These images are entirely unedited and I sort of love them for it. Life here has been a whirlwind of renting a house, working, eating as many bagels as I can, and enjoying the tumultuous weather that Montana in May always has.
These images are entirely unedited and I sort of love them for it. Life here has been a whirlwind of renting a house, working, eating as many bagels as I can, and enjoying the tumultuous weather that Montana in May always has.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Logan and I decided a few weeks ago to head to the Boiling River for a weekend. It being not quite tourist season, May seemed like one of the best times to go! We booked a stay at the Gardiner Guest House on the recommendation of a friend, and packed swim suits, towels, and comfortable clothes.
The Gardiner Guest House was the best decision ever. It was affordable, clean, full of character, and the proprietor, Nancy, was the friendliest, most welcoming, and yet not intrusive host! She welcomed us in, showed us where everything was, and told us to settle in. She was attentive, funny, and warm. We got hugs upon departing. (We’re going back for sure). The only thing we had to do: make sure to shut the gate so deer wouldn’t eat her gorgeous flora.
Yellowstone was blessedly quiet. The masses of ridiculously large RV’s and hordes of tightly packed tour groups were not yet present. We sat in the river, saw cow elk (some no doubt pregnant with babies), bison, eagles, hawks, deer, and breathed in the smells of sulfur and sage. It was chilly but not freezing.
Gardiner at night was eerie- there was almost nobody out on a Saturday evening, and we had a quiet beer in a bar on the main drag. I sipped a Bent Nail (Red Lodge Brewing Company I missed you!) and we ate a delicious, cheap pizza at Yellowstone Pizza Company. We walked in the middle of the streets, peeked in alleyways, but didn’t stay out too long- we were chilled from the river.
The next day we had breakfast at the Guest House- a ridiculously delicious affair! French toast with banana and pecan praline sauce, yogurt, fruit, cereal, coffee, tea, and sausages. Sharing breakfast with our hosts Richard and Nancy, we chatted and got the best start to a glorious day. After soaking still more in the river, the Mammoth Terraces called and we admired bacteria mats, terraces, and the gorgeous colors of the thermal pools. Stairs, stairs, and more stairs.
As we drove out of Gardiner and Yellowstone we decided to stop in Livingston. We headed to Katabatic Brewing, which whips up some seriously delicious beer. I had only heard good things from friends and upon entering I saw why- the space is welcoming and the beer awesome. Logan got a flight and the first beer, a Kolsch, was gone immediately. A growler of it came home and it was indeed delicious. We then headed to The Murray Bar, a historic and awesome bar that serves up incredible burgers. We walked around Livingston for a bit, but a toe I hurt badly on the rocks in the Boiling River and the wind drove us to the car pretty quickly (wear sturdy shoes in the Gardiner River y’all!).
Driving home, we were satiated, happy, hot spring river soaked creatures. I could not have had a better foray into Yellowstone and its surrounding area.
My first year of grad school has been over for a month now.
I turned in my final papers and breathed, but also couldn’t stop being stressed out. I worked harder this year than I think I ever have. My mind was constantly being bent, twisted, guided into places it hadn’t ever been. My curiosity, which knows no bounds already, was unleashed in ferocious ways. I questioned verbally and mentally. I reasoned and debated and held my ground and changed my opinions and was, in general, constantly feeling alive in an exhausted, electric way.
It has been a month since I posted on here. My sincere apologies. I have been home looking for employment, catching up on reality, being with people I love, and eating good food. I have been catching up with humanity, politics, and the outside world. My life is stressful in different ways now.
The photographs above are from the History program’s end of semester trip to a cabin on Lake Cowichan. We all gather and sleep in a simple cabin. We drink and eat and ponder. Aimless conversations, still beneficial, sporadically pop up. We learn bits and pieces about each other that we didn’t before, though we have spent dozens of hours together. I have been a bit of a recluse in some ways so coming to gatherings like this are wonderful. I realize that even though in some ways this degree is isolating it is also cohesive, and that these humans I work with are in this with me.
These amazing photographs are from a helicopter or airplane that flew over the North Cascade mountains in Washington. Check out the Flickr site to see more amazing beauty of formidable places.
Finding bear poop, seeing birds, and hiking way farther than we meant to. Up, up, and more up hill, Meghan and I trekked like the beasts we are and hiked something like 12 miles that day. That’s a lot considering how much elevation we gained and lost that day!
Yesterday Meghan and I drove high up into the hills to find the Gipsy Lake trail on the Helena National Forest and never found that trail.
But we did find another trail! It was very steep for the first mile at least. We managed to get up the hills without too much difficulty, but it was definitely a stretch to call the first part relaxing in any way.
We walked for a long time, down and up and more down and more up. We eventually found the end of the trail we were supposed to originally hike, and continued down the way for a while.
We have no idea how long we hiked for but from about 10:00 am to 4:30 we hiked, with a few breaks in between for eating and drinking water. It was an awesome day to spend outside.