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Guest post: Finding Grounding in the New Year

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

It’s been a while since I’ve had a guest post on my blog, and this is really more a cross-posting than a guest post, but I’m honored to have Dawn Chandler’s essay here nonetheless.  Dawn is a long-time friend from New Mexico and I asked her to post this blog post as a follow up to my own Bosque del Apache images, partly because I can’t get those birds off my mind, partly because I wanted to share another artist’s perspective of the Bosque, and partly because I really admire her art and have been looking for an excuse to post some of it here.  So many thanks to Dawn for allowing me to share.  You can see more of Dawn’s artwork here.  

finding grounding in the new year

I never would have thought I’d find grounding in the sky; in flight.

This new year loomed for me with a feeling of. . . . . . lack of focus? Imbalance?
My birthday is in the week between Christmas and New Year’s—a weird time when I always feel kind of in limbo, what with a sort of post-Christmas deflation coupled with contemplation about the year’s end, and uncertainty of what the new year may bring.
This winter in particular, coming onto my 51st birthday and flipping through my new 2016 calendar, I felt oddly vulnerable by the blank pages, the lack of plans. I felt a little lost in the shadow of such big accomplishments and huge travel last year. In a rare wave of uncertainty, I felt unsure where to place my focus, both in my studio and really kind of life in general. This wasn’t a sharp uncertainty, but more a kind of sluggishness.

We—[My Good Man and I]—had plans to travel over my birthday and New Year’s, but the voice of frugality (which sounded uncannily similar to my dear late mother’s) whispered to me, and so with much disappointment I cancelled those plans.
But I like doing something special on my birthday, to make the day stand out. And so, Plan B.

We rose in the wee hours of the morning on My Day and headed down to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, some 100 miles south of Albuquerque. Established in 1939 and comprising some 57,000+ acres on either side of the Rio Grande south of Socorro, ‘The Bosque’ is the wintering ground of thousands migratory birds, especially snow geese and sandhill cranes.

I like birds, and always have. My mother used to feed them back in our New Jersey home with an almost religious fervor. If ever there were a question of who to feed first during a blizzard—her own children or the birds—she very well may have chosen the birds (fortunately her loyalty was rarely tested on this). She tended several feeders in our yard, including a beautifully crafted wooden one that sat front and center in a dining room window—a handmade gift from my father in the early years of their marriage. Nearly every meal of my childhood was spent in the company of birds dining on the other side of a thin pane of glass or veil of screen.

But I don’t think I ever really saw birds until a few weeks ago when the sandhill cranes of the Bosque glided into my awareness.

And now I’m infatuated.

I don’t know, but it was as though there was this tiny shadowed corner of my being that I didn’t even know was there, but when I witnessed these graceful, elegant birds soaring, gliding, cooing and flying close overhead, that shadowed corner in me suddenly became illuminated with pure joy.

And so we returned in January, again…and again…and again, making a total of five excursions to the Bosque, two by first light, three by last.

Because all I can think about now are birds—about cranes especially—and their movements and their staggering journeys.

4,000 miles.

That’s how far the sandhill cranes will travel this spring.

Think about that.

From New Mexico to the northern most reaches of Alaska and Canada. Some even fly from Mexico to Siberia. SIBERIA!

They can live 20 years or more in the wild.

They mate for life.

And in some western states in the US, it’s legal to kill them for sport.


~ ~

I’m kidding, right?

~ ~


I wish I were.


~ ~

The first book I read this year is Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices Over America’s Wetlands, by Paul A. Johnsgard. This paragraph—like every crane I’ve had the joy of observing—takes my breath away:

Considering the incredible hardships that lesser sandhill cranes must undergo to complete their epic spring migrations, to raise chicks under the most severe environmental conditions, and to accompany them back [thousands of miles] to traditional winter grounds while enduring a threat of gunfire from Alaska to the southern United States or Mexico, one must wonder about the humanity of people who think that killing cranes can possibly be sporting.

Well, I’m bringing those cranes who have been shot back to life, if only with paper; if only with paint.

a flock of five origami cranes, crafted by dawn chandler

The cranes and snow geese and hawks and so many winged spirits of The Bosque are converging in great flocks in my studio, some in flicks and flecks of paint, some in inky calligraphic swirls, still others in folds and creases.

'bosque morning rising' ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 12" x 24"

‘bosque morning rising’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 12″ x 24″


three origami cranes, crafted by dawn chandler


'finding community' ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6" x 12"

‘finding community’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″


'our spirits gliding' ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6" x 12"

‘our spirits gliding’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″


'evening dawns' ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6" x 12"

‘evening dawns’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″


'as they soar' ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6" x 12"

‘as they soar’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″

But of all the birds I’ve observed this winter, it’s the cranes who keep haunting me. . . .
Many cultures revere the crane as a symbol of good fortune, prosperity and peace. And yet the peace I find when I think about and observe these majestic beings leads me to understand that they are more than creatures, more than a symbol.They are peace in motion. And they’re moving across the pages of my calendar, the pages of my art, deep into my new year.

I can hardly wait until November, when they soar back to New Mexico, grounding me again.

~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To see more of my photos of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, check out my Instagram account at as well recent posts at the Travel New Mexico instagram account at

2014 year in review

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

“Walking takes longer… than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed.” — Edward Abbey

In several ways, 2014 was a journey for me, and I am grateful much of it was taken on foot.  With a couple of exceptions, my favorite images this year were made on hiking or backpacking trips.  In June, Jackson Frishman and I had a great trip through the Ansel Adams wilderness and another friend and I spent a wonderful week in August in the John Muir wilderness.  Both trips were highlights of my year, not just for the photography and scenery but also for the company.

Now that 2015 is upon us, the journey continues.  I’m looking forward to seeing where life takes me this year, and I hope you find yourself on happy trails in your own travels.

See some of my other favorite images from years past: 2011 | 2012 | 2013

Fog races over a hilltop at dawn

Foggy Giant Forest

Sunset in the Golden Trout Wilderness

Bentonite Hill Layers, northern New Mexico

Sunset over Minaret Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness California

Iceberg Lake, John Muir Wilderness

Granite Park sunset, Sierra Nevada, California

Pacific Ocean sunrise

Mojave Desert storm light

When it all comes together

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Sometimes in photography, as in life, things just come together perfectly.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, located in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico.  The Preserve lies on one of the largest volcanic calderas in North America; this supervolcano (as it’s classified) has the capability of altering weather patterns to the point of causing a small ice age if it ever erupts.  Try to imagine 1,000 km³ of rock and debris spewing from the earth–1,000 km³–I can’t quite wrap my mind around that.

The land was acquired by the federal government in 2000 as a trust, with a board of trustees making decisions about its management.  Still a working cattle ranch, the Caldera is administered using a combination of those policies used in national forests, as well as in national parks.

The thing that strikes me the most is that any event on the Caldera–whether it is hiking, sightseeing, or even hunting–is kept very small.  The idea is to give the visitor a sense of solitude.  Quiet contemplation.  Can you imagine if only 25 people were allowed into Yosemite Valley at a time?  That’s a very novel idea indeed.

Visiting this historic place, I knew I wanted to come home with both memorable and meaningful images.  First of all, I knew I may never get to visit here again, and second, it was important to me to make images of my home state that carried a sense of belonging.  Not knowing exactly what to expect, I hoped for dramatic light, and the time to let the landscape present itself.  Great light is often caused by crummy weather.  Fortunately, I got it.

Arriving late in the afternoon, rain was already beginning to fall from the thunderheads that had been building strength all day.  After looking at the map, we decided on a small pond that looked like it could get good sunset light.  By the time we drove up the mountain to our location, the rain had turned to sleet, the ambient temperature was in the mid-30s, and it was indeed beginning to feel a bit like autumn.

The rest of that afternoon was spent watching the fog rolling through the trees, constantly evolving, moving, transforming the landscape.  I thought of Sigurd Olson as the fog galloped through the trees like a herd of white horses.  The hauntingly beautiful bugles of bull elk looking for a fight came out of the mist from all directions.

A feast for the senses.

Fog and trees, Valles Caldera National Preserve

White Horses, September 2012

As sunset neared, the clouds cleared just a bit, and as I’d hoped, the fog settled in on our little pond, our small corner of the world.  All ours…tonight anyway.  The sky lit up giving us a perfect sunset.  Few things could have made it better.

Sunset on a small pond at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico

New Mexico sunset, September 2012

So it went for the rest of the weekend: New Mexico autumn.  Wildlife abounded.  Rain brought a last bit of summer life to the forest before winter’s grip tightens.  Light danced at the perfect times.  And, of course, green chiles were on the menu.   Thank you, New Mexico, for the perfect start to my favorite season.

Rainbow and thunderstorm in northern New Mexico

Autumn Rainbow, September 2012

Grove of aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) in autumn

Aspen Grove, September 2012

Redondo Peak, Jemez Mountains, New Mexico

Redondo Peak, September 2012

Fog drifts through trees

Fog & Trees, September 2012

The Gloaming Hour

Friday, July 15th, 2011

“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

–John Muir

 Not many people can say it quite like John Muir.  It wasn’t until I read this passage years ago that I’d even heard about gloaming–that time right before dawn or after sunset in which light present in the upper atmosphere illuminates the earth, which is not lit directly by the sun.

During the gloaming, one of my favorite atmospheric events occurs–the earth’s shadow can be seen on the horizon.  The dark blue band at the horizon is the shadow of the earth as the sun creeps nearer the horizon.  At this time, another phenomenon can be seen; the Belt of Venus is the pinkish band in the sky above the earth’s shadow.

Hoodoos during the gloaming hour in the Bisti Badlands of northern New Mexico

Gloaming, July 2011

There’s a lot of emphasis placed on capturing the sweet light as the sun rises or sets.  Indeed, it is sweet…long light on a mountain peak or on desert red rock almost always makes for a pretty photograph.  But, one of my favorite times of day is the gloaming hour, when there’s a subtle, but just as grand light show occurring.

What’s your favorite time of day for photography, or in general?

But I’m Not Dead Yet

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Over the last few weeks, family trips, a busy work schedule, and various home improvements have kept me extremely busy.  Of course this would drive any photographer/blogger crazy because I really enjoy writing, and I do have some new images to share.  I’ll be posting more in the latter half of July, but in the meantime I do want to put up some links to new images.

A few weeks ago, I shared an image from a small drainage near the northern border of Kolob Canyon, in Zion National Park.  Kanarra Creek, near the small community of Kanarraville, is such a great place, and despite its small size, it rivals the more popular Virgin Narrows in beauty.  In addition, south of Zion Canyon is a virtually untracked wilderness–the Smithsonian Butte National Scenic Backway.  Both of these locations, although “known” seem to be virtually “unknown.”  However, to celebrate the entire area, and perhaps to emphasize that there is indeed more to photograph that just Zion itself.  You can see my images of the Greater Zion Region here.

The Smithsonian Butte, south of Zion Canyon

Smithsonian Butte, June 2011

Over the Fourth of July, we made a trip out to the Four Corners Region to visit my parents in northwestern New Mexico.  While there, I got to re-visit the Bisti Badlands Wilderness, south of Farmington, New Mexico.  Although I grew up less than an hour’s drive from this amazing moonscape, I have to admit that I never fully appreciated it as a 17 year old (in fact, if I remember correctly, it was downright torture every time I was “forced” on a hike by my dad!).  What a difference several years makes!  I was sad to get only one morning in the Bisti, but you can view the images here.  Finally, in addition to visiting the Bisti, I was able to visit several other archaeological sites in the San Juan Basin; most of these sites were occupied by early Navajo inhabitants in the early-mid 1700s.  While this gallery will grow with time, you can see a couple of images here.

A Navajo pictograph from the San Juan Basin of northern New Mexico

Warrior Pose, July 2011

I hope you enjoy the images, and don’t give up on me…I’m not dead yet!  More to come soon!

New Mexico Images (Bisti Badlands & the San Juan Basin)

Greater Zion Region Images