Lena Marie Auxier, an artist and Magoffin County native, believes there was some divine intervention when she received an email in March an 82-year-old man in Alabama who had seen her artwork online.
“I get a lot of these kinds of emails, but this one struck me as different,” Auxier told the Independent. “He had included a lot more information than the usual spam emails and, when I looked him up, he’s a legend in the hiking world.”
Sunny Eberhart, who writes under the name M.J. Nimblewill Nomad Eberhart, was working on releasing a second edition of his book, “Where Less the Path is Worn: First Trek o’er the Appalachians of North America,” first released in 2004, detailing his first 347-journey of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and wanted illustrations to go along with certain parts of his book. He had seen Auxier’s drawings online and said her style was exactly what he was looking for.
“From everything he told me and what I’ve read about him, Sunny was an eye surgeon and one day was in his office, which didn’t have any windows, and just had enough. He quit his job, sold everything he had and walked the entire Appalachian Trail, from Florida to Canada, with just a backpack of belongings,” Auxier said. “He kept a journal and I think it was more of a soul-searching journey.”
Auxier usually does a lot of commissioned portrait drawings, as well as landscapes, focusing mostly on realistic, Appalachian-centered themes.
Eberhart originally commissioned Auxier for 12 drawings, but then decided he wanted 25 in total, to go along with each chapter, sending her photos from his journey to coincide with the story.
“One drawing he didn’t have any pictures to go along with it, but he sent me an excerpt of his book and he writes so well, so detailed, it was just beautiful,” Auxier said. “I felt like I was there.”
That drawing, featuring an old cabin in the woods, turned out to be her favorite, giving her enough latitude to pour herself not the work.
“Back in March, when I received the email, I had a lot going on and the pandemic hit and I was really stressed out,” Auxier said. “I truly believe this was a Godsend to me. It kept the world away from me and kept me busy. I’ve talked to Sunny about it and he said he feels the same way about finding me.”
From March to September, Auxier said this project was her main focus and when it was over, she couldn’t help but miss it.
“The hardest part was the pressure of knowing I had a deadline, but then when it was over and I had invested so much in it, I was like, ‘now, what do I do?’” Auxier said. “ I had poured so much of myself into it, but it helped me a lot to not have to think about everything else going on.”
Auxier has been involved in art for most of her life, with the last 10 years focusing mostly on pencil drawings.
“I’m really just self-taught,” Auxier noted. “I used to watch my mom, who used to draw and paint, and I would sit at the kitchen table and watch her, picking up little tidbits along the way, but mostly self-taught.”
For years she has done commissioned drawings of people, pet portrait and of old homeplaces for people for some money on the side, noting that each piece is an emotional journey for her as she learns about the people and the backstories to make the drawings personally fit to her clients.
As for the book project, Auxier explained each illustration could take a couple days up to over a week, with Eberhart giving her the freedom to take the photos and descriptions and run with her own ideas.
“He seemed to really like what I was doing,” Auzier said. “He emailed me one day a selfie and he was crying. The images I had sent really touched him.”
Describing Eberhart, she said he reminds her of Forrest Gump, with a long beard and flannel and how he just took off one day and went hiking.
“He’s a very sweet person,” Auxier said. “From what I’ve read, he’s a legend. No one has come close to what he’s done. He’s hiked the Appalachian Trail twice, the entire Route 66 and some trails out west. He writes poetry. When he quit his job and started hiking, he said he wanted to feel closer to God and he met a lot of wonderful people that helped him along the way.”
Auxier said she is very thankful for the opportunity this project gave her.
“I feel very blessed,” she said. “I truly believe God sent this man to me. At the time, a lot was going on in my life and the pandemic had started and here he comes. This brought me so much joy and I made a friend who just happens to be an 82-year-old man in Alabama.”
Between the stories, the photos and Eberhart’s unique writing style, Auxier said she feels like this was a journey she went along with him.
“Any time I do a drawing, it gets personal to me,” she explained. “He would send me a snippet of his book and it was just like I was there. It means a lot to me that he had the confidence in me to do this. I’m humbled and hope I can do this kind of project, again. I never thought something like this would fall into my lap, but I’m very thankful for it.”
Auxier said she had been praying about her art, wanting to get more serious about her work, and she has always been one to love a challenge, and this project fit the bill completely.
Aside from the art challenge the project gave her, Auxier said it also taught her about the process of making a book, contract legalities and negotiations, but she said Eberhart was so well-versed in the process and kind, he helped her navigate her first book illustration deal.
“There’s a lot involved in this and so many different people,” Auxier said. “It’s a big process and I didn’t realize that much went into that.”
While she always wanted to illustrate a book, she said she never expected it to happen.
“This was my dream,” Auxier said. “This taught me to not give up on my dreams. You don’t really know when something can come your way.”
At the end of the day, Auxier said she hopes when people read the book, her drawings will help them to picture themselves there, feeling what Eberhart felt along the way.
“I’m very proud of this and so excited,” Auxier said about the book, which was released last month on Amazon. “I’m more confident. I want to get my artwork out there more now.”
The second edition of “Where Less the Path is Worn: First Trek o’er the Appalachians of North America” can be purchased on Amazon and is available for digital downloads, as well, by going to https://www.amazon.com/dp/1649458207/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=where+less+the+path+is+worn&qid=1606677658&sr=8-2&fbclid=IwAR3euGY069oHtm97eYoGDpHJU7pyYcXXJo1rkhsnAk3kBM5a6tBfcslE4_s.