Reclaiming autumn and my memories.

9986656434_0654f90358_c9986642245_3c0ec8a16a_c9986759853_f440ec7b78_c9986633724_eab5e76e2a_c9986763283_394f786f74_c11593871204_85eedcc006_c9986611765_8618141283_c9986629464_711396d618_cI 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.

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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.

 

The final foray

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The final cabin trip at Lake Cowichan.

I held a Pacific Chorus Frog, saw a deer that shared a meadow and some sun-soaked forest with me, stood on the dock with some good souls and soaked in my final views of the fog-shrouded mountains. Large logs floated on the surface and the rain pattered on the lake surface, an almost mesmerizing thing to witness. A fire was built and we huddled around it. I went to bed earlier than most, sharing a wood and canvas tent with Isobel. We heard the loud sound of rain hitting the tin roof, and with flaps made from tarp the night air seeped in making us both glad we were cozy in our sleeping bags.

Having recently gotten back really positive if not downright amazing feedback from my thesis supervisor I felt giddy at the thought of almost being done with this degree. The cabin trip sealed this feeling of accomplishment- I deserved to be here, I deserved to feel my feet on the damp, fern-covered ground in the deep woods here. I deserved to take the time to notice how the light could change so quickly in such a light-starved place. Woodpeckers tenaciously poked away at tree trunks and I stood and watched them for several minutes at a time, their red feathered heads flashing.

Every forest has hiding places, evidence of life, and details worth looking at. Tree hollows, fallen leaves, the sound of fussy squirrels dashing among branches, and the chirrup of birds high above your head happen in most forests. As you walk you might notice a neat pile of deer sign, or an owl pellet, or perhaps even find the pale bones of something that has since been picked clean. Human beings, with our neat division of life and death, where the dead are buried or burned or quickly taken away, do not leave evidence of said death everywhere. In the woods, death and decay exist alongside birth and growth.

That being said, it is really nice to type those words from my warm, sunny apartment. I feel so lucky to be able to spend time outside when I can, but I’m so close to being done with this thesis! Time to go write some more (maybe).

 

Mystic Beach Hike: Into the woods

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Three cameras. Four rolls of 400 speed Fujifilm. One pair of Dr. Marten boots. A rain slicker. As Noah drive Rhiannon, Isobel, and me towards our destination, I wondered if my boots would suffice- my hardcore Keen hiking boots being back in Montana- and as it began to rain and rain hard, hitting the windshield with a veracity that seemed almost personal, I thought, I should have worn warmer things. Luckily, by the time we pulled into the trail head, the rain had stopped. A cool mist, the kind that is omnipresent on the coast of Vancouver Island in the morning, hung around us. The air, heavy with moisture, felt good and I breathed it in deeply. We were on the edge of the dense, hyper-saturated woods of the Pacific Northwest.

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My parents started taking my sister and I camping, hiking, and deep into nature when we were only a week old. Our whole lives have been laced, consistently, with adventures where the smell of soil, the sound of water, the delighted finding of animal footprints, and the deep responsibility we have to nature comes through. I remember helping my father catch fish and learning how to be gentle with them, how to properly hold frogs, how bird feathers worked as part of a wing to help them fly. One time, to a show and tell at school, I took a duck foot in a Ziploc bag to demonstrate how a certain muscle, when pulled with tweezers, retracted the foot. (No, that did not help me make friends.) My sister and I were taught to identify footprints, find patches of fur stuck to brush, to scout for feathers, for signs of life. Something my parents have done is give me a strong, very intense emotional connection to the woods. When I walk into any forest, I feel quietly humbled,  immediately renewed, and a sort of basic instinct whispers that I am part of this, and that I owe it so much. My sister has a poster that says “The woods are my church,” and I agree with this to a certain extent. Spiritually, going into nature feels like walking into a cathedral. It’s not about you, it’s about something bigger than you, and allowing that to be alright.

As we meandered down the twisted-root and mud-puddle filled trail, I mentally marveled at the wood’s density and how sound traveled in trapped, quick pockets, roped in by tree trunks and muffled by moss. Ferns grew out of old logs. Trees rose high, higher, highest, chasing sunlight. Saplings, small ferns, and fungus all compete to cover every surface. Birds chirped from branches up above. Pieces of moss trailed from branches, catching the light. Stumps of enormous size looked like squat, wooden boulders, surely occupied by insects, birds, and other animals. Downed woody debris is vital to any landscape, and here, where everything is fertile to an almost-ridiculous extent, I acknowledged every bit of the landscape. It all had a part to play.

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One thing I am still not used to in these greener, more lush woods is the wet.  It keeps evidence of life to itself more. Water distracts and obscures and I wondered what else had been on our path or had crossed it earlier. The woods here are full of cougars, bears, raccoons, deer, and eagles, but their signs were more difficult to find, because the soil and the wood-covered ground do not hold footprints as well- the water saturates the ground and erases or muddles them. I wondered who our neighbors were- what quiet, stealthy animals were nearby? I knew that they were aware of us- our smells, noises, and our lack of grace may as well be like a flare launched to the natural world. WE ARE HERE!

About an hour down the trail, we finally came to a series of steps down to the sea. It was high tide, and the ocean roared. We could see the cloud and snow capped Olympic mountain range in America across the strait, and the sea spit forth foam at our feet. The forest goes right up to the edge of the ocean, and the two share much with each other, as these two ecosystems tend to do here in the Pacific Northwest. If you want to become enraptured with this part of the world, and the power that some of these forests hold, I highly recommend The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant. That man has a way with words I haven’t experienced before and his ability to describe the woods and the land are unparalleled.

We gazed at the sea, went near a waterfall, and soaked in the sights and sounds. I cast loathing looks at the jacket-wearing chihuahuas that were brought along by their owners (I loathe small dogs for some reason.) The ocean’s tempo of rising, falling, gathering, spreading, taking and leaving, spoke to each of us in ways I don’t think we fully understand. After taking photographs, breathing in the salt air, looking at the clouds, and enjoying the sun, it was time to descend back into the thick copses of trees and bid the coast adieu. The light, in the short time we had left the woods, had changed significantly. It was warmer, more golden, and it seemed to cloak everything in a comforting light. Even the shadows beckoned in a welcoming fashion. We made our way, souls content, to the car, and the urge to fall into a relaxed slumber was almost overwhelming.

What a marvelous day.

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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A Cabin Palaver/NYE 2016

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Here | There

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

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

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

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

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

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

A semi-final adventure of sorts.

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Dressed to the nines in an Italian restaurant, we both checked our phones, apologizing and feeling rude. We had good reason to do so: We were trying to network and see if any friends or family could loan us a tent in a pinch. Our reliable outlet for tents had sold all their rental tents, which we had used periodically this summer.

After dinner we pulled up to a beautiful house perched on a hill. Annette opened the door and handed us an 8 person tent, generously helping us out. We didn’t know if we would be able to set up this behemoth contraption, but it was what we needed, and we walked back to the car, still dressed very nicely, holding the green Coleman tent bag.

Our goal: Glacier National Park, for two nights, complete with fire, hopefully seeing mountain goats, maybe a grizzly through some binoculars.

The reality: Due to my sickness, consisting of a horrible cough and wretched, fitful nights of sleep, and an impending storm in the park, we cancelled and decided on one night in Yellowstone. Sure, there was rain and wind predicted. Sure, I was still a sickly creature. But, it was my last weekend in America for a few months and we were feeling scrappy.

So, we went to Yellowstone. Again. We had a marvelous time, despite Stage 2 fire restrictions that meant no campfire. We had a tent palace courtesy of a wonderful woman and we had the Boiling River and the Lamar Valley and a quiet lake to walk near and fall colors to soak in. We had the last tendrils of summer hanging on and we reveled in what nature had to give us. We watched elk nibble feet from our tent in the campsite, large healthy cows and velvet-adorned yearlings, eating their salad and fattening up. We listened to creeks rush and leaves rustle. We had a good last weekend before it was time for me to pack and go back to British Columbia to tackle The Thesis.

From the car

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

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

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

Foxes, frogs, and hiking: A day in Yellowstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bucket hats and flowers

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

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