Thoughts of a mole woman.

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What is there to write about? The slow, molasses drip of time which suddenly shifts into something similar to the time I tried to ride a horse and it began galloping and I just held on screaming for dear life? I feel like I’ve just gotten off a long flight all the time; a bit disoriented, tired, but hopeful that the trip was worth it.

Right now I work in a windowless basement and joke that I am a mole woman who emerges after my shift, blinking and stupid for a second while I adjust to whatever is happening up there. The other day I came home and Logan mentioned it had rained during the day. I shook my head and told him I didn’t know, and he thought it was fucked up that I worked without windows underground, hidden. I think it’s fucked up he’s taking seven (!) classes online from an ancient brick of a computer at an Ikea desk in our living room. Split the difference?

For some reason, being a mole woman in a windowless world suits the times. Most of the rules about normalcy are gone and the baby definitely went with the bathwater this time. I, the mole woman, emerge up the stairs in the hallway that perpetually smells like stale urine (I have no doubt it is urine), slowly coming to terms with the real world after standing on my mat for seven hours, sending children’s books to desperate parents in Manitoba.

When it’s not a day where I am required to descend underground in exchange for a less-than-living-wage, the alarm goes off at 4:45 am. It is early, but the light outside is already bright. I walk quickly to the sea, hearing birds already fussing and gossiping, crows hunting for breakfast, and the slightly creepy sound of the heron rookery that is in Beacon Hill Park. Tents litter the park right now, and I don’t mind them. The people who live in the park right now need it. There are clean bathrooms, garbage cans, and potable water. The city hates the homeless, wants them to disappear, but where can they go? Victoria is a city of insane wealth; I walk past yachts in the harbor daily, pass Aston Martins outside the butcher shop,  but I also walk past a kaleidoscope of colorful tents nestled in the sequoias and hydrangea bushes. Most of us don’t realize how short the path to homelessness actually is. It is scarily short, especially in our world of student debt and income inequality and wages that haven’t been raised in decades.

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I’ve been trying to spot the family of fat, slippery looking otters that emerged the day after my grandpa died. I don’t know if the universe actually sends you signs, but seeing this healthy, beautiful family of otters slip up to their den to sleep the day away felt like a hug from the world, and I haven’t gotten one since. They become more and more nocturnal as summer creeps closer, and instead of otters I’ve been encountering people, vectors of plague like myself. Seeing people before 6 am in public is unpleasant: the people who are out and about are up to be away from fellow humans, and we run into each other the way territorial animals do in the woods. I recognize this and usually don’t offer any more than a nice “good morning”. The response rate is not above 50% for the reason I mentioned above. I do not begrudge anybody their silence.

After meandering around, taking pictures, looking for otters and oyster catchers, I drop any film I’m done with at my local shop and head home. Logan is usually still asleep or just getting up, and I make us coffee and we start our day. Technically we could now go to a few restaurants or pubs but I feel pretty firmly against that, just because it’s not okay. As somebody who has worked in the service industry, who makes low wages right now, I couldn’t go and sit somewhere and pay for a meal that isn’t to-go. It still doesn’t feel right. If I did, I would only go in if I could leave like a 40% tip.

Instead, I meander to the cemetery, get groceries, and take the bus back. This trip brings me great joy- I am discovering so many interesting dead people, with beautiful graves and lives surely worth hearing about. I found Eliza Day and a Nick Cave song played in my head. I found Sierra Nevada, the product of some hip parents who surely named their kid after the mountain range before it was cool to do things like that. An infant, Lulu Victoria, has the most beautiful headstone all alone, her parents nowhere to be found, and now I walk by hers specifically to wish her well. These are the kind of relationships you can build during a pandemic, and by now many of the headstones are familiar to me. Cemeteries have always been some of my favorite places, and right now they draw me in even more.

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How are you all doing? I hope you are faring well, eating plenty, sleeping enough (is sleep a darting, flighty thing for anybody else right now?). I’ve got to go file a missing package notice with the United States Postal Service. Some things, mundane as they are, do not change even as a racist rapist runs my country into the ground and people die while others cavort at parties and murder their grandma. I watch from afar in Canada, where people are particularly smug about the lack of virus and lack of a far right nutter as their leader. I benefit from their health care system and general shit-together-ness though, so how mad can I be?

An obituary of sorts.

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Last night we stood under a rookery of great blue herons, their babies hungrily crying out from the sequoia trees high above our heads. Apparently in a few weeks they’ll jump from tree to tree, stretching their wings and practicing flight. I wondered what would happen to the ones who fell from such heights.

I missed a call from my mom while we stood under those trees, my mind in morbid territory worried about the precarious future of those heron babies. I knew it was the call when I saw it later. My mother confirmed this when I called her back. My grandpa had finally passed. My mom was doing the chores you do after a death; everybody had to contacted, told of the plan, and comforted. Women are usually forced by cultural expectations to be at least moderately proficient at comforting and doing the senseless chores that must be done after any great drama or event. My mom does not deviate from this formula.  She is prepared. She’s had seven years to ready herself for his passing. The first time my grandfather went on dialysis marked the beginning of his final act. Most of the seven years he was in dialysis he was in pain, but too fearful of death to stop letting his blood be taken out, cleaned, and put back into him, a gruesome and artificial process running against the grain of nature.

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My grandfather was in the Air Force, a sturdy young man in a uniform, lucky enough to enlist and serve between the Korean War and Vietnam, something I always wondered if he thought about. After learning how to work on planes there were few things mechanical that seemed difficult to him.  I always hoped that someday he and I would fix up an old car together. My grandam and he took my mother and uncle on cross-country road trips in their Volkswagen bus, camping all over the place. They raised golden retrievers. My grandfather was particularly fond of Americana sweet treats: Snowballs and Peeps especially. One day I drove him in my old Saturn wagon that had been his sister’s (a true old lady car that fit me, as even in college I felt beyond my years) over MacDonald Pass in the summertime to the car museum in Deerlodge, housed in the old state prison. He gleefully told me all about the cars there, and pointed to a Studebaker that had curtains and told me they were ideal for taking your date to the drive-in movies, wink wink. I had never seen my grandfather even hint at the idea that sex existed so it was great seeing him loosen up and laugh in that dank and weird (but amazing) museum. We went to the A&W drive in after, just the two of us. I remember him encouraging me to speed on the highway, because wasn’t I supposed to be a reckless young person? He took the photo below with me outside the prison, one of my favorites of him, on my old Minolta film camera.

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My grandfather loved being a grandfather before he started getting sick. He delighted in us, four granddaughters in all. There is a photo of him holding me after I was born. I was the first grandchild so I was thoroughly spoiled by all parties through no fault of my own, and in this particular photograph he is beaming and proud. He built me this magnificent chair in the shape of a tiger sitting upright, and it was my constant companion as a child (apparently I fed it oatmeal often). I still have a stool he built for me, “KATE” painted in bright, cheery letters. When we eventually move somewhere permanently both things will come with me. They’re marvels of handiwork and love. He expressed love in building things and fixing things, so when his hands got too shaky for him to use tools or write I think he fell in on himself a little. I know that he is not the only man who is like that: handy and useful then slowly more and more useless, stripped of what made them proud and brought them purpose and joy. Still, even when he didn’t feel like himself, he made dark jokes about how there was so much gold in his mouth that we had to get his teeth out before he was cremated, because the funeral home would have a small fortune on their hands! (We did not do this, sorry Grampy.)

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My grandfather is hopefully wherever he wanted to be. I don’t believe in Heaven or an afterlife but I think he did, and hopefully he is somewhere peaceful, where his hands work and his mind can fly. I love you, Grampy.

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P.S. I asked to inherit his massive, massive Kodachrome slide collection, part of which I had digitized a while back. I will hopefully keep digitizing his photographs and sharing them. He had an artful, beautiful eye for light and shadow, and Kodachrome’s moodiness fit his vision perfectly.

 

Goodbye, Montana (Again)

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I’ve left and come back countless times. It was only two suitcases when I moved to Switzerland, brand new Samsonite luggage from a Macy’s sale that made me feel adult, even at 18 with baby fat still on my face. The whole back of a large Chevy truck was reserved for British Columbia, with a chartreuse velvet chair, mattress, bed frame, an old trunk from the 1970s, and way too many books. Once again, I left Montana for British Columbia, this time sharing the back of a smaller truck with Logan, divvying up space for all the things we felt we needed.

Every time I leave Montana, I don’t look back- at first. This time, moving in the winter, I felt relieved to leave the treacherous roads, isolation of the cold, and the far away promise of green for a proverbial and actual land of plenty, where the sea gave us warm weather, flowers in January, and other bountiful benefits. Getting on the plane for Victoria, I thought “Montana will always be there”. Thus far, this has been true. I’m sure I’ll be back someday.

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Already though, I miss working at my brewery. I miss the bustle, the Friday night line to the door, seeing regulars like Larry and making sure they had a beer ahead of the line. I miss tasting the new beers, seeing how a new keg pours, gathering old glasses and getting them into the dishwasher, giving my coworkers-turned-friends shit and ending the night tired in a way that made me sure I would sleep well. My arms grew strong working there, and I loved being on my feet. I took pride in keeping that brewery clean, in talking about the beer we poured, asking Jeremy, the resident beer savant, questions like this:

Q: What is the difference between a porter and a stout?

A: Not a whole lot. (They’re both medium to heavy bodied dark beers with roasted malts and a lot of potential flavor profiles, i.e. you can have coffee stouts and coffee porters, chocolate porters, chocolate stouts, etc., although there are particular beers to each style that are special, i.e. an oatmeal stout which is historically considered a “vital stout” that was supposed to buck people up when they were sick.)

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Anyway….you can tell I loved the brewery. I miss Leann, Becca, and Cody a lot, even when Cody yelled “GOOD LUCK” across the bar when you’d say you were running to the washroom. The money was good, the pace was quick, and even when people were drunk or rude and yelling at you, you’ve got coworkers who are there for you. There’s a collective sense of purpose: Get. People. Beer. Nice beer, mind you.

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My last month in Montana was full of diner visits, specifically to The No Sweat. The corner booth, where wise old plants that have been growing there for years almost lean over you, was the best. Having way too much coffee and subsequently talking a mile a minute over amazing hashbrowns with people you love while watching snow slowly fall over your beautiful little mining hometown: That’s a good morning. Thrifting, packing, seeing Australian friends you haven’t in a while, absorbing the moments because you know you’ll miss all these people terribly, filled all of my time when I wasn’t working.

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The biggest part of the last month in Montana, though: picking Logan up, finally. He’d been gone so long I showed up at the Bozeman airport sure it was a fluke that he was actually going to land, and when he did it was surreal. I didn’t know what to do with myself, seeing him be surprised by the cold, putting his luggage in the old Subaru, back in the land where we met and had our first home and made so many memories, a place we’d be leaving in a few short weeks, but it was all layered over with adrenaline and relief. We hiked Mount Helena the next day, had a beer at Blackfoot River Brewing Co., and enjoyed the weirdly warm November.

When it was finally time to drive to the airport, I cried the most about leaving my cat behind. Coe is my girl. She napped with me and told me ALL about all the things she did during the day (ate plants! puked up said plants in the living room! saw birds out the window! slept!) and I miss her blue eyes and picking her up. When we had to leave I cried all day holding her and she got mad about all the attention and hid. We knew it would be hard to find an apartment we could afford that would allow cats so my mom is keeping her and is being regularly annoyed by the nighttime screaming (I imagine Coe is having existential issues regarding being an indoor cat) and the plant destruction (also existential in nature, I assume).

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Now, we’re here. In Victoria, trying to make it all happen. Wish us luck, because our hearts tend to turn back to Montana without being able to control it, and moving is, as I have previously mentioned, The Worst and I’m trying to stay in ONE PLACE for more than a year or two.

We moved to another country.

All the public schools and universities are cancelled today. I don’t have work, so Logan and I are having an impromptu snow day together. I’m making this amazing winter vegetable galette, so fennel, beets, butternut squash, and carrots are roasting with some olive oil in the oven right now. The smell is wafting around our small 60’s apartment and I watch as people struggle to get through the wet, icy snow outside and feel glad we didn’t bring a car to Canada.

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We moved, somewhere I hoped wouldn’t be snowy but has thus far been snowy enough Logan can make jokes about leaving me because of the snow. (I may or may have not sang false promises of a snow-less, seaside town that would bring us both calm and ease of dressing.)

VICTORIAAAAA!!!

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We’re here, baby. We got an apartment in two days by viciously contacting every listing on Craigslist and taking the first one that approved us. The lobby of our old building smells like stale cigarettes and cooked chicken but we live on another floor and it just smells like new paint up here. I can hear the upstairs neighbors stomp around, and I already feel like a cartoonish version of myself, flipping a middle finger at the shoddily installed wooden floors that allow me to hear every footstep above me, wanting to grab a broom and slam the handle against the ceiling and yell like a cantankerous old woman. Morally, though, it feels much better to live in a slightly weird old 1960s apartment building than some upscale, ridiculous gentrified high rise that displaced people. I’ll take the chicken-smelling lobby over a place that asks $1700 for a 400 square foot one bedroom apartment that has one window and left some people worse for wear fending for themselves.

Logan started school full time. I’ve started a job hunt full time, working part time at a clothing store while I look for something that hopefully won’t suck out my soul. An archivist job was up but I didn’t get it, c’est la vie. I’ve moved around so much that it’s hard for my resume to look impressive- a lot of one or two year stints here and there, then moving again. Something will come up eventually (I hope!).

Moving is The Worst. The absolute Worst. My blessed mother, who should be a saint but isn’t Catholic, drove her truck full of our stuff up here to British Columbia from snowy Montana. We managed to pack our entire lives into a bed of a not-enormous truck. Books, clothes, dishes, and all. Art, too. No mattress, no furniture, nothing big, leaving behind so many things that carried memories but couldn’t fit.

Sleeping on an inflatable mattress in our new place was fun for a bit. We refinished an old oak table from Value Village. We have two chairs, a mattress that came the day before Christmas (best present EVER), two dressers, a table a downstairs neighbor gave us, and some dishes. That’s it. There’s a cooler in the living room full of books. Our 4 person tent is propped in the coat closet. We are living in the most ramshackle fashion but it’s great, because it’s our ramshackle fashion in our apartment, and I cannot express here how much I missed living with Logan.

The stress of job hunting has driven me to bake more and more. A few nights ago, to test drive Logan’s birthday cake, I made Gennaro Contaldo’s red wine chocolate cake in a bunch of ramekins, because I don’t have a cake tin yet. Long walks are a thing again, trying to get all my thoughts out of my body and finding that the only way is by pacing, climbing on rocks, looking at the ocean and feeling humbled. I feel so lucky to be back here, this time with my partner in crime, but all the luck we’ve had scares me. Two people can’t get this lucky, I fear and feel. I knock on wood a lot, and felt so happy when Logan hung a devotional by Saint Benedict in our room that his grandmother gave him. I’m not religious but I am superstitious and all the love and protectiveness of such things can’t hurt.

When I’m not trolling for employment there are books to be read. We live a few blocks from a branch of the public library and I’ve thus far devoured Deborah Blum’s fantastic “The Poisoner’s Handbook” for the second time. There’s a hefty history of the Italian mafia that eyed me from the library shelves now sitting on my bedside table, and a book about the history of surgery has taken up residence here too. Historical nonfiction is my beat and I can’t turn away! Is it perhaps because I not-so-secretly want to write something nonfiction someday and am just trying to absorb good prose, ideas, structuring, and such through osmosis? Maybe!

In any case, seeing as I am very under-employed right now, you might see more writing here. I missed this blog, it’s been a part of my life for so long now.

A Sabbatical of Sorts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wounded Little Beauty

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I bought this slightly wounded 1930’s hand-made embroidered creation sight unseen off eBay from my favorite vintage dealer Strange Desires. Vintage is nice that way- you have your measurements, and you know if it fits or not before you buy it, because the way vintage is sold is by measuring the clothing items. There’s no wondering if a size 10 will fit or if you need to move down a size.

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When this beauty arrived, I immediately set to work reinforcing the stitches on the snaps, re-sewing the hem and the sleeves, and checking to make sure the existing stitches were sound. It took me a few hours, as I’m no professional seamstress, but I’m proud of how it came out! She’s ready to wear sparingly and proudly. Whenever I acquire something vintage I always wonder what the lives of previous owners were like. This dress is almost 90 years old, what was her owners’ lives like? Why did they choose this fabric? Where was this dress originally made? Maybe its’ the historian in me, always searching for more information no matter what, but I also just love imagining that whoever wore this previously did so with purpose and love. (Such a romantic, unrealistic thought, but I have no evidence to the contrary now, do I?)

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A little re-introduction (hello).

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Hi, I’m Kate, the bad owner of this blog.

The last time I posted was over THREE FUCKING MONTHS ago because I quit my job, moved, and fucked off to Brazil for a month and a half. Maybe we haven’t met yet.

I’m a Montanan who has spent stints living in Switzerland and British Columbia. I’m mildly obsessed with snakes, frogs, and bats, along with 19th century photography and studying epic women and their lives. I’m an art historian and a historian who has never managed to find work in my field (maybe someday!). Instead, I’ve spent time working for the Forest Service, in the domestic and sexual violence field, and some freelance stints photographing and writing. I collect vintage clothing and cameras, but do not wish to disappear into the past because we live at the pinnacle of dental care right now (which…don’t get me started on historical dental care, but thank your lucky stars you live NOW).

Here you’ll find everything from art market analyses from back in the day to hiking recommendations to recipes to whatever else I decided to write about. For a while I’ll be focusing on telling you all about Brazil, which is a mindfuck of a country, a huge and complicated place, and a dazzling, confusing, corrupt, and fantastical land.

Hello again fellow humans!

Up the Rattlesnake (Montana is ugly).

Here’s the thing:

Montana is really, really, ridiculously good looking. Example A:

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It’s hard to take bad photographs here. It’s hard to not feel the urge to have a camera on you 24/7 (I usually have more than one to be honest). The sunsets, the trees, the mountains in the Western part of the state- it’s all very ‘Gram worthy (and in fact, I have noticed a lot more “influencers” who are based out of Montana- but that’s a story for another day).

It had snowed pretty consistently Sunday morning so Brenna and I postponed a longer hike and chose to head up the Rattlesnake. This is an area of Missoula that is busy with recreationists year-round, and we were passed by bikers (in the snow, mind you) and soon, I am sure ski tracks will be rife up there as well. Most Montanans (me excluded) have adapted to the reality of winters that last a minimum of six months, and have outdoor hobbies. Again, not me.

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Anyway, we went on a short-ish jaunt in the snow, and it was beautiful. We chatted, looked for animals, admired the quiet of the landscape, and soaked in this manageable amount of snow and cold.

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Here’s Montana in all her ugly, #nofilter. You’re welcome.

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Coisas que eu gosto

 

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Logan’s been gone and my Portuguese has become wretched, choppy, and even sadder than it was before he left (it was never really *that* good) . I’ve been trying to use short, small sentences and find words that I know are in my brain either in Spanish or Italian.

Coisas is close to cosi (It) and cosas (Sp) and so my mind has a bridge. Gosto is close to gustar (Sp), etc. and so forth. I can’t wait to actually hear and re-learn everything I’ve lost soon.

Recently a friend joked that in lieu of a relationship right now I’ve invested in skincare and I can’t say that it’s entirely untrue. Logan is gone but I’ve got little bottles and serums! I’ve shelved my The Ordinary bottles- they were giving me skin problems that made me unhappy, even though I loved the price, the way they felt, and the fact that they did brighten my skin. Instead, I switched to a BHA to help take care of some of the problems caused by the shelved solutions, and bought a new snail repair cream- I had the Mizon ampoule and used it to the last drop but it was sold out on Amazon at the time so I bought it’s sister product! I love the ampoule a bit more- it feels luxurious and less contaminating, whereas with this cream you dip a finger in and then apply. Both are hydrating and make my skin feel very cared for. I love the Mizon repair cream and this Cosrx BHA, they do what they’re supposed to and have been lasting me a while, and they were both right around $17-18. I haven’t yet purchased anything over $20, even though in  my dreams I’d be splurging on something from Drunk Elephant (that’ll be a bit down the road for sure!).

I am nervous for switching up my skincare routine in a few months, as I’ll go from the extremely cold, dry Montana winter to the humidity, sun, and heat in south/central Brazil. It’ll be an adventure in every sense of the word there!

 

Phone diary from July

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Logan’s been gone a month. I’m on my own here in Montana. I’ve adopted new skincare methods, moved into a new room, have four bags of clothes to donate, and have been trying to enjoy summer. That means reading- a lot. In distilleries, coffee shops, bed, on work breaks, in the park, anywhere and everywhere. After the books come walks- long, meandering, in the evening. Summer is always remembered as the best but it’s so hot during the day that I duck in and out of shaded spaces and cool buildings. I can’t concentrate when it’s so hot that the buildings themselves radiate heat after sundown. The fan goes, and my mind wanders in circles, and I loathe summer as it happens, but remember it as so much better when it’s over.

Black and white reflections

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Odds and ends of a strange month. I got my Canadian work visa from the kindest border agent and then had the most awful experience coming back to my home country. I stayed out late and saw people I rarely see, found a dead bird behind the auto repair shop on my way to work, ate at a diner outside Spokane in eastern Washington, spent some time by the sea with my mom in Bellingham the night before getting my visa, and photographed flowers sprouting everywhere here in Missoula. It’s 90 degrees outside and I miss those weird spring days where you still might see snow on the mountains and have frost on some bits of the yard.

A long goodbye.

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Tomorrow morning I take Logan to the airport and we will not see one another for about six months. He will fly home to Brazil.

Saying goodbye for this long has made me neglect many things. I’ve been coveting our time together, because I need to store up memories for the long separation. Books go unread, blog posts go un-posted, photographs unedited. Film sits at the photography shop, developed and all set in nice little rows for me to scan, but even the effort of going and getting that, rather than spending time with my person, feels weird. I will get it Thursday when Logan is safely home.

He is going home partially because there are no real immigration routes for him here in America (which is ridiculous for many reasons), and partially because it has been seven years away from home and it is simply time. Time to be around family, friends, his brother, to be a Brazilian again and forget some English, to hear parrots being rude out on the front porch and loathe the heat and listen to cicadas at night and go to fishing holes where coatis gather.

I will be here, working and saving money, missing him and remembering what it is to be alone, looking for the perfect flight to go see him. Living with somebody naturally blends and bleeds edges of yourself with that person, and I am excited to find out my own boundaries, habits, and other things for a little bit. To go by myself and read a book with a glass of wine, do my nighttime wanderings which I haven’t done, pick up too many library books and spend time taking photographs of things that aren’t him. It’s going to be very hard.

First Yellowstone trip of the year!

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April in Yellowstone is kind of a crapshoot. You never know if you’re going to have a blizzard roll in, a bunch of hail, or a perfectly clear, beautiful evening. You could literally encounter anything- elk in your campsite, bears, unruly humans- and you have to be prepared for all those options.

We drove through Paradise Valley, past the fast-moving, brown Yellowstone River, admiring the cloud-covered peaks of the Absaroka range. We got to the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. A park ranger let us know we got the last campsite in the area (yes!!!) and we proceeded to pitch our tent on the raised platform. This was the first time we would be sleeping in our new-ish tent that we had gotten for a ridiculous steal at an REI garage sale.

After pitching our tent we drove to the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, and walked on the creaky boardwalks all over. The smell of sulfur belched from the ground, and there were dozens of cow elk scattered nearby, many of them pregnant. I wondered when they would be surrounded by their small, awkward calves and hoped I’d get to see some soon!

I ran into an old classmate from my Swiss college on the boardwalk as we were coming down. I hadn’t seen Heather in over seven years, and here she was! We hugged, and I shook my head in bewilderment. After attending Franklin College in Lugano, I feel so lucky to have my world be so small that I get to have experiences like that.

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Logan and I bemoaned the stupidity we already saw visitors exhibiting. We saw women try and pet the pregnant cow elk, and behind my gritted teeth I let out a vile hope that the elk would charge or kick somebody who dared to disrespect their personal space. Red dogs, or baby bison, cavorted outside our campground, and people got way…too…close…to photograph and marvel at the tiny little devils, who were dwarfed by their much larger, scarier mothers and fathers.

Yellowstone is best before Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day, but it was still so awful to see so many people stressing out wildlife and putting themselves in danger. I usually refuse to visit after June starts because it just gets to be too much- I tend to become enraged so often seeing the ridiculous amounts of idiocy being exhibited by humans, so I just stay away.

Regardless, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Logan and I tried to go to the Boiling River, but the river was moving so swiftly, full of run off, and there were so many people crowded in the hot spots that we decided to try again tomorrow morning before too many people were awake. This plan was ultimately foiled.

We went back to our campsite and started a fire with dry grass, newspapers, and matches. We made some hot water for tea and cooked kielbasa, and then a hard wind came down, accompanied by fat, unapologetic drops of rain. We got into the car (the tent was being blown almost vertically by the rain) and waited it out. Soon, hail pelted the car. We looked at each other and wondered if we would need to get a cheap motel in Gardiner, because if the weather kept up this way there would be no way we could sleep in our tent, even with the rain fly on and it being sturdily staked in the ground. The wind was just too much!

Luckily after about 40 minutes it all subsided, leaving us with a beautiful full moon and some fluffy, nonthreatening clouds. We spent the evening eating and sitting by the fire, having a beer or two and just chatting in the way that a fire encourages people to talk. Eventually it was time to retire, and we crept into our little green tent and nestled into our sleeping bags. I slept like a rock, not waking until about 5 am, when the birds began to serenade us and the sun began to slowly make itself known. Logan stirred, and I rolled over, wanting to sleep in but also wanting to get up and get to the Boiling River.

Finally around 7 am we got up, put on bathing suits, and headed down the road. It looked like there were no cars in the lot! Yes! Upon driving closer, we saw why: the park rangers had locked the gate, which was a sure sign that the Gardner River had been deemed too fast and dangerous to stay open for visitors. We barely missed it!
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We went back to our campsite and made coffee and cooked the rest of our kielbasa for breakfast. We then decided to drive through the whole park to see what it looked like. Once we got outside Mammoth the temperature dropped rapidly, and we saw layers of snow that had been plowed off the road piled high. Mated pairs of sandhill cranes stalked in shallow streams, and we saw bison partially hidden behind curtains of billowing steam from the volcanically-heated waterways and geysers. There weren’t many people out and about, and we marveled at the sun glinting from mountain tops and how green everything was already.

On our way home, we stopped at Norris Hot Springs to soak for a bit, because we were at the bare minimum going to get to soak in at least one hot spot! Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds and mountain bluebirds trilled and called from the marshland around the hot spring, and we let ourselves relax. We shouldn’t have- as I drove over the mountain pass that lies before Butte, a freak snowstorm swept over us. Massive amounts of snow were falling, and the road was quickly getting full of slow-moving, careful cars. The heat in our car gave out, and I had to ask Logan to wipe the inside windshield so that it wouldn’t freeze up and block my vision. It was late April, and we were in the middle of a fucking blizzard?! I cursed my way over the pass, knowing that as long as we went slowly and carefully we could make it to the other side.

Eventually we did! It was quite a journey. We got home after 10 hours in the car in one day and collapsed in our beds. It’s always an adventure going to Yellowstone, no matter what you expect will happen.

No: Thoughts, regrets, and an on-going process.

I’ve been thinking about the word “no” lately. A lot.

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It comes with the territory of working in the domestic violence field.

I’ve gotten used to entering in paperwork that documents strangulation, human trafficking, and other atrocities. I have to. It’s my job, my $16.20-an-hour-plus-benefits job, and if I thought about every person who was on those forms, every instance of violence, violation, endangerment, or the other fucked up shit, I wouldn’t sleep. I would ruin my relationship with my boyfriend. I would have problems eating, enjoying sunshine, and smiling at all the puppies that are out and about on the hiking trails. I’ve managed to tune a lot of it out, compartmentalize my work, but it still gets to me, how many people couldn’t say no, couldn’t leave, couldn’t escape.

Something really got me recently though. I was listening to The Heart podcast, a beautiful, tender, hilarious, and marvelous podcast about sex, love, intimacy, gender, genitals, and humanity. The producer, Kaitlin Prest, created a series called “No” and it brought me back to so many places in my life. She discussed how hard it is to say the word. How she practiced for years saying no. How men ignored those no’s, selfishly, to achieve what they wanted- a blowjob in a basement, sex that would ruin a friendship, a massage that had boundaries clearly marked and then steamrolled over.

It brought me back to the thousands of instances where I wish I could have said no or felt safe doing so. When men would catcall me on runs in high school, I wish I could have rejected their harassment that made me hyper-aware of my body, my changing body that already betrayed me with periods and breasts and all these things that made me want to dig a hole in my yard and come out in a decade or two- no.

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I vividly remember sitting on my couch in my apartment my final year of college with my then-boyfriend Chris. He said, on an otherwise nice afternoon, “You would be so much sexier if you exercised more”. I should have said no, walked him to the door and shut it and ended it there. I should have rejected his judgement, his shaming of my body, the softness and fullness of parts of it that I sometimes still struggle to embrace even though I am beautiful. I remember blushing and feeling humiliated and like I had done something wrong, because male attention was still such a focal point of my life. I had been raised by television, magazines, my friend group, everybody, that men wanting you was right, good, important- that it validated my existence. I had given this man a lot but it was not enough and that was my fault.

Except, it wasn’t. It was his fault because he had issues about being a short dude so he would comment on my body because his was short and thin and didn’t make an effort to do anything about it- it was easier to let me know how I was supposed to act and look.

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I was working at the Forest Service, where a tall, beady-eyed, parasitic man named John who worked there, who was friends with the boss, would corner me in my front desk, which only had one entrance, and say things about my body and make me feel like I needed to take a shower after. I worked hard to speak up for myself, but he lingered for two years afterwards, and I deeply regret not telling him to his face that he was a loathsome creep, no. (Also,  a big fuck you to the Forest Service for never doing anything about John, who also was a fucked up grade A creep to many other women in my office.)

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It’s so fucking hard to say NO. I almost cried as Kaitlin described on her podcast being harassed by a dude in a basement who asked her, repeatedly, “give me a blowjob” and how hard it was for her to refuse again and again, because this disgusting, selfish man kept wearing her down, until she did it, because she felt like she didn’t have options.

I have done many things I never wanted to. I have been made to feel many things I never wanted to. My life has been struck through, like a streak of quartz, diamond-hard in rock, with shame, humiliation, frustration, anger, and insane amounts of un-quelled fear. I have been violated, my body disrespected, in more ways than I want to count- the men ganging up on me at a bar after one of them grabbed my ass so I couldn’t call out which one trespassed on my body. The guy I went to elementary and middle school with who made fun of me and called me names, who years later humiliated me in new ways, over a decade down the road, by touching me in a bar in Bozeman, Montana. I didn’t say NO because he was big, heavy, and because I also fell down a rabbit hole of new grief, because he had made me feel awful so long ago and now I was being subjected to fresh feelings of awfulness by this selfish bastard.

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I still am bad at saying no when I should. I like pleasing people too much, I like keeping things even and nice and smooth. In the moment, as a woman, it is safer to stay quiet, it doesn’t put me or my loved ones in danger. It doesn’t rile people up or harsh the vibe. It’s exhausting and not sustainable and yet almost every woman I know lives their life with this weight of this problem with them, whether or not they acknowledge its presence.

This isn’t a post about resolving to start speaking up more – that would be a bold faced lie if I typed it and left it here on this blog. I’ve been vulnerable on this platform blog for years and I can’t pretend to suddenly be strong, armored, and actively making up for all the time I’ve lost being disrespected, violated, ashamed, and made to feel that my body is not mine.

I do genuinely enjoy asserting my space and what I feel. Putting out my pointy elbows at a concert so men don’t crowd my personal space, calling out men who say sexist, wrong things, and always looking out for other women or other vulnerable people. I don’t mind sharing my past traumas with men and other women so they know that they’re real, and I don’t mind making people uncomfortable with these memories. I don’t like silence- it cloaks and obscures realities. I found it comforting in a dark, fucked up way, to hear Kaitlin’s “No” podcast discuss what so many women like me experience. Maybe talking about my experiences on this blog will comfort somebody else.

Bibliophile moments

I finally got my library card (YES!) and since have been checking out books just about every week.

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Recently, I’ve been loving Dan Flores’ Visions of the Big Sky: Painting and Photographing the Northern Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big, fat book full of illustrations and paintings, and even if you don’t read the text, the art he showcases within the pages is worth looking at.

What Flores does that drew me to this book, though, is re-examine so many stale, old stereotypes and tropes within Western American art that drove me away from it. I hate, for example, the same cowboys being painted again and again. I loathe the “noble savage” paintings done by white dudes that hang in galleries in Bozeman, Whitefish, and Jackson Hole. Flores looks at this art and calls it out for what it is- false narratives of hyper-masculinity that continue to be created to feed myths for the types of men who purchase the art. He also brings forth new perspectives on beautiful art that shrinks white men to ants, that works to show us something new, and something beautiful.

Hector Feliciano’s The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World’s Greatest Works of Art also caught my eye. My first degree is in Art History and after having lived in Europe and traveled extensively, there is still evidence of World War II everywhere. Feliciano traces how Germany systematically confiscated thousands of paintings by some of the most remarkable painters of the last five hundred years, including Vermeer, Matisse, Manet, Cranach, Bruegel, Tiepolo, and others. To this day, thousands of paintings, enamels, medals, coins, and other works of art are gone, likely squirreled away in vaults, museum archives, or in private family holdings. The sleuth-like narrative he uses intrigued me immediately and his knowledge of art, his access to declassified files, and other sources make the book thorough but also devastatingly sad.

I recently picked up Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, which I am so excited to read! I’ve heard amazing things, and ever since I took an art history course about Roman wall paintings and another about ancient Rome, my love for all things Roman has grown. A quiet dream of mine is to live in Rome for a whole autumn or spring at some point, and wander around the streets, have an espresso in a crowded cafe, and soak in the millenia of history.