Breaking Trail: Gudy Gaskill Leads the Way

Gudy Gaskill’s death two weeks ago inspired a rush of outpouring by all who knew her. Gudy was a trailblazer—literally.  Our small Mount Vernon community knew her as a neighbor and family friend for decades, but the world at large knew her as the “Mother of the Colorado Trail” (more than 500 miles of trail stretching from Denver to Durango).  A painter, sculptor, and river runner, Gudy ascended all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, climbed 23,000-foot international peaks, and was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. She rallied our community to help her clear a steep hill of trees and brush so that the Mount Vernon children, along with her own sons and daughters, could learn to sled and ski.  After she died, her children wrote, “She taught us to love wandering in the mountains, the beauty of wildflowers, and the chill of a waterfall.”  

Western trailblazers like Gudy break ground literally and figuratively.  Around the same time as the 1988 official dedication of Gudy’s Colorado Trail, a new cadre of women writers began publishing memoirs about the West.  Terry Tempest William’s memoir Refuge broke early literary ground, followed by Linda Hasselstrom’s and Teresa Jordan’s memoirs Land Circle and Riding the White Horse Home.  Kim Barnes went on book tour for her memoir In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country the same month I began traveling the bookstore circuit with In Search of Kinship: Modern Pioneering on the Western Landscape.  Mary Clearman Blew and Judy Blunt garnered national attention with their memoirs about growing up in Montana, while Milkweed Editions published Homestead: The World as Home by Montana writer Annick Smith. Anna co-produced A River Runs Through It and was executive producer of Heartland.  

Kathleen Norris’s early book The Cloister Walk (which made the New York Time’s bestseller list), paved the way for her memoir Dakota: A Spiritual Journey. In 1997, Houghton Mifflin published Leaning Into the Wind, the first of three collections by western women. This trailblazing project kept my friends Linda Hasselstrom, Gaydell Collier, and Nancy Curtis busy editing for nearly a decade. Plant biologist Susan Tweit was also one of the early trailblazers with her memoir Pieces of Light: A Year On Colorado’s Front Range.

Recently, Susan and I shared with each other sections from our new memoirs (still works-in-progress).  After she read a section where I talked about the women writers mentioned above, she said to me, “This wasn’t just the literary territory where you stood, Page; it was within this literary landscape where you found your true self.”  Susan helped me remember that these women writers, who loved the West every bit as much as I did, had not only cleared the way for the rest of us—they had welcomed us.   

Now, I think about Gudy, and those of us who have “found” our most authentic selves while wandering and writing about the western landscape. I think of how often we have all stopped to marvel at the softly turned petals of a wild flower, or stood beneath the invigorating rush of a waterfall as Gudy's children have. This iconic woman, who shared tea with my mother, who baked bread for my husband and me, who walked each day from her mountain cabin to her plot in our community garden, this iconic woman who inspired songwriter Michael Martin Murphey to sing a love song to the Colorado Trail and a woman named Laura with eyes like the morning star and cheeks like a rose, this revered woman's memory will live on for many more miles to come.

Note:  Click here to listen to Michael Martin Murphey's The Colorado Trail.  Read more about the Colorado Trail and Gudy here.  Photos below were taken at an exhibit of Gudy's paintings and sculptures in July, 2014.


Julie Fowler said…
Page... always so willing to give a shout-out to others along the way. Your talent,kindness & love of the land have shone throughout your life. And even allowed this Eastcoaster to share in and celebrate a love of all things in nature (our mother Earth) as the grounding of our lives. Thank you, thank you.
Page Lambert said…
Julie, as always, thank you for your thoughtful and kind comments, and for keeping the West alive in the East!

Susan J Tweit said…
Page, I am honored to be mentioned in the company of Gudy and Linda and so many other women who have found themselves in the work of the land, and of reconnecting us with nature and our own physical/sensory selves, whether in words or with the swing of a pulaski to create a trail. I am excited to think of you finding yourself in this new memoir. I can't wait to read it!
Page Lambert said…
Susan, you've been cutting the trail for women for a few decades and always, the path you forge is one that invites others to follow. Thank you.

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