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.

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The Big Island on Film

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

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

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

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

Hike to Hidden Lake

35964873586_855a03e704_c35964872496_f265bba2df_c35195516913_c0ddae99fc_c35195513933_0bc71ddbd7_cI 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.

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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.

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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.

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Beargrass & Coffee

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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.

Montana in the summer: A brief glimpse.

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Fishing, drinking local beer, hiking, noticing the little things: That’s what Montana summers are made of. (And scanning lots of film!)

I’ve been applying to jobs, finishing my thesis, and traveling a bit to see family in Colorado. We have been waging a battle against the heat with fans and windows thrown wide open at night, only to discover that the house still barely gets below 75 most days. Watering the grass seems silly when it’s almost 100F out and almost nothing will save the lawn, and our grass shrivels and roasts and looks less nice than the neighbors, but paying the water bill is a real thing.

The last few days have been spent outside in the sun and on the water and it has been marvelous. We spent two days in the northwestern part of the state and managed to get a full day of hiking and exploring in Glacier National Park. Logan and I got our second National Parks pass and I hope that we make it to Yellowstone this fall when the tourists leave and the leaves are quietly changing.

Plans, plans, plans. How is life so full of plans and yet almost none of them pan out? If you had told me six months ago that I would still be in Montana, I would have laughed. Yet, here we are, and to be honest I couldn’t be happier. Montana beckons and lures and cajoles my heart and soul and eyes (and camera lens!) unlike anywhere else.

 

Adventuring

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We went fishing but didn’t fish.

We drove down the paved road, which eventually turned to dirt. We passed wide, flat fields fenced in by dense copses of trees. The river sang to us no matter where we were, and we followed the road and peered down at the swollen, runoff filled body of water. It looked cold, it looked rich, it looked unwelcoming, but it was so beautiful.

When spring ends and summer begins in Montana is a matter of debate and is ultimately up to fickle Mother Nature- and she changes her mind a lot. The last few weeks have been a mix of chilly, sweater-clad days and days where I am sweating on our front porch and loathing everything. We leave sweaters in our cars just in case, but also tubes of sunscreen.

We eventually found this suspension bridge and crossed it, heading into a wilderness area. We didn’t go very far, as darkness and rain were fast coming, and I sat by the edge of the river on a rock, thinking those fast fleeting thoughts that I find myself surrounded by when confronted with the natural.

We’re going back soon, hopefully to have more of a hike and explore some of our new national forests!

The final foray- for now.

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I sit in a comfy plastic chair on a busy street in my new home. Our home is strewn with half-unpacked boxes and we ponder how to decorate the empty walls. Irises bloom in the front yard, making me think of Van Gogh and summer.

Meanwhile, as I look at these 35mm pictures, all the silence and noise of the woods comes rushing back. These wet, saturated, deep woods that fill Vancouver Island have seeped their way into my bones and soul the way that the water permeates everything there: slowly and deeply. The forest floor gives as I walk upon it, layers of decaying wood, leaves, animal scat, and other refuse creating a natural carpet. Squirrels chatter and birds sing, and deer quietly and shyly snack on edible foliage. I hear ducks quietly land on the water and smell the rich earth and look at the way the light changes seemingly every second, casting ever changing shadows into the recesses of the forest. It feels right.

Hike: Mount Douglas

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Katherine suggested we try to find and hike Mount Douglas as a way to shake things up a bit. It’s been so cold here that we’ve both got a bit of cabin fever going! This morning we packed our respective cameras and left our little bit of town and began our hike!

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Mount Douglas is a very popular hiking spot in Victoria, and has several trails. We hiked the Irvine trail, which was beautiful and steep in several spaces. Lots of ferns, beautiful patches of moss all over the rocks. It was cold enough that frost on some of the rocks made the trail quite slick, but luckily it wasn’t warm enough out for lots of mud to be present.

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We had a beautiful morning exploring this new corner of the city! There were lots of dogs and fellow hikers, and if you like having trails to yourself I would go early in the morning when people aren’t up and about yet. The trail was pretty moderate but I wouldn’t wear casual shoes or shoes you wouldn’t mind getting muddy. The rocks require some grip and there are definitely patches that have potential to be quite muddy.

Thank you for reading! I’ve been making a serious effort to re-boot this blog back into action. Stay tuned for more and take care!

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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.

 

Restless Creatures Take to the Woods Part II

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I’m sitting sequestered on the 3rd floor of the library. My Timbuk2 bag is full to the max with about 10 books. My computer is working overtime. I’m embarking on a wicked research project and trying to get a handle on my workload, but my mind is somewhere sitting on a moss bed overlooking the ocean.

We had a blue bird day- a rare thing this time of gloomy year on the island. I remember panicking with Morgan over whether we had gotten sun (I prefer to look as close to dead as possible when it comes to skin tone) and being relieved that the pink on my cheeks was merely from hiking and the wonders of moving my body forward through the trees.

We eventually found a nice overlook where Morgan and I rested for a bit while Myles photographed tiny flowers with Morgan’s camera. I felt the sun warm my scalp and I could hear the ocean gently rise and fall in that hypnotic way. I have a visitor in 2 weeks and am truly hopeful I can bring this soul here- I myself was enraptured, and any excuse to drag another body with me will be taken.

Alright, back to the stacks. I’m roaming about looking for books and my pedometer is telling me I’ve walked almost 2 miles just in the library alone today. Endlessly searching for the perfect book to complete your research apparently entails thousands of steps. (That counts as exercise right? Especially when weighed down by a passive bookbag?)

Happy Saturday everybody!

Restless creatures take to the woods pt. 1

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Images from our hike on Tuesday. Morgan drove us deep into the rain forest near the coast and we hiked, smelling sea air, hearing creeks trickle, birds chirp, and soaking up the magnificent visuals.

I needed to be outside. I had cabin fever of the “stuck in the city” sort. I can be outside- it’s temperate- but everywhere in Victoria are yards, yards, yards. Manicured, controlled “natural” spaces that make me feel claustrophobic. When Morgan suggested we head to Sooke, I said YES YES YES.

I’ll talk about the hike more on the Part 2 post- I’m off to pick up some 35mm film that went through my repaired Olympus OM-20! Hopefully no light leaks this time, I got all the foam that keeps light out replaced. Can’t wait to get the scanner going and see what I’ve got in store!

 

You shall not pass!

Went on a lovely hike with Kristin this morning, but it ended at an odd point because apparently we were on private land (or so a sign said…) and turned around so as not to raise a ruckus/be shot at (yeah that’s a thing in the Wild West of Montana).

Life has been…choatic, to say the last. It’s been a whirlwind of me staying out far too late, loathing my horrendous job more than ever, getting excited to move to Victoria in August, and other little things that seem to always add up.

I’m so sorry I haven’t been posting regularly, I swear this is something I am going to improve upon! I’ve been still getting used to my DSLR and I’m trying to get it to do what I want…we’re working on it.

Anyway, I need to shower and get my life together this Sunday, which most likely involves me really just taking a nap. OOPS. Have a great rest of your weekends everybody!