FROM ROCK BOTTOM TO SKY HIGH
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life”
–J K Rowling
Into each life a little rain must fall; an adage frequently, and seemingly somewhat flippantly, spoken by those not currently employing the use of a heavy duty umbrella to deflect, not “a little rain,” but a monsoon. Dawn Wilson was caught in such a monsoon and it lead her to recreate the life she had always imagined.
Dawn Wilson grew up in the southern part of New Jersey. She was an active, outdoor kid who was a lover of all animals and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Photography was an interest of hers as well and something she studied and took workshops on but, by the time it came down to actually declaring a college major, Dawn went with ‘practical’ and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Rowan University. She moved to Philadelphia and worked in publishing while earning a Master’s degree in Marketing from Temple University. Her childhood desires had changed and she was now consumed with climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the economic fruits of her hard work. She had new goals now: big house, great cars and lots of exotic travel destinations. She and her live-in partner Aeric strove for the golden ring and worked very hard at reaching it.
In 2002 Dawn and Aeric decided they wanted to live in a climate more conducive to their outdoor interests and lifestyle. They both enjoyed the outdoors and the move to Colorado gave them the opportunity to do more of what they loved when they were not working their “real” jobs. Aeric and Dawn frequently tent camped, hiked, and kayaked on weekends and Dawn really began to take her photography more seriously. She joined photography groups and took workshops and classes. Living in Colorado with Aeric and their three dogs and two cats gave her ample opportunity to practice and she began upgrading her equipment and building a library of her own photos. Together she and Aeric traveled to all fifty states. Life seemed good and ten years went by quickly with both Aeric and Dawn pursuing their interests while sharing a home and responsibility for their pets. A restlessness and uneasiness was growing between them though and Dawn wanted more. She had grown tired of the corporate mantras and she and Aeric were in a place of having to redefine their relationship and where they were going as a couple. When Dawn was laid off, she found a new job that really interested her, but it was too far to commute. She and Aeric decided that she would head south and get a small condominium. He would stay behind and prep their house for sale and when it was sold they would reassess their situation and decide what to do.
In mid-2012 Dawn moved and started her new job. It was strange living in a condo and being away from Aeric and their pets but she needed change. It was at this time that the first waves of the tsunami that was about to hit Dawn’s life began to reach the shore. The first wave was a serious illness her mother was diagnosed with. It was made more stressful by the fact that in her new job she had not accrued any vacation time and could not fly to NJ to be with her and help. Things with Aeric were not going as well as she had hoped and she was alone in a new area with a new job. The wave that brought the news of Aeric’s sudden death took back out with it the last hopes of finding a way back for the two of them. The debris left behind was overwhelming. Where would she live? How could she take care of all the animals alone? How do you say goodbye to a person you have lived with and loved for so many years? How do you resolve all the unresolved things alone?
The news shocked and depressed her and she now had to regroup and find a place to live that would allow all of their pets. Still reeling from the news, she knew that the only option was to buy a house. Even in pet friendly Colorado finding a rental that would allow three dogs was impossible. Numb and functioning on auto pilot, Dawn relied heavily on her Dad’s wisdom in purchasing her new home. She wanted to place a bid on an older home but there would be work in it that she was afraid to take on alone. She called her dad about the roof, the suggested repairs, and the age of the house. She needed to feel backed up. On December 27th of 2012 she took the plunge and made an offer on the house. It was accepted and she was confident that with her dads help she could make the right decisions on contractors and the necessary repairs but that help was not to be. On January 1 of 2013, five days after contracting on the house, Dawn’s father passed away suddenly from a heart attack. The last giant wave rolled in and when it rolled back out the beach seemed oddly clear. Coming back from a single loss is hard enough. Being hit in rapid succession with life shattering losses has a way of clearing out the unnecessary and making a person crystalize on what is really important in life.
All of the life changes at once were affecting every area of Dawn’s life. The little waves kept coming too. Her house was robbed and a rock fell through the sunroof of her car. She had four car accidents that first year on her own. Managing the pets, house and job all alone felt overwhelming. Tasks which would have normally been no problem for her became difficult to focus on and complete. When Dawn came home and looked around her house at the possessions she had collected in her life and travels nothing held any value to her anymore. “It was all just stuff” she could exact no comfort from. As an outlet Dawn worked on her photography and writing. She sold her wildlife photos to editorial outlets and wrote freelance articles. She began selling her photos as prints and spending her free time in nature. She realized that calmness and healing was taking place in that environment. She asked her boss to find a replacement for her and she started looking in to the possibility of simplifying her life and hitting the road in an RV to write, photograph and educate.
In July of 2015, Dawn, after selling her home and scaling back her possessions, purchased a Class C motorhome. After much research she went with the Thor manufactured Chateau model. The floorplan allows her two remaining dogs and two cats to all coexist nicely. She tows her Jeep Wrangler behind her which gives her better access to remote locations. After a few practice trips around Colorado to learn the mechanics of operating the motorhome, she headed west in September to begin her three year adventure. Her plan is to photograph wildlife, write, and give presentations on her work and the value of our National Parks to schoolchildren across the country. Dawn is a wildlife photographer, writer, educator and wanderer. She was already all of these things. She just chose to reorder the priority she gave them in her life. She is not defined by her losses but strengthened by them. She told me recently: “If I let every trigger get to me, I’d be a complete wreck rather than a wandering soul! I have really focused on learning from the experience, treasuring the wonderful moments we had, and using the knowledge that my Dad and Aeric gave me about many things. I then use that energy to push me forward to new positive experiences.” Dawn’s rock bottom really did become the foundation of her new life. Her new life has no predictable path. She is free to wander where she is drawn; free to express what is in her heart through her pictures and with her words; she is alone but not lonely. I think she’s incredible and am so looking forward to following her adventures.