Juno, did you by any chance barf in my urn? Mac, you know that nice urn by the front door that I got up in Stillwater?

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I flew to Minnesota on Tuesday to surprise Logan at the airport. He was coming home from Brazil and Mary and I hatched a plot.

We spent one beautiful, cold afternoon in Stillwater, and later that night Logan and I were watching Juno and I started laughing so hard because had just been there. Hence, you know, the long title. We did not buy an urn, but rather perused bookstores, had a nice beer at a pub, and looked at all the lovely old buildings.

This is why the EPA matters.

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All photographs courtesy of the DOCUMERICA collection in the  U.S National Archives Flickr.

Above: Contaminated waterways, algae blooms, dead fish, uncovered coal trains, strip mining activities, soil that won’t grow anything due to contamination, sulphur gas being emitted, oil spills…..

The EPA was created in 1970 to assess, research, and keep track of the environment in the United States. In the early 1970’s, the United States government sent out several photographers to document the state of the nation. What the photographer’s images revealed, in the early stages of the EPA, was massive contamination of water, pollution of major waterways (including the Potomac), dead and dying fish, pristine landscapes planned for strip mining, and other atrocities.

Today, 46 years later, the human impact on Earth has only become more significant. Climate change is real, as is our rapidly growing global population. The United States, which prides itself on being a global leader (as a historian I can go off on a tangent about that later…) has a duty to help lead the way to enforcement of environment protections, research to preserve our environment, develop technologies that have less of a carbon/energy footprint, and protect our natural environment as well as encourage reclamation of areas that were previously developed for such activities as mining, dumping, etc.

Thanks to the EPA, more and more of us have clean drinking water, we have preserved coast lines, deserts, Arctic regions, forests, and prairies. We have quick responses to oil spills, and those companies get investigated swiftly. We have relatively clean air in most parts of the United States, and most of us (still not all) can live without fear of contaminated soil in our gardens. (As a Montanan, our resource extraction legacy still leaves us with contaminated waterways, energy development projects that threaten our national parks, contaminated soils, garbage piles, and the like.)

If you want rivers that catch on fire, if you want irresponsible, outdated energy development (don’t get me started on coal), irresponsible reclamation if any at all, polluted air, more and more endangered species, and oil spills that don’t get immediate attention and lawsuits for those companies, let’s turn back the clock almost half a century. If not, let’s look forward and do good on this beautiful Earth we all live on.

Americana: The Lewis & Clark County Fair

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I insisted that Logan come to the fair with me. The fair is a microcosm of American culture: It’s big, colorful, gluttonous, loud, and silly. Children can shoot fake enormous guns that look scarily real from rough looking carnival employees. One can buy deep fried Oreos in large quantities and people watch. Rodeo visitors dress up in their best cowboy boots, hats, and belts. Men with large stomachs wear their largest belt buckles. The exhibition hall houses goats, rabbits, chickens, cows, and sheep, all for purchase or viewing.

Old people walk past children’s carnival rides decorated with busty women, hyper sexualized characters in skimpy outfits. Everywhere there is inescapable mud and dirt, in sharp contrast to the shiny neon and the lights. Food trucks line the parking lot, and one can devour anything from pork chop sandwiches to roasted corn to funnel cakes.

And I found a roll of 35mm film in a film shop in Bozeman that I hadn’t picked up, scanned in the negatives, and found all of this waiting for me. What an odd, marvelous late gift to myself.

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A Cabin Palaver/NYE 2016

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My hands clenched the wheel of the old Subaru as I slowly turned the wheel to negotiate yet another slick curve, and I openly cursed the Montana Highway maintenance people, while Logan calmly offered to drive. You call this a highway?! This is a death trap of ice and bullshit! No gravel! No nothing! This is a heavily used road and THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE?! 

Logan once again offered to take control, and I hissed NO and kept driving the car slowly over the icy turns of the highway. While I loathe driving over horrible roads, I fear giving up control even more. We crawled slowly, but the views were gorgeous. Frost covered trees, sage brush, and hillsides were passed, illuminated by the ever warmer light of the dying sun. It was, truly, beautiful in the way only cold, northern places can be.

We finally passed the not-real town of Norris and made our way down into Ennis. From there we finally found Virginia City, a summertime town known as one of the early capitals, when Montana was but a Territory. A flourishing mining town at one point, now it is a small town with lots of festivals and events in the summertime. We entered it in the midst of winter, with shuttered up windows and “closed for the season” signs inevitably hung up.

We called our Airbnb host and he led us in his little white truck up roads with no names to a renovated cabin from the 1880’s. He showed us around, shook our hands, and left Logan and I. We went and fetched Mary and Amy, unpacked the cars, and proceeded to cook a meal.

 

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Logan brought lamb from a ranch in Boulder, Montana. We had stopped by their stand at the farmer’s market many times this summer. They always remembered Logan because of how tall and nice he is. The lamb in a pan, veggies in a bowl, and wine in our glasses, we set to palavering and cooking, drinking and enjoying the end of 2016.

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The cabin was ridiculously well thought out. There were a huge number of books tucked away in discreet, beautifully hidden bookshelves. Plenty of firewood sat on the front porch. The small wood stove was an efficient beast, and quickly warmed the loft into quite a toasty nest. We perused books while the lamb stewed and kept ducking outside to admire the stars. Why is it that stars always look brighter in the cold? Is there something about frozen night air that makes it clearer? The sky hadn’t looked so big to me in some time.

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Soon dinner was ready. Time flew by, and when Logan fished the lamb out of the pot, it slid off the bone immediately. Steam wafted from the meat and we took turns gnawing on one shank that wasn’t so clean. We poured a Tannat wine from Uruguay and settled in to devour a perfect New Years Eve meal together. There is always a marvelous simplicity to eating meals around tables with good people.

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Finally, midnight approached. We drank prossecco, bundled up, and went out into the front yard and gaped. We smoked a cigar that Mary brought and were mostly quiet, trying to not freeze to death. Each of us pondered what the year had brought us, and what the next would bring. I think that every single one of us, though, felt a quiet sort of satisfaction that we were welcoming a new year in such a place, with each other.

Home for a brief moment

Flying into Montana at its ugliest reminds me how much I love it despite how dry and brown it is at this time of year. Hunting season is out and about, with men and women decked out in camouflage in the grocery stores and gas stations, likely just returning from a day in the mountains or fields, meandering buying milk and other things. I had forgotten about this simple aspect of life home.

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I missed driving, the 12oz glasses of Blackfoot IPA, the inevitable seeing of people I knew, because it was all familiar. Ultra-crunch leaves were everywhere, bare trees ready to embrace coats of snow. Bob Ross, the tree in Logan’s backyard, looked eerie and naked without his beautiful leaves. We had a fire on my last day, which Ella stoked to perfection. The wind made it a mercurial joy to have around, switching directions quickly, threatening to singe one or more of us. I was able to hold warm cups of coffee with loved ones close by. I hugged my sister, surprised my parents with my visit, and slept in. It was beautiful, and like all lovely things, quick, far too quick for my liking.

The Helena Farmer’s Market

29010225864_6e961818bf_b29636475565_d4c424980b_b29636469575_7992002982_b29636470475_fc9c36d5fc_bSaturdays are meant to be spent nibbling on baklava from your local Hungarian baker with the sun shining while meals are being mentally cooked up as you both consider all the options.

Shining jars of pure local honey glisten and you handle produce, feeling the bumpy skin of squash and smelling the roasted peanuts from the stand down the way. A producer snips off carrot stems to keep them fresher for you and people chat, eagerly telling their stories, talking about their vegetables and fruit, giving you more than just food, but giving you a loved, cultivated thing that they cared for enough and are now handing over to you.

Everybody remembers your extra tall partner in crime, and he knows much more about food than you do. He chats about lamb for a good while with some ranchers from Boulder and you people watch. At the end you leave with way too much food for two people but aren’t upset about it.

The Helena Farmer’s Market is a great way to start off a proper weekend. Grabbing a bagel from the Bagel Co. or getting baklava, sipping coffee from one of the food trucks, and letting all the smells and sounds envelop you. You can buy beautiful flowers, little fresh herbs, pheasant skins, jam, handmade hats, candles, fresh bread, multiple kinds of garlic, lip balms and lotions, handmade soaps, beautiful jewelry, and as much kettle corn as you want.

People have a special zest for the farmer’s market here- it’s always busy! Perhaps it’s because we Montanans spend 6 months of the year with fierce, bitter-cold winters, so our time for green things, for food that you can pluck from the soil, is so limited and we understand this relationship. We get to go somewhere with an abundance of beautiful, locally grown things that came from our harsh landscape, and while you hate the winter you love the summer, and ultimately you do love where you live. We love being able to be outside, and any excuse to gather together is taken. Once summer begins to fade, we keep our freezers full of quart bags of huckleberries and rhubarb so that pies can be made. Our mums can fruit and make jam for the long dark months, and some of our fathers gear up for hunting season so that elk, pheasant, deer, goose, and duck can once again be part of our diet and fill the extra freezer many of our families have in the garage or basement. We waste not, we want not, for soon this street and town will be covered in long-lingering chunks of snow and ice and the hours of the day will not be so kind. Better love the enormous sweet onions that call your name and buy the beautiful fresh carrots while you can.

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Here | There

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Somehow film from mid-July stayed in the bottom of my handbag until last Saturday. I gave Prism Photo on Fort Street here in Victoria 6 rolls of color film and picked up all six a few hours later (those guys do a wicked job!). The next day, after a tearful goodbye to my mother, who once again came and helped me move into a new space, I settled in and accepted that it was time to let waves of nostalgia engulf me.

I scanned in the negatives, my trusty Epson machine humming comfortingly at me, telling me that all of these memories were not lost. I am back in Victoria, and it feels strangely wrong. Perhaps because the rhythm of here hasn’t sunk in yet. Perhaps because I have not seen enough people who make me want to remain here. Perhaps because my purpose, to write a thesis honoring and properly delving into the life of an incredible woman, was put on pause while I gathered my strength, made money working, and let my mental health state grow stronger. Perhaps because I am a bit behind my colleagues and the anxiety that parallels my strong yet quiet competitive nature has already made this lag seem massive.

I have moved into the spare room of an older woman’s apartment and so far that too seems strange. She is kind and quiet, lets me have my privacy, and altogether seems like a very kind soul. I fear that my want for space and order will doom me in this place though, and my mind fleetingly, even after only 2 nights in my room, tells me to find somewhere else.

Perhaps it is time to settle with all these demons that seem to mark my return here. Victoria has been a place of utmost success and utmost personal failure for me. From coming home to my apartment last year to sob to coming home feeling accomplished, I can tell you that this small city has seen the best and worst of me, at my weakest and at my most put-together. Coming back here, leaving my loved ones, my family, my car, my patterns, my comforts, is good but feels off. I loathe this feeling of something breathing down my neck, most likely my own horrid self-doubt spectre, quietly letting me know that yes, I can fail here, and it would not be difficult.

These photographs are from the Montana Folk Festival in Butte. We found a peculiar front yard replete with skulls hanging and sitting everywhere. We walked past homes in disrepair, old trucks, quiet signs of life, and up steep hills. I tried to photograph Logan in a flower garden and love the grain and shadow that resulted. These memories, of good days, of being with people I trust and love, already feel like they were made years ago. I hate that feeling.

If I sound rather defeated, it is because my heart and body are both exhausted at the moment. I’m sure this feeling will not last.

A brief interlude into a form of nature.

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Immediately after work we packed the Subaru. The meals were already prepared, the sleeping bags and sleeping pads rolled up, the tent rented and ready to be set up. My dear Mum had brought some firewood and a handy hatchet into my workplace for me to take later (“Is it okay for you have a hatchet here?”).

We hadn’t been camping in some time, and it was only our second time this summer. I wish I didn’t type that sentence, but it is true!

We drove down to Yellowstone, through the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, past a river running very low and lots of houses tucked away into hillsides that we mused would be quite nice to occupy. The sun was going down, fast. We have been lulled into the idea that it would stay up with us and allow us time to make it to our campsite before it departs, but no. Summer is almost over, and those long, almost endless Montana summer days shorten with it.

We make it into bustling West Yellowstone by sundown. Tourists and visitors who don’t use crosswalks in a timely manner (“Get the fuck off your phone while you’re crossing the street!” I remember hissing as Logan sat there calmly as ever) make their way to “rustic” bars and shops. We pull into a gas station and buy a bottle of beer, a lighter (we forgot matches), and a can of bear spray. I have never forgotten my bear spray before and cursed the nearly $40 price tag for a new canister but relinquished because bears, man. Bears. Before we leave the older cashier calls Logan a “tall drink of water”.

We finally make our way into the park. Logan flashes our park pass, replete with regal polar bear, and we zoom into Yellowstone which has somehow become Mordor. The fires in West Yellowstone are visible from the road- red, orange, and pink glow from active fires, and we gape, our mouths open. The smoke gets bad, and we surmise that this trip may be very uncomfortable for our respiratory systems. We drive slow- the dark is heavy, like a wool blanket, and we don’t want to hit any critters. We drive by rivers and they look like they are made of mercury, the metallic sheen of them illuminated by what little light remains.

We finally make it to our campsite. It is dark. We have one headlamp and one flashlight between us, and our campsite is right across from the washrooms, but at the end of the campsite complex, so we are at least somewhat close to something natural. We begin to set up the Marmot 4 person tent I rented, and are pleasantly surprised to see how roomy it is. Logan figures out how to set it up faster than me, which quietly makes my Montana cred fall a bit. I mentally blame my parents who had such complex, old tents that when I go to set up a tent I form a battle plan rather than just roll with the quick, well-planned contraptions now available (sorry Mum and Dad). Logan uses the hatchet to tamp down the stakes, and we high five- we have a tent!

Logan gets ready to start the fire and I go up and say, “Uh, so I know I’m about gender parity and division of labor and things, but I’m going to go be domestic and set up the sleeping bags and things” to which he laughs and responds he’ll do the manly thing and make fire. We do both of these things- I blow up the sleeping pads, unroll our sleeping bags, put the bottle of water somewhere we can both find it. I come out of the tent and find happy flames licking the dry pieces of wood. The satisfying crackle feeds something deep in my soul or maybe my genetics. Fire means warmth, safety, security. A warm, happy, well-fed fire cares for you, and makes you content in a way few things truly do.

We open the bottle of pub-style ale we bought in West Yellowstone and cheers to a successfully set up campsite in the dark. The stars twinkle overhead. Logan makes soup with antelope burger and we drink it out of mugs. We brush our teeth in overly bright washrooms with running water and discuss anything and everything, and go to sleep in our ultra-roomy tent. I wake up in the middle of the night to the eeriest noises, which I swear are wolves calling somewhere nearby. I relish these natural sounds, the unfamiliarity of it. I am so cushioned, shielded in my everyday life and here I am in the semi-woods semi-camping and I get to hear animals make noises in the woods where they live. I am a guest on this magnificent Earth and it feels so right to be humbled by these few seconds of noise.

We wake up to the sun. It is about 7:30, and we have no cell service, and this is not a bad thing. Logan makes breakfast, a delicious scramble of potatoes, eggs, and tomatoes. We wash the dishes, pack up the tent, and drive a little ways to the river to swim. We apply sunscreen diligently and wade in. It is cold- very cold. The river is higher than I remember and I am loathe to fully immerse myself. We swim up the river a bit into the canyon and I start to get nervous. We are both strong swimmers but the canyon is thin and the rock walls are sharp- I’ve skinned my toes and banged knees many times before. We swim up a bit and float down and then get out. It is too cold and fast for us to enjoy ourselves, but it is amazing to see the canyon walls and feel our fingertips grip the rocks. We revel in what nature does, but decide to let her do her thing.

We drove through the park and saw no animals. Road construction and fires likely scared them into more remote parts of the park. This was the first time I had never seen a bison in the park. Usually a cocktail of critters emerge or are spotted, but this time- nothing. It was odd to be in a park where there was no animal life to be seen, but I knew they were just doing their thing out of sight.

The Boiling River was too full to stop by, and we drove into Gardiner for ice cream. The drive back was long but we made it. What a good little weekend foray.

Turkey legs/”No I’m not Neil Young”

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These images have been a long time coming.

Ella, Logan, and I piled into the Subaru in Helena, then made the quick, windy drive into Butte.

The first sign you’re getting close if you come from Helena is the massive piles of leftover, contaminated dirt that block your view of the city. This reminder of Butte’s legacy is a dirty one. Then, you get a view of the 1980’s strip mining scars on that side of town. Then, finally, nestled in the valley, hugging steep hills, you see the sprawling city.

Butte’s steep streets provided us with exercise aplenty all day. Ella and Logan had to fight to keep up with my ridiculously frantic pace (sorry guys). We ate all kinds of food, but the hightlight was when those two decided to split the consumption of a massive smoked turkey leg. The thing was so damn salty and massive, yet looked amazing. I stuck with my pork chop sandwich and whatever other food stuffs I decided to try that day (it was over a month ago! I am so bad at this blog!).

Overall it was a joy to be in Butte that day. We ended the day in the Silver Dollar Saloon, a dark and cozy place where we listened to a guy who looked like Neil Young (“No, I’m not Neil Young” he made clear before he started) before we walked back to crash on Kristin’s floor (thank you!).

 

I wish I could dance and other Folk Fest things

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When we saw Mwenso and the Shakes featuring Brianna Thomas there was a couple dressed in 1940’s garb swing dancing their hearts out, and I thought I really wish I knew how to dance. Thoughts of horrid, hyper self-conscious line dancing in middle and high school gym class came forth- sweaty palms, limited eye contact, and my inability to pass over control to my awkward dance partner. I never, ever have been a decent dance partner for this reason- I cannot let somebody just put their hand on my waist and anticipate their moves.

While I was bemoaning a certain lack in a specific skill set, we watched this incredible group of musicians make exquisite sounds. The Folk Festival is all about several things- running into people on the steep Butte streets, eating at the food stands, catching whisps of different sounds on the air as they travel from the multiple stages, and learning more about the world we live in. The fact that we get to do this in Butte, Montana, is awesome, and somewhat random. If you were to tell me that musicians and artists from all over the world in the 2000’s were going to gather in a former mining town as famous for its copper as it was for its red light district and fill it up with global sounds I would have said you were crazy.

Yet, knowing Butte, it makes sense. Butte reveled in its immigrants- Serbs, Croations, Chinese, Irish, Germans, Russians and Poles all made their lives here. The very foundations of Butte are steeped in multi-faceted cultural exchanges, and the Montana Folk Festival is all about continuing this tradition. What a good weekend! I have multiple rolls of film coming, and I cannot wait to put them up.

 

To the river!

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Two of the best days I’ve had so far back in Montana were spent 3.5 hours away from home, soaking wet, with damp hair and an intense chill. I feel so lucky to be so close to such an epic place, where you can literally just wade your way to a warm spot in the river at almost any time of the year in Yellowstone National Park.

We brought an underwater film camera and with it documented this glory- including the most hideous, distorted picture of us ever. I am very pleased with it, and cannot wait to return. I am a creature of the water, and water I shall return to.

From the car

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I’ve come to love making photographs from the car.

This summer has been spent in various cars, both driving and sitting, in passenger seats and back seats. I’ve seen rushing rivers, deep woods tinged with the setting sun, dry plains soaking up the last bit of spring moisture in Eastern Montana before they relegate themselves to bone-dry browns and yellows. Foxes, elk, bison, antelope, deer, cows, and all other manner of living things have been seen and admired.

Here are some slightly blurry images made from a fast moving machine.

Foxes, frogs, and hiking: A day in Yellowstone

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We packed up the car with a rented tent and a cooler full of Polish sausage, eggs, and pre-chopped ingredients for breakfast. It was going to be a decent 4.5 hour drive from Helena to Yellowstone Lake, where we would meet up with Adrienne and Philip.

I hadn’t seen Adrienne since spring 2011, when I left my Swiss school to come home to Montana. One of my last memories of her in Switzerland happened as we lounged with Kalli, Hannah, and Hillary on the patio outside the dining hall in late April. I hope there was a Kagi Fret nearby, or a “cheese toast” on a plate, but my memory is not that specific.

5 years later, she and her boyfriend were driving to Montana from California, and I was going to see her! The night before, she had called me from Idaho, and asked about campsites. Laughing, she said, “We’re in Wal-Mart, and we asked a guy, and he said we needed a gun…”. I re-assured her that no gun was needed to camp in Idaho, and I won’t lie- I barely recognized her voice!

Logan and I drove southwest, chasing sunlight, and arrived in the canyon that leads to West Yellowstone. Shadows deepened the blues and greens of the evergreens, and we looked at the gushing, roaring river in the canyon, full of spring run-off. The river was higher than I’d ever seen it, and we drove the curves admiring the scenery. I felt quietly content, thinking This is why I came back.

We got into the park at sunset, flashing our park pass, and zoomed into the dense trees, taking rights and lefts until we were on the right track. The sunset was gorgeous, turning the Gibbon and Madison rivers into metallic, mercury filled bodies. We saw dark lumps- bison- and once dark fully consumed us, a fox darted in front of the headlights. Logan, who had never seen a fox, reveled in this new critter sighting. On this moonless night, we finally found the campground, and wove our way to the site that Adrienne had thoughtfully highlighted on the map.

Adrienne’s bright eyes and smile looked exactly the same. I had never met Philip, who greeted us with a sturdy handshake. Logan and I set up the tent, a smart little Marmot Tungsten 3 person contraption, and Adrienne handed us hot smores from the fire she and Philip had started. We chatted and then parted. Logan had already laid out our sleeping bags and pads, and we curled up in the roomy tent.

The next morning, we woke up early. Logan started a fire, and after Adrienne and Philip emerged, we got to boiling coffee and making breakfast.

The rest of the day we drove around the park, finally settling on hiking the Lost Lake trail, because it was short, and also in a less crowded part of the park. The hike was gorgeous- shooting stars, lady slippers, and wild sunflowers dotted the trail, and we heard birds, running water, and all the sounds that make hiking so marvelous. It was cooler in the shade, but as we gained elevation, our quads burned. Reaching the plateau, we hiked on the flat trail to the lake, where Philip spotted a salamander. We saw mud wallows where buffalo likely cooled themselves off, and rubs on trees. It was beautiful- so many shades of green, blue, brown, and yellow.

Hiking back, we found a mummified frog, perfectly dried in the sun. It was hard to the touch. We made our way back to our cars, where we bid goodbye to Adrienne and Philip for a few days- they were on their way to Cody after staying in the park a few more nights. I’ll see those two again tomorrow!

Bucket hats and flowers

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Hiking right on the edge of town and then rewarding yourself with a beer cannot be beat. Mount Helena lays on the edge of town with 70+ miles of Forest Service and city trails, and you can get great views.

My bucket hat adorned, long legged companion and I climbed higher and higher, seeing the Capitol building dome, the campus of Carroll College, and my old, swastika shaped high school (Oh, Capital). Going down, our knees quietly screamed at us, and we immediately went to the Blackfoot to celebrate our exercise attempt.

 

Quietly learning

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My grandfather is not the most verbose individual. But, he gave me boxes and boxes of his Ektachrome and Kodachrome slides covering the early 1960’s all the way into the late 1980’s. As I scan in the slides, 12 at a time, I see what he saw. I see who he photographed. I don’t know why or how or even sometimes where, but I get to see the world through his eyes.

My grandfather has a wealth of knowledge about almost everything. He doesn’t talk about it too often, though. One thing I love is to see how he frames his wife, his children, and his friends. My grandfather is careful. He is not reckless with his photographs. I love finding these very blatantly sensitive, conscious thoughts coming through his photographs. My intimidating, often quiet grandfather makes gorgeous photographs. I’ll post more soon.

These are from Maine in 1975, and the gloom and blue hues make me want to head East.