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.

The final foray

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The final cabin trip at Lake Cowichan.

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Mystic Beach Hike: Into the woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a marvelous day.

Garden Wanders

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The Gardens were way more affordable than the Butchart Gardens, and even though there wasn’t much blooming yet, I feel like during the later spring/summertime it would be a marvelous way to experience some gorgeous gardens on a budget! The way that the Gardens are landscaped gives you multiple paths to wander, lots of different areas to explore (a Japanese garden, a winter garden, an herbs garden, etc.), and many benches/sunny spots to sit and take in all the beauty that is naturalia. They have lovely little posts in the soil that tell you what species you are looking at, and I have to say that even the smell of the earth was amazing. Morgan and I both agreed that we wanted to come back when more things are active- but we did have the whole gardens to ourselves!

If you want to learn more about the Gardens at HCP check out their website!

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Chinon Auto 3001 camera

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I found a boxy little camera at a thrift store, went to 6 different shops and found the obscure battery, and took it out for a test drive.

The Chinon Auto 3001 is a sturdy little camera with a clamshell lens cover. It’s got a f/2.8 lens, a fill flash, an auto flash (that you can turn off) and no manual I could find on the internet.

So, on one of my meandering walks and over the course of a few evenings, I tried to shoot some test film on 2 rolls of Fujifilm. The results: Not too shabby. Obviously I need to test the auto-focus features more (it is supposed to be pretty good with the AF features) but it seems like a handy little beast to have around!

My greatest regret is that you cannot see the marvelous extra toes on Coco the cat’s little feet! She has polydactylism, which means that her feet have more toes than they should, and her adorable little paws look like little muffins!

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Snow in Victoria

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This morning, I woke up earlier than usual and decided to venture outside and photograph this strange, snow covered world. It was almost totally devoid of humans. I got to see a large bald eagle make it’s pathetic noises (seriously, how does such a regal animal make such pitiful sounds?) and hear birds and other animals pitter-patter in the brush.

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A new favorite: Caffe Fantastico

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I have realized that my words do little justice but that my images do. Caffe Fantastico was bright, friendly, affordable, and well laid out. It was large but not sterile, and the food is delicious. It’s the sort of place you can see yourself wiling away a few hours lost in a book or typing out something for class.

It was really necessary to have a good chat with some friends there the other day. These days it feels so easy to fall into the blues and feel useless but being able to have uplifting experiences with good souls over warm coffee will never fail to make me feel a little stronger.

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Thesis beast and Primavera.

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Just some photos I have accumulated that don’t fit any particular theme of any one post. Some photos of some snowdrop flowers I found in all their tenacious, early spring glory. Cheerful homes I walk by on my walks to combat the intense anxiety that threatens to swallow me whole. Bits and bobs of books in the library, including the best label that reminds people that defacing books is, in fact, a crime.

Eating everything: Realm Food Co.

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Realm Food Co. is tucked away on a non-assuming street in Parksville, British Columbia. Parksville, which has a population around 12,000 people, is a small beach town that doesn’t exactly scream that it’ll have wicked food choices. However, when we walked into the bright, beautifully decorated interior, it seemed like our stomachs would thank us after multiple days of buffet hotel meals. A man played the piano quietly and beautifully in the corner. The place was packed, which is always a sure sign of quality!

It was Sunday morning, and Realm’s brunch menu featured some amazing looking tacos, Tailside Toast (their avocado toast), eggs benedict in a variety of delicious ways, and a whole menu of smoothies. Having quietly turned my nose up at avocado toast in restaurants to this point in my life, I finally ordered it- it was one of the cheaper options, after all!

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We settled into a bright blue vinyl booth and awaited the plates of food. I imagined petite pieces of bread with some little slices of avocado, paltry amounts of bourgeois hipster grub. Instead, all of us got amazing amounts of delicious food at really fair prices (mine, which was topped with an egg, was $10.50 total!). If you’ve waded into the deep, beloved habit of brunch on the island, you get used to paying close to $15 for a brunch plate of food- and god forbid if you get coffee! It was a relief, frankly, to be able to afford breakfast.

The food was also really, really pretty. Yeah, I said it. The thing you’re not supposed to say. Because even though we all Instagram our meals 24/7, our beautiful lattes and gorgeous salads and meaty burgers, saying it out loud (er…typing) makes it all sound ludicrous.

In summary: Delicious, affordable, beautiful. Super friendly staff, low key vibes, and comfy booths. Would highly recommend! Check out their website for more information. 

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Qualicum Beach

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This weekend most of my fellow grad students and I went up to Parksville to present our papers at an annual conference there. Having not been very far up the island, I relished the opportunity to see more outside of Victoria.

When we arrived, we checked into our rooms. Sliding open the balcony door I could immediately smell the sea and feel the breeze. However, there was no time for nice reflections: we were going to eat dinner and then edit our papers in a sea of stress, making sure that presenting them the next day would go as smoothly as possible.

I slept horribly. Perhaps stress, perhaps sharing a room with 3 other beings. Perhaps it was eating an enormous burger at dinner. Speculating doesn’t matter- what mattered was that as I woke up at 6 am after having been awake since 3 am, I felt like I wanted to crawl into a copse of trees outside the hotel and bury myself under leaves and not awaken until summertime.

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Luckily, presenting my paper (on blood transfusion methods and development in World War I and World War II!) went smoothly! Some really lovely people asked marvelous questions and the two other people on my panel (my fellow MA candidate Dmitry and a really lovely women named Katie) did epic presentations on their research.

The conference had us eating via meal tickets we were given. The meals were buffet style- relatively edible, not great, but not horrible either. There was, however, a  never ending supply of coffee at all hours of the day, and as I sipped my 6th cup of coffee over dinner I mused if I was going to make it past 8pm. Thank goodness for caffeine.

Overall I managed to find time with some friends to go on walks outside the cramped, stressed out hallways of the conference venue. We could see over to the mainland from where we stood, and the view was gorgeous. Being near the ocean will never get old for me. It was a joy to explore a new part of the island, and it was fantastic to go see amazing papers given on such subjects as Frank Buck the animal collector, racialized bias in asylums in British Columbia, narwhals in aquariums, and the first digital computers built after World War II.

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A Fine Day for a Protest: Women’s March on Victoria

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We agreed to meet at a coffee shop to get sustenance before heading down to the march. Outside the cafe, people with pink hats and signs walked past every few minutes, and I got excited.

My mother, sister, boyfriend, and friends were all in Helena marching in frigid temperatures. I knew friends marching in Geneva, Amsterdam, DC, Boston, Minneapolis, Houston, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle.  Most of the people I love today were out showing solidarity for one another and for other humans. Right now is not the time to shelter yourself- it is time to unite, express love and support, and learn new things. To be a good listener and take time to accept new ideas. To put yourself out of your comfort zone, stand up for yourself and others, and realize that right now, we must watch out for each other and ourselves.

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The march in Victoria was overwhelmingly positive. Lots of older folks, many who seemed excited and yet tired of the shenanigans their dramatic neighbors in America seem to always get up to. Lots of amazing home made signs, dogs, and little ones- including some babies that didn’t seem to keen to be starting their lives as rebels just yet. The weather was beautiful, and a really wicked Canadian politican, Elizabeth May of the Green Party, spoke. I met her on the street once during Canadian election season (which, side note is WAY shorter and more humane than the never-ending election cycle of America) and ever since have been a big fan. The march began and we headed in the direction of the Parliament building, then turned and made a big U-turn up another street. The whole time I felt on the edge of tears- so many awesome people allying themselves with Americans who will be facing struggles in the near future.

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The optimism and exciting energy I felt today extended beyond Victoria. It extended beyond North America. It rippled across the world and it was absolutely infectious. I hope that we can learn intersectionality, true support, and be vocal for positive, progressive changes for the better, and not be okay with the horrible darkness that threatens to engulf some of us, and I hope that protests and marches like these are just a start.

There are estimates that about 5,000-8,00 Victorians marched today, and while I’m not quire sure how many ultimately made a stand of solidarity and marched, there were thousands of people that filled the downtown area with their marvelous energy. It was such a joy to march with everybody and to see Victorians, who have often seemed so friendly and helpful, make themselves known as even more quality souls.

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Sunday: Resolutions, lighting, and coffee.

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I love long walks on early weekend mornings. Spending my mornings outside will never be a waste of time. Lately, Victoria has been pulling out the most beautiful sunrises and I finally decided to capitalize on the opportunity to witness one. That meant getting out of bed before 7:30 am which is quite…uh, early? I went to bed at 10, because I am 25 and yet more akin to a grandmum than most humans, and woke up with my camera already charged and my belongings already laid out. I have no life, so planning ahead is mostly easy.

I walked out the door and found the most fluffy, pink-tinged clouds hanging overhead. It was absolutely beautiful. As I got closer to the water I could see the gorgeous glow of the Golden Hour everywhere. Everything fizzled with that vibrant energy the potential of morning brings. In the morning, you haven’t screwed up too badly yet. There is time to remedy mistakes, to kick ass, to figure it out.

31954586930_68100c00b1_c31954584800_0de4675092_c32181440942_2b952288b2_cOne thing I’ve been trying to do more this year is deliberately make more images of myself. Being the type of person who always carries around a camera (or two) means that often, I am making images of everything but myself. Looking through my photographic archives, I do not see my corporeal self. Yes, with every photograph I take there is a bit of me, but I miss out on pictures with my friends, with my boyfriend, with nature. I want to be photographed as well. I want to be present in more than a theoretical way.

Being neurotic, though, this comes at a cost: I hate having others take my pictures. I hate posing or faking it or looking how I think I should look and half the time it shows. What doesn’t help is that over the years I have developed a very complex (read: ridiculous) relationship with my face. My character-filled Dutch nose, my small mouth, and long face, have all instilled in me this idea that my face is hard to photograph. That it doesn’t hold light well. It is rare that somebody else takes a picture of me that I don’t cringe at. And so, I must take matters into my own hands and my own self-timer. 31520863063_e1f02169f4_c

Sundays I have been trying to spend exploring how to best photograph/represent myself. It’s been awkward and a struggle but my long morning walks now incorporate a bit of experimentation and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the results.This morning, for instance, it was immediately apparent it would be very sunny and experimenting with the lighting and angles was quite productive.

After meandering back into the bustle of the town, settling into some coffee and a book felt perfect. The downtown location of Habit wasn’t too busy and I pulled apart a croissant, making a flaky mess, while perusing the dense, spiraling world of Dostoevsky. I bought this tattered copy of Crime and Punishment in the English bookstore near the Bahnhof in Zurich on my 20th birthday and it may sound silly but it’s the best size and the best weight for toting around. One thing Dostoevsky does with his writing is make it so dense that if I don’t keep reading every day or so I have to almost totally start over, and over the years this copy has never had my eyes graze the final page. (Yes, it has taken me over 5 years to finish this book. I always get close but never quite finish it). Part of me wants to never have it end so I can always keep this copy around.

Now, I find myself reading Evelyn Cameron’s diary for my thesis. Grad school work lurks as an omnipresent spectre even during relaxing moments…

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Bundled up by the sea.

31818697970_49bd63931d_c32075827831_594cb368ce_c31818697200_1b5c6aef04_cThis morning I woke up and it was cloudy, warmer than it had been all week, and quiet. I quickly dressed, packed a muffin, a banana, my diary, camera, and keys in my bag and headed out the door sufficiently bundled up. I pinned on the small bird in hand pin my sister got me as well. It goes with me everywhere these days.

Victoria has been cold. And by cold, I mean balmy compared to my homeland, the deathly chilly wastelands of Montana. Yet, the ocean chill seeps into my very soul on these cold days and so when the temperature rose enough for me to feel like I could be outside for a length of time, I took the opportunity with enthusiasm.

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There weren’t many people out, despite the significantly warmer weather. Honestly, I love it when Victoria is like that. When it feels like a secret, when the beaches are empty of dogs and humans. The murmur of human voices are gone, replaced by the sound of wind and waves. I reclaimed my love for Victoria again this morning with this environment.

Going down a familiar set of slippery wooden stairs, I scrambled on rocks by the beach and thoroughly enjoyed myself, bundled up in a large thrifted Polo Ralph Lauren men’s sweater that serves as my coat these days and the ridiculously warm Icelandic wool scarf I bought myself in downtown Reykjavik last June. Sea ducks surfaced and dove right off shore and the massive ships anchored deep in the strait looked as though they had always been there. The mountains behind Port Angeles are snow capped and regal looking this time of year, and I felt a twinge as I looked at my home country, and my mind went to my family and loved ones. What a lucky thing it is to live somewhere that still surprises me, but what a thing it is to do so feeling still so alone.

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Nonetheless, being a human is inherently a lonely enterprise, so to dwell on the difficulties of such things is pointless. It’s best to listen to the sounds around me, breathe deeply, and smell the salt and the sea. It’s better to notice how steadily me heart beats, how amazing the miles of blood vessels that run through me are, and how glorious it is to feel the soles of my boots move from one rock to another as I navigate the slick rocky shore.

I think these things as I sit near the large window that faces a busy street. It has begun to rain very hard and raindrops coat the window. Everything in me is whispering to go take a Sunday cat nap for a bit, and I just might. A dopo!

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