blessed are they that mourn

Chief Skedans Totem. Copyright 2012 Robin L. Chandler.

Brahms’ Requiem is a prayer for the living, and it begins “blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort.” I’ve been listening to it for days, seeking comfort, because a dear friend passed away on Saturday night. Last week, I found myself standing in Stanley Park, Vancouver, awestricken before a totem carved by Haida artist Bill Reid. Recreating a pole carved in 1870 in the village of Skidegate, Queen Charlotte Islands, the totem honors the passing of the Raven Chief Skedans; images of the Moon, Mountain Goat, Grizzly Bear and the Whale grace its visage. The Chief’s daughter erected the pole as a memorial honoring her father’s passing. I was in Victoria when Laura Tatum passed away. In the tradition of the memorial totem, I offer these watercolors today in remembrance of Laura. My friend Laura brought an extraordinary sparkle and passion to all aspects of her life. Laura had a smile that could light up the darkest of rooms. She was a superb archivist who specialized in architectural records and broke new ground engaging architects in arrangement and description of their archival collections.

Mount Rainier, Seattle, Sunrise. Copyright 2012 Robin L. Chandler

Work has brought me to the Pacific Northwest & British Columbia several times in the last year: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria. I have attempted to capture the region’s beauty in my watercolors.

View of the Olympic Range from Victoria. Copyright 2012 Robin L. Chandler.

In my mind’s eye, I see Laura, a native Oregonian, flying magically and Marc Chagall-like in the heavens over the rooftops and green space of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Her journey takes her northward from Oregon along the Cascade Range to Mount Rainier, westward to the Olympic Range, and northward again across the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards Vancouver and Victoria, her spirit living and loving, ever inspiring us to live life to the fullest. With this magic, I shall have comfort.

journey to the mountaintop

Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Copyright 2011 Robin L. Chandler

Life is all about the journey; it’s never about the destination.  Over the years, I have made many pilgrimages to Mount Whitney, a mountain that has “tattooed” my body and still lingers in my dreams. Many years ago, I began a dialogue with my “friend,” the tallest summit in the continental United States, and I am grateful that the conversation continues.  On September 15, 2001  – a mere four days after 9/11 – I walked the pathway to the summit (14,497 ft.) for the first time with six friends. On that journey, the mountain helped me believe in my ability to prepare, plan and confront my fears and doubts. Unexpectedly, the mountain helped me grapple with the tragic events in New York City. In 2001, I reached the mountaintop, looked eastward and was gifted with a glorious view of my country; I saw strength, determination and resilience. Looking to the valley below, I saw the result of similar challenging times beset by fear and prejudice, as realized by the internment of Japanese-American Citizens at Manzanar.

Now, ten years later, I returned to visit my old friend the mountain and see what stories the mountain might share. Seven of us started the walk up Mount Whitney on September 17, 2011 at 3:00AM: Connie, David, Doug, Kim, Margaret, Matt and me. In 2001, it had taken me eighteen hours to reach the summit and return to camp at Whitney Portal. Hoisting my pack on my back, I imagined myself back at the campfire around 9 PM with a well-earned celebratory brew in my hand. My dear friend Pam was coming all the way from Sonora to make sure we had a warm fire, pizza and beer at the end of our hike. But before fast-forwarding, I rewound thinking about when this journey really began.  It began months earlier with hours of hiking. April 2011, I hiked to Sill Hill waterfall in San Diego County with David and Margaret.  May 2011, I circumnavigated Monterey Bay with my friends Irene and Sara.  July 2011, Connie and I hiked Big Basin in Santa Cruz.  August 2011, Irene and I hiked in the Sierras surrounding Convict Lake and summited Mt. Dana in Yosemite.  August 2011, David, Margaret, Doug and I hiked Mt. San Jacinto near Palm Springs.  September 2011, I hiked in the Hurricaine Ridge in the Olympics in Washington with Umberto and Giovanni.  All lovely hikes with friends whose companionship I treasure.

Range of Light. Copyright 2008 Robin L. Chandler

Three of the seven argonauts made it to the summit this year; and I toast my compatriots David, Doug and Margaret for their accomplishment! Cheers! For me, this hike ended at nearly 13,400 feet somewhere amidst the 98 switchbacks between Consultation Lake and Trail Crest. More importantly, the journey to the mountaintop has never ended and I hope it never does.  This time, my friend the mountain shared with me long-lasting stories: the joy helping others accomplish great things, the grace in humility, the sweetness of friendship during hardship and pain, and the wisdom in understanding “its never over ‘til its over.”  I look forward to my next pilgrimage to the mountain.

In the shadow of the ancients

The Topatopa bluffs are part of the Condor Sanctuary in the Sespe Wilderness; the sanctuary is a space where the Condors can mate, breed and raise their chicks undisturbed by humans.  At sunset seen from the Ojai Valley, the bluffs glow “pink” from the last rays of the setting sun.

Topatopa Bluffs near Ojai. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

With their nine foot wingspan, Condors glide at fifty-five miles per hour ranging three hundred miles a day on the look for expired creatures that will sustain them.  Bradley John Monsma in The Sespe Wild writes “attempting to see the lay of the land through the eye of the condor quickly turns a wide-angle wilderness into a lesson in the limitations that we impose on other species.”  The Sespe is a crucial link in the foraging habitat used by the Condor for thousands of years ranging from the the Ventana Wilderness through the Sespe and Tejon Ranch to the Sierra Nevadas. Humankind continues to encroach upon the condor’s “home” as rolling oak grasslands situated along I-5 north of Los Angeles too often become real estate development opportunities.  But sometimes people do get it right.  In May 2008, a coalition of conservation groups – the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society of California negotiated a conservation easement to preserve 178,000 acres in Fort Tejon that will supplement the public lands forming the condor habitat.  There are approximately seventy condors in the wild and space and water are key to their survival.  I marvel at the condor’s ability to daily traverse a “u-shaped” area from Big Sur to the Range of Light.

Mt. Whitney and the Range of Light. Copyright 2008 Robin L. Chandler

Their need for habitat, fires my imagination contributing to my personal geography.  As Stephen S. Hall writes in his essay I Mercator in the book You Are Here, “I have roamed across state lines and oceans and continents, backwards in time, each thought colored according to a personal legend, corresponding to the elevation and depressions of my private humors: pride, wonder, sadness, remorse.”  We are here, now, navigating our personal maps, facing the emptiness of our  intelligence in a space and time where nature balances precariously between our greed and our benevolence.

Smokey the Bear

When I moved to San Diego last year, I did two wonderful things. First I joined the Sierra Club San Diego Chapter and enrolled in the Wilderness Basics Course.  Second I started hiking with my brother-in-law Doug. We chose hikes in the San Bernadino and San Gabriel mountains because of their proximity to Doug’s home and since I had spent thirty some years in Northern California any trail in Southern California would be an adventure for me. Our first explorations in the San Bernadinos included a hike through Jeffrey Pines on the snow covered Siberia Creek Trail, documented in this watercolor,

Hiking on the Siberia Creek trail
Hiking on the Siberia Creek trail. Copyright 2008 Robin L. Chandler

and a trek to the Pacific Coast Trail where it brushes by Big Bear Lake.   Our final adventure of last year was in the San Gabriels  hiking  Mt. San Antonio (known affectionately as Old Baldy) with my friend Dan.   Baldy is some twenty-two miles to the east of Mt. Wilson and Big Tujunga Canyon where the fires continue to burn now in their sixth day.  I keep thinking about those mountains — a challenge for  the north-south driver — but also a strong range charged with protecting the Los Angeles basin from the harsh temperatures of the Mojave desert and capturing moisture during the winter for the times of drought.   I keep thinking about the wildlife and people uprooted by such a massive fire and the lives lost, some heroically and others needlessly.  This evening I opened Gary Snyder’s essays Back on the Fire and thumbed to the “Regarding the Smokey the Bear Sutra” and this brief excerpt reads “a handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs showing that he is aroused and watchful, bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances….his left paw in the Mudra of Comradely Display  indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits…wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save but only destroys…wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the West, symbolic of the forces that guard the Wilderness….round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great Earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her….”  Thank you Smokey.