Over lunch, I had commented to my friend that I was shocked we hadn’t suffered any fires yet. The winter and spring had been worrisomely mild, and the winds had howled across April and May. And yet here it was one day from June and New Mexico had hardly suffered any fires yet this season.
The day was Thursday, May 31st, 2018, and an hour after supping with my friend, I was heading home to Santa Fe, taking an unusual route — north through Taos so that I could then bear southwest across the Rio Grande Gorge and out into the wide open sageland of Carson, where I hoped to get some photos for a commission.
As I drove up Paseo del Norte, I noticed an odd cloud behind Taos Mountain. That looks like smoke I thought to myself. A visitor to the Southwest might not have noticed anything unusual, but we who spend late spring worrying about fire evacuations have an acute eye for clouds. That’s got to be a fire… As I made my way across the gorge bridge and out through Carson toward Ojo Caliente, I kept pulling over to take a look, further convincing myself that that cloud was smoke.
Of course we now know that what I was watching was the smoke of the Ute Park Fire, which exploded across the heart of Philmont. (If you don’t know what Philmont is or why it’s significant to me, you can learn more in my bio). For the next 72 hours, the fire would double with every update, eventually reaching 37,000 acres, 27,000 on Philmont. Neighboring communities would be threatened and forced to evacuate, as vast acres of pinon, juniper and Ponderosa forests would be wiped out. Some of the most beautiful hiking country I have known would be rendered unrecognizable, despite the herculean efforts of an army of hundreds of heroic firefighters.
And Philmont would ultimately make the utterly wrenching decision to close its backcountry for the season — the first time in its 80-year history — crushing the dreams of thousands of Scouts who had been anticipating a summer of adventure hiking in “God’s Country.” But the continued threat of fire, and the threat of extreme flooding and mudslides, made the decision to close the only prudent option.
Meanwhile Philmont and its neighbors rose and continue to rise to the challenges of disruption with awe-inspiring resiliency. Summer staff have been reassembled and put to work on fire recovery efforts, while Philmont’s admin team has worked tirelessly in rescheduling crews for the 2019 season. Scout camps from across the country have welcomed troops whose Philmont treks were canceled.
And people have been giving — have been desperately, passionately wanting to give — to help Philmont. For while Philmont’s insurance will cover a great many things, it unfortunately won’t cover things like forest recovery efforts and reseeding.
So a great many people have made contributions to the Philmont Staff Association’s Fire Recovery Fund — which is a heck of a great way to help.
I decided though to do something a little different; to give in the way that I give best.
I decided to paint a picture, and auction it off.
So here’s my painting, which I did at Philmont a few days ago. I’ve called it A Philmont Morning is the Best Kind of Morning, and that morning that I painted it was indeed a “best kind of morning.”
A Philmont Morning is the Best Kind of Morning PAINTING AUCTION UPDATE
After a week of exciting, nail-biting bidding on eBay, I’m utterly thrilled to announce that my painting raised over $2,800 for Philmont’s Fire Recovery Fund!
A Philmont Morning is the Best Kind of Morning PRINTS
As of 1 September 2018, special limited edition prints are now available for $95 each, with $50 of each print being donated to Philmont’s fire recovery effort. Half have already sold, raising over $4,500 for the fire fund!
Click here for more details and/or to purchase a print.
I want to go back to Philmont….