On December 7, 2018

The outdoor world is my studio

I’m inspired by artists’ journeys and the quality of their powerful work on an international blog that features 52 artists each year. It’s called “Artists Tell Their Stories.” Beginning Dec. 6, I’m honored to be the artist of the week. Along with showing colorful paintings of various places I’ve traveled and lived, it’s made me consider influences that made me who I am and people who showed me how to express my passions through venues of writing and art (artiststelltheirstories.blogspot.com).

Vermont holds a dear place in my heart because it’s here that I became a “nature child.” While building Dad’s ideal ski lodge, on weekend escapes from New Jersey life, he taught me how to love the woods, respect wildlife, and pursue a dream. Dad had a quiet spirituality that he reflected through his actions and outlook. He greatly admired Native Americans and had an affinity for indigenous peoples, having grown up around the world as the son of an American consul general.

Every weekend we came to Vermont to clear the land and build our house. At first, we camped in a tent in the woods with a makeshift kitchen under trees. Every night raccoons would raid our outdoor pantry, no matter what we did. They outsmarted us every time until Jack, my brother, locked the hutch door. Dad built an outhouse that Mom decorated with travel posters and Sears Roebuck catalogs. (She later became a travel agent when I began to study abroad.)

With cement block walls and a tar paper roof, we moved into the ground floor. A potbelly stove kept us warm. Our beds were lined up in the back room, and the kitchen was at its window end. Mom and I thawed out our hands washing dishes in water warmed on the Coleman or potbelly stove. We fetched the water in glass gallon jugs at the spring up Route 100.

Mom and my grandmother Nana were both accomplished poets. So as a child, while exploring our woods, I composed poems on bits of birch bark. Mom was trained as a classical pianist, so our home was filled with music by Mom and her piano students. Rhythm and cadence went right to my head. Now it comes out without second thought in my writing. It’s so embedded I can’t ignore it.

My brother Billy attended ski camp, then introduced us to the cook. That’s how we met the amazing Ann Wallen. She moved from New York to Killington to ski and work in touch-up photography at first. There was nothing Ann couldn’t create. She’d attended Pratt Institute and was multitalented. Ann became my artist mentor and my family’s lifelong friend. She introduced me to plein air (outdoor) painting, woodblock carving, and angel making. She taught me perspective sitting in our car on a rainy day outside a farm.

Vermont helped prepare me for living abroad, in variable conditions, with frequent challenges. I can’t say I “roughed it” in Monaco or Graz, but living as a student in Heidelberg and Paris wasn’t always a walk in the park. Vermont helped me manage while traveling and working in Third World countries where wits are key to coping with unusual difficulties.

What I absorbed most importantly from my years overseas was that we share more in common than any differences that might “separate” us. Every culture and people has certain qualities that stand out as examples for us all: kindness, generosity, humility, warmth, intelligence, knowledge, aesthetics, art, inventions, ingenuity, engineering, and respect for the earth and all of its people. Sometimes poverty, instead of wealth, accesses a depth in the human heart that can teach us all to have greater faith and focus on the virtues that truly matter. Wealth can cloud the clearest thought when “money is power” and “greed is good.”

As I wrote in my post for Artists Tell Their Stories, I described my time with the Mapuches of Argentina. While staying with Mauricio and Luisa Epullan where the pampas meet the Andean foothills, I learned that the poorest man in the tribe is the Mapuche Indian chief because he gives away whatever he has to any tribal member in need. Mauricio was the Mapuche chief.

This is the reason that I write, as well as paint. To tell the whole story, I need to use words. My art is more a reflection of the joy I feel when I paint en plein air, surrounded by nature in the open air. The earth nurtures me with its energy while in creative meditation. There, I feel divine presence.

That’s why painting on the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage across Spain, restores my soul and makes me whole. It’s where my soul feels most at home. To walk in the footsteps of a millennium of pilgrims on a spiritual quest puts one in tune with the spirit within, with our connections to nature, and with each other.

Of course, at home, the Appalachian Trail could be called the “American Camino.”

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.

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