Up the Rattlesnake (Montana is ugly).

Here’s the thing:

Montana is really, really, ridiculously good looking. Example A:

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It’s hard to take bad photographs here. It’s hard to not feel the urge to have a camera on you 24/7 (I usually have more than one to be honest). The sunsets, the trees, the mountains in the Western part of the state- it’s all very ‘Gram worthy (and in fact, I have noticed a lot more “influencers” who are based out of Montana- but that’s a story for another day).

It had snowed pretty consistently Sunday morning so Brenna and I postponed a longer hike and chose to head up the Rattlesnake. This is an area of Missoula that is busy with recreationists year-round, and we were passed by bikers (in the snow, mind you) and soon, I am sure ski tracks will be rife up there as well. Most Montanans (me excluded) have adapted to the reality of winters that last a minimum of six months, and have outdoor hobbies. Again, not me.

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Anyway, we went on a short-ish jaunt in the snow, and it was beautiful. We chatted, looked for animals, admired the quiet of the landscape, and soaked in this manageable amount of snow and cold.

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Here’s Montana in all her ugly, #nofilter. You’re welcome.

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Found film: Iceland, May 2015

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Hiking in Iceland was gleefully devoid of warning signs. We stayed on the trail, walking through apocalyptic-feeling sulfur clouds, bathing suits and towels and water packed on our backs. There were one or two signs that let us know to be careful, but a few miles in the trail was devoid of directions.

I like that. I liked the idea that the Icelandic government, the people, whoever, just didn’t bother to post warning signs everywhere, unlike the sign-strewn Yellowstone National Park, which at some points shows children being boiled and burned alive encountering geysers, just in case the wooden boardwalks and the bubbling mud pots weren’t enough of an encouragement to stay on the path. I secretly, morbidly loved the idea that people who were dumb, who didn’t pay attention, could end up in trouble out here, in this barren, strange land with billowing steam clouds, plushy moss, hot ground, snow patches, and rushing creeks coming from sandy, rocky, steep hills. Get your shit together people, just pay attention. 43856350020_1ac2615a49_c43856347250_d43bb8e140_c31802027998_89683ba317_c31802030858_5881a88466_c

We hiked to the hot springs, which were full of loud, naked German men. We immediately decided to keep hiking and wait them out, not wanting spring-mates in the form of slightly intoxicated, boisterous boys who were without a shred of clothing and likely decorum. Nein, danke. As we hiked, it got lonelier, and we encountered fewer and fewer people.

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The land was part Yellowstone, part meadow, part alien. It was bare, with moss, lichen, colorful soil, and lots of pocked, bare volcanic rock. Emily and I were amazed, not even close to tired, even after we’d been hiking for hours. We eventually turned back, and found the river mostly to ourselves, enough that we put down our packs and slipped in. It wasn’t hot; it was warm enough that the day we went it was comfortable, but on a colder day I wouldn’t want to swim! Eventually more and more people packed up and left, and we took off our bathing suits and, like the prudish Americans we were, enjoyed the privacy. I felt like a nymph from a painting in the water, silly and un-bothered by anything.

It really was a joy to re-discover some photos of one of the best days I’ve had on this earth, with one of my favorite humans, in a place neither of us knew and marveled at.

Preparing to leave, part two (visual).

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My time here summed up in visual form.

Photography is a tool, and even the most casual of photographers use this tool in decisive ways. I have used mine to capture the fleeting moments that will last, longer than my anxious thoughts or potentially sad feelings about this place, because if you put me in a corner and asked me, truly, if I was happy here, I would have to tell you that there were moments that were fucking blissful.

Seeing the sunset on our street. The first night we spent in our home. Meeting Logan’s friends from Brazil, bridges between our two worlds that I hadn’t known before. Late nights at the VFW watching a good live show with Nick, Logan, and Ev, feeling like the universe sent good people to be around. Chelsea’s all-too-brief visits that were filled with photos and chats that my soul needed. Quiet mornings at Bernice’s and Butterfly Herbs, nestled at tables and booths with a library book and a note pad. Kettlehouse afternoons, with delicious beer and salty peanuts. Drives out to the Lolo National Forest for fishing, exploring, and renewal. Walking to work in the snow, having the early morning feel like it was all for me as I made the first human footprints on my walk . Watching spring be tenacious and persistent and then take over Missoula with a ferocity I reveled in, photographing blooms and green, chlorophyll-devouring things as eagerly as they emerged from their deep winter slumber.

 

Stony Creek Cabin

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Late spring at a Forest Service cabin nestled in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. A moose had been bedding in the front lawn of the hundred year old cabin, a creek rushed loudly and busily across the road, farmers drove by in trucks kicking up dust clouds, and we made a fire that we sat by, quietly chatting, for hours.

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3 am and we could see stars and planets and satellites. I felt alive and happy, connected to new friends and old ones by the fire and the woods and the sounds of outside. The cabin was one hundred years old, and as I slept a little resident mouse ran back and forth along a beam near my head.

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In the morning I found moose tracks, wild strawberry plants, shooting star wildflowers, and lots of other evidence of living fauna. We had to drive over a water-logged road because Rock Creek was overflowing with runoff, muddy and fast. We were tired and happy together, breathing clean air.

 

First Yellowstone trip of the year!

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April in Yellowstone is kind of a crapshoot. You never know if you’re going to have a blizzard roll in, a bunch of hail, or a perfectly clear, beautiful evening. You could literally encounter anything- elk in your campsite, bears, unruly humans- and you have to be prepared for all those options.

We drove through Paradise Valley, past the fast-moving, brown Yellowstone River, admiring the cloud-covered peaks of the Absaroka range. We got to the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. A park ranger let us know we got the last campsite in the area (yes!!!) and we proceeded to pitch our tent on the raised platform. This was the first time we would be sleeping in our new-ish tent that we had gotten for a ridiculous steal at an REI garage sale.

After pitching our tent we drove to the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, and walked on the creaky boardwalks all over. The smell of sulfur belched from the ground, and there were dozens of cow elk scattered nearby, many of them pregnant. I wondered when they would be surrounded by their small, awkward calves and hoped I’d get to see some soon!

I ran into an old classmate from my Swiss college on the boardwalk as we were coming down. I hadn’t seen Heather in over seven years, and here she was! We hugged, and I shook my head in bewilderment. After attending Franklin College in Lugano, I feel so lucky to have my world be so small that I get to have experiences like that.

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Logan and I bemoaned the stupidity we already saw visitors exhibiting. We saw women try and pet the pregnant cow elk, and behind my gritted teeth I let out a vile hope that the elk would charge or kick somebody who dared to disrespect their personal space. Red dogs, or baby bison, cavorted outside our campground, and people got way…too…close…to photograph and marvel at the tiny little devils, who were dwarfed by their much larger, scarier mothers and fathers.

Yellowstone is best before Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day, but it was still so awful to see so many people stressing out wildlife and putting themselves in danger. I usually refuse to visit after June starts because it just gets to be too much- I tend to become enraged so often seeing the ridiculous amounts of idiocy being exhibited by humans, so I just stay away.

Regardless, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Logan and I tried to go to the Boiling River, but the river was moving so swiftly, full of run off, and there were so many people crowded in the hot spots that we decided to try again tomorrow morning before too many people were awake. This plan was ultimately foiled.

We went back to our campsite and started a fire with dry grass, newspapers, and matches. We made some hot water for tea and cooked kielbasa, and then a hard wind came down, accompanied by fat, unapologetic drops of rain. We got into the car (the tent was being blown almost vertically by the rain) and waited it out. Soon, hail pelted the car. We looked at each other and wondered if we would need to get a cheap motel in Gardiner, because if the weather kept up this way there would be no way we could sleep in our tent, even with the rain fly on and it being sturdily staked in the ground. The wind was just too much!

Luckily after about 40 minutes it all subsided, leaving us with a beautiful full moon and some fluffy, nonthreatening clouds. We spent the evening eating and sitting by the fire, having a beer or two and just chatting in the way that a fire encourages people to talk. Eventually it was time to retire, and we crept into our little green tent and nestled into our sleeping bags. I slept like a rock, not waking until about 5 am, when the birds began to serenade us and the sun began to slowly make itself known. Logan stirred, and I rolled over, wanting to sleep in but also wanting to get up and get to the Boiling River.

Finally around 7 am we got up, put on bathing suits, and headed down the road. It looked like there were no cars in the lot! Yes! Upon driving closer, we saw why: the park rangers had locked the gate, which was a sure sign that the Gardner River had been deemed too fast and dangerous to stay open for visitors. We barely missed it!
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We went back to our campsite and made coffee and cooked the rest of our kielbasa for breakfast. We then decided to drive through the whole park to see what it looked like. Once we got outside Mammoth the temperature dropped rapidly, and we saw layers of snow that had been plowed off the road piled high. Mated pairs of sandhill cranes stalked in shallow streams, and we saw bison partially hidden behind curtains of billowing steam from the volcanically-heated waterways and geysers. There weren’t many people out and about, and we marveled at the sun glinting from mountain tops and how green everything was already.

On our way home, we stopped at Norris Hot Springs to soak for a bit, because we were at the bare minimum going to get to soak in at least one hot spot! Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds and mountain bluebirds trilled and called from the marshland around the hot spring, and we let ourselves relax. We shouldn’t have- as I drove over the mountain pass that lies before Butte, a freak snowstorm swept over us. Massive amounts of snow were falling, and the road was quickly getting full of slow-moving, careful cars. The heat in our car gave out, and I had to ask Logan to wipe the inside windshield so that it wouldn’t freeze up and block my vision. It was late April, and we were in the middle of a fucking blizzard?! I cursed my way over the pass, knowing that as long as we went slowly and carefully we could make it to the other side.

Eventually we did! It was quite a journey. We got home after 10 hours in the car in one day and collapsed in our beds. It’s always an adventure going to Yellowstone, no matter what you expect will happen.

The Oregon Coast

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It’s pouring rain outside and the lights flickered a little bit. I thought, “thank goodness for a full computer battery and the weird little LED lantern we bought for camping”, if the power did indeed go out.

I finally these pictures scanned, and they make me feel things. We stayed in Seaside, Oregon for one night, thinking it would be the sort of resort town that idealizes life, and instead it brought out all the ugly things one pushes to the edge. We stayed at a B&B that was beautiful, but it was so windy that going outside was nearly impossible. Tried to find a good place for a martini or something strong and nice, but instead found only dive bars and tourist-y places that had the veneer coming off of them far too quickly. We did our best and found sushi, seafood, and bad mixed drinks. We saw people who go on dates to gamble, each taking a twenty dollar bill, and one bar had a garish plastic rat stuck in the wall. It was a strange town, vaguely sinister, and we were quite happy to pack up and leave. Perhaps in the summer it’s a slightly better place to be? People seem to think so!

Driving the Oregon coast was strange and beautiful. Lots of little towns strung together by a highway, some barely held together by the bookends of a church and a bar, others flourishing with multi-story buildings. Woods, rolling hills, the sea and tributaries flowing into the sea, which we followed as we drove. We got out periodically to eat, take pictures, breathe in the salty air, and relish the warmth of the already-present spring. I want to go back, very badly, but with one exception: I think Seaside, for whatever charm has made it a destination, will remain a place in my past.

A brief interlude in Portland.

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After 13 hours on a train, we got out at Union Station and took an Uber to the house we’d rented. The driver bemoaned the uptick in rent, the crazy amount of people moving into the city every day, but eagerly told us about the cherry blossoms, spring, and the local music scene.

Portland was a lot of what I had assumed- full of young people with eclectic ideas of fashion, lots of niche coffee shops (one catered entirely to basketballers and sneakerheads), and so many restaurants I wondered what the failure rate of eateries in Portland was.

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It was also a city full of theater, art, parks, and beautiful buildings tucked away in quiet places. It bridges the beautiful, deep Columbia River, and we walked over one of the bridges that link the city together, and looked at the large ships anchored on the edges of the river. We tucked ourselves away out of the expected rain in a pub dedicated to British soccer that was wonderfully grimy and character-filled. We tried to get tickets to see the Portland Trailblazers play, to no avail. I ate a lot, walked a lot, and the humidity did things to my hair. I admired Childe Hassam paintings and saw Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs and made fun of statues with historically questionable quotations attached. It was a much needed, humid, warm (er) respite from the unyielding grip of Montana winter. 27745408978_43926b02b6_c40903606394_2ea45b0872_c40903610514_a88c989bce_c

Cape Kiwanda

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It was windy, blustery, loud, and sandy, and yet so beautiful I wanted to sit down and watch the waves for hours. We walked through the dunes and emerged onto the beach, unprotected and being bombarded by wind and waves. The wind threw pieces of sea foam across the beach, and I jumped down on them as they flew in my direction. We let the wind not so much caress as assault our faces and senses, because the view was spectacular. It was unkind to people, and so we had the beach to ourselves. Everything was different, less saturated browns, greys, and greens- even the water looked dull and matte in color. Birds were whisked away by the wind and we watched them move quickly above our heads. It was too cold to stay for long, and too windy to be truly savored in the way we would have liked, but it was still epic and it made my think about the meaning of my life, how small and somewhat silly my existence is, and yet how marvelous it was for me to see this beautiful expanse of sand and sea that was so indifferent to me.

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A much needed respite.

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We flew home yesterday, coming back to a strangely green Montana. It has been so, so long since I saw more than a few bits here and there of living, chlorophyll-consuming flora!

Oregon had an excess of it. Vines tangled everywhere with roots, trees growing on top of trees, forest groves so dark that it was shadowy hours before the sun set within them. We felt the mist of waterfalls upon our faces, gazed at drop-offs where thousands of gallons of water flowed down. We saw flowers of all sorts, wild and cultivated. All over the farmlands of Oregon, fruit trees were blossoming, showing off neat rows of perfect blooms on perfect branches. Tendrils of mist ran down from the heavy clouds and the fog seemed so thick at times that we could have reached out and cupped it.

We slept in a yurt one night, with the rain coming down so hard that I couldn’t hear Logan speak if he was more than a foot or two away from me. INtermittent bouts of hail made the dim even louder, so that we could hear nothing but the water coming down in it’s various forms. At one point with the lights off it was so dark I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed, and combined with the sound of the rain it was quite discombobulating, but absolutely new and in this way wonderful.

We didn’t see many creatures, but rather saw or heard traces of them. Deer footprints sunken deep in mud and debris covered forest floors, the echoing call of a fussy bald eagle early in the morning, signs on the road that merely said ELK, black against yellow. We tried to find hawks that called dramatically from tree tops with binoculars but never saw them, secretive creatures. I got to see a lovely, fat slug on a trail outside Portland, and I hadn’t seen a slug so green and large since I had been on the Juan de Fuca trail with Morgan some years back!

Oregon was lush in a Dionysian sense, with vineyards everywhere and wine tasting rooms by the dozen. We ate salads with chopped roasted hazelnuts and the waitress at one restaurant proudly gave us a litany of facts about hazelnut production in Oregon, which apparently is one of the biggest producers in the world. My father, who has been living there for almost a year, boasted about the crops of cherries, apples, marionberries, salmon, crab, and other natural foods that are plentiful in the waters and hills of the state.

Overall, I ate too much. I slept too little. My eyes drank in sights I needed to see, that my soul craved. Steep cliffs shrouded in fog, enormous waves crashing against rocks, not knowing their own power to awe me. Waterfalls coming out of nowhere, with the wind whipping the water into clouds of mist. Shades of deep green I want to have a dress in, and craggy, moody mountains. Delightfully sleepy riverside towns, big historical breweries that serve hearty clam chowder. Clothes made for layering and nestling in. It has been almost a year since I moved out of Victoria and my heart needed to fill the space that Victoria left with some moody, ocean-side things. Oregon filled it up a little bit, which is almost worst than not at all. Now my urge to move back is stronger than ever. I ache for the quiet mornings by the ocean, hearing the rhythm of the waves and simply being, not thriving or acting or doing or making, but being in the wonderful body I have by another, more primordial or essential body that is omnipotent, terrifying, and soothing simultaneously. Ah, the sea.

I have rolls of film I need to pick up tomorrow and get scanned in, and I cannot wait to show you more of Oregon. I hope for now that my words will do.

2017, you can rot in hell, but I’ll remember you fondly.

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Wow, 2017, what a simultaneous adrenaline rush of a year. I felt like I was always battling a dumpster fire outside my house but also consistently smiling while doing it.

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Biggest accomplishments: Writing a really, really solid thesis I was super proud of, defending it, and getting my Master of the Arts degree from University of Victoria. I got to write about an incredible, strong, funny, complex, and real woman named Evelyn Cameron, who settled in Terry, Montana in 1891 and died there in 1928.

Also, having a military professor at a school in British Columbia tell me he was grossed out by my conference presentation in Qualicum regarding blood transfusion techniques in World War I.

Getting to move in with Logan in our little yellow house. We dated long distance while I was in graduate school and have only ever gotten to spend a few months at a time with each other. Moving in with somebody, which I’ve never done, was terrifying and a fucking blast. We managed to get our shit together and put everything we owned (very little) and donated furniture (a lot) into a U-Haul and a truck and unpack it all, without injuries. However, at the end of it, Logan did say “you’re about 70% weaker than I thought”. Oops!

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Biggest setback: Spending four months unemployed in Missoula, feeling like a garbage person and having really really bad mental health days. Being unemployed as somebody with an advanced degree, a good work ethic, and an able body was humiliating and uncomfortable. Sorry to anybody I vented to a bit too much during that time- I felt paralyzed with frustration, anger, and fear.

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Places I went to: We went to Glacier National Park in July, and did some hiking and photographing up at Logan Pass! I made Logan take a picture in front of the Logan Pass sign, which he did but only begrudgingly.

Logan surprised me with tickets to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in San Francisco, so we went and stayed with my friend Adrienne. We got to soak in an Edvard Munch show at the SFMOMA, which was absolutely a joy, eat some really good Malaysian food, pho, and see the famous/infamous San Francisco Bay fog creep up all around us. At the Nick Cave concert I openly wept a few times.  It was amazing.

In March I surprised Logan as he flew back to the States from Brazil and we got to see Patti Smith with our friend Mary, who has been busy kicking ass in law school. We also go to see the Guillermo del Toro show at the Minneapolis Museum of Art! It was so wicked to see the props and the art that influenced his films, which I love so much.

In May I went to Cape Cod with my family to see my dad’s side of our family, and I got to spend time by the Atlantic, bought a really lovely dress, ate a lot of amazing food in Provincetown with my aunts, and saw Exa, my amazing friend from Boston. 35305006476_a766fbd820_c

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Goals I set in 2017:

To photograph myself more, and not hide behind the lens as much. I did this quietly, in the morning, on my long walks before most people were out. I still get too nervous to ask people to take my picture!

To get my MA done this year on time! Somehow, with a really intense writing schedule from my thesis supervisor (Thanks Dr. Cleves!) it happened. It not only happened, but I got to write something I would call compelling, and I seriously enjoyed putting my thesis together and molding it from a pile of documents and a lot of muddled thoughts.

To roll with the punches more. I am a bit controlling and introverted at times, as I have spent much of my adult life living in places without a lot of friends or people to check in with, and as such I have become independent to the point that to this day it’s difficult for me to let others drive me around or trust that when Logan goes to the store he’ll get everything we need.

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For 2018 I want to: 

Learn Portuguese really, really well so that when I go to Brazil this year I can speak and understand what people are saying, or at least some of it.

Save more money so that the things I need (a visa to Brazil, plane tickets, student loan money) are taken care of and there’s a little left over.

To photograph more medium format film- I haven’t shot more than ten rolls of 120 film in my life, but I always love it, and I love scanning it in. The perfect square is also a very satisfying thing to look at, and the negatives are SO BIG and BEAUTIFUL!

To watch more film noir and crochet more. In 2015, while I worked a really awful job with the worst boss(es) you could possibly imagine, the only thing that saved my sanity was coming home, watching an old movie, and making something with my hands.

Make photographs I am proud of and get more creative with my photographs. Maybe even make a little money off of them this year!

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The Big Island on Film

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How do I even begin to sum up 6 days on Hawai’i’s biggest island? It was, in short, too brief of a time to even begin to scratch the surface of everything to do.

We snorkeled in the cool, clear ocean, seeing fish and eels and anemones. We ate shaved ice all over the place, our hands getting sticky and the sugary goodness making us smile after a long day hiking or exploring. We hiked at Pololu Beach outside Hawi, and fell in love with large, complicated trees that looked like they had some stories to tell. We walked around tide pools and saw sea slugs and other invertebrates, and walked around four hundred year old walls made with free masonry by the Hawaiians at a sacred place by the sea. I fed tiny, tiny bits of papaya to a bright green gecky outside Hilo, and found out that those geckos do not like little bits of tomato. We slept a lot, and slept well. We got sunburned at the beach and I got to see a pod of dolphins playing in the distance. The island felt wild most of the time, and uninhabited or scarcely so. We drove way up high in between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and saw little shrubs begin to tenaciously take root in the hardened lava rocks, making way for grasses, trees, and other flora to make their stand. I felt happiness and nostalgia and a love for the sea so intense that at one point I wanted to just sit and become part of the rocks I was sitting on and just listen to the waves crash again and again.

But don’t listen to my hastily formed words that are now almost three weeks old. My images are much more comprehensive.

I’m not dead! I’ve been in Hawai’i!

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…And no, this isn’t Hawai’i. This is cloudy, gloomy, beautiful early morning Missoula, taken on my way to and around work.

I’m scanning in film. Lots of it. We were on the big island of Hawai’i, spending time hiking, going to botanical gardens, eating good food, and exploring everything we could. We stopped at farmer’s markets and devoured fruit and nuts that we can’t get at home, and spent our evenings watching Star Wars and planning the next day’s adventures.

Before that though, I was still here, still plugging along, doing my thing. We’ve been watching good movies and making excellent pizzas and life has settled into the winter Montana rhythm, where you expect nothing of the weather because it could change in ten minutes. It’s not the worst sort of thing, but it does make me miss sipping a Mai Tai by the sea.

Before all the leaves left the trees.

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Outside our window I can see the almost-naked trees sway in the wind. It’s cold and foreboding outside, and it’s the first snow of the year. I feel glad to be nestled in our house, warm and comfortable. I’ve had some health scares lately and am tired of calling doctors and making appointments and dealing with the what if’s of having a corporeal form.

But, having a job makes a lot of the worries feel less serious. I’ve been getting up early, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and walking to work. The normalcy of doing so is healing, in my opinion, and while I don’t relish the realities of having a lunch hour or watching the clock a lot, it’s refreshing to know that my time means something to somebody, that as I work I get money. Having not necessarily worked with that exchange full time in a couple of years (hey grad school!) it feels so good.

I’ve had some film developed lately and I’m so excited to share it! Here are some frames from when it was still light out in the morning and the foliage hadn’t fallen off the branches yet. I already miss those times even though they still seem like yesterday.

 

Autumnal vibes and keeping my chin up.

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Autumn here reminds me of Victoria in that the humidity makes my hair crazy and my urge to explore rise again. I miss the ocean but the river will do, as long as a body of water is nearby.

Missoula is beautiful, friendly, welcoming. It’s also a really hard place to get work, and everybody knows it and laughs. They feel bad but hey, you chose to be here, so adapt. And I can’t. I’m stubborn and hard working and I refuse to work for less than I am worth. I refuse to apply for jobs that pay $10 an hour but ask for a BA and 3+ years of experience. Just because the work environment allows places to do that doesn’t mean I will comply. So, I’ve had fewer interviews and fewer chances to apply for things. At the same time, holding out because I know what I am worth feels right. I have taken underpaid jobs where you’re over-worked and under-appreciated and expected to do so much, just because your employers know how badly you need this. It feels wrong and it is.

So, in the meantime, I’ve been going on long walks, making photographs, eating good food with Logan, and seeing movies. We went to see the 1937 French film La Grande Illusion at the Roxy last night, and it was spectacular, sad, and poignant. It made me think about war and family and the common humanities we share with each other. This weekend I got to have my favorite Single Malt IPA at the Blackfoot brewery in Helena with some old friends, people who I love dearly and hold close to my heart. We drove home through a freak snow storm, crawling over a steep mountain pass, hoping nobody would be driving like a nutcase and slide and hit us. We saw aspen groves and cottonwoods and beautiful clouds hugging the mountains. Snow-capped peaks and low-slung clouds and all the colors of fall everywhere. Montana, you rascal, you always charm me even when you might be trying to kill me or break my heart simultaneously.