In many of my past hiking columns, I have written about experiences I had with Conway artist Bob Gordon and his Tibetan terrier Champney. We took countless hikes together and with other hiking friends, and sometimes used each other as spotters when we hiked alone, leaving word with the other one where we were going and calling upon return.
Well, sometime this past Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, the day before his 78th birthday, Bob Gordon passed away at his home on the Kancamagus Highway. His Tibetan terrier named Champney, also getting on in age at 14 years old, found a good home on Wednesday with one of Gordon’s art students.
This column is dedicated to both. I first met Bob before he acquired Champney (named after Benjamin Champney, founder of the White Mountain School of Art in the mid-19th century). He and his wife Dawn had moved to the mountains so he could practice his craft at the source of his inspiration.
We met in the mid-1990s attending gatherings for those interested in spirituality. The first was a spiritual “search” group that met at the Eaton Town Hall. Noted speakers were Dana Sawyer, a religion teacher at Maine College of Art with a great knowledge of Eastern religions. Another was Pojen Lee, who would later be the minister of the Jackson church for 16 years.
We were part of Conway Community Sangha, a Zen group that met on Sunday mornings, and later a Tibetan Buddhist study group that met biweekly in North Conway and was run by highly qualified teacher named Zopa Walter from Ossipee. Interestingly, in the latter group, everyone who went was a hiker, and we would often meet there after a hike or plan the next one there.
When the latter group ended, Gordon continued to meditate daily on his own the rest of his life, and also returned to his roots in Christianity. Or you could say he never left it. He enjoyed the various ministers who preached at the Brown Church in Conway.
Nature and the wilderness were always part of his muse. He loved living here. His paintings have a meditative quality, whether a high mountain scene in the White Mountains or the fields of a daily farm in Peacham, Vt., with hills in the background.
As many know, he was at peace with himself and with the human and natural world around him. He sometimes told a true story of sitting and meditating up in the woods behind his gallery at the start of the Kancamgus Highway. A doe walked to within 6 feet of him and nodded its head toward him. Gordon returned the nod, and the deer left.
By the late ’90s we were part of a local group that hiked together. The 48 4,000-footers were soon finished by some, and when some of us acquired dogs, they went on to finish the list as well.
Gordon’s dog Champney finished the list and went on to do many more. Nancy Nelson’s dog Keisha finished and once went to the AMC 4,000-footer ceremony to get a patch (with Nancy of course).
Gordon and Ginnie Smith of Conway did the Long Trail in Vermont. Gordon hiked often with Shirley Landry of Conway, who hiked barefoot. More recently, he hiked with his good friends Charles Monaghan and Jim Salmon.
He hiked occasionally with JoAnne Murphy of Effingham, whom he met dancing at Almost There. I hiked with the two of them up Green Mountain, starting at her house. We snowshoed up through fresh powder snow bathed in sunlight.
My stories of hiking with Gordon and Champney are many. Once, we were hiking down Mount Tremont with Gordon, his Army buddy Buck Hogan, Champney and myself. Champney scared up some bald-faced hornets just off the trail. Champney was stung, Gordon and Hogan were stung and I got off scot-free.
Once hiking up Stairs Mountain above Bartlett, Champney was ahead of Gordon and me on the trail. He came back to us and started barking. Gordon told me that his dog would sometimes do that to warn him if the trail soon got harder. Sure enough, soon the trail steepened dramatically.
Years ago on Welch/Dickey over by Waterville, I was sitting on the ledge just below Gordon, Ginnie Smith and Nancy Nelson and facing downward. Energy bars were new on the market. Gordon opened one, rolled it up and put it on the ledge behind me. He said: “Ed, look at the bear poop!” I looked back and he picked it up and took a big bite out of it. That discombobulated me for a good part of that hike.
Whenever we hiked the Champney Falls Trail up Mount Chocorua with Champney, people would ask us if the dog was named after the trail. My pet answer was: “No, the trail was named after the dog.”
Champney loved the snow, and on a hike in power snow would stick his nose down in it until he was nearly blinded by compacted snow in his facial fur. We wondered how he managed to see, or if his olfactory advantage helped.
I have written a hiking column for various valley papers, and The Conway Daily Sun since the late ’80s. Starting sometime in the late ’90s, and until last week, Gordon called me every Saturday morning to give me a review of my column, sometimes just saying it was a good one, or sometimes giving me four or five stars. But that didn’t happen too often and only when I deserved it.
I will miss that. And my longtime buddy whom I could call up for no specific reason. Happy birthday, Bob.