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?

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Strange Women Go Hot Springing

I took the day off work, crossing my fingers that snow wouldn’t ruin the day. Chelsea was insistent, saying that regardless, we’d be going. The night before, we were marveling at just how good Blackfoot Single Malt IPA beer is (while drinking it) and getting excited. The weather looked clear, shockingly, and I was excited.

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We piled into Chelsea’s car and headed West. I told Logan about our plans, and from deep in South America came the reply, “you strange women have a blast”. We really were a rather strange, rag-tag group, the three of us, thrown together through proximity but choosing to also care about one another, in that strange way that fate and chance have.

The drive was spectacular. Passing burned out woods, tall evergreens, beautiful cottonwoods guarding little meandering creeks, and isolated homes and winding roads that went off to unknown places, Chelsea told us about the place. We got there, with only one truck with a camper on it in the parking lot. Success! Hot springs get notoriously overcrowded and we were thrilled to have some decent odds of having a good time.

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Upon reaching the hot spring after a half mile or so of hiking, we encountered four souls who had been sleeping in the camper. One was unfortunately very naked, and another had brought a waterproof speaker and was playing dubstep. Luckily, they shut the speaker off within about five minutes, because I was going to either punt it like a football or ask them to turn it off, whichever would have offered a quicker solution.

(Pro tip: do NOT be the person who brings a fucking speaker to the hot spring, you are a rude jerk if you do so. Enjoy the fucking tranquility of nature goddammit!)  

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Anyway…

It was beautiful. It was tranquil. Our current hot spring partners seemed a bit…not sober, not stoned, but off. A bit meth-y, perhaps, which is actually not unlikely in rural Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, or lots of other places. Luckily, they left fairly quickly, and we had the hot springs to ourselves for a good while before a dozen or so people came in a big group, complete with a tiny dog.

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That time in the hot spring was amazing. We quietly chatted, took pictures, breathed in the steam, and reveled in the marvelousness of the misty, quiet woods. I felt quietly settled, content in a way I hadn’t in some time. After dropping Colette off Chelsea and I went to Kettlehouse and chatted more, sipping a delicious New England style IPA. It was a damn fine day, with damn fine souls. I couldn’t ask for a better one.

Found film: Iceland, May 2015

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Hiking in Iceland was gleefully devoid of warning signs. We stayed on the trail, walking through apocalyptic-feeling sulfur clouds, bathing suits and towels and water packed on our backs. There were one or two signs that let us know to be careful, but a few miles in the trail was devoid of directions.

I like that. I liked the idea that the Icelandic government, the people, whoever, just didn’t bother to post warning signs everywhere, unlike the sign-strewn Yellowstone National Park, which at some points shows children being boiled and burned alive encountering geysers, just in case the wooden boardwalks and the bubbling mud pots weren’t enough of an encouragement to stay on the path. I secretly, morbidly loved the idea that people who were dumb, who didn’t pay attention, could end up in trouble out here, in this barren, strange land with billowing steam clouds, plushy moss, hot ground, snow patches, and rushing creeks coming from sandy, rocky, steep hills. Get your shit together people, just pay attention. 43856350020_1ac2615a49_c43856347250_d43bb8e140_c31802027998_89683ba317_c31802030858_5881a88466_c

We hiked to the hot springs, which were full of loud, naked German men. We immediately decided to keep hiking and wait them out, not wanting spring-mates in the form of slightly intoxicated, boisterous boys who were without a shred of clothing and likely decorum. Nein, danke. As we hiked, it got lonelier, and we encountered fewer and fewer people.

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The land was part Yellowstone, part meadow, part alien. It was bare, with moss, lichen, colorful soil, and lots of pocked, bare volcanic rock. Emily and I were amazed, not even close to tired, even after we’d been hiking for hours. We eventually turned back, and found the river mostly to ourselves, enough that we put down our packs and slipped in. It wasn’t hot; it was warm enough that the day we went it was comfortable, but on a colder day I wouldn’t want to swim! Eventually more and more people packed up and left, and we took off our bathing suits and, like the prudish Americans we were, enjoyed the privacy. I felt like a nymph from a painting in the water, silly and un-bothered by anything.

It really was a joy to re-discover some photos of one of the best days I’ve had on this earth, with one of my favorite humans, in a place neither of us knew and marveled at.

Preparing to leave, part two (visual).

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My time here summed up in visual form.

Photography is a tool, and even the most casual of photographers use this tool in decisive ways. I have used mine to capture the fleeting moments that will last, longer than my anxious thoughts or potentially sad feelings about this place, because if you put me in a corner and asked me, truly, if I was happy here, I would have to tell you that there were moments that were fucking blissful.

Seeing the sunset on our street. The first night we spent in our home. Meeting Logan’s friends from Brazil, bridges between our two worlds that I hadn’t known before. Late nights at the VFW watching a good live show with Nick, Logan, and Ev, feeling like the universe sent good people to be around. Chelsea’s all-too-brief visits that were filled with photos and chats that my soul needed. Quiet mornings at Bernice’s and Butterfly Herbs, nestled at tables and booths with a library book and a note pad. Kettlehouse afternoons, with delicious beer and salty peanuts. Drives out to the Lolo National Forest for fishing, exploring, and renewal. Walking to work in the snow, having the early morning feel like it was all for me as I made the first human footprints on my walk . Watching spring be tenacious and persistent and then take over Missoula with a ferocity I reveled in, photographing blooms and green, chlorophyll-devouring things as eagerly as they emerged from their deep winter slumber.

 

Upstate but feeling low

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Lately I’ve been realizing how in statis I’ve been. Like an animal keeping its metabolism slow so that it can conserve calories. It’s tiring in it’s own way.

I wrote a bit about this on Instagram and here’s part of it.

“I feel untethered, but it’s hard to tether yourself to anything when you’re in a state of preparing, however slowly, to leave. I want to be making big loud friendships with complicated amazing people, and I want to be social and look outside my box, but it’s hard not to feel duplicitous building relationships that likely won’t last or gain the beautiful layers of depth that many do only after lots of time. I guess moving every two years like clockwork is catching up to me a bit.”

Tonight after expressing these feelings, I came home and made a risotto with chanterelle mushrooms, had a glass of wine, and currently have a face mask on. Laundry is in the dryer, dishes are done, work is over, and life is moving along in the clunky but regular way it is right now. I get to look back on beautiful photos like the ones above that show quiet, sunny days in Upstate New York of spiderwebs, marble topped dressers a hundred years old, and oil-based skincare that I talked about in my previous post.

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Missoula in early autumn is something else.

The park begins to get tinged in yellow and the lightest shades of orange. The students are back and the bars become busy and crowded. But mornings remain quiet, private, and beautiful. Sometimes I get up even earlier than normal so I can go have a cup of coffee and watch the sun touch the world.

One year ago and other memories.

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A little over a year ago I entered a room on the third floor of the building where I took a majority of my courses and spent many hours on campus, utterly terrified, holding my personal copy of the thesis that had occupied and been the point of two years of academic research, drafts, edits, feedback, and stress.

I don’t remember much of my thesis defense. I remember that many people came and that my family and friends and classmates being there meant so much. I remember that some of the questions were quietly brutal, but that my thesis stood up to criticism well because it was thorough and thoughtful. I remember feeling gratitude for my thesis supervisor for her eagle eyes and brilliant mind, who took me on and helped me take a woman’s enormous life and help make her story into something manageable.

The weekend there was far too short. I was inundated with the want to do everything- eat at Pho Vy, drink coffee at Habit, go to the graveyard, take my family to the tiny sushi place that I treasured so much. I remember crying on the ferry that took me away from Canada, wondering when I’d be back.

I miss that city so much.

6300 miles/10,100 kilometers

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Taking Logan to the airport to say goodbye for six months was surreal. The drive from Missoula to Spokane is unbelievably beautiful, with cloud-covered mountain passes and little mining towns nestled by the highway, and we both discussed everything but his impending flight to go thousands and thousands of miles away. After we said goodbye at the gate, I drove home in a daze. I knew I couldn’t be emotional because a 3 hour drive on the highway is not the place to be a compromised person, and I compartmentalized everything and drove home without really remembering it. I came home and slept like a corpse, absolutely exhausted and horribly sad and hollow feeling. Our house echoed and felt devoid of the soul it had when we moved in.

It’s been a month now and life hasn’t become “normal” again. I want to sleep a lot still. I keep my space neat, much neater than it was when we lived together, and joined a gym. Cooking hasn’t happened- lots of raw veggies, sandwiches, yogurt and cold dishes. It’s hilarious how sad my diet has become since his departure. I would always know Logan was cooking when I’d smell garlic, basil, cilantro, olive oil in the pan, and other familiar smells. The sounds of the house have changed and so have the smells. No more of his cologne or our clothes hung together in the closet, even if only for a little while. Much of my grad school habits have returned: long walks alone, people watching,  having a quiet drink alone, writing in my diary, devouring books, finding quiet spaces, and letting my mind unravel and go all sorts of places. It is peaceful, familiar, and a tiny bit sad, but not entirely empty of happiness.

These were from one of our last walks in the park here in town, taken with my ancient SLR camera, which we didn’t position correctly, to my odd delight.

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.

The Oregon Coast

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It’s pouring rain outside and the lights flickered a little bit. I thought, “thank goodness for a full computer battery and the weird little LED lantern we bought for camping”, if the power did indeed go out.

I finally these pictures scanned, and they make me feel things. We stayed in Seaside, Oregon for one night, thinking it would be the sort of resort town that idealizes life, and instead it brought out all the ugly things one pushes to the edge. We stayed at a B&B that was beautiful, but it was so windy that going outside was nearly impossible. Tried to find a good place for a martini or something strong and nice, but instead found only dive bars and tourist-y places that had the veneer coming off of them far too quickly. We did our best and found sushi, seafood, and bad mixed drinks. We saw people who go on dates to gamble, each taking a twenty dollar bill, and one bar had a garish plastic rat stuck in the wall. It was a strange town, vaguely sinister, and we were quite happy to pack up and leave. Perhaps in the summer it’s a slightly better place to be? People seem to think so!

Driving the Oregon coast was strange and beautiful. Lots of little towns strung together by a highway, some barely held together by the bookends of a church and a bar, others flourishing with multi-story buildings. Woods, rolling hills, the sea and tributaries flowing into the sea, which we followed as we drove. We got out periodically to eat, take pictures, breathe in the salty air, and relish the warmth of the already-present spring. I want to go back, very badly, but with one exception: I think Seaside, for whatever charm has made it a destination, will remain a place in my past.

Cape Kiwanda

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It was windy, blustery, loud, and sandy, and yet so beautiful I wanted to sit down and watch the waves for hours. We walked through the dunes and emerged onto the beach, unprotected and being bombarded by wind and waves. The wind threw pieces of sea foam across the beach, and I jumped down on them as they flew in my direction. We let the wind not so much caress as assault our faces and senses, because the view was spectacular. It was unkind to people, and so we had the beach to ourselves. Everything was different, less saturated browns, greys, and greens- even the water looked dull and matte in color. Birds were whisked away by the wind and we watched them move quickly above our heads. It was too cold to stay for long, and too windy to be truly savored in the way we would have liked, but it was still epic and it made my think about the meaning of my life, how small and somewhat silly my existence is, and yet how marvelous it was for me to see this beautiful expanse of sand and sea that was so indifferent to me.

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Ruby’s Cafe

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I love hole-in-the-wall diners. The coffee is generally weak, the food semi-average, but the decor, the patrons, the chats, and the traditions that diners invite beckon me.

Logan and I tried to go to Paul’s Pancake Parlor, which apparently is amazing, but it was packed beyond belief. We drove a block and found Ruby’s Cafe, which hasn’t altered its interior decor since the 1970s, or so it seemed.

I love places that don’t budge. The Uptown Diner in downtown Missoula recently closed, and that was a big blow to the budget diner scene here. I love going places where a good chunk of the patrons are regulars, where the goal  isn’t to be hip or new. Diners are a part of Americana that don’t respond quickly to changes, and there is comfort in that. You walk in, sit in a booth, and know that the menu will have the usual options (pancakes, sausages, hashbrowns), and that the coffee, as mediocre as it may be, will be hot and full of caffeine.

It’s been over three months… so here are some updates in film.

Hello likely non-existent readers! I am not dead, nor in cryogenic suspension, nor in a coma, nor anything un-conscious.

In the last three months, I cut my hair off, which turned my wavy long hair into a short, bouncy, loose bob with full curls, and I couldn’t be happier!

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In March I turned twenty-seven, and this year I want to give fewer fucks about things I cannot control. I want to control who I give my energy to more, and where I put it. My anxiety and fears often threaten to spill over to contaminate parts of my life I don’t want them to.

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I’ve been trying to shoot medium format film that my aunt gave me for Christmas, and so far it’s been more failures than anything else but it’s been so fun giving it a try!

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Sharing space with all the critters around here, and finding that several walk the same paths that I do.

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This spring I’ve been feeling a lot of things and have been trying to go to rallies, marches, talks, and forums to help cope with and change what is happening around me. Spending time with my family and loved ones helps as well.

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It’s April and winter is not giving up quite yet. I put away my snow boots, and as I type a snow storm is raging outside our kitchen windows. The back door blew open from the gusts! It’s been miserable being teased by the seasons like this. However, we do have some beautiful buds on our trees and the beginnings of our iris flowers are poking up through the beds of leaves that covered them all winter. I cannot wait to hear more birds (we already hear northern flickers, robins, chickadees, and meadowlarks!) and see more flowers bloom. Crocuses are popping up everywhere too!

Sorry for my absence. Time never seems to make enough space to let you do everything you want to. I’ve been writing, researching, working, trying to go on runs, eat healthier, and do the self-care things I need to. That being said, I’ve got lots of thoughts and blog ideas swirling around, so I hope you’ll see more of me!