Thoughts from São Paulo

It’s 2 degrees outside. Fahrenheit.

Montana, it’s only October, would you mind waiting until December to do this?

I am firmly planted inside, wearing thick socks, hoping that my car will start for me to get to work later. In the meantime, I dust my negatives from Brazil in Photoshop and think back on my two trips there this year.

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First, I never imagined that in my life that I would find myself as far South and a place as foreign in my mind as Brazil. It wasn’t until I was seriously dating Logan that the reality that we’d go down there solidified. I’d eventually meet his family and his friends back home, wouldn’t I? I couldn’t imagine what it looked like, smelled like, what Portuguese really sounded like. What sort of animals would I see? Is it really that hot down there?

After spending over two months this year there I can firmly say that I love spending time there. By there, I mean the state of São Paulo, or south-central Brazil. Brazil is a huge country, roughly the size of the lower 48 states in the USA, so making big generalizations is foolish and sloppy. It’d be like bunching people from New Jersey and Wyoming together, which Americans know would be strange and potentially hilarious.

That being said, a few things became apparent to me.

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Most people are friendly and helpful. Not everybody (because they’re HUMAN), but most folks we met seemed genuinely stoked to let me try my sloppy, weird gringa Portuguese. I went shopping by myself in São Paulo for a few hours and all the stylists I met were funny and kind. I was able to ask for what I wanted in my size, ask questions, and reply, and while I know I speak like a child right now, I loved interacting with people. When I met Logan’s friends, a lot of them spoke really good English but those that didn’t were still so kind to me, even though I had a hard time communicating. We went to see a few bands at Al Janiah, and after one of the bands was done, Logan asked them some questions and then introduced me to the women in the band. I never once felt like somebody was annoyed by my questions or my slow pattern of speaking.

While at university in Switzerland that was not my experience: most of the Swiss people I met were too efficient and didn’t want to make the time for me to practice my Italian (I had one man literally say “it will be faster for us to just speak English” at a market in Lugano). It was frustrating going to bookshops, clothing stores, the grocery store, etc. because most people didn’t have the time or patience to let you stumble through. The thing is, in order to learn a language you NEED to stumble. My Portuguese is not great but it’s not bad, either, because I have been able to practice with real people on the ground, make mistakes, even embarrass myself a little (a lot).

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The food scene in São Paulo is unparalleled. It is a city of 20 million people and there are immigrants from every corner of the world. You want to eat Middle Eastern food in a Palestinian restaurant that has a staff made up of immigrants and refugees and later see an all girl punk band? (Al Janiah!) You want to eat incredible Thai food in a tiny joint where the owner speaks more English than Portuguese? (Thai E-San Restaurante) Do you want to eat Michelan-starred oxtail soup, mocoto, tongue, intestines? (Mocoto!) Do you want a meal that will make you need to nap for four hours after? (Feijoada will do the trick, it’s a specialty Wednesday and Saturday at a lot of restaurants.) Are you an expat from the States looking for a good burger and fries? (Meats or Hamburginha!) Are you just STARVING but also lazy and don’t want to walk more than a few blocks? São Paulo is the city for you. We ate dim sum, Lebanese food, comida de Nordeste (northern Brazilian food), a fabulous French dinner, classic kilo meals, hamburgers that were perfectly medium-rare with buns fluffy as clouds, and lots and lots of juices.

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There is more art than you can imagine being made, everywhere, by everybody. São Paulo is a massive city but everywhere we went on the metro, in Ubers, etc. there was street art. Giant murals, small tags (one particularly memorable tag all over the city said “Rice and Beans and Ganja”), epic landscapes, portraits, social criticisms. A stairwell hidden in the Pinheiros neighborhood memorialized Marielle Franco, who was murdered for being an outspoken female politician who loudly protested police violence and was probably shot by police. Live music, while hard to find, is there and flourishing. Jewelers, leather workers, painters, and ceramic artists have their works in so many galleries, shops, and markets.

We went to a few markets and I bought some gorgeous earrings made from imbuia wood by a wonderful artisan, a leather bag handcrafted by a wife-and-husband team, and had to steer away from the dozens of other stalls because I didn’t have that much money. São Paulo is also home to MASP and the Pinacoteca, both of which are world-class museums, one devoted to art from all over the world, the other completely focused on Brazilian art. Brazil is full of artisans to this day who do things in slower ways. Logan’s grandparents have a front door made of rosewood from a long time ago that is carved with beautiful flowers, and textured glass windows that I’ve seen nowhere else. Entire buildings are covered in tiles (tile and cement are big because they help keep surfaces cool in the omnipresent heat) and there are small companies in São Paulo that make tiles for homes in centuries-old ways. Art seemed to be woven into so many things everywhere we went, and the art historian in me felt so happy seeing it all.

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I have so many jumbled and half formed thoughts about my time there, but one thing I feel wary about is writing about the bigger situations and issues that are going on in south-central Brazil. There are similar parallels to the States in that young people can’t get good jobs, wages suck, a lot of people still live at home, there’s police violence, racism, sexism, and very real fears of climate change and the future. However, I don’t speak Portuguese well enough to be able to do these parallels justice and talk to people who live these experiences in the deep ways I want to.  I’m not prepared to paint complex social, political, and ethical issues in broad strokes without more research and talking to people who live those experiences. Even talking about Brazilian food delves into race, history, social structures, and class structures (a lot of what we think of as Brazilian dishes are Afro-Brazilian in nature, for example). With time, research, and patience, I would like to learn so much more about south-central Brazil, because I’ve gotten a crash course in traveling there that I don’t think many people get, thanks to Logan. 

 

A Sabbatical of Sorts

Six months. I didn’t meant to let this blog die, but it did. I built a photography website, had a few shows, started working at a brewery, camped alone and with friends a few times this summer, and spent a lot of time reading and brooding.

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Brenna and I went to PonyFest in Pony, Montana and watched live music and camped out in a local park. It was peak Montana hip summer.

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I camped alone for the first time ever and had a blast making the fire, pitching the tent, and while I didn’t sleep a wink it was liberating to sleep alone and wake up in the pitch dark, pack up camp, and have Yellowstone to myself for a few hours.

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My mom and I kayaked on the Lolo National Forest and had a blast watching herons, camping on Seeley Lake, and roasting potatoes in tin foil in the campfire with butter and onions. (It takes a while but if they sit for a while in the embers the skins will get perfectly crisp and the inside will be buttery and hot.)

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Ella and I escaped from the world at Boulder Hot Springs, a century-old resort with beautiful rooms, and chatted, ate nice cheese, and heard the rain fall through the window at night.

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In spring I hiked alone quite a bit, watching the flowers that are slow to bloom in Montana reveal themselves, week by week. Things are slow to come alive here but when they do you must revel in their presence.

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A few trips to Missoula, which will always be tinged with a bit of painful nostalgia for me. I miss the life Logan and I built here, even if it was for such a short time. It’s hard to go back and go to places that were special to us and know that such a beautiful, exciting chapter of our lives is over (although we have more adventures up our sleeves!)

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My favorite creative wonder has been making semi-regular trips up to Montana from Colorado and we always make time to catch up at The No Sweat, a 1970s no frills breakfast and lunch joint that goes overboard with coffee and charm.

I know nobody really blogs anymore but I am somewhat firmly attached to this old beast. I’ve written as The Photographist since I was an undergraduate and my life has gone in such different directions than the young, naive Swiss-living Montana girl I was back then that abandoning this blog permanently just doesn’t feel right. Does anybody else have nostalgia and loyalty to mediums like this, even though they aren’t so popular anymore?

So you want to go to Brazil…

Hello comrades,humans, collections of star dust and other assorted material!

I could finally afford to visit Logan this year in Brazil (it’s all that Millennial avocado toast spending I do, I tell ya!). I was lucky enough to travel around the interior of the state of SP, the coast, as well as a bit of the southern part of Minas Gerais (see map below). To be fair, this is like if I went to the USA and traveled just to New York City, part of the New Jersey, and went to Maine for a bit. I’m not an expert, but I did learn a lot and wanted to share what I know!

Before I start, my biggest single recommendation is to have a Brazilian friend or family member there to meet and travel with. It’s a really hard country to get around if you don’t know what’s going on.

1. BRAZIL IS HUGE

  • Brazil is an enormous state with a ton of historical diversity and bio-diversity. Southern Brazil, like in Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, is arid and where a lot of ranching happens. It’s also where a lot of beer is brewed, and a lot of German and Dutch people settled there so there are fun touristy towns that do German-esque celebrations.
  • Northern Brazil is usually seen as poorer and lesser. A lot of Southern Brazilians see Northerners kind of like how Americans have stereotypes about Mexicans (just to clarify, fuck that). It’s not good. Northern Brazil is typically seen as poor, super rural, and there’s not a lot of opportunities there so many people head south to the bigger cities to try and start over. However, there are also a lot of beach resorts and vacation spots in the North (around Recife, Salvador, etc.), because that’s where the most famous beaches are, so a wealth divide is pretty apparent in a lot of places.
  • Where Brazil meets Paraguay is pretty much as sketch as you can get, perhaps minus the Venezuelan-Brazilian border right now.
  • The states themselves are massive. Minas Gerais is like the Texas of Brazil. Each state has a unique history and culture.

2. If you’re American, you NEED a visa.

  • If this makes you want to sigh, I’m going to tell you that it is incredibly difficult for Brazilians to get visas to come to the United States and they’re SUPER expensive, and also require two in-person appointments at the US Embassy in São Paulo, along with HOURS of waiting. In comparison what we have to do is nothing.
  • Americans pay like $45 for our visa, and you apply online. (They changed the restrictions last year and made it way cheaper and easier.) It’s a breeze. Brazil needs tourism so instead of being spiteful about Americans forcing Brazilians to go through a hellish process they’ve decided to make it easier for us.

3. Brazil has a complicated history. Know it, use The Google Machine, because it’s important.  

  • Brazil was “settled” (lol, the Portuguese showed up uninvited) in the early 1500s, but there were already hundreds of thousands of indigenous people called the Jiquabu who lived in dozens of different nations all over the country.
  • The Portuguese quickly killed a lot of indigenous people through disease introduction and labor, so started importing slaves. This did not end until 1888 (yeah, that’s late). As a result, Brazil has a huge population of Afro-Brazilians. Much of the food and culture of Brazil comes from the descendants of slaves. Anthony Bourdain (RIP) has a GREAT episode where he goes to Minas Gerais and learns about the history of Brazilian food and it’s African roots, and I highly recommend it.
  • Today, Brazil is a hugely diverse place. There are a large number of Japanese immigrants in the cities, and Nigeria’s second biggest population lives in Brazil. Lots of people from Angola come over as well. 43% of Brazilians self-identify as mulatto , which is mixed-race, and 8% identify as Black, which means it’s a majority non-white country.

4. Do NOT count on people speaking English everywhere. Also, Portuguese is really hard to understand even if you already know other Romantic languages. 

  • If you’re limiting yourself to traveling in large cities like Rio or São Paulo, or going to a beach resort in Bahia as many Europeans do in the winter, then you’ll probably be okay. Because the Olympics were hosted recently, many of the subway systems in Rio and SP have announcements and signs in both Portuguese and English. A lot of restaurants have English menus too.
  • However, if you are traveling in the interior, learn some Portuguese. Once you’re outside of the city, the odds that you’ll encounter English are fair, but not great.
  • Very few Americans bother to try to learn Portuguese before they arrive, but just learning how to say “hello” (bom dia/boa tarde/boa noite), “nice to meet you” (prazer), “thank you” (obrigado/a), “please” (por favor) and “goodbye” (tchau) will be much appreciated.

5. Brazil is not SUPER safe, don’t be an idiot, but you’ll probably be okay.

  • Keep an eye on your shit. Don’t wear flashy clothes, nice bags, or look like you’re worthy of theft. Be smart about how you get around- if you’re traveling alone as a woman, take taxis or Ubers at night rather than walking or using the subway.
  • Travel with a purpose. If you’re walking around the city, move. Don’t linger, don’t be on your phone, pay attention.
  • Street harassment is common for women. I was with my boyfriend the entire time which really cut down on that stuff, but there is a lot of that bullshit present. Being grabbed in bars, clubs, etc. is also really common.
  • If you’re traveling in a group, loudly speaking English makes you very obviously foreign and more of a target. Be smart and have common sense about where you are, how you appear, etc.

6. Brazil has a lot of racism, just like the USA. 

  • There is still a lot of racism in education and governmental systems and a lot of other barriers to keep people in place. It’s real and it’s endemic, and with Bolsonaro in power, it’s unlikely to get better (#EleNão).

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Now, more fun/practical things to know!

  • If you want to save money, go in May/June/July. 
    • This is Brazil’s winter. Prices for things are highest in December, January, and February, because this is when Brazil’s summer break is, so lots of families are traveling and vacationing. Brazil’s winters are also A LOT more manageable temperature wise (I nearly died being there in January and February!).
  • WEAR A TINY BIKINI AT THE BEACH!!
    • Brazilians give NO fucks about body types at the beach. Rock whatever you fancy. I myself have never felt comfortable rocking a tiny bikini before but went for it and it was AWESOME. 60 year old grannies were rocking smaller bikinis than me! And nobody cares!
  • Cold beer is like a goddamn religion. Take part. 
    • You typically buy 600 ml bottles that are put in protective “beer condoms” (that’s what they’re called I swear) and you sit around plastic tables and drink out of ideally cold little glasses.
      • If you’re beer is not cold, you can refuse it. Cold beer is taken that seriously. Most fridges/freezers have little temperature monitors on the front so you can see that your beer is ideally at about -1 or -2 C when it leaves the freezer.
  • Being called a gringo or a gringa is not an insult!!!! 
    • It’s not. I promise. Get over it.
  • You typically do not tip after meals. 
    • A 10% gratuity is automatically included, unless otherwise noted. You also don’t tip after things like manicures or pedicures (which are DIRT CHEAP so get one!)
  • If you go to a party or a gathering, it is common to greet EVERY SINGLE PERSON THERE. (It’s rude not to!) 
    • A kiss on the cheek and a “tudo bem?” (everything good/how are you?) is common. If you’re meeting somebody, a kiss on the cheek and a “Prazer!” is perfect. (Prazer means “pleasure”.)
    • You do this again when you leave a party. It’s exhausting and not ideal for introverts or those who like to slip away. It’s seen as rude if you do slip away. DO NOT BE RUDE. If I, an extreme introvert, can do this, you can too!
  • Abortion is illegal in Brazil. 
    • People *can* get pills and stuff but it’s usually through back channels, so be extra safe with your sex. Condoms are super easy to get there, and birth control is also pretty readily available, so be smart!!
  • Marijuana is notoriously poor quality and also just really ethically dirty there, (also illegal), so just avoid in general.  
    • If you’re an American and you’ve been in Colorado or Washington and taken part in our green goodness, I would suggest you not do so in Brazil. It is widely known that the quality of any weed in Brazil is going to be bad. It’s also illegal. Also, much like buying cocaine in the USA, by the time a lot of marijuana reaches you there’s probably been a fair amount of violence and really bad shit done so that you could partake, which is selfish and shitty on your part. Be ethical about your drug use people! 

I have SO much more to talk about but I’m going to break down my time there in a bunch of posts, so please STAY TUNED!!! (There will be at least one solely devoted to food and beverages!)

In the meantime, I recommend looking at Shannon Sim’s Twitter if you want to learn a bit more about being an American in Brazil: https://twitter.com/shannongsims

Here’s a neat video that I-D did with Grace Neutral about feminism and women’s movements in Brazil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cja_ND2iIWI

Tchau until next time!

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Strange Women Go Hot Springing

I took the day off work, crossing my fingers that snow wouldn’t ruin the day. Chelsea was insistent, saying that regardless, we’d be going. The night before, we were marveling at just how good Blackfoot Single Malt IPA beer is (while drinking it) and getting excited. The weather looked clear, shockingly, and I was excited.

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We piled into Chelsea’s car and headed West. I told Logan about our plans, and from deep in South America came the reply, “you strange women have a blast”. We really were a rather strange, rag-tag group, the three of us, thrown together through proximity but choosing to also care about one another, in that strange way that fate and chance have.

The drive was spectacular. Passing burned out woods, tall evergreens, beautiful cottonwoods guarding little meandering creeks, and isolated homes and winding roads that went off to unknown places, Chelsea told us about the place. We got there, with only one truck with a camper on it in the parking lot. Success! Hot springs get notoriously overcrowded and we were thrilled to have some decent odds of having a good time.

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Upon reaching the hot spring after a half mile or so of hiking, we encountered four souls who had been sleeping in the camper. One was unfortunately very naked, and another had brought a waterproof speaker and was playing dubstep. Luckily, they shut the speaker off within about five minutes, because I was going to either punt it like a football or ask them to turn it off, whichever would have offered a quicker solution.

(Pro tip: do NOT be the person who brings a fucking speaker to the hot spring, you are a rude jerk if you do so. Enjoy the fucking tranquility of nature goddammit!)  

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Anyway…

It was beautiful. It was tranquil. Our current hot spring partners seemed a bit…not sober, not stoned, but off. A bit meth-y, perhaps, which is actually not unlikely in rural Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, or lots of other places. Luckily, they left fairly quickly, and we had the hot springs to ourselves for a good while before a dozen or so people came in a big group, complete with a tiny dog.

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That time in the hot spring was amazing. We quietly chatted, took pictures, breathed in the steam, and reveled in the marvelousness of the misty, quiet woods. I felt quietly settled, content in a way I hadn’t in some time. After dropping Colette off Chelsea and I went to Kettlehouse and chatted more, sipping a delicious New England style IPA. It was a damn fine day, with damn fine souls. I couldn’t ask for a better one.

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.

Phone diary from July

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Reclaiming autumn and my memories.

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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.

Escaping Hell to go fishing.

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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.

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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.

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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. 36226124953_55de839f2a_c36226128603_61333cc24e_c36226123263_eeecc33c84_c36637201010_41a0a62915_c