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.

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A bit of history in expired film.

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I met Ella on a fall day in 2014. My friend Charlotte had told me that her childhood best friend was moving back to Helena and didn’t know a lot of people, and would I like to meet her? I was working a job where my favorite coworker had just left (thank you Kevin for making the front desk livable!) and had almost no friends in Helena. I said yes please, naturally, because as much as I liked being an introvert it wasn’t sustainable.

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Ella and I chatted for over two hours the first time we met at the Blackfoot Brewery, while I was working a job I resented for money I needed. It was my first fall back in my home town, and I was making my home in my parent’s basement while I saved cash for graduate school. It was almost necessary that I met Ella, because if I had not met somebody I think I would have sunken even further down than I felt at that point. Alone, but unable to be truly alone, and twenty-three, I felt suffocated, terrified, and so, so hollow. My joys were long solo walks around the Mansion District, walking by Romanesque arches and Gothic windows and Italianate architecture that people from all over came to build in Helena, Montana. I found leaf piles beside the Myrna Loy Theater to step in and crunch, and I often sat with a book at the local Starbucks until they closed at 10 pm on weekends (no other coffee shop stayed open after 6pm in my small hometown). Life was dull beyond words, and I felt like a machine. Finding one person who seemed like they could help revert me from my corpse-like state was amazing.

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Since then, Ella and I have pursued adventures of our own but always managed to reconnect. This is somebody I have feverishly danced with, spent hours reading with, and in general feel a sense of kinship with that will always be important to simply because the timing of her arrival in my life was really important. A few weekends ago we finally, after discussing it for a year or two, used a whole roll of expired film I was saving just for making photographs. Ella’s cheekbones are unrivaled and she has the loveliest mouth, and with her Morticia-vibes hair it was so good to photograph her. I want to do it again soon! 36518519464_f9916ba3ff_c37315521871_edbf9681b1_c37458147975_f9b4d724cd_c36518520804_8069a56f8a_c

 

Rhubarb pie

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My mother has a beautiful healthy rhubarb plant in her backyard. It’s grown from cuttings of a rhubarb plant that she had at our childhood home. The rhubarb that she grows is descended from a rhubarb plant that our family grew over one hundred years ago after my ancestors emigrated from Scotland to New Brunswick, and I love that it’s still growing in Montana and has been a part of our family.

Rhubarb is one of my favorite things to bake with and eat in general. It’s great in jams, in chutneys, in pies, crisps, tarts, and lots of other things. I even like eating thin slices raw- but that’s perhaps not everybody’s cup of tea.

This recipe is from one at AllRecipes, but I used less sugar:

4 cups chopped rhubarb

1 and 1/3 cups sugar (I used about 3/4 of a cup- I like my pies tart)

6 tablespoons white flour

1 tablespoon butter

1 recipe for two 9 inch crusts

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Roll out your first pie crust over flour and put in pie plate. Preheat oven at 450F. Mix together the flour and sugar until mixed well, then sprinkle about 1/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the crust. Then, heap your chopped rhubarb on top (isn’t it beautiful?!). Sprinkle the rest of the flour/sugar mixture over the rhubarb and dot with little pats of butter.

(If you’re feeling adventurous you can also mix a tiny bit of lemon juice in with your rhubarb! I meant to do this but forgot…)

Lay your other pie crust over the top and pinch the edges of the two crusts together. Poke holes with a fork in the top crust so that air can escape. Cover the edges of the crust with tin foil so that the crust doesn’t get over-cooked.

Put in oven at 450F for 15 minutes, then cook at 350 for another 40-45 minutes. Take out, let cool for a few hours, and enjoy!

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I like serving mine with ice cream or having it in the morning for breakfast with black coffee. A sweet and sour pie with a buttery crust is the best combination, in my opinion! What’s great about this pie is it’s amazing cold, which is perfect for summer when cold and tart things are ideal.

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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.

Quietly readying to say adieu

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I am steeling myself for the inevitable goodbye and allowing myself to be consumed by the nostalgia that comes with it all.

In 23 days I will be on a ferry heading away from Vancouver Island, and I will have all my worldly possessions with me, plus more memories than a hundred terabyte hard drives could hold.

The future right now is tenuous at best. It is terrifying at worst. Plans are tentative out of sheer necessity. I will hopefully be returning here in August to defend my thesis and graduate with my Master’s degree and then off into the real world to find a real job and make real money to pay off those very real student loans. What happens after that isn’t really clear, nor where all of this will happen. It’s all part of the adventure though, isn’t it?

In the meantime, I will relish my time here with photographs, fresh baked goods from my favorite places, and breathe in this ocean air while I can, and I will try and share it with you all.

2016 in review

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2016 was one hell of a year. It was full of quiet bliss, clear eyed decisions, hard work, and adventures of a smaller scale that were still very satisfactory. Reunions with friends I hadn’t seen in years, cooking and eating some amazing meals, and being able to breathe for a few months away from graduate school- these are the things I treasured.

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Visiting Seattle to see Exa and Shelby. Logan visiting Victoria for the first time, where we ate all the pho and walked miles every day. Trips to Yellowstone for camping, seeing animals, stars, and pitching tents in the dark. Soaking in hot springs, seeing steam and relaxing in rivers. Driving to Minneapolis with Logan and Everett to see Savages with Mary. Relishing cold gin on the back porch of the Rialto with Ella as the summer sun sets. Taking a canoe down the Missouri on a hot day, covered in sunscreen, surrounded by pelicans, geese, and trout. Going home for Halloween and prancing around in all black, cooking amazing food and feeling the crisp edges of Montana winters whisper around me.

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The darkest part of this year involved 3 months where I moved into the worst living situation I had ever experienced. It drained me emotionally and as a result my school, mental health, and many other aspects of my life suffered. Thankfully, I escaped that horrible situation (thank you Kalin and Matt and Morgan for helping me move!) and was able to go home for a month. Home was chaotic and beautiful. Some rather terrible events happened in our family but we were able to be together for those, and seeing my family weather difficulties together assured me that we will be okay, even if All The Horrible seems to dominate for the time being.

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This year I have felt a bit listless. While many parts of my life- my relationships with loved ones and my family- feel stronger than ever, I have felt off-kilter with my relationship with my body. I haven’t been exercising the way I need to, and while I was living in the Hovel, I didn’t eat well. Mentally, graduate school has presented me with many challenges, and I have felt frustrated at the bureaucracy involved, the endless critiques and some aspects of academia that I struggle with. Self-doubt lingers as well.

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However, I embrace 2017 with open arms. I am now in a beautiful apartment with a lovely roommate. Challenges are coming. Work piles up. I live paycheck to paycheck. But I wake up to the sun every day, and I wake up knowing that I am important, significant, and capable of so much.

I know too that this blog has suffered as a result of my bad living situation last year. Now that I am living somewhere much better, I hope to share more than bare snippets! I want to chat about literature, my favorite things, what matters right now, interesting things that others have shown me.

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Now, time to fully fall into whatever 2017 has to offer.

You’re a piece of (art) work.

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A year ago we convened in Seattle to go to a fantastic gig and revel in one another’s company. We ate good food, saw gorgeous art, and had a blast.

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My life right now is nothing but writing, reading, editing, eating, and sleeping. I’d rather have it include a Primal Scream show with some good people. C’est la vie. Instead, here’s some pictures of art that we saw in the Seattle Art Museum last November.

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It is very important to know how to be alone.

I was almost flat broke, determined to spend the last of my money on a ticket to Zurich. I was, after all, meant to celebrate my own birthday, yes, and 20 is big deal! And seeing as I didn’t want to be around humans, it would be better to be around art. Calculating that there was indeed enough money for a museum ticket and a train ticket, the decision was made.

I packed a large bag with two cameras, a book, some snacks, and walked to the train station to catch the train to Zurich. Due to Swiss geography, one does not get to stay on the train from Lugano the whole way to Zurich. After going through Bellinzona, then the steep Gotthard Pass, which is quite an engineering feat, the train stops at windy, lonely, tiny Arth-Goldau, a transit station where you have about 2 minutes to scramble and find the train that will take you to your final destination. Arth-Goldau is freezing cold in the winter, smack dab in the middle of Switzerland, and when you stop there it feels deserted and almost surreal.

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That is Arth-Goldau as I walked across the way to my train. I know, such a crisp photograph! (Please forgive the thin lines on many of the photographs- something with my camera, probably the backing plate, scratched thin lines onto several rolls!)

From there, I settled onto the final train. Rolling into Zurich, through graffiti-filled tunnels, the train parked and I got off. I had earlier researched which tram to get on and found the #3 with little effort. Paying for my ticket, I headed straight to the Kunsthaus Zurich, the city’s fantastic museum. Museums have always been one of my favorite ways to spend time solo.

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I spent the morning and early afternoon there, looking at everything from Piet Mondrian to medieval Madonnas. If my faulty, human memory serves me, it wasn’t crowded. I was allowed to have entire rooms to myself. In one room, a spider descended from the ceiling right in front of me, as though to have a better picture of the bright blue and white Fernand Leger painting we were both admiring. This is the only living, breathing thing I shared my experience with willingly.

Living abroad, one discovers the importance of being able to be alone. How to be alone, not lonely, and if you are lonely, to corral the loneliness somewhere else so that your living hours are not spent in sorrow. As I walked around the Altstadt (Old Town), past buildings that had lived through 500+ years of events, I passed art galleries and fashion boutiques. Carts of beautiful books for sale sat outside large, sunny shop windows. I thumbed through a few, unable to even think of buying anything. Languages from every corner of the earth were heard, mixed with the local Schweizerdeutsch, echoed from wood-beamed buildings. I will never not be bored of being in old places. This walls of these buildings had so many stories to tell, and the people who lived in them and worked in them surely could echo my sentiments. Wandering, listening, watching, are all wonderful things to do alone.

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It was a beautiful day- sunny but not too bright, a spring morning full of that omnipresent optimism that Primavera brings. Being able to wander with no time limits, no need to do anything, was perfect. I stopped outside churches, walked by the river, people-watched, and spent the whole day going wherever felt right. It was marvelous to do so.

Although this was over 5 years ago that broke girl and I are still very much alike. Being alone has become more and more normal. My friends, scattered across the globe like seeds, exist often on the fringes of my life, and my beloved partner is also geographically quite distant. Museums are still a place I go to escape reality and to embrace it, and I have been saving a weekend just so I can go to the museum here on a rainy, awful day.

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Although the formula isn’t perfect, I do know how to be alone quite well, and it is very important to know how to do so. Especially in our lives, where it is so easy to feel despair and embrace negativity, knowing how to fortify yourself with books, Skype dates, plenty of sleep, and spontaneous adventures will keep you going for longer than you think.

Also, fair warning, but this might be one of a few escapist-like pieces. The world right now is a vicious thing, and the teeth and claws normally hidden behind lips and under fur are gleaming everywhere I look.

Let it wash over me- the Nostalgia post.

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How much of what I remember is real? How much of it is fantastical, invented by repetition of remembering? How much of Lugano that I possess in image won’t be there when I go next time?

I left Lugano in May of 2011, when I was 20 years old, sure of my return. I have not been back since. I ended up graduating from an in-state university instead of the prestigious, dual-degree giving small college in Switzerland I planned on.

I was surrounded by new things there, when at the age of 18 I embarked on the rare opportunity to learn somewhere entirely foreign to me. Ridiculous amounts of wealth stared me in the face- students in leased Porsches, BMW’s, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles lined the small student parking lot, bags worth my tuition gracefully hanging from fellow students arms, expectations of lavishness that had only entered my eyes previously through magazines. One classmate described growing up being shuffled around in armored vehicles in Colombia due to her father’s fear of being kidnapped. In Montana we keep a winter survival kit in the car in case something happens. In the cafeteria Arabic, Spanish, Russian, German, Czech, and English all mingled. Downtown Lugano was a space of tremendous, blatant wealth as well- I gazed at 800 franc shoes from Ermenegildo Zegna, gorgeously tailored suits, women wearing furs in the midst of May. Limited edition cars so rare that their worth almost couldn’t be ascertained- Bugatti, Lamborghini, Bentley, Jaguar- parked near 18th century Baroque churches. Versace, Bally, Hermes, Gucci, Missoni, Cartier boutiques lined the narrow, car-less streets weaving between quiet, elegant piazzas.

In the autumn, the piazzas were laced with the smell of roasted chestnuts. Sullen Gothic teenagers huddled outside Manor, sharing quiet comradery. Efficient buses hummed around and the funiculare which took you from downtown to the train station cost .10 francs and went to and fro full of passengers up the steep hill. Centuries old buildings with painted on windows, all shades of pastel, created a maze-like town of alleys and piazzas to stumble into. In the winter, one would hear the helicopters as large, regal Christmas trees were lowered into the piazzas. Old men played chess on the many painted large chess boards around the city. Swans, regal thieves, languidly floated near the edge of the lake, waiting to be fed. The sleek, small train station whisked people away to Milano Centrale or to the Zurich Bahnhof, wherever the rider wanted to go. I myself had the utter joy of having a train pass, being able to explore such cities as Lausanne, St. Gallen, Basel, and Zurich, easily and efficiently. Well-dressed older gentleman whose taxis were plush Jaguars asked if you needed their services. If you did indeed take a taxi, the inside was full of the sounds of bad 1990’s American rock and pop music that the drivers knew every word to. (I remember having one very patient Luganese gentleman try to shove my rather tattered bag into the back of his car at 5 am, probably much more used to dealing with more sleek creatures.)

Among all this newness and strangeness, I found my stride, my humble Montana-based stride, in the midst of all. Migros was the affordable grocery store that I regularly patronized. H&M clothed me. My friends and I splurged on warm Nutella crepes or nocciolo gelato, at 5 francs a welcome luxury, from the petite stands that emerged outside Manor and on corners. Churches full of relics, frescoes, and gorgeous, quiet details absorbed my spare time. Flowers in the Parco Civico, changed frequently, smiled at me, and in the early mornings, before most humans were awake, I could have the lakeside, and even the Italian mountains across the lake, to myself. On a few special occasions my dearest friends and I gathered at the Spaghetti Store by the lake to devour pizza with marscopone, arugula, and prosciutto with cheap table wine.

And yet, how much of this is personal mythology I coaxed from the threads of my mind? How many times was my identity as outsider made obvious?

I really hope, in the next few years, to go back and ascertain how much of what I think I know about this beautiful city is false. Human memory is so faulty, beautifully so, and if I find comfort in the ideas I’ve woven for myself,so be it. The curious part of me, however, is not always content with that answer- nor should it be. Lugano, I cannot wait to re-explore and analyze you with my veteran eyes.

Home for a brief moment

Flying into Montana at its ugliest reminds me how much I love it despite how dry and brown it is at this time of year. Hunting season is out and about, with men and women decked out in camouflage in the grocery stores and gas stations, likely just returning from a day in the mountains or fields, meandering buying milk and other things. I had forgotten about this simple aspect of life home.

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I missed driving, the 12oz glasses of Blackfoot IPA, the inevitable seeing of people I knew, because it was all familiar. Ultra-crunch leaves were everywhere, bare trees ready to embrace coats of snow. Bob Ross, the tree in Logan’s backyard, looked eerie and naked without his beautiful leaves. We had a fire on my last day, which Ella stoked to perfection. The wind made it a mercurial joy to have around, switching directions quickly, threatening to singe one or more of us. I was able to hold warm cups of coffee with loved ones close by. I hugged my sister, surprised my parents with my visit, and slept in. It was beautiful, and like all lovely things, quick, far too quick for my liking.

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.

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.

“You’re out of your element”

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I’ve got 5 rolls of film from our trip to Minneapolis. We were in the actual city for less than 48 hours, and somehow Logan, Everett, and I survived 36 hours in a Prius together. (Real talk: those two are  quality co-pilots. We all traded driving, DJ, and napping shifts like bosses and killed it. Thanks you two for being quality humans to spend a lot of time in a tiny space with).

Minneapolis was gorgeous. Warm, sunny, with a light breeze fluttering in the streets. Seeing Mary, I had to give her a long hug- this marvelous woman is killing it in law school, dresses like she’s always ready to settle a lawsuit, and also seamlessly transitions into the punk goddess she is. Gina, wearing gorgeous red lipstick, greeted us, and we all went to eat. We spent the afternoon eating, getting stoked to see Savages (OH MY GOD) and catching up.

Honestly, spending so much time with so many good souls is replenishing in a way that lets you inwardly smile and realize that the world, while indifferent, is populated by people who care, even if their version of caring is tossing insults from The Big Lebowski your way.

Seeing Savages was incredible. When I get film back I’ll make a post about the concert. I was pretty damn tempted to just press pause on my life and follow Savages around on their tours and stop being a productive human and just absorb their power that they send into the audience in epic waves.

Ahem…anyway. We ate. We drank. We laughed and sat on Mary’s massive front porch and grilled breakfast sausages and listened to music. We wove ourselves into each other’s lives  again for the briefest of times. It was the best sort of weekend.

Quietly learning

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My grandfather is not the most verbose individual. But, he gave me boxes and boxes of his Ektachrome and Kodachrome slides covering the early 1960’s all the way into the late 1980’s. As I scan in the slides, 12 at a time, I see what he saw. I see who he photographed. I don’t know why or how or even sometimes where, but I get to see the world through his eyes.

My grandfather has a wealth of knowledge about almost everything. He doesn’t talk about it too often, though. One thing I love is to see how he frames his wife, his children, and his friends. My grandfather is careful. He is not reckless with his photographs. I love finding these very blatantly sensitive, conscious thoughts coming through his photographs. My intimidating, often quiet grandfather makes gorgeous photographs. I’ll post more soon.

These are from Maine in 1975, and the gloom and blue hues make me want to head East.