They’re firmly rooted in Portland, but Tristan Perry and Sarah Schindler—he’s an arborist, she’s an academic—are going places.
Styling by Carrie Montgomery Hurlbutt
Hair and Makeup by Paragon Salon & Spa
Photographed by Tempo Dulu at the Danforth Inn
There is no visible floor space in the living room of Tristan Perry and Sarah Schindler’s West End home. Instead, there are neatly stacked piles of travel gear: meticulously folded waterproof jackets, rolled-together wool socks, down sleeping bags, and even a two-person tent. It’s a two-week wardrobe edited down to the minimal backpacking essentials. Early the next morning, at 3 a.m., the recently married 30-something couple will board a bus bound for the Boston airport, and then arrive in Patagonia for a vacation that combines his interest in the outdoors with her love of travel. “It’s a mixture of learning and adventure—an experience that is harder to come by when you just stay home,” says Schindler, who explains that they try to squeeze in as many trips as their schedules allow.
When they’re not off traveling the world, Perry practices another form of adventure. He’s likely to be found in Portland’s treetops, working as an arborist and owner of Onsight Tree Service. The name is a reference to a rock climbing term. “Onsight means to complete something flawlessly on your first try,” he says. It’s a word that speaks to his drive and sense of preparation, a skillset that crosses over from profession to play. “In climbing you come to grips with your own limitations with very real consequences,” he says. “Scaling a tree with a chainsaw and bringing it down is the same sort of thing. Once you start cutting you’re going to have a falling limb. It’s problem-solving and making it manageable.”
While Perry is in the treetops, Schindler is likely to be found in the classroom, teaching law at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. “I’m passionate both about teaching and the subject matter that I teach,” says the professor, who specializes in property and land-use law. “This type of law affects our daily lives so much,” she says. “The creation of our cities is based on it. That sort of physical sense of place—the reason that we feel good in some places and bad in others—is tied to issues of property.”
Schindler’s awareness of place—a fundamental reason she enjoys experiencing new locales so much—also helped her decide that Portland was the right town for her. Having grown up outside Atlanta, and then bouncing between Athens, Georgia, and San Francisco for her career, a job offer here “meant a place where I could make a home,” she says. “Cities that have some history, buildings that tell a story, that’s what I’m drawn to.” But it’s a sentiment that applies to more than just the city she chooses to live in. “I guess our house, or even my closet, which is small, bright, crowded, all my stuff is meaningful to me. It all has a story,” she says, “It’s the same thing with what I wear.”
Indeed, her closet is overflowing with thrifted pieces from the 1960s and 70s, a sentimental sea of retro colors and hippie flower prints that mark particular moments in her life—certainly not the typical wardrobe of an attorney. Schindler explains that she doesn’t teach in those more outlandish clothes—at least not at first. “It’s sort of a slow progression,” she says. She starts out the semester wearing traditional suits, then works in an occasional vintage blouse or brightly colored blazer. By the last week of class, she’s wearing a neon green skirt suit with gold leggings. “I tell my students that they should all have clothes that make them feel powerful, happy, and good,” she says. Thanks to her influence, Perry, too, now has an affinity for vintage—when we meet, he’s dressed in one of Schindler’s dad’s plaid Pendleton shirts from the 70s—and through some occasional modeling gigs, has acquired a couple of new, favorite pieces from Portland Dry Goods Co.
The two like to keep busy. Perry’s calm-under-pressure focus comes into play with his recent work as an ice climbing, mountaineering, and rock-climbing guide for a company based in Bartlett, New Hampshire. Schindler’s been involved with several community-planning projects, panels, and lectures, including instituting Portland’s PARK(ing) Day, an annual international event that turns metered parking spots into temporary green spaces, as well as participating in Treehouse Institute’s #CreateYourCity urban demonstration in Portland.
Recently, Schindler gave a well-received lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design based on a paper she’d had published last spring. “The focus was about how the built environment is characterized by man-made physical features that often make it difficult for certain individuals—typically poor people and people of color—to access certain places,” she says. “I think that all decision-makers, legal and architectural, as well as city planners and engineers, need to recognize the fact that our public infrastructure is often exclusionary; only once this is recognized can we begin to take steps to change it.” It’s a problem she plans on diving into further when she’s on sabbatical next year.
Where that will be? They’re not sure yet, but Schindler’s considered applying for fellowships in places as far away as South Africa. Wherever they end up, one thing’s for sure: it will just be one of many more stops to come on a lifelong itinerary of learning and adventure.