist Dawn Chandler
New Mexico Big Sky Vista, No. 3 ~ Taos Calling Me Home
by Dawn Chandler
oil on canvas ~ 24″ x 36″ ~ available here

Obviously I’m especially enchanted by the high desert during “rain years” and clearly, based on how green that sagebrush plain is, this painting captures a moment of one such year.

When I painted this, I debated whether or not to include the road — Hwy 68. I’m glad I did, for I like the way it suggests that when we take that turn off and out of the canvas toward those mountains — the Sangre de Cristos — further adventure awaits.

For the fourth large canvas, I’m taking a slight detour from New Mexico and heading north. Just a wee sojourn as I delve, thanks to a special request, into some memories of Wyoming’s big sky vistas.

Whether New Mexico or Wyoming — no matter. It just feels darn good to resist the resistance and finally get some paint on these large canvases. Yay!

Landscape painting in progress - Autumn Morning, Brush Creek Ranch, Wyoming, by Dawn Chandler
In progress: Autumn Morning, Brush Creek Ranch, Wyoming
by Dawn Chandler
oil on canvas ~ 24″ x 36″

Artist Dawn Chandler in her Santa Fe studio.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings. If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog so you catch all my occasional musings. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy these writings, please feel free to share this post with them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

Me in my studio with my Watercolor Wanderings Series on the wall.


new mexico sky musings ~ a new release

There was a time a long time ago when I considered signing my name on my paintings with my initials, because a landscape painter named “Dawn” seemed a little too sweet, maybe even cliche´.

Sunrise, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler

I’m glad I got over that.

According to my mother, it was my father who suggested “Dawn.”

I’m so grateful that he did.*

Half a century since that that bestowement, I realize my life has largely become a dedication to — an honoring of — that name. Whether it be in my regular early morning risings to witness my namesake spread across the sky, or whether it be in my constant striving with paint and brush to capture the ever-changing New Mexico sky, I can’t help but think that my father’s naming of me was both a blessing and a pathway.

I’m a child of nature and an outdoors women; there are infinite aspects to the outdoors and the landscape that I love. During a recent walk in February snow, I was reminded of how much I adore seeing tracks in snow, especially of the birds who dart around my feeders. I love noting how the rabbit and coyote tracks reveal otherwise invisible passageways. I love the purple-blue shadows at the base of the chamisa and sage, and how the snow mounds like uneven globes on their gold clusters.

Scenes of winter in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler

I love how the snow etches the branches of the cottonwoods and elms, revealing the “bones of the trees.”

An elm tree in snow, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler

Every season out here has its uniquely gorgeous details, of course.

But for me, more than anything, it’s the sky that calls to me; it’s the sky I can’t ignore.
It’s the sky I can never forget.

And it’s the sky I keep returning to in my paintings.

Today — March 2nd — would have been my father’s 90th birthday.
It seems an auspicious day to release to the world my newest painting series: New Mexico Sky Musings.

I’ve been working on this series off and on for a couple of years, first hinting at it in one of my newsletters and sharing another in my springtime card last year. Other than that, I’ve kept these paintings close, developing them slowly, enjoying their presence, not wanting to part with them too soon.

A digital collage of segments of New Mexico Sky Musings, a new series of semi-abstract landscape paintings by artist Dawn Chandler.

Each is inspired by the New Mexico sky, yet each is abstracted, at least partly so. Most don’t attempt to capture a specific location, though some do, especially the first few.
Others, as I’ve developed them and landscape passages have emerged from the abstraction, I’ve been reminded of specific places and memories. When that happens, I often push or develop the sense of that place more.

These are skies of my imagination seeped in New Mexico memories, mixed with wildness of texture and color and feeling. They’re diary skies, reflecting my moods and emotions while immersed in artistic creation.

A digital collage of segments of New Mexico Sky Musings, a new series of semi-abstract landscape paintings by artist Dawn Chandler.

All are mixed media, primarily a combination of collage (papers with text) and acrylic paint, though some have colored pencil, ink and graphite. Most are what I call “textual,” in that they incorporate text — my writing — into the paintings. In the case of all of these, the writings are from my journal reflections and observations of the land and sky of Northern New Mexico.

The New Mexico Sky Musings are created on heavy watercolor paper and each is mounted to an 8” x 8” x .75” panel, the sides of which are painted grey; the backs are wired for immediate display.

Several New Mexico Sky Musings, a new series of semi-abstract landscape paintings by artist Dawn Chandler.

I’ll be releasing my New Mexico Sky Musings to collectors this month — a new one every few days — on my online art gallery store on Etsy.

If you want to keep a close watch, keep an eye to my Etsy shop and/or my website at taosdawn.com

Here now are the first two:

New Mexico Sky Musing, No. 1, contemporary abstract landscape in mixed media by artist Dawn Chandler.

New Mexico Sky Musing, No. 1 (above) ~ mixed media on paper mounted on panel ~ 8 x 8 inches
This is one that is, indeed, inspired by a specific place: The view from a friend’s home on Taos Mesa, looking east to the sun-lit Sangres one beautiful late summer evening — an evening that I’ve revisited several times in my paintings. For that that was a day when My Good Man and I had attempted to climb Wheeler Peak, but, just as we were breaking out above the treeline, had to turn around due to an impending storm. By the time we got back down to our car, cold rain was dumping down.
New Mexico Sky Musing, No. 1 is available here.

As we descended down the road and out of the mountains, dramatic clouds were moving across the sky, with sunlight streaming through them. The sky remained that way all the rest of the afternoon into evening. It was a day — and sky — I’ll never forget.

New Mexico Sky Musing, No. 2, contemporary abstract landscape in mixed media by artist Dawn Chandler.

New Mexico Sky Musing, No. 2 (above) ~ mixed media on paper mounted on panel ~ 8 x 8 inches
This one actually sold soon after I created it to a collector who was visiting my studio. It wasn’t even mounted on a panel yet, yet he fell in love with it. Living in the upper Midwest, this wee painting captured for him the essence of New Mexico. I love the play of warm and cool colors, and how that tall rectangle feels like a doorway into the sky. I also love the ambiguity of that horizontal patch of brilliant light blue just about the greenery: is it water? sky? I like the mystery.

One thing that I really enjoy about my New Mexico Sky Musings: They really seem much larger than they are, capturing the grandeur of the western landscape on a small scale. Though diminutive in size, they pack a big punch.

And they’re signed not with my initials, but with the name my father gave me, and proudly so.

  • “Dawn” was an uncommon name back in 1964. Proof in point: In all my life I’ve only ever met one other person older than me named “Dawn.”

Thank you for being here and reading my musings. If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog so you catch all my occasional musings. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy these writings, please feel free to share this post with them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

Me in my studio with my Watercolor Wanderings Series on the wall.

autumn across america

Late afternoon fence line, Brush Creek Ranch, Wyoming. Photo by Dawn Chandler

When I was a teenager there were two places at home where I liked to do my homework. If I really needed to concentrate — say when writing a paper — I would work at my little desk in my tiny bedroom. At the end of a narrow-book-lined corridor upstairs, it was about as isolated as I could get from my family.

But mostly my favorite place to study was in the downstairs front hall. The hub of the ground floor, it was just a few yards away from the kitchen, where in the late afternoons my mother would be found cooking supper, filling the house with hearty fragrance, always with NPR or PBS in the background. This time of year — if we were lucky and the mood struck her — the kitchen aromas might include a nod to her New England upbringing with the perfect autumnal pairing of apple sauce and gingerbread.

Warmth, good smells, a backdrop of simmering sounds, the front hall had a bit of the ambience of a coffee shop: solitude, but not too much solitude; quiet, but not too much quiet; good energy, but not frenetic.

Dawn Chandler's cartoon sketch of the front hall table in her family home.

I worked most school days at the front hall table — some might call it a desk, with its two drawers — which sat beside the stairs, across from the heavy front door. The table hailed from the 19th century and was dinged and scratched with history. Its couple of drawers were crammed with phone books (remember those?), old PTA rosters, county info, pads of ruled yellow paper, and misfit pens and pencils. On its surface sat a phone, and next to that a reading lamp as well as a small miscellany of “nature books.” These books were of absolutely zero interest to me. I don’t remember ever cracking them open, though my parents might occasionally reach for the Peterson’s guide if an unusual bird showed up at the dining room window feeder. To me the books on the front hall table were nothing more than hallway decor.

Memory sketch of the front hall table in my childhood home.
Note the left drawer pull is missing; in its stead is an irremovable rusty screw, (wrapped in tape to prevent injury).

Years later when my parents made the tough decision to downsize and move out of my childhood home, a few hundred books made it to their new apartment, while hundreds more were donated to the local library. I brought back boxes of books to my New Mexico home, but the small collection of outdated nature books on the front hall table were not among them.

One of Dawn Chandler's watercolor work areas in her Santa Fe home. Photo by Dawn Chandler

But the front hall table was! and it now sits in my own “hall” at the intersection of my kitchen, living room, bathroom and studio. Frequently the site of writing and watercolor explorations, the surface is once again cluttered with my “homework.” The drawers once again contain the accoutrements of communication: pens and pencils, assorted papers and envelopes, and town and county info. Here is where I often work on my weekly TuesdayDawnings and — as now — the occasional blog post.

One autumn day last year as I sat here at the hall table crafting an October edition of TuesdayDawnings and researching autumn verses, I chanced upon a beautiful statement:

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.

The author of those words is one Edwin Way Teale, a writer unknown to me although his name seemed vaguely familiar. It seemed the quote had been excerpted from a 1956 book of his titled Autumn Across America.

Intrigued by the appealing title, I decided to look up the book, never expecting that doing so would suddenly catapult me to being 17 again sitting at the front hall table poring over my homework with sounds of my mother emanating from the kitchen.

For the book cover of Autumn Across America was instantly familiar to me, the recognition so immediate and palpable that I it caught my breath: it was one of the books that had sat for some 40 years in the little tabletop library of our front hall.

Cover of the 1956 edition of Autumn Across America by Edwin Way Teale.

How many times all those years ago had I looked up with desperation from the cryptic equations in my algebra homework and stared hopelessly at the golden spine of my parents’ copy of Autumn Across America? All those years ago it had kept me company most every school night as I grinded over my homework. Though I’d never read it — never paid it any mind at all — its cover now, 35 years later, seemed to smile at me from my computer screen as though it were an old friend.

I dove into a search for used books — and in a click I bought it.


Autumn 2019 was mostly past when my new old copy of Autumn Across America finally arrived, by which time my attention had turned to the poetry and expressions of winter. So I put aside Teale’s book as something to savor the following fall . . . 2020.

A selection of Dawn Chandler's collection of field guides and nature books. Photo by Dawn Chandler

And so here we are, and savoring it, I am! Take this vivid passage from his October travels across Utah:

As it ran east our road paralleled the 125-mile chain of the Uinta Mountains, the only range in the United States that runs east and west. It carried us through canyons, pink-soiled and red-rocked or gray of soil and rock, sometimes with a silver stream of thistledown riding through on the wind. It crossed dry creek beds and rivers of stones. Magpies alighted treetops beside the road, balancing themselves with long tails bobbing up and down like pumphandles. More than once we passed weathered log cabins with sod roofs, some with tumbleweeds rooted in the roof soil. One that combined the old and the new was wired for electricity. Most stood in the shade of cottonwoods, the trees whose scraped inner pulp once provided the hard-pressed pioneers with a confection called “cottonwood ice cream.” Red foliage once more lay behind us. But aspen gold, pure, brilliant, shining, was scattered all around us. It covered the steeps, flowed down the declivities, massed along the creek banks. Then the gold, too, dropped behind us and we were among silvery sage brush and juniper forests so darkly green the trees looked black along the mountain sides.

Isn’t that luscious?

Teale was a naturalist. (In fact, at the age of nine he declared himself so[!]) In college he majored in English and went on to write for many years for Popular Science. Eventually he ventured out on his own to become freelance writer and photographer. In 1945, in part to deal with the grief of the death of their son killed in WWII, Teale and his wife Nellie set out on a road trip to explore the eastern American landscape. That proved such good medicine, that in 1947 they set out again covering some 17,000 miles in their Buick as they wove across the United States.

Map of Edwin Way Teale's epic road trip on the inside cover of Autumn Across America.

Teale chronicled their journey in a set of four books: North With the Spring, Journey into Summer, Autumn Across America, and Wandering Through Winter. Reading through a list of his awards and recognition (a Pulitzer among them), it’s clear Teale was well regarded in 20th century literary, scientific and conservation circles.

One of the things that strikes me so about Autumn Across America is Teale’s reverence — his rapture — for the outdoors. His writing is elegant and masterful leaving me in awe imagining what our American landscape looked like in the late 1940s. Reading his descriptions fills me with delight, but also with a wisp of wistful longing, as I imagine what little urban sprawl there was back before malls and condos, fast food joints and big box stores. How much brighter and more dazzling the night sky was. How free from plastic our roadsides and oceans were.

It goes without saying that there was plenty back then not to admire about the era. And as far as nature and the landscape goes, it’s hard for me to imagine a time when killing eagles and hawks was legal, but of course it was back then. Not until the Migratory Bird Act [MBA] was expanded in 1972 to protect raptors would the senseless killing of these magnificent beings come to an end. I wouldn’t be surprised if Teale’s book had a direct impact on those decision makers who expanded the MBA, inspiring them to pay mind — to notice — more of the natural word around them and take steps to protect it.

Teale, writing about Point Pelee near Detroit:

Binding of the 1956 edition of Autumn Across America by Edwin Way Teale.

Charles Darwin, when he reached the illimitable pampas of Argentina during the voyage of the Beagle, noted that the average man rarely looks more than 15° above the horizon. The events of the sky above him occur, in the main, without his being aware of them.…

We, that morning, commenced to “pay mind“ to what was overhead when the shadows of hawks, one after the other, drifted along the sand…. The flight of the sharpshins had begun.

During September—with the migration waves reaching their peak in the middle of the month—these hawks pour down from hundreds of thousands of square miles to the north and pile up near the tip of this nine-mile arrowhead of sand. When in 1882 W.E. Saunders, an ornithologist of London, Ontario, first reported the autumn hawk flight at Point Pelee, he was hardly believed. The number of migrants shot there—in days when the hostility toward the swift accipiters was untempered by an understanding of their role in the balance of nature—gives an indication of the extent of this annual movement. One farmer sat in his front yard and shot 56 sharpshins without getting out of his chair. In 30 minutes, on a September day about the turn of the century, P.A.Taverner and B.H. Swales counted 113 sharpshins passing over the tip of the jumping-off place on the northern shore of the lake. Such flights first brought scientists to the area.

Sometimes the hawks we saw came low over the trees, bursting out upon us suddenly. At other times they soared down the point so far overhead they were only sparrow-sized in the sky. The lower migrants circled uncertainly when they reached the spit of sand with the edging of slaty-blue waves tinged with yellow from the mud of the shallow bottom. They mounted in an ascending spiral, beating their wings and gliding, then beating their wings and gliding again. High above us they straightened out at last and headed away across the water. Watching the “blue darters” thus, with hawk after hawk passing by, we noticed how endlessly varied in shading they were. Some appeared extremely light, others abnormally dark. How many hawks we saw that day I do not know. But hour after hour the parade continued…..

On this sunny September morning, under the migrating sharpshins another migration was taking place. It was there, in retrospect, the most dramatic event of the day. Whenever we think of Point Pelee we will always think of butterflies in the wind….

Sharp-shinnned hawk. Photo by Bettina Arrigoni

A sharp-shinnned hawk. Photo by Bettina Arrigoni

Last autumn when I was visiting my New Hampshire aunt** she welcomed me with a small dish of warm apple sauce and molasses cookies. Much like her sister, applesauce and ginger and molasses run in her blood.
When I went to pull a couple of mugs out of the cabinet for our tea, I asked her which of the assortment of motley mugs she’d like to use.
.
“I like the old things,” she said, gesturing to a mug that was at least half as old as she.

As I’m recalling that, I’m typing these words on the latest whiz-bang 21st-century tablet. I’m listening to a full orchestra without being in a theater and without a phonograph or radio, yet which is streaming to me seemingly magically.
Yet I’m doing all this while sitting at this banged up 19th century table with a splayed open yellowing old book written when my parents were but newlyweds. A book which, only in middle age have I come to appreciate, yet one which, though I was oblivious to it at the time, had kept me in good company more than three decades ago in my youth.
I’m sitting here in my little hallway working on my midlife “homework.” And though I can no longer hear the sounds of my mother cooking, her fragrance radiates warmly from my own kitchen as applesauce bubbles on the stove top and gingerbread rises in the oven.

Cooked apples ready to press into applesauce. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler

And I realize that, much like my aunt, I like the old things, too.

And if I’m lucky and pay mind to the sky more than 15° above the horizon later today, maybe — just maybe — I’ll be blessed with seeing a hawk as autumn moves across America.

** My mother’s sister, who, a few weeks ago, turned 91 — and who, TWICE this summer, with a tennis racket and her still fierce serving arm, killed a bat that was loose in the house.


Moosehead Gingerbread

MY FAVORITE

(from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham)

A firm, dense, dark and pungent gingerbread from Maine, very lively with mustard and pepper. Serve with applesauce, vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream.

Makes one 8-inch square cake

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 tablespoons (i stick or 1/2 cup) butter *
1/2 dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup molasses
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mustard and ground black pepper, and sift them together onto a piece of waxed paper. Set aside.

Put the butter and brown sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth and well blended. Add eggs and beat well, then beat in the molasses.

Add the boiling water and the combined dry ingredients and beat until the batter is smooth.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or broom straw inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I use Myoko’s vegan butter, which, by the way, is superb.

Homemade gingerbread, applesauce and a copy of Autumn Across America on Dawn Chandler's hall table. Photo by Dawn Chandler

Wilson Applesauce**

(My grandfather’s recipe, as dictated to me by my sainted mother)

1) Put a kettle of water on to boil

2) Quarter 4lbs of apples (my mother always used McIntosh)
— remove indentation at each end (No stems allowed!)
— leave core intact; remove rotten spots

3) shake a few shakes of salt over apples in a big pot

4) Pour boiling water @ 2/3 to 3/4 the way up the apples.

5) Dump 1 cup sugar over apples; don’t stir sugar in right away (or else it will settle on the bottom and burn)

6) Heat on moderately high heat to boiling. Boil until apples are soft and mushy (at least 1/2 hour)

7) Put through food mill.

8) Yummy!

**Or, as I titled it decades ago on y recipe index card: Sweetest Gramps’ Yankee Soul Sauce
(Wilson is my mother’s maiden name)

Dawn Chandler's homemade gingerbread and applesauce.

Artist and Long Trail thru-hiker Dawn 'TaosDawn' Chandler. Photo by Sylvie Vidrine

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Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

Photo of Dawn by Sylvie Vidrine