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musings from the studio and beyond ~

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


first light, a sea of trees, a worrisome mystery hiker & a twelve-hour downpour

11 September 2015 — Day 3
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail

On the Long Trail, sign for the Glastenbury Wilderness of the Green Mountains. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

Set my alarm for 5:45 (got up to pee only once — it was raining, but not too hard). Got up well before Justin, but he got up by the time I was finishing my breakfast. Hit the trail with full rain garb on: jacket, kilt and gators, although the rain had stopped — this was mainly to keep dry from the wet foliage. After about an hour I became pretty warm, so started peeling rain gear, and soon after that the sun began to shine through, making the forest shimmer — just gorgeous!

For “first tea,” I found a beautiful overlook spot that looked out across a tapestry of close hills approaching autumn, and distant mountains fading to soft purple — a perfect spot to sketch and enjoy my tea. Grateful.

Perfect rest spot for morning tea along the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

The rest of the day is a bit of a blur — it was lovely in the sunshine.

Light filtering through the trees on the Long Trail of Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.

At some point I came upon Justin — he must have passed me — but found him relaxing over lunch, so I joined him. Later on we would meet up again at Goddard Shelter, which I got to around 3:00, I think…

Vermont flora on the Long Trail. Photos by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Goddard Shelter on the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

When I arrived at Goddard I was greeted by a beautiful small dog barking at me: GracieLou. Her owner — a chubby guy in his mid 30s. ‘She’s friendly.” Turns out this is Tim “Wahoo!” from Florida. My first impression of Wahoo is that he’s an opinionated blowhard. And actually that’s pretty accurate.
But he has a big heart… Details coming.

Next to show up was Rob from Hunterton, New Jersey, originally from CT. Total New York/New Jersey accent. Clean-cut, maybe a few years older than me — mid/late 50s? Upbeat and opinionated — especially regarding people’s gear and the weight they’re carrying. Every item you pulled out of your pack, the first question was, “What’s that? How much does that weigh?” Most times after learning the weight, he’d proclaim, “Too heavy!” He was out just for a night or two, taking a quick couple days off for a bit of New England hiking.

Goddard Shelter is the nicest shelter I’ve yet seen. While the the others have been made of very, very dark wood, Goddard seems filled with light thanks to light gray “bleached” wood. There are a few surprising carpentry flourishes that add a nice touch. Beside Goddard is a surprising patch of rich, verdant grass ± like LAWN grass — dense and thick. Justin and Ron splayed out in the grass when the sun was shining brilliantly.

Wahoo was packing up his gear getting ready to hike on to Kid Gore Shelter. Turns out he’s a late sleeper and late hiker. But he did the whole AT in 2008, so he seems to know what works for him. Eventually Rob headed up to the fire tower atop Glastenbury Mountain, while Justin and I busied ourselves with organizing our gear.
Rob returned a while later to report that the view was incredible; I walked up (.3 mile) to check it out for myself and, indeed, it is pretty wonderful. The top of the peak is densely wooded with conifers, and the fire tower juts up like a huge erector set.
Justin would eventually head up there with all of his gear after dinner to spend the night atop the tower.

Looking across a sea of trees from Vermont's Glastenbury Peak on the Long Trail. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

Back at the shelter, Rob and I fixed our dinners, he asking about my trip and why I was doing it. At some point he said, “I really applaud what you’re doing. To mark a turning point birthday [my 50th] with a big goal and accomplishment; I think that’s great.”

Around the time we were starting to think about crashing for the night, we heard voices. Who should appear by an “older” woman — tall, slender, with long grey dreadlocks — carrying a pack. Shortly behind her was her hiking partner, a plump, stout woman, maybe a bit older, also with a pack. Enter Susan and Carol, two friends from Burlington, Vermont who decided at 50 they were going to hike the whole Long Trail over the course of their sixth decade (50s to 60s). They started north some years earlier and were now nearing the end of their journey.

When it came time to go to bed, Carol pulled out an air mattress (Sea to Summit?) and a battery powered inflator! Rob rolled his eyes. “Too heavy!” She defended that at her age (58) she was allowed a few toys. I defended her “If a person is willing to carry it, they can bring anything they want!” “Too heavy,” Rob insisted. “I tell you, there are more gear weight snobs in these shelters…!” That shut him up a little bit (I should mention that he initially pooh-poohed my killer bear bags and my Luci Lamp, but eventually came around to deciding he needed both. HA!). As we were easing into our sleeping bags, Carol said that she’s been told she snores.
“Is that right, Susan — don’t I snore?”
“Yes. You snore.”

A few minutes later enter the southbound train horn through a dark tunnel. GOOD Lord!! I’ve never heard such snoring! It was loud and ferocious enough to keep wildlife awake for a 5 mile radius. She’s GOT TO have sleep apnea, that’s all I can figure. Thank God one of my mentors suggested earplugs! I brought two sets just in case I lose one!

12 September 2015 — Day 4
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail

The Glastenbury fire tower in first light. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

With all that noise throughout the night, I felt not a bit of guilt getting up at 5:00ish to start packing up. Rob was already up, fixing his breakfast outside on the grass, so he wouldn’t disturb anyone — pretty thoughtful. I tried to pack up as quietly as possible but I know that even the smallest sounds are amplified like a speaker in the shelters. I heated some water to make tea in my thermos and hit the trail — back up to the fire tower — leaving the snoring Susan and Carol behind.

As I approached the summit, the woods were in dark, dark shadow — I needed my headlamp to make out the trail. By the time I reached the tower, the clearing around the summit was softening into gray and the tower top shone orange in the early light. Up the seven flights of stairs to join the fellas — Justin and Rob — atop.

I actually was feeling a little queasy — not from the height but I think from the hiker’s diet — so I sat down on the floor — we still had 10 – 15 minutes until the sun would brim over the eastern mountains. From this spot, more wild Vermont forest can be seen than from any other spot in the state. For it is a sea of evergreen everywhere you look.

And then, “here she comes.”

Sunrise from the Glastenbury fire tower on Vermont's Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Long Trail hikers greeting the morning sun from the Glastenbury firetower. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Sunrise light across southern Vermont on the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

I stood up and we three watched in silence as a glorious shimmering red orb of light rose over the purple-blue hills. “Red sky at morning…” I said. I waited a few more minutes to watch the color warm the evergreen tops; a small raptor of some sort — striped tail — flew below us.
“Anyone want some coffee?” Justin asked. I gratefully declined, feeling the need to push on, and left the two of them to enjoy their sunrise coffee.

Dawn light illuminating the tree tops along the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
A gnarled old tree along the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Forest light and lichens along the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
A mossy stair section of the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Kid Gore Shelter along the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

A few hours later I came to Kid Gore shelter. A dog ran out barking — it was Miss GracieLou, happy to see me. Wahoo & GracieLou apparently had the shelter to themselves that previous night. Wahoo said he built a fire that night and burned all sorts of trash he found around the shelter and along the trail.
He went up a few points in my estimation with that.
I went to use the latrine, only to find some graffiti on the door — something about boozing it up, “taking sluts” and living free — attributed to Thomas Jefferson and written in permanent marker. Back down at the cabin I put to Wahoo, “What kind of person decides to pack a permanent marker just so they could write on a latrine door? Apparently there’s a lot of people who think that way, based on the graffiti written with thick Sharpies!”

I will say though, compared to New Mexico, these shelters are pristine — the privies, too. And there’s no graffiti carved into the trees — NONE. That’s one of the most heart-breaking facts of hiking in the Santa Fe National Forest: On the main trails, nearly every sizable aspen within a 3-4 mile radius of the parking area is carved and scarred with names and initials. In fact my favorite aspen grove near my favorite sit spot — I had been there to paint one day, and a week later I brought Joe there and someone had carved their name and date in an aspen right above my log. Bullet shells were pressed into divots in the sit log.

A wildly curved tree trunk along the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

After a snack, I hiked on. The woods were dense with undergrowth and felt “close.” I especially like it when there’s breathing space among the trees and the under-story isn’t so compact. Was it this day when — on two separate occasions — I spotted two toads? Made me smile and think of Mum. She loved toads and so do I. I’ve never seen one in New Mexico.

Eventually when the forest became tall again, I stopped for a lunch break. Two hikers — a young man and woman, covered in “tats” and wired into Smart phones came Southbound. I greeted them and they stopped to chat for a few minutes. Heavy New York/New Jersey accents, they’re AT section hikers. “If you go to Story Brook Shelter, there’s the weirdest guy there. He’s been camped out there for five days and is bumming food off of people… He says he’s an AT thru-hiker, but when we asked him about some trail details he didn’t really answer. He only has a day pack so he can’t be a thru-hiker! But he was saying things like ‘my family hates me… My friends hate me… My whole town hates me….’ The guy is weird!”

Great. My original plan was to stay at Story Brook Shelter — although I was thinking of pushing on just a couple miles farther to some unofficial sites not far from the road before beginning the ascent of Stratton Mountain. But still, I didn’t want to encounter this guy.

I knew Wahoo was behind me and thought that maybe when he caught up to me I’d ask him if he wouldn’t mind hiking with me past the shelter — though I kind of hated to slow him down. The concern was moot, because when he did catch up with me — GracieLou came running up to me — he asked, “Did you hear about the weird guy up ahead?” He then offered, “Why don’t Gracie and I hike with you through this section?” DAMN THOUGHTFUL. I gushed with appreciation which he waved off. “No problem. That’s what we do on the trail: We look out for each other.”

And so we hiked together with me mainly asking questions and Wahoo happy to talk about himself. In the course of an hour of hiking together I learned that he had been married, “Not to be offensive but my usual joke line is that I got rid of THAT bitch and replaced her with THIS bitch,” gesturing to GracieLou. I learned that he recently had an affair with a married woman; learned that he’s been to over 50 some-odd countries thanks to his former job with something to do with charter planes for the military; learned that his gay neighbors (“which is fine”) use 10,000 gallons of water per month. Yaadaada-yaadaada-yaadaada. At least he was cheerful and, despite constantly talking, relatively pleasant company. And GracieLou was a joy to hike with!

A Vermont marsh along the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

We passed through Story Brook and the guy was there, lying on his back on the floor, looking into a cell phone — not sure if there was anything on the screen or not. We dropped our packs over to the side of the building. Wahoo said something about lightening Gracie’s pack and losing some of the weight, when the guy sprang up, came over and asked us if we had any food to spare. “No, sorry, dude.” Wahoo chastised him a little bit, and the guy said he thought he overheard him say something about wanting to “lose weight.” But the guy seemed rather harmless, just off his meds. We were surprised by how young he is — maybe early 20s. Looked like he had a tent pitched off to the side and some things hanging on a line. We stayed just a few minutes to grab a quick bite to eat, then pushed on. I didn’t engage the guy at all. Though perhaps harmless, I still would not have felt comfortable AT ALL staying there with him, especially were I alone with him. We continued on down the trail — though before we pushed off Wahoo went back and gave the guy two granola bars — and this with Wahoo running low on food.

After 20 minutes or so down the trail, Wahoo and Gracie took off with assurances that we’d likely see each other down the trail — perhaps even at the camping area by the river and the Stratton-Arlington Road.

One thing that encouraged me a bit is that at some point before Stony Brook Shelter, when Wahoo and I were hiking together, we were talking about pace. I have found the estimates in the GMC guidebook to be very aggressive; I need to add at least an hour or two to their estimates — which becomes worrisome, especially on these 9+ hour days I’ve estimated. But he commented that I was “making good time.” This is the second time someone said that. The first time was on my 2nd day when I was leap-frogging with that young man and his mother, and about the 3rd time I came upon them — on Consultation Peak, I think it was — he politely said, you’re making good time.” I said, “I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I sure appreciate it!” I didn’t have a chance to write much about them earlier, but they were lovely. Turns out he just graduated from St. John’s College in Santa Fe. In fact the ENTIRE family — all siblings and both parents — went to St. Johns in SF, and the father/husband is on the faculty. So they divide their time between SF and Washington, DC.

Back to Day 4….

I got down to the river maybe around 4:30 or so, where there were a couple of good campsites on either side of the foot bridge.

Wahoo and Smoky were conversing around the fire ring of the best one. They were both planning to push on. I decided to camp there and set up my TarpTent. This would be my first time using it and only second time ever pitching it. Chance of rain was good for that night, so I took some care in setting it up.

Footbridge across a beautiful Vermont Stream on the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Gorgeous Vermont brook along the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

A little later Justin appeared and decided to join me in camping there. Smoky moved on — he’s an AT NOBO hiker and has 500 miles to go to Katahdin — might not make it in time.
Wahoo was undecided whether or not to stay. He’s running low on food for Miss Gracie. I offered him some beef jerky for Gracie (which made Gracie and me best buds for life!)

Wahoo decided to stay, and set up his tent close to the center of the clearing in the middle of the site, where there was little detritus. Funny, had I studied that spot more carefully, I would have realized there’s no debris there because rainfall pools up and washes it away. That would only become apparent the next morning.

We all cheerfully fixed our dinners and then gathered firewood. JB got a good fire going (Eagle Scout), taking over Wahoo’s sorry attempt. Just as the fire was going strong, raindrops started coming down, slowly and infrequently at first, and then of course, a little harder… and harder… and harder.


Artist Dawn Chandler starting her solo backpacking trek across the length of Vermont on the 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, 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

five years ago today I set out to walk across vermont

Vermont’s Long Trail:

It was grueling.

It was anxiety-riddled.

It was way, way, way harder than I ever imagined.

I’d give anything to go back and do it again.

My goal was to solo backpack the 273 miles of Vermont’s Long Trail. Though over the years I’ve shared some of my photos and story of why I was inspired to hike the trail, I’ve never shared pages from my private journal.

So honor this important anniversary, I thought I’d share some of my private musings from my journal pages.

First, a few clarifications:

— Though I’d been backpacking before, I’d never done it alone, nor had I ever attempted such a long distance.

— To get to the southernmost trailhead of the Long Trail (LT), I started in Massachusetts on the Pine Cobble Trail. After 3.3 miles the Pine Cobble meets the Vermont border at the junction with the Long Trail — as well as the Appalachian Trail (AT).

— At the Massachusetts/Vermont border, the AT merges with the LT, and they are the same trail for 105 miles. After 105 miles, at Maine Junction, the Long Trail continues north through Vermont to Canada, and the Appalachian Trail turns eastward to New Hampshire and Maine.

— A thru-hiker is someone who is hiking the whole trail — the full length of it — in one long hike; a section hiker is one who, rather than hiking a long-distance trail in one fell swoop, does a section at a time.

NOBO = northbound; SOBO = southbound; I was a NOBO LT thru-hiker.

— Both the LT and the AT are marked with white blazes painted along the path. Side trails (like the Pine Cobble) are marked with blue blazes.

— GMC = Green Mountain Club is the terrific organization that protects and maintains the Long Trail and other Vermont trails.

— There are about sixty shelters along the LT, some of which are simple three-sided lean-tos, while others are more elaborate enclosed cabins. Although I carried a tent, my plan was to stay in a shelter whenever I could. Even hikers with tents though often camped near the shelters, as there was almost always a water source nearby, as well as the comradery of other hikers.

— Each shelter has a log book, where hikers share their reflections, trail conditions, and often notes to each other. In each book that I logged into, I left a tiny colorful card (1.5″ x 1.5″) with a detail of one of my paintings and a quote by Rumi.

— Nearly every thru-hiker and section-hiker adopts a trail name. Mine was (surprise!) TaosDawn.

Now then…. Come, hike with me across Vermont:

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
— Frank Lloyd Wright

Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.
— Brene Brown (quoting a saying of the Asaro tribe of Indonesia)

Artist Dawn Chandler starting her Walk across Vermont at the Pine Cobble Trail in NW Massachusetts. Photo by Heather Coburn Snyder.

September 9, 2015 — Day One of The Long Trail — Wednesday

3:00 and I am alone in my first home on the LT. Heather dropped me off at Pine Cobble trailhead at 7:45.

I think we were both trying hard not to cry. Six miles into this and it is exactly as I expected it: Hard. I don’t care how far above sea level I am, uphill with a pack is uphill with a pack! It seems to me any gain from hiking at altitude is completely trumped by humidity, which today — at 90° — has been utterly wilting, the sweat gushing from my brow and neck. These first few days are going to be a serious test.

Today, sunny, hot and very humid; tomorrow heavy rain — on one of my longest days. Trying to keep a positive attitude and not fret about tomorrow: just focus on today and be in the moment. But the truth is I’m scared about tomorrow.

The Pine Cobble Trail in northwestern Massachusetts. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Deep breath.

One day at a time.

Last night when I checked the weather and looked at the map I thought of bumping up my hike today and aiming for Congdon Shelter rather than Seth Warner, which would have made for a 13 mile hike today rather than tomorrow. But everyone I’ve seen hiking today seems younger, faster and with a lighter pack. And the heat is debilitating, My concern is that I would have gotten into camp so late, that there would be no room for me. So better, I think, to stick to my original plan. I’m concerned, too, by the fact that today, at least, I was slower than the GMC estimates. They had 4 hours from Pine Cobble to SW, and it took me almost 5. I don’t want to obsess about my speed…BUT… a 13-mile day tomorrow with a couple of SERIOUS ascents in HEAVY RAIN has me concerned.

Blue blaze of the Pine Cobble Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Would do well to keep in mind Rumi:

To be self-conscious is to worry about everything but . . .
What will be will be.

~ Rumi

AT Thru-hikers Bear Hookah & Lovel at the Seth Warner Shelter. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Just after 7:00… The rain started about 10 or 15 minutes ago … lounging in the shelter with a young couple from WI — Bear Hookah & Lovel — and Barnum (whose dog, Bailey — a beautiful four-year old weimaramer — is crashed in his tent).

These are my favorites of the people I’ve met today. When I got to the Vermont border — and the start of the Long Trail — a young woman, Lauren, and her friend hiked up, on her way to thru-hike. Half my age, she also appeared to be carrying half the weight that I’m carrying. A few minutes of visiting and picture-taking, then I took off to give them a chance to bid their goodbyes — after they checked their cell phone messages (!). Thirty minutes later she passed me for Congden.

Welcome to Massachusetts sign on the Long Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Welcome to Vermont The Long Trail sign at the Mass/VT border. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
White blaze on the LT/AT. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Sunlight through the trees of the Long Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Now that I think of it though, the first people I encountered were a couple of day-hikers — two tall, baldish men who barely acknowledged me. They were deep in conversation about the Bible. A little later a couple of other similar looking men, who were gracious, thanking me for stepping aside so they could pass, and wishing me well. A little later, three AT section hikers headed south — seemed college-aged. After that, no one until — Finally! I made it to Seth Warner Shelter.

Sign for the Set Warner Shelter. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Seth Warner Shelter on the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

A lovely young man greeted me. He was taking his lunch, having started a northbound LT hike today as well! His name is Justin from RI, originally but most recently from Maine. And he’s been to Philmont! We visited for a nice short while, when he finally pushed on, hoping to make it to Congdon.

Next to show up was “Running Moose” from Kansas. SOBO AT hiker headed to GA. He looked like a child! But had a red beard and a great deal of chest hair brimming from his shirt (!) Had a purple sash tied around his head and was very soft-spoken and thoughtful. Thought before he spoke. Contemplative. Very pleasant.

I then had an hour or two to myself after he left, during which time I got water, played my flute, wrote, sketched and relaxed. Next to arrive were Barnum & Bailey. Barnum is a former army dude turned philosopher/hiker. Says he was a real “Reagan Republican” until the Bush years and serving in Iraq. Now he’s a diehard liberal; good fun to talk with and listen to, and his pup — Bailey — is a sweetheart.

Barnum and Bailey.

These mountains or the oldest in the world.
There’s magic in these mountains.
I can guarantee you that.

~ Barnum

September 10, 2015 — Day 2 — The Long Trail, Vermont

A short heavy shower last night at 6:00. A few other hikers showed up for water and shelter from the rain. But only two of us slept in the shelter: Bear and me. All hit the hay by dark and, despite rolling around a lot, I slept pretty well. Up to pee twice. Then up with my alarm at 5:45. Lesson learned: load up on the day’s water the night before, as I went through water faster than expected and had to fetch more in the morning.

Broke camp and on the trail by 7:20 — a little later than I’d hoped. The morning started with a gradual but challenging uphill and deep humidity and heat. Honestly? I was miserable, fighting self-doubt and worry about the 13 miles ahead and forecast of heavy rain. A couple of hikers passed me — a woman about my age and a much younger college-aged man. Mother & son doing a section of the AT. After about 45 mins I decided to put away my watch — something I will do every day now once I hit the trail. A reminder from my Rangering days that




Was feeling uneasy and anxious, when I came to a side trail to a spring. Even though I didn’t visit the spring, for some reason it cheered me — just having a place on the map that I could identify lifted my spirits. Soon after that I climbed to a high clearing under power lines. The clouds were low so I couldn’t see very far, but still, I could see the sides of distant mountains. I decided to stop and have some tea and study my map. I felt instantly at peace and satisfied…

Pack and power-lines under a grey sky on the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Eventually this day I made my way beside a beautifully marshy pond. The sky was overcast all day, but no rain in the morning, at least.

One of the many marshes along Vermont's Long Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
A marsh along Vermont's Long Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
AT and LT signs along the trail on Harmon Hill. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

By midday I was beside the beautiful Stradford Stream, where I dined at Congdon Shelter with “Smoky” a NOBO AT hiker who was sitting there, rather mellow, having a cigarette (!!) After lunch I decided to push on as planned and head to Melville Nauheim Shelter. Smoky commented “It’s a beautiful day isn’t it?” And I realized, yes, it is. Overcast, cooler and no rain — it was beautiful.

Eventually a couple of light drizzle showers passed through, but barely enough to require a rain jacket. The last descent of the day was down Harmon Hill — very steep down long slick stairs. I had to walk very carefully, as the moss, leaves and rocks — all damp — were incredibly slick. And I did slip at least once, landing on my right thigh, smashing my camera that was in my thigh pocket. So much for the camera image screen — now badly cracked (camera still works).

A foot plank along the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Made my way to Route 9 — the highway to Bennington — the bridge across the Walloomsac River. I was just making my way up the first “staircase” when a local man out for his evening walk came up behind me and said that a week ago the stream at MN shelter was dry — he encouraged me to get water at the river. Forty-five minutes later….. I had gotten water AND left a note at the bridge sign alerting others of what the man told me. Halfway up the steep steep part — some time later — he was coming back down. “This is the worst of it — you’ve got it Girl!” He also said the water at MN was still quite scarce.

Later, when I got to MN there was water — even a little trickle to it. He must not understand that, as far as I’m concerned, just about any water is good water. As I approached the shelter, a young man looked up and said in a cheerful voice, “Hello Dawn!” It was Justin, my fellow NOBO thru-hiker whom I met on Day One! Such a delightful soul and good, cheerful company.

Melville Nauheim Shelter on the Long Trail. Melville Nauheim Shelter

Dinner done and cleaned up by 7:30 and in bed by 8:00.
And NOW the rain came. It rained and rained and rained all night long.

And cleared up come morning.

If you desire the self, get out of the self.
Leave the shallow stream behind
and flow into the river deep and wide.
Don’t be an ox pulling the wheel of the plow,
turn with the stars that wheel above you.

~ Rumi

A Vermont stream. Melville Nauheim Shelter

NOBO Long Trail Thru-hiker, Dawn Chandler, at the Massachusetts/Vermont border and start of the 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, 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

if expletives are uttered in a forest and no one hears them, do they make a sound?

Break of day in an aspen grove of the Santa Fe National forest. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

This is a ‘creepy’ forest tale that happened to me late June 2019. And it might have repeated itself this year of 2020, had I not learned my lesson! (More about that soon….) My ‘Tuesday Revelers’ may recognize this tale, as I shared a version of it last year in Volume 1, Issue 24 of TuesdayDawnings.

In mid-June I ventured for the first time this year to the forests above Santa Fe to paint one of my favorite aspen groves. As I made my way up the steep trail, I discovered a “tent” of caterpillars on an aspen sapling. As I hiked higher, I spotted more and more silky tents. Whole canopies that should have been festooned in beautiful jade green were now totally denuded of verdancy and draped instead in silky webs. As I looked around I could see caterpillars not only on the branches and leaf debris, but on the white aspen trunks as well.

Some areas of the canopy still had leaves though, so I pressed on, thinking “I’ve carried my painting gear all this way — I’ll be damned if I let a few caterpillars keep me from painting!” No other hikers were in sight as I made my way to a favorite secluded spot. I looked around for an insect-free log to sit on, then set down my pack, pulled out my painting kit, and after a few sips of tea and jottings in my journal, stood at my easel and began to paint.

Aspens Interrupted by artist Dawn Chandler, oil on panel, en plein air, 12" x 9"

Aspens Interrupted ~ by Dawn Chandler
oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 12″ x 9″

The forest was nearly silent, save occasional birdsong.

Then I started to be aware of an unusual and soft percussive sound.

thwiiiiip ……… thwiiiiip ……… thwiiiiip ……… thwiiiiip ……… thwiiiiip ………

What the ….

I realized it was the sound of caterpillars falling from the trees.

Being a righteous outdoorswoman, I tend to think of myself as having a higher tolerance than most people for things like insects and spiders and snakes. Really, generally speaking I don’t much mind bugs.

But even I have to draw the line at caterpillars falling out of the sky onto my neck.

I couldn’t pack up fast enough.

By the time I gathered up my gear, caterpillars had landed on my wet paints three times.
And every time I looked at my pack leaning against a tree, it was covered with yet more caterpillars — as was my log seat. As was nearly ever other surface in that forest.

Which leads us to ….

~ pondering ~

If expletives are uttered in a forest
and no one hears them,
do they make a sound?

{ … … … … }

{ … … … … }

{ … … … … }

Later, back at home, I had to take a shower just to wash away the creepy-crawly feeling.

{ … … … … }

{ … … … … }

{ … … … … }

And yet….

Two days later I returned to the aspen forest.

Only THIS TIME I surveyed the trees carefully from a distance in search of a large dense canopy of green leaves with no silk webs; I spotted one in the distance and bushwhacked my way there.

And there …. OH! YES! There I discovered an even more beautiful, wondrous, perfectly secluded premium flat and rock-free painting spot in an area of the aspen forest that I had never even known existed.

A doe in the distance among the aspen trees. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

With a little exploring, I found evidence of other hikers — but their evidence appeared decades old.

Somehow I had slipped through a hidden doorway and entered a magical kingdom — a forest kingdom I never would have known if not for the caterpillars.

What a gift.

Aspen forest plein air painting by Dawn Chandler - initial brushstrokes.

First brush strokes — laying in the darkest darks.

Aspen forest plein air painting by Dawn Chandler - laying in the darks and middle values.

Next, finding the mid-range greens and yet more darks.

Aspen forest plein air painting by Dawn Chandler - adding lighter and more varied greens.

Adding some lighter notes to the tree tops where the morning sun is catching them. Also adding in the aspen trunks — first by dripping Gamsol down the painting where I want to place the trunks, to “wash away” the paint. After dripping Gamsol, I’ll wipe away more paint with a rag, then go back in with a greyish-green to start painting the trunks.

Aspen forest plein air painting by Dawn Chandler - adding still more lighter greens to the trees.

Adding a few more tree trunks, and then moving into the foreground and lightening it up — first by wiping away some of the paint.

Aspen forest plein air painting by Dawn Chandler -considering the play of lights and darks in the foreground.

Adding sky, distant mountain blues through the trees, and more lights and darks in the foreground.

Artist Dawn Chandler's plein air painting rig, set up in an aspen forest above Santa Fe, New Mexico

Always, always always step away and reasses. Inevitably you can see better what’s workingin the painting and what isn’t.

Artist Dawn Chandler's plein air painting rig, in the New Mexico's Santa Fe National Forest.

This was my first plein air excursion with my new Day Tripper plein air rig from Prolifc Painter and I LOVED IT.

My Aspen Morning, by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler
oil on panel en plein air, 9" x 12"

My Aspen Morning ~ by Dawn Chandler
oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 9″ x 12″

It’s my understanding that, though the caterpillars may return for several seasons, they likely won’t kill the aspens if the forest is otherwise strong and healthy. Of course climate change brings all of that into question. As someone who unabashedly hugs trees, I hope with every cell of my being that our gorgeous aspens will endure. Learn more about aspen ecology here.

Artist Dawn Chandler's little painting oasis tucked away in the aspen grove.
Aspen trees - columns of light and shadow. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
A doe in the distance among the aspen trees. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler proudly social distancing in her studio among her Watercolor Wanderings painting series.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to my blog. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy this or any of my other posts, please feel free to share them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, 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.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

which would you choose?

First morning of summer, hiking the Guittierz Trails east of Albuquerque. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

There’s something you need to see — it has your name all over it.

— so My Good Man informed me when I arrived at his house late afternoon of the solstice. Whatever it was, he’d discovered it on his trail run that morning over on The East Side — the wooded slopes of the Sandia mountains. Over there on the east side is where NM Route 14 runs pretty much parallel to I-25 on the west side, though Route 14 is far more pleasant and picturesque and has become my preferred route between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

There’s a network of trails over there that he frequents, not the least because there’s a brewpub AND a coffee shop sharing the trailhead parking lot. Yet despite the opportunity for both warming and cooling libations, I had yet to experience — or be convinced of the merit of — these trails. We had gone out there once last winter during a bitterly cold morning, and were disappointed to discover the trails were slick with ice. After a few minutes of miserable slippery hiking, we turned around. I hadn’t stepped on the trails since. And, truth be told, though I enjoy driving up Route 14, there are parts of that side of the Sandias that have struck me as a bit monotonous in their drab and unvaried greenery — a surprisingly narrow-minded outlook for one who would like to think she strives for open-mindedness, especially when it comes to exploring trails!

But the promise of something remarkable was all I needed to get me up at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning, fill my travel coffee cup, load the pup in the car and drive over to the east side with My Good Man.

And there it was: the-remarkable-something-for-me-to-see revealed itself the moment we stepped on the trail:

The path was lined with stones, each hand-painted a gorgeous sky blue…

Painted blue stones line a path at the Guittierez trails east of Albuquerque.

each with an inspiring thought scribed on its cool smooth surface.

Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias

What’s more, there was an invitation for anyone who wanted to to select a stone to keep for themselves.

Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias

What a delightful, inspiring and generous gift — made for strangers!

My Good Man was right: This had my name all over it.

Now for the hard part:

Which one to choose?!

Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

I decided to wait until the end of our hike* to make my selection to give me time to listen to which one called to me most strongly.

Initially I was drawn to this one, what with my recent firing of FaceBook and determination to prove that one can survive and prosper as a self-employed artist without having to rely on social media:

Prove Them Wrong. Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

But ultimately I chose another — or rather, it chose me. For this one encompasses what that other one says, yet so much more:

Challenge Yourself - Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

My Good Man chose this one:

Better and oops than a what if. Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Which one would you choose?

*[Pics from that surprisingly mighty fine trail exploration coming up in next week’s TuesdayDawnings!]

Artist Dawn Chandler practicing safe pandemic awareness in her studio before her spring 2020 Daily Watercolor Wanderings series.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to my blog. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

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

Thank you again!

Stay safe.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

the tide of awareness on the longest day of the year

As a child I always loved the summer solstice, because it meant the days were now getting longer.

Think about that for a moment.
If you are a human being with any awareness at all of our planet, and you were paying attention to that first statement, then you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait… that’s not right….. The days begin to get shorter with the summer solstice — not longer!

And you are correct.
But I didn’t know that Truth — didn’t grasp it — until I was nearly 30 years old.

Mind you, I was well aware that with the winter solstice, the days begin to lengthen. But I never grasped that in June the days begin to shorten.

Here’s the thing: I grew up in the good old days when school let out (as it should!) on the first day of summer, and began again (as it should!) on the Tuesday after Labor Day. None of this sacrilege of school ending in May and starting in August!

When I was a kid, school ended and summer started on the summer solstice — my mother’s birthday. She always said she was “born on the longest day of the year,” and sure enough on that day, it just seemed like the days suddenly swung open in length and excitement and possibility.
From June 21st onward the days would stretch well past dinnertime, and evening would fold in with fireflies and the cooling of the grass in long lawn shadows.

For us kids, summertime meant exploring in the woods, building forts, softball games, and antics in the tree house. Of countless hours in the pool — even in the evenings as bats skitted the surface of the water. Of the 4-H Fair and funnel cake, fresh garden corn and coleslaw. Of road-trips north through New England to see distant relatives. Of camping trips on the coast of Maine and lobster and popovers and strawberry pie; of digging for clams and blue-green water-carved sea glass.

As a kid, the days of summer seemed expansive and endless and joyful.

Our esteemed writer (the ruby-robed princess on the left) partaking in a bit of summertime frolicking with her BFF, c. 1969.

It was only as September approached, when my little desk in my little room attained a stack of pristine new notebooks and sharpened pencils that I had the slightest sense of daylight lessening.

This was my experience of summer for most of the first three decades of my life.

And then in June of my 27th year, I was jolted into clarifying awareness of the Truth of summer solstice.

That summer I was living with my aunt on Mt Desert Island in Maine. I was a graduate student in painting in Philadelphia and had gone to Maine for the summer to work in an art gallery on the island. My aunt — a widow, her children long grown with families of their own — lived alone, and graciously took me in as her roommate that summer. She offered me an antique- and book-filled bedroom, and the freedom to do be on my own schedule and do as I wished.

Backdoor to the Kitchen, oil on canvas, 18" x 12" by Dawn Chandler

Backdoor to the Kitchen ~ oil on canvas ~ 18″ x 12″
Walk through that door and you entered a musty shed which led to the kitchen of my aunt’s 19th-century farmhouse near Salisbury Cove on Mt. Desert Island, Maine. My friends and neighbors have been alerted: If my house is ever on fire, grab three things:
1) My dog
2) My computer.
3) This painting.

This was to be my first time visiting her since I was a child. In my youth my family would spend a week camping on her property — an absolutely idyllic spot a quarter of a mile through the woods behind her house that opened up to a clearing overlooking Frenchman’s Bay. It remains the most perfect campsite I’ve ever known. Flat, grassy, with dappled sunlight, plenty of firewood, and immense gently sloping rocks that slanted down to the water — it was a camper’s dream.

Watercolor sketch of view across Frenchman's Bay, Mt Desert Island, by artist Dawn Chandler.

The view across Frenchman’s Bay from our camping site on Anne’s point. All of these watercolors are from the large journal I kept that summer of 1991 living on Mt Desert with my aunt. Unfortunately the paper of the journal wasn’t ideal for watercolors, but I delighted in painting in it none the less — especially trying to capture the various treasures I’d collect during walks at low tide.

The day after I arrived that summer of graduate school, I hiked through the woods to the point, and set up my family’s old canvas tent, amazed by how small it seemed now that I was an adult. Over the course of that summer I would spend many a day down there walking the shore, filling my pockets with treasure, and nights writing and painting in my journal by flashlight, soon lulled to sleep by the sound of the tides.

Watercolor sketches of treasures found along the Maine coast, by Dawn Chandler
Watercolor sketches of treasures found along the Maine coast, by Dawn Chandler

The tides were fascinating to me. For, other than my family’s annual excursion to this spot, I had had little exposure to the ocean — despite growing up in New Jersey, just a hour from “the shore.” While my friends would spend their summers and weekends “down the shore” we always went to the mountains to hike and camp. My father’s attitude was that if we were going to go to the ocean, then by God, we were going to camp! And so we did — here, “down east” on my aunt’s coastline.

A page of Dawn Chandler's Maine sketchbook, c. 1991.

As a child I was too young to have any awareness of the tides. All I knew then was that sometimes the water was high, and other times the water was low.

Now though I became intrigued by the relationship between the moon and the tides and the remarkable schedule of high and low water. Soon I learned that if you knew the time of the day’s tides, you could pretty much determine the time of tomorrow’s tides; that high tide and low tide were about 6 hours or so apart. That was just amazing — the clockwork of it!

A page of Dawn Chandler's Maine sketchbook, c. 1991.

But if ever you lost track of the time of the tides, there was always the annually updated tide chart — an accordian-folded pamphlet printed on thin, durable paper, with a series of minuscule tables mapping out with precision the time of each day’s high and low tides, as well as the exact time of sunrise and sunset. In my aunt’s house the tide chart was tacked near the old cook-stove in the kitchen.

That year June 21st — the summer solstice — was on a Friday, and I was looking forward to celebrating the kick-off of summer at a party with new friends down on the southern tip of the island. After the party, I was planning on sleeping in my coastal tent.
Anticipating a late evening, I went to the corner of the kitchen to study the tide chart and see what time the sun would be setting that evening.
My eyes scanned the numbers, noting that on the Solstice the sun would be setting about one minute later than on the previous day.

But afterwards, within a day or two the sun would be setting one minute earlier again. And the day after that, another minute earlier.

Wait, WHAT?

I looked hard at the chart, my finger running down the column for sunset. Each day after the 21st, sunset was a minute earlier.

By July 4th, evening would be a whole quarter-of-an-hour earlier than on my mother’s birthday!

I scanned the column for sunrise. Each day after the 21st, dawn would occur one minute later than the previous day.

It hit me like a tidal wave:

NOOOO! It can’t be!

I was astounded!

As I stood there in the kitchen a wave of embarrassment overtook me I realized the depth of my ignorance.

And sadness.

Sadness at the realization that already the cold dark days of winter were on their way.
I felt crestfallen that Mother Nature had let me down. She was supposed to be protracting summer evenings till September. Surely that was the promise she made to me as a kid, when school let out on the first day of summer, wasn’t it?

That evening of the longest day of the year was winged with melancholy for me.

Watercolor sketch of a hazy humid horizon along the coast of Maine, by Dawn Chandler c. 1991.

That was three decades ago, and while I no longer feel melancholy at the summer solstice, I feel, perhaps, a little wistful for those carefree days of youthful summers, no matter they were enjoyed in a daze of ignorance.

Mostly, though, I feel fortunate that I get to witness yet another cycle of these beautiful earthly seasons.

And gratitude. Gratitude that I get to perform a personal solstice ritual that holds meaning for me.

For June 21st remains the day my mother was born — some eight decades ago. And though she died of breast cancer 12 years ago, thoughts of her flood my memory constantly, and on this day especially.

Back when she was struggling to fight her cancer and was in the brutal cycle of harsh chemo treatments, she confided to me:

I’d give anything for a strong cup of black coffee and a glazed donut.

To this day I kick myself for not finding a way to smuggle coffee and donuts to her room, doctor’s orders be damned.

But in my way I try to make up for it.

For every year on her birthday — on the longest day of the year, on the summer solstice — I raise a steaming cup of strong black coffee and a glistening glazed donut to the sun. And on my mother’s behalf…

I savor every sweet, pillowy morsel…

I savor every dark richly roasted sip…

I savor every minute and moment of light.

Sketchbook, coffee and a glazed donut.
Extraordinary donut sketches by artist Dawn Chandler
Evidence of donut snitching

Teeth marks that perfectly align with the upper jaw of a certain 13-year old mutt….

Artist Dawn Chandler as a child in Mount Desert Island c.1968

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my blog posts and know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

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

Thank you again.

Stay safe.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico