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musings from the studio and beyond ~

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

 

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

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

Photo of Dawn by Sylvie Vidrine

cutting a [creative] path to those deep woods

At this point in my Vermont sojourn, my Long Trail journal starts to ricochet. My next entry is five days after I limped off the trail in Manchester, uncertain of my future; I then time-travel and describe the past. My diary continues this way for the duration.

Alas, what I reluctantly realize now as I flip through the pages of my Long Trail diaries, is that after sharing the first week of my journey here with you, I simply haven’t the focus available to be able to continue editing and formatting those entries and photos in such a way as to make it sensible, to you, my lovely readers. An epic amount of deep work is gong to be required in order to bring the rest of it to you, and unfortunately autumn 2020 isn’t affording me that kind of time and clarity.

I’m sorry about that.

I promise you though that I will return to this project again in some way, at some point, and bring you along with me.

For now though, many of you already know how my adventure turned out, but for those of you who don’t — or others of you who just need to escape a little longer down the trail (and who can blame you in this unimaginably crazy autumn of 2020….) — here are links to some of my earlier (2015/16) reflections about my hike, listed in chronological top to bottom:

My Walk Across Vermont

Where A Walk Across Vermont Begins

Where a Walk Across Vermont Ends

Falling, Gratitude, and Why I Want to Return to the Trail

Finishing Unfinished Business

Lost & Found in the [Un]Real World

Walking Meditation

Meanwhile…. I’ll reveal to you a little [BIG] dream of mine:

To spend some time at a New England artist residency program editing my journal into a book, and creating a whole series of new paintings with which to illustrate it.

In fact — Shhhhhhh — I already started the paintings.
Back in the autumn of 2017, during a different kind of sojourn in Vermont I was able to get in a little art time, beginning a dozen or so paintings.
But I haven’t worked on them since. Instead, they’ve been wrapped up and hidden away like a secret little prayer. No one else (other than two very close friends back in Vermont) has ever seen these paintings.

Painting of Vermont's Long Trail by artist Dawn Chandler

I don’t know why I haven’t brought these out before. Surely it has something to do with the energy; that it doesn’t quite align to be painting Vermont when I’m surrounded by such a completely different (and incredible in its own way) landscape here in New Mexico.

And yet….

Covid-19 has prevented me from returning to these New England forests, to this beloved trail.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back….

Painting of Vermont's Long Trail by artist Dawn Chandler

.

. .

. . .

Hmmmm…….

Maybe it’s time to cut a creative path back to those deep Vermont woods again…

Painting of Vermont's Long Trail by artist Dawn Chandler

Artist and LT NOBO Thru-hiker Dawn 'TaosDawn' Chandler heading across the top of Mount Mansfield on Vermont's Long Trail.

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.

Thank you again!

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

Photo of Dawn by Sylvie “Charger” Vidrine

prayer wrapped in my father’s red bandana

14 September 2015 — Day 6
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail

So early the next morning I set off — first out of camp. My knee tied with Dad’s red bandanna.

Scenes on the Long Trail north of Stratton Pond. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Vermont birch trees. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

After thirty or forty minutes or so, Flagman caught up with me.

“How’s the knee feeling? “
“You know, I’m trying to just not think about it.”
“How about that bandana, is it helping?”
“I don’t know, but it was my Dad’s bandana… “
“So he’s hiking with you, looking after you. I believe in karma. I prayed for you last night. I can tell you’ve got spirit, and your spirit isn’t broken. That’s what makes the difference..”


We wished each other well, and he was off.

Maple leaves turning to red in early September along the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

[So far that morning] the trail was more or less level — the downhills weren’t too bad, and my knee, while not feeling great, didn’t feel as bad as yesterday.

LT/AT trail sign north of Stratton Pond, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

The morning was gray and a little foggy. [And the forest was beautiful, absolutely glistening from the previous day’s rain. I conflicted — enchanted by the beauty of the forest, and forlorn with the weight of uncertainty about what to do regarding my knee….]

I made it to the junction of Old Rootville Road and started the two-mile descent down. A nice backwoods road, but relatively steep and felt long. I wondered how/if I could manage coming back up it. At some point I saw headlights and a Subaru passed me coming up. I smiled to the car and trudged downward.

Just before the Old Rootville Road on the Long Trail. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Sign for the Old Rootville Road.

Although I knew the route was 2 miles, it felt longer than I expected.

Several streams ran down from the brown hardwood forest.

Eventually the road became less steep and began to level out, and an occasional little house appeared by the roadside and soon I found myself at a major intersection.

Not entirely sure where I was, I crossed over to a single tree in the intersection, pulled out my thermos of tea and my map and tried to get my bearings. Not two minutes later the Subaru [that had been] going up the Rootville Road came back and pulled up to the intersection. It then backed up a little bit and its windows came down: “Do you want a ride?” the driver called out. “I would LOVE a ride!”

He jumped out and cleared space in the back, “Don’t worry about any of the stuff,” he said, shoving aside stacks of old yellow papers that looked to be from the 19th century. “Are you an artist?” for the stuff looked like great collage material. “No, I just photograph a lot of this stuff.” In the front passenger seat was a very elderly but spry woman — his mother — up from Florida to bury her husband. She’d lived in Vermont for some seventy years, and they were out for a drive to visit some of her old haunts. He knew exactly where “Sutton’s Place” is, and in fact Frank Sutton was his high school French teacher many years ago. Drove me right to the door of a lovely New England Victorian clapboard-sided house down a quiet road, at the top of a small hill just a couple blocks from town.

Welcome to Manchester!

Sutton's Place in Manchester, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

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.

Thank you again!

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

uhh-oh my knee, ‘come to jesus’ & a clash of egos

13 September 2015 — Day 5
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail

May that remain the most miserable night of my camping life.

Because the TarpTent SUCKS in a 12-HOUR VERMONT RAIN.

Because the rain comes down, hits the ground and bounces up and hits the soffits, splashing up into the tent and creating mist.

Then there’s the fact of the do-it-yourself seam seals. And no matter how carefully you seam-seal your tent, there’s probably a spot you could have done a bit better. UGH. Everything in my tent seemed to be getting damp — including my down sleeping bag. I had brought my plastic ground cover inside though (been using it to sleep on and keep my Thermarest clean), so I wrapped it around my sleeping bag like a big blue plastic cocoon. Safe and sound! Until… an hour or so later I reached between the tarp and my bag only to feel my sleeping bag was wet! NO ventilation under the blue plastic. SHIT. I was in for a damp sleepless night listening to pounding rain.

Justin fared no better under his TarpTent and, after an hour or so dove into Wahoo’s tent to join him and Gracie for the night.

All night long I lay there scheming ditching my tarp tent in Manchester and replacing it with a real tent. GOD DAMMIT! Why had I not just brought my perfectly good Big Agnes tent? Wooed by the UltraLight bullshit, that’s why. I have since talked to a couple of GMC staff who agree with me that the TarpTent isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be — at least not in a cold 12-hour September Vermont rainstorm.

My mantra that night — and throughout the tough times of this journey — was “This, too, shall pass.”

This, too, shall pass.
This, too, shall pass.
This, too, shall pass.

Over and over I repeated that to myself, trying to ignore the moisture dripping from the roof into my face. Somehow, eventually, I did get some sleep, but surely not enough.

Was gonna get up at 5:00, what with a long climb up Stratton Mountain. But at 5:00 it was still raining. If I was going to take down camp in the rain, I might as well wait until I at least had a bit of daylight.

Breaking down camp in the rain.
I don’t know when the last time was I had to do that. But it must be some 35 years ago. Even then, I don’t remember ever having to do it IN the rain — just AFTER the rain. Doesn’t matter. Then, now… It SUCKS.. Got the TarpTent down and stuffed it along with probably 3 pounds of extra water sopped into the sack. Lumbered over to grab my bear bags. I stood there and ate breakfast — a ProBar. Figured I’d just graze on bars and nut butters while hiking.


Shook the fellas’ tent at 6:30 — Wahoo wanted an early start.
“How did you fare Dawn?”
“Well most of my stuff is good and damp. Maybe not soaking wet, but definitely damp.”
“Well if you want WET, come on in here!”
The front lip of their tent was practically in a lake of a puddle.

Sketch of tent site locations on the Long Trail from Dawn Chandler's thru-hike journal.

All morning hiking through wet — if not actual rain — dripping trees and vegetation. I had my rain cover on my pack, my Gore-Tex jacket on, rain kilt and gators. REALLY glad for the gators which kept debris and crap out of my boots — I’d forgotten that benefit of them until I hiked on a sunny day without them.

Crossed the road after about 30 minutes or so, and upward I went. Once entering the forest again, I spotted a grey tarp tent on the right — I bet it was Smoky.

A white birch against a forest of green along the Long Trail of Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

Stratton Mountain is one of the high peaks of my journey, reaching up to about 4000 feet. I was intimidated about it, but Wahoo pointed out that you climb — you ascend — 2000 feet, but over the course of three miles each way. I appreciated that observation. Still, it was a slog, and the trail was hardly a trail, but a brook. (Again, grateful for SNOSEAL).

Concern Concern Concern was coursing through me with the fact that so much of my gear was wet. My spirit was low, but I kept trying to push it aside.
“This, too, shall pass… This too shall pass…”
The air was cool and, though the hard rain finally seem to stop, the sky was flat gray, with no sign of lifting.

My concern was hypothermia….. I looked up to the sky, put my hands together and called upon Mum and Dad:

“Help me keep myself safe.
Help me keep myself safe….”

then set the timer on my watch to go off every 20 minutes so that I would remember to ask myself,
“Am I warm?
Am I dry?
Am I sensible?”
…as I moved up in elevation conditions were only going to get worse.

And… now my knee was starting to talk to me. Not my usual problematic left knee, but my RIGHT knee — a dull ache deep inside, kind of below the knee cap and under the kneecap. Not constant, but rising up occasionally.

Curls of birch bark along the Long Trail of Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

Onward, trudging upward… At some point I started to notice the trees were transitioning into higher elevation conifers — a bit more stumpy and windblown. And soon I started to see gray light through the trees and then, suddenly, a gray wooden wall: a shed, or a little cabin. With a pitched roof. And a metal chimney, with smoke coming out: the Stratton Mountain caretaker’s cabin.
I gave a rap at the door and heard a voice from inside — “just a moment.” And then in the door appeared a grandmotherly woman bundled in layers including an obviously master-knitted “scrummy” (Mum’s word
[a combination of “scrumptious” & “yummy”]) raspberry wool cardigan in a greeny — slate bluey knitted woolen cap. She had paint all over her hands and on her clothes.
“I’m sorry to bother you. “
“No — not at all. “
“Oh! Are you a painter? “
“Yes I am.”
“I am, too! “
“Oh how wonderful! “
“But I just wanted to let you know the odd guy hanging out at Story Brook is still there as of yesterday afternoon.”

We then discussed him a bit. When she asked if he had said anything threatening to anyone, I said, I had not engaged him. “But I would not have felt comfortable staying there.”
“That’s all I need to know then; you said the magic words. I’ll call the sheriff and alert them.”

We then talked about art and the colors of Vermont versus New Mexico. She seemed quite willing to stand there in the drizzle and converse with me. I could have climbed into that shelter and talked with her all day, she was so warm and maternal and comforting. Seems that she and her husband live up there each summer from about June 1st or 15th to October 20th — been doing it for years. She also knows well Frank Sutton of Sutton’s Place where I was going to be staying in Manchester. She said I’d have no problem catching a ride once I got to the road. “Everyone knows what you’re doing; they’re happy to help.” Reluctantly I moved on — although actually I think she was even more reluctant then I to end our conversation. First though she gave me her card — beautiful paintings — and jotted down my website.

Green Mountain birch trees along the Long Trail in Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

Chiming in now from my New Mexcio home, on the 12th of September, 2020 as I work on transcribing the pages of my LT Journal…. A few details worth mentioning regarding my LT journey of 2015:

— I did not carry a cell phone with me. The reason is because I wanted to be fully present on the trail. I didn’t want the temptation of an easy “escape” by way of the internet. The point was to get away from all of that.
I DID however carry a satelite phone in case of an emergency, and to check in very occasionally with loved ones.

— At this point I knew no one in Vermont. My closest personal connection to Vermont was my friend Heather, whom I’ve known all my life. In 2015 she had a vacation home in Stowe, but lived in Rochester, NY. She graciously volunteered to deliver me to the trailhead at the start of my journey, with the plan to meet me at Journey’s End a few weeks later near Canada.
To reiterate though, aside from Heather, there was no one in Vermont I really knew. This fact added to my worry if something were to go wrong.

— The GMC has a “Trail Mentor” program. If you are planning a thru-hike, they will put you in touch with “mentors” who have hiked the trail. I was put in touch with about a dozen generous people, but the one who really stood out was a gal my age — Sylvie — who, the year before, had thru-hiked the LT in honor of HER 50th birthday — so we had that in common. Trail name “Charger” and a resident of Vermont, she provided me with an incredible about of sage advice, as well as offered up her home to me if I needed a break from the trail. Sylvie/Charger and I had never met though, so I was reluctant to lean on her too much.

— The GMC has a whole army of staff and volunteers who maintain the trails. They also maintain the latrines, many of which are composting or moldering. Maintaining the latrines — being a “shit shoveler” — is a nasty but crucial job.

— In trail parlance, a “Zero Day” is a day of no mileage, a rest day. I had scheduled no rest days. This was stupid. But the truth is I didn’t know any better. My itinerary was based on those of others who had gone before me, and some of them hadn’t had any rest days. So, basing my plan on theirs, I thought my itinerary reasonable — especially as I was giving myself five weeks to hike the trail, and most people seemed to do it in four weeks or less.

— Another source of anxiety was that I was on a tight schedule. Though I had planned no Zero Days, I HAD planned on spending one night each week at a different inn or other accommodation, so that I could clean up, do laundry, sleep in a real bed, and pick up my food drops, which I had shipped in advance from New Mexico. I had booked those accommodations and planned my food carefully per my itinerary, so I was under pressure to stay on schedule.

Okay, back to my journal and my long walk across Vermont…


Beautiful Green Mountain birch trees along the Long Trail in Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

[After speaking with Jean the caretaker on the summit of Stratton Mountain] … I moved on… It seems to me I walked flat for just a short while when the descent began — down the waterway brook-trail of water, stepping carefully so as not to step on wet rocks, wet logs, wet roots. My knee started moaning and by the time, finally, I was approaching Stratton Pond a couple of hours later, my knee was screaming, and I was struggling to keep from bawling with frustration and exhaustion and anxiety.
Wondering if I should bail.
Thinking I should bail.
Mad at the thought of bailing.
Desperately wanting to bail.
Getting into Manchester and ending it there. I could rent a car and drive around Vermont and maybe even over to Rochester. Visit Exeter [New Hampshire, where I have family]. But I just couldn’t see how my knees could continue

Stopped for lunch by a lovely brook and assessed my knees: was bent over, ass to the trail, massaging my knees when “WHAAA!”
I shrieked with the sound of someone behind me. “Hello! Sorry to scare you!”

It was a group of eight or so college students from SUNY Binghampton — the Outing Club. Out for a few days during Rosh Hashanah break. Staying at Stratton Pond, hiking for the afternoon up to the peak. (Really? They seemed ill-prepared with only a couple of daypacks among them.) All young men except for their club president who was a young Asian woman. Very friendly though and expressed concern over my knees, and offered me a ride back if I was back at the parking lot by the time they got back to it tomorrow morning.

Taking a break along a stream on Vermont's Long Trail south of Stratton Mountain.
A beautiful Vermont stream somewhere between Stratton Mountain and Stratton Pond. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.

Sometime later I came upon Emily who was just a bright and competent spirited spot of joy in my day. She’s the supervisor here of several of the caretakers and “Chief Shit Shoveler.” We shared our infatuation of Jean at the top of the mountain, and our concern about “those college kids” from SUNY being obviously ill prepared. (She said not all of them had rain gear! “That’s THE OUTDOOR CLUB! I am NOT impressed!” My alarm went off, and I explained what it was for. “I LOVE that — you’re prepared!” I told her of my concern about my knees and she admitted these trails are tough. “But Stratton Pond is a great place to assess. It’s been my place to have a “come to Jesus moment.” You’re just about a half mile and you’ll be able to get some good rest there. Go find Carly (the caretaker) — she’s got some sangria.”

A bit cheered, we parted ways, and some twenty or thirty minutes later I found myself at a cool, split level, big-porched modern shelter, with no one in sight.

Stratton Pond Trail sign, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.
Long-Appalachian Trail - North sign at Stratton Pond, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.

I chose a low bunk near the front, and laid out my gear to dry, draping my sleeping bag upside down over a bunk ladder. Found the composting toilet, and then went to find water, the caretaker (to pay — five dollars at high use sites) and attempt to call Joe and Heather.

Teary call/message to Joe [My Good Man, who was back in New Mexcio]; practical message and conversation with Heather: heartwarming conversation with Carly, the caretaker. The one thing I was comforted by was this: I was NOT going to decide today about my knee. I would wait until tomorrow, see how that descent went, and decide in Manchester whether or not to call it quits.

The Stratton Pond Shelter, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.

Back at Stratton Pond Shelter, Justin had arrived as well as an older Ed Harris type former military powerhouse of a hiker, “Flagman.” What a talker! Mainly about himself — always the hero of his own story — but passionate about the trail. He made it his personal mission to “counsel” me, suggesting that it didn’t have to be “all or nothing.” “Give your knee a rest — take a zero day in Manchester. Then slow down and take it easy. So you only make it to Johnson? Not all the way to Journey’s End — at least you will have been out here on the trail. You’ve put aside all this time and resources to make this journey happen. Stick with it if you possibly can. Change it if you have to. But don’t throw in the towel. I hope you stick it out; I hope you stay on the trail.”

When Wahoo eventually showed up, those two egos clashed; you could feel it.

Wahoo had suggested I tie a bandanna around my knee — just below it. He said he was advised to do that back on the AT when he had knee problems, and it seemed to help him. [Wahoo then left for water and Carly showed up.]

Flagman, Carly and I were talking about it and also about the odd dude at Story Brook. I told them how Wahoo insisted on hiking with me through that section.
Flagman said, “then I misjudged him. That right there speaks of integrity. I took him to be a young know-it-all, and here I am an old know-it-all, and when we met there was tension immediately. But that tells me the guy has integrity.” He was impressed.
He also said that the bandanna idea was a good one, and urged me to ice my knees and elevate them in Manchester. “And stay hydrated! Extend your [trekking] polls on the downhill.”


Artist Dawn Chandler starting her solo backpacking trek across the length of Vermont on the Long Trail.

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Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico