If variety is indeed the spice of life, then Delinda VanneBrightyn has savored most every morsel in life’s cupboard.
From ballet and baton twirling as a youngster, to modeling on runways and for magazines as a teen, and all the way to dog-training and heading up Taos Search and Rescue today, VanneBrightyn has spent a lifetime of keeping her plate full.
“I admit to having too many passions,” she said recently in her dance studio on La Posta Road. “I loved too many things and never had to choose.”
During her interview with Taos Woman, her white German shepherd Akio Yodasan played fetch wearing a Taos Search & Rescue (TSAR) vest: a telling combination of a pair of VanneBrightyn’s passions.
In part because of dogs, she joined the Taos-based rescue team in 2002 (and is now its president). It was a move that embraced a number of her ardors: “I love dogs and I’d always been an avid hiker and lover of the wilderness. And, my mother had instilled a sense of community in me since I was a little girl. So search-and-rescue made sense on many levels.”
VanneBrightyn has participated in all sorts of searches: in the Río Grande Gorge, atop 11,000-foot peaks and in town. Among the most emotionally distressing for VanneBrightyn was looking for elderly persons with dementia who wandered off.
She recalls training on Wheeler Peak during late summer and running across a man in shorts, T-shirt, sandals and a sunburn. “A search-and-rescue mission waiting to happen,” VanneBrightyn called him.
TSAR has searched for hikers, hunters, even mushroom pickers who got separated from others, hurt, dehydrated, hypothermic or sick from altitude.
In 2008, she was part of the team that went looking for a pair of snowboarders who had disappeared at Wolf Creek Ski Area. The two men were finally found in the spring, after the snow melted, and VanneBrightyn learned some important lessons from that experience.
“The biggest angst for the families was not knowing,” she said. “And they had to wait all winter. So although the Wolf Creek incident was tragic, I got to see how closure is necessary before you can start the healing process.”
The Road to Taos
Like much in her life, VanneBrightyn’s path to Taos had a few unexpected detours before she settled here. In the early 1980s, she ran across Taos by chance and found a place that “struck me that there was something here for me. It felt like home.”
She got modeling jobs for artist Rod Goebel in his studio in what is now Casa Benavides Inn and started manufacturing shaped pillows for gift markets in New York and Los Angeles. But a love of dancing still coursed through her veins so, in 1988, she returned to L.A.
As life would have it, things didn’t go as anticipated. A bad car accident in 1992 not only put an end to VanneBrightyn’s dancing career, it also forced her to “recreate my life.” She suffered head injuries that caused short-term memory loss.
“It was a slow recovery,” she said. “I had to re-learn math, how to cook. I couldn’t always remember if I ate or not. I had occasional blackouts.”
The path to recovery became a rediscovery of herself: “Memory defines us, how we respond to things. So I had to rediscover how I responded to things.”
She taught some dance while seated and got into fiber arts. By 1999, VanneBrightyn was in Taos again. She had met Taoseña Polly Raye in L.A. who introduced her to developer Tom Worrell, who had hired her ex-husband as director of The Yaxche School.
“I started traveling and teaching again, so at the start, I didn’t stay too much in Taos,” she said.
But persistent health issues forced her to cut the traveling, and she settled in Taos for good. True to her nature, she got on the board of the Taos Center for the Arts, organized the first Quick Draw contest, opened a dance studio on Reed Street, joined TSAR and got involved with dog training.
“With the dogs, I wanted to give them a purpose, like what they are in search and rescue,” she said. “Obedience, behavior modification, agility — all of them can enrich a canine’s life. I get them to solve puzzles, to speak up, to get them tuned into human scents — and tuned off of animal scents — so they are able to locate lost items.”
VanneBrightyn employs Akio Yodasan (means Bright Hero Mr. Yoda) as an assistant in her dog training classes. Akio helps dogs get along with other dogs by getting fearful dogs to sniff him: “They may be dominant in the litter, but they have to be independent when searching.”
Dance, Art and the Future
In between dog training classes and search-and-rescue meetings, VanneBrightyn teaches jazz and tap dance to teens and adults a couple days a week. But, unfortunately, she can’t demonstrate the moves as easily as she once could.
“I can still dance, but I won’t be going ‘on point,’” she said, referring to the toe-standing position in ballet. “I don’t jump very high any more either.”
Along the way, VanneBrightyn got into glass artwork. She owns a 4-by-8-foot kiln for large works that, because of their size, have a hard time finding a home. But she’s come to love the art and science of kiln-caste glass, a “new frontier in art.”
“There are discoveries still to be made in this medium,” she said. “Because the materials change from semi-liquid to solid during the process, it’s a scientific challenge to understand. Pieces can be in a kiln for up to two weeks, with heating and cooling that change the piece."
“It’s a lengthy and painstaking process,” she added, “but I like contemplating the process, considering all aspects of what to create and having the time to manipulate it.”
What does the future hold for Delinda VanneBrightyn?
Personally, more glass work, for sure. In her studio, dog training and dance instruction, too.
For the community, a lot of plans for TSAR. Top of the list is developing a formal headquarters, finding a “real home” after 37 years. Membership keeps growing and getting younger, which bodes well for the organization’s future.
“We’ve improved our relationships with the Forest Service, BLM and Civil Air Patrol with mutual members and shared personnel,” she said. “We want to be a model for other search-and-rescue operations, to be the most effective service we can be.”
VanneBrightyn attributes her tirelessness and passion to her mother, who is still kayaking with her daughter at age 92.
“She taught me to be competitive only with myself,” she said. “My mother said, ‘Do what you love and love what you do.’ Because of her, I’ve found joy and success. And, I just don’t know how not to be passionate about things, again thanks to her.”