A few weeks ago I spent a week in upstate New York in a 140 year old lake house that was definitely haunted and so beautiful.
A few weeks ago I spent a week in upstate New York in a 140 year old lake house that was definitely haunted and so beautiful.
Logan’s been gone a month. I’m on my own here in Montana. I’ve adopted new skincare methods, moved into a new room, have four bags of clothes to donate, and have been trying to enjoy summer. That means reading- a lot. In distilleries, coffee shops, bed, on work breaks, in the park, anywhere and everywhere. After the books come walks- long, meandering, in the evening. Summer is always remembered as the best but it’s so hot during the day that I duck in and out of shaded spaces and cool buildings. I can’t concentrate when it’s so hot that the buildings themselves radiate heat after sundown. The fan goes, and my mind wanders in circles, and I loathe summer as it happens, but remember it as so much better when it’s over.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 took some really beautiful photographs of autumn in 2013 when I was living in Bozeman. The problem was, I was dating somebody, one of those I-want-to-forget-you-forever somebodies who inflicted traumas and wasn’t necessarily a great somebody. They still quietly haunt the edges of my memories of these photographs, and that pisses me off to no end. So, I’m reclaiming them, because they’re damn fine photographs of beautiful places I am so glad I saw.
A few of them were taken on a beautiful, bare peak high up in the Gallatin National Forest. I remember how a lightning storm came in quickly over the mountains, and it made the air feel strange, and how the rain came down in fat, shameless drops, dribbling down the steep hillside while I ran to the car to escape. I remember being scared and excited by the fast-changing mountain weather, and how with the sunset the temperature dropped quickly. I remember getting my film back and being so pleased with the colors, with the memories they would bring me in the future.
Some others are taken on another part of that massive national forest, up behind Chico Hot Springs. There was a burn area, full of skeleton-like trees, with a creek running through this sterile-seeming landscape, in colors muted by the clouds. My hair was wet and my skin was parched from soaking in the hot springs, and I wanted to lay down and take a nap surrounded by the silence of the place. It was beautiful and so eerie.
I also visited my sister while she was working in Yellowstone breaking up bear jams, ticketing tourists, sharing a cabin with a wicked roommate, and spending time with wolf biologists, who are a consistently strange people. Some of the dudes offered to share moonshine they made in their bathtubs, and I heard tales of moving dead bison, meeting the oddest visitors, and talking to the wolf photographers who spend their lives following wolf packs in the Lamar Valley. On my way home, I stopped in Livingston to drop off some library books for her (Livingston was the nearest town to Yellowstone with a library), and walked around town for the day, having the most amazing honey peach pie in a little bakery while reading an old issue of National Geographic and buying the second book in the Dune series from a secondhand bookshop. It was a weirdly warm day and the town wasn’t its usual, windy self. I drove around the quiet neighborhoods of the tiny town and marveled at the mountains, taking my time getting home to my apartment driving over the mountain pass. Fat, fluffy clouds abounded that day. It was a textbook perfect day in my mind.
I also spent time in Hyalite Canyon by myself for the first time that fall. I went hiking and found footprints and encountered dogs and hikers and smelled the fresh air as much as possible. Bozeman, while being a money-soaked place that I have come to loathe, has access to some of the best wilderness close by, where moose and bear roam on the National Forest, and where your access to Yellowstone is literally two hours away. It was a joy to be able to hike in the morning with the sun streaming in in the most loving, welcoming way. I remember feeling like I was at peace with the world on those brief hikes.
That’s the tricky thing about memory. As a historian, I have learned that memories change quickly and easily, and are heavily susceptible to fast re-writing and shifting. It doesn’t help that our minds are wired to remember the negative things the best as a survival tool. It’s very difficult to recover from negative memories and to not think about those dark corners of your mind where you’ve stashed all the shit, the sticky, messy tarpit of awful. For me to be able to look at these pictures and not think about somebody is a victory in more ways than one. I did not make these photographs for anybody but myself, and they are mine to reclaim, recover, and enjoy. I’m sharing them with y’all so that perhaps you can, too.
We woke to the acrid smell of smoke invading our noses and our home. It wasn’t even 8am, and we had been up late. I couldn’t sleep any longer, as the smell was overwhelming and prevented me from feeling as though I could do anything but move to avoid it. Looking up the air quality, it was confirmed that heavy winds had brought forth a proliferation of smoke from all the hundreds of thousands of acres that are on fire in Northwestern Montana.
My home is burning. My home is evacuated, desperate, bone dry, frustrated, and suffering. We all breathe the smokey air, feel the headaches, and many of us get spontaneous bleeding noses and can’t sleep. We feel lethargic and every morning look out the window to see if anything has changed. Some days I can see the closest mountains, but most they are a mere outline, more like a mirage or a memory than the sturdy landmarks that they are.
Logan and I spent the morning nestled in a coffee shop reading and having a good chat. We went home and couldn’t stand the oppressive smoke. If we were going to suffer, by God, we were going to do it outside our claustrophobic town. Logan packed his fishing rod, I packed my camera, and we drove Jarvis to the highway to escape the shit.
While Logan fished, I explored. We listened the the gurgle of the river, and didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say that nature wasn’t whispering to us. I could feel both of us grow more relaxed and atuned to things. The smoke wasn’t quite as bad out here, and hearing the wind rustle the grasses and the hum of bees and the gentle whoosh of the river moving over rocks as it has always done I felt like my mind could finally shut the fuck up.
I eventually found myself looking for animals. We had seen lots of bear scat on the side of the road, full of berry seeds, and I was glad we brought the bear spray. Along the river beds I found lots of tracks, of dogs that fishermen brought, of deer, of raccoons, and of birds. Insects skated along the tops of little ponds near the river. The amount of shallow, still water and rocks made me sure that snakes and frogs were nearby. As a child, Jeff Corwin was my first crush, and I grew up watching him wrangle snakes, catch critters, and be outside. I wanted to be a snake venom researcher when I was little and much of my life I have loved all reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. They are integral parts of our ecosystem, often environmental indicators, and really damn cool. So when I spotted a leopard frog sitting in one of the ponds, I quietly walked over and tried to catch it. It got away, aided by the thick amounts of algae, and I waited and tried to catch the poor creature again. I failed again and then left him alone to live out his days doing his thing, as stressing out wild animals is really not my gig.
We were getting ready to leave after our brief time in nature when Logan yelled that he found a snake! I put my camera down and went and grabbed this little healthy garter snake with bright yellow stripes! Of course the creature proceeded to pee on me- as many reptiles and amphibians do, because would you want to eat something that stank and tasted like urine? I let the little guy go quickly, but holding him and feeling his smooth skin was so neat. He darted into his rock home and I washed my hands and arms in the river. Logan fished a bit more, and I wandered into a grove of common tansy (an invasive species) and let the sound of bees wash over me. Having recently learned that there are 56 species of bumblebees in Montana, I wondered how many kinds were flitting among the flowers.
Last week I went to an interview for a job I thought was going to be awesome but it ended up being not at all what I thought. Halfway through the interview, I was asked, “what is your biggest accomplishment?” and I paused. My thesis. My beautiful, eloquent, hard worked thesis. I knew then that this interview was a waste of my time and my interviewer’s. I called later to have them take my name off of a list. I cried when I got home to Logan, knowing that I wanted more. That aching compulsion to be pushing myself made my stomach feel queasy and I sobbed, harder than I should have.
I defended that beautiful thesis last Friday and I did well. I did better than well. I managed to answer every question, even the odd ones, and I left feeling a mix of elation and exhaustion. Hibernation sounded amazing- wake up three months later, as winter comes, and shake the cobwebs off my eyes and start over. But here I am, and it is Monday, and life continues. Except, now I am a Master of the Arts. I can put an obnoxious, little “M.A.” next to my name in email signatures if I choose (I think I will not do this).
Anyway, here are some film photographs from the last two weeks. A quick day trip to Kalispell for ice cream, used books, and terrible sushi. A fiery sunset that my film failed to capture in all it’s glory (but can a camera ever really properly do a great sunset justice?). A few moments lingering on the side of the road with Logan, surrounded by smoke and fire, watching the end of another day. Sunflowers all abloom in my parent’s yard, quietly exuding beauty without knowing it. I am trying, almost desperately, to make moments that will create the idea of a summer that has not, thus far, been fraught with a cocktail of stress, tears, and anxiety that has been almost uncontrollable. If that leaks out into this blog a lot, I cannot help it. But damn, y’all, it’s also been such a good summer. We moved into a house, had some irises bloom that were heartbreakingly beautiful and fleeting, we traveled to San Francisco, I’ve gotten to see friends I haven’t seen in months and years, and life is mostly good. There’s money for food, a roof over our head, and I’m lucky enough to be on Medicaid while I look for work.
What do you guys do to deal with stress and do self care? I’ve always been really good about it but not being able to be outside due to the smoke has made that harder.
I brought two canisters of bear spray with us and put them in an easily-reachable outside pocket on my pack. A few weeks back we had met up with some friends and one of them recalled being charged by a grizzly bear on their first day backpacking in Glacier, and how they hadn’t grabbed the bear spray fast enough. Luckily, the grizzly had merely done a bluff charge and veered off into the woods, away from them.
Not my idea of a good time, I thought, so I brought more than one canister. We also packed water, sunscreen, and snacks. As we got to the Logan Pass Visitor Center I checked that we had everything and got out. The parking lot was full, and the Center was swarmed with tourists, many in flip-flops, learning about this incredible part of the world.
As we walked on a trail behind the Center, somebody noted a mother grizzly bear with two cubs in the distance. I pulled out my binoculars and peered out, seeing her calmly making her away across a grassy knoll with her two cubs in tow. It was beautiful to see them from a safe distance, where we weren’t bothering her and she wasn’t making us nervous. What I do like about bears and most other wild creatures is that they, honestly, don’t want to hang out with us either. They want to mind their own business and go about surviving, something that in many parts of the world is harder due to human encroachment and climate change.
We began hiking to Hidden Lake, but part of the trail was closed due to bear activity. There were enough people on the trail that my fears of encountering bears were mostly gone. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and the number of warm human bodies out and about would waft to any living animal like a red flag, because I bet you humans stink.
As we hiked further, we encountered snow. Slushy, wet, slick snow! Logan marveled at the snow in July, and we trekked through it, trying not to slip or slide. As we hiked about a mile in, we saw our first mountain goat! We saw several more as we kept hiking. There were several on one of the boardwalks, determined to get to somewhere else, and so I moved off the boardwalk into the brush. While mountain goats aren’t massive, they’re still wild animals, and several of them had their kids with them, and I didn’t want to get in the way and cause them stress or make them nervous. It was incredible to see them so close, though, while they’re shedding their thick winter coats and looking shaggy. Their expressive faces and slow pace made it easy to stare. We get to share the world with so many natural things and as a human that makes me feel all the feels. We’re so destructive and polluting and unnatural in some ways and it’s amazing to be around things that are very different and humbling.
The views at the end of the trail were amazing. Lush green valleys dotted with snow laid before us, while healthy looking, proud trees stood in thick groves. The bare rock of the mountains reached towards the sky and we all looked, silently, absorbing the beauty of everything. The air was cool and fresh and it felt good to inhale and smell the natural smells. Small, delicate flowers laid by the trail, showing off purple and yellow hues. Red slate rocks added blush to the landscape.
As we headed back, my mind buzzed with questions and my heart felt full. I bounded down through the snow quickly and as we got back to the car I felt absolutely exhausted and invigorated simultaneously.
Beargrass and coffee might seem an odd combination but the two go hand in hand as part of a great day.
Beargrass is a funny looking flower that often thrives in burn areas here in northern Montana and it’s one of the signature sights in Glacier. We found a thriving patch and I went right ahead and stuck my nose in the blooms (they smell heavy, musky, and wonderful). Beargrass is one of those things that in my mind define Montana in the summer. It rewards hikers deep in many of our National Forests and it always looks a bit odd in a Tim Burton-esque way. Nature really is the world’s greatest designer, and if you don’t agree we need to have a good chat.
We started off the morning having coffee and breakfast at the Swiftcreek Cafe in Whitefish. Chelsea helped me make the coffee images by pouring the cream while I photographed and we devoured our food to prepare for a full day in the park. Logan didn’t like Whitefish, as it felt too “utopic” to him, and as I looked at the sleek, new, buildings built in “rustic” styles to attract out of state wealth, I agreed. We would later fully cement that idea as we stumbled into a nightclub with strobe lights sure to trigger seizures, nestled in this ski resort town. Montana, you’re full of the strangest surprises.
As we drove up higher and higher I looked out and tried to not let my fear of heights wash over me. The trees were so regal and the cool air felt so good, and I tried to steel myself. My mother looked over nervously at me.
We were in Rocky Mountain National Park, up thousands of feet higher than the nearest town of Estes Park. We were driving the Trail Ridge Road and watching the landscape change as we climbed higher and higher. This was the park where my parents met and fell in love when they were in college and it felt very neat to be in their territory, where my mother and father used to rise at 4 am to get to the park to photograph bugling elk in the rising sunlight of autumn. Having parents who fell in love with each other because of their mutual love of the outdoors has its perks- you get to hear about cool stories like that one.
Up at the top of the road, we got out and hiked. At 11,000 feet, the air felt thinner, and we both had small headaches that would later bloom into larger ones due to the lesser amount of oxygen available up high. We were in the alpine region, where no trees grow, surrounded by delicate alpine flora and fat marmots who lazed on rocks posing like some weird animal Richard Burton. No doubt they were being fed by hapless idiots.
On our way up some folks from Oklahoma stopped in the middle of the road, which is narrow and has little-to-no room for maneuvering, and proceeded to feet one of these fat marmots from the car and take pictures. My mother and I rolled our eyes and I wanted to get out, walk up to them, throw crumbs at them, and ask, “How do you like it?!”
Anyway. Being up so high was eerie in that you could see for what felt like miles. Miles of peaks, clouds, and valleys were all for the visually consuming, and I soaked it in. We saw a gorgeous bull elk in full, handsome velvet napping in a meadow, his red-gold head tucked into the flora. One man asked us if he was dead but we told him no, that elk nap and conserve energy and move about more in the evening and morning.
Eventually it was getting chilly, though thankfully without the strong winds that such areas are known for, and hopped into the car to go to a visitor’s center. We got to drink in even more spectacular views and then realized we were going to be late for dinner at my grandma’s house and left the park.
A too-brief glimpse into the incredible, fast-changing landscapes in that beautiful place.
The colors were everywhere. Bits of coral, the blue of the sky, the warm hue of sand, the cool grey of the dense fog that engulfed Adrienne’s neighborhood each night. The smells were different- hot asphalt, whiffs of delicious foods not found in Montana, the sterile yet slight omnipresent stink of public transit, of thousands of bodies inhabiting the same small train cars day in and day out. San Francisco felt like a city that was in the midst of a lot of change. Money and youth everywhere, and yet none of it to be found for many.
We walked through the park, surrounded by massive eucalyptus trees, before breakfast. Logan took a picture of poop in the park with my film camera because he said I was being stingy with my film. We smelled the rich earth and the flora and saw red wing blackbirds and ravens before making our way to the beach.
The beach was engulfed in fog that was slowly retreating, and we walked to meet the waves, letting the edges of the Pacific ocean lap at our feet. The sand felt good in between my toes and I watched as one man in a dark coat walked up and over one of the dunes. The beach felt melancholy and full of gloom, but I loved it. Such spaces are great for letting thoughts wander and unravel and then pulling them back to have new, strange, and better ideas and thoughts.
We went to the Mission District, which Adrienne had warned us was quickly becoming gentrified. Historically Latinx and Hispanic families have lived there, but as we got off BART we saw the inevitable results of gentrification. We walked a lot around that area and still heard plenty of Spanish, saw groups of school children and church groups outside churches with signs that read, “Jesus te ama”, and I hoped that the people who had been there would hold onto their apartments and stores and churches and habits, but I quietly knew that money and white people were probably sinking their teeth into the area and biting away at what hadn’t been theirs before.
In in the midst of our Mission ventures we found a beautiful, cramped Italian market. One wall was entirely devoted to hanging sausages and I felt myself growing hungry even though we had eaten quite recently. A beautiful wheel of Parmesan cheese sat staring at me and Logan pointed out some meats he had been searching for. We looked at the olive oils and the cans of tomatoes and all the pasta and left because if we didn’t leave soon we would buy meats and cheese that we had no room in our luggage for. We found a Brazilian mercado, and once inside I was the only one who wasn’t speaking Portuguese. People sipped coffee and around us were baskets full of Brazilian cooking ingredients, juices, and random odds and ends like deodorant or romance novels. Logan chatted with the barista and we left to go find a cool place to linger. We ended up at a dive bar with the right amount of sticky counters, grimy interiors, and dark corners and sat down. Adrienne joined us shortly after, and we talked and people watched.
The rest of our trip was like that- full of lovely places but being quietly reminded that this was a city being inundated with money from tech firms and start ups and that things were shifting and maybe had been for a while. Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed being able to see and do the things only cities can give you- art, diversity, busy crowds and the kaleidoscope of humanity that buzzes and bustles as each one of us carves out our own space in the world in whatever way we can.