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?

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.

A semi-final adventure of sorts.

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Dressed to the nines in an Italian restaurant, we both checked our phones, apologizing and feeling rude. We had good reason to do so: We were trying to network and see if any friends or family could loan us a tent in a pinch. Our reliable outlet for tents had sold all their rental tents, which we had used periodically this summer.

After dinner we pulled up to a beautiful house perched on a hill. Annette opened the door and handed us an 8 person tent, generously helping us out. We didn’t know if we would be able to set up this behemoth contraption, but it was what we needed, and we walked back to the car, still dressed very nicely, holding the green Coleman tent bag.

Our goal: Glacier National Park, for two nights, complete with fire, hopefully seeing mountain goats, maybe a grizzly through some binoculars.

The reality: Due to my sickness, consisting of a horrible cough and wretched, fitful nights of sleep, and an impending storm in the park, we cancelled and decided on one night in Yellowstone. Sure, there was rain and wind predicted. Sure, I was still a sickly creature. But, it was my last weekend in America for a few months and we were feeling scrappy.

So, we went to Yellowstone. Again. We had a marvelous time, despite Stage 2 fire restrictions that meant no campfire. We had a tent palace courtesy of a wonderful woman and we had the Boiling River and the Lamar Valley and a quiet lake to walk near and fall colors to soak in. We had the last tendrils of summer hanging on and we reveled in what nature had to give us. We watched elk nibble feet from our tent in the campsite, large healthy cows and velvet-adorned yearlings, eating their salad and fattening up. We listened to creeks rush and leaves rustle. We had a good last weekend before it was time for me to pack and go back to British Columbia to tackle The Thesis.

A brief interlude into a form of nature.

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Immediately after work we packed the Subaru. The meals were already prepared, the sleeping bags and sleeping pads rolled up, the tent rented and ready to be set up. My dear Mum had brought some firewood and a handy hatchet into my workplace for me to take later (“Is it okay for you have a hatchet here?”).

We hadn’t been camping in some time, and it was only our second time this summer. I wish I didn’t type that sentence, but it is true!

We drove down to Yellowstone, through the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, past a river running very low and lots of houses tucked away into hillsides that we mused would be quite nice to occupy. The sun was going down, fast. We have been lulled into the idea that it would stay up with us and allow us time to make it to our campsite before it departs, but no. Summer is almost over, and those long, almost endless Montana summer days shorten with it.

We make it into bustling West Yellowstone by sundown. Tourists and visitors who don’t use crosswalks in a timely manner (“Get the fuck off your phone while you’re crossing the street!” I remember hissing as Logan sat there calmly as ever) make their way to “rustic” bars and shops. We pull into a gas station and buy a bottle of beer, a lighter (we forgot matches), and a can of bear spray. I have never forgotten my bear spray before and cursed the nearly $40 price tag for a new canister but relinquished because bears, man. Bears. Before we leave the older cashier calls Logan a “tall drink of water”.

We finally make our way into the park. Logan flashes our park pass, replete with regal polar bear, and we zoom into Yellowstone which has somehow become Mordor. The fires in West Yellowstone are visible from the road- red, orange, and pink glow from active fires, and we gape, our mouths open. The smoke gets bad, and we surmise that this trip may be very uncomfortable for our respiratory systems. We drive slow- the dark is heavy, like a wool blanket, and we don’t want to hit any critters. We drive by rivers and they look like they are made of mercury, the metallic sheen of them illuminated by what little light remains.

We finally make it to our campsite. It is dark. We have one headlamp and one flashlight between us, and our campsite is right across from the washrooms, but at the end of the campsite complex, so we are at least somewhat close to something natural. We begin to set up the Marmot 4 person tent I rented, and are pleasantly surprised to see how roomy it is. Logan figures out how to set it up faster than me, which quietly makes my Montana cred fall a bit. I mentally blame my parents who had such complex, old tents that when I go to set up a tent I form a battle plan rather than just roll with the quick, well-planned contraptions now available (sorry Mum and Dad). Logan uses the hatchet to tamp down the stakes, and we high five- we have a tent!

Logan gets ready to start the fire and I go up and say, “Uh, so I know I’m about gender parity and division of labor and things, but I’m going to go be domestic and set up the sleeping bags and things” to which he laughs and responds he’ll do the manly thing and make fire. We do both of these things- I blow up the sleeping pads, unroll our sleeping bags, put the bottle of water somewhere we can both find it. I come out of the tent and find happy flames licking the dry pieces of wood. The satisfying crackle feeds something deep in my soul or maybe my genetics. Fire means warmth, safety, security. A warm, happy, well-fed fire cares for you, and makes you content in a way few things truly do.

We open the bottle of pub-style ale we bought in West Yellowstone and cheers to a successfully set up campsite in the dark. The stars twinkle overhead. Logan makes soup with antelope burger and we drink it out of mugs. We brush our teeth in overly bright washrooms with running water and discuss anything and everything, and go to sleep in our ultra-roomy tent. I wake up in the middle of the night to the eeriest noises, which I swear are wolves calling somewhere nearby. I relish these natural sounds, the unfamiliarity of it. I am so cushioned, shielded in my everyday life and here I am in the semi-woods semi-camping and I get to hear animals make noises in the woods where they live. I am a guest on this magnificent Earth and it feels so right to be humbled by these few seconds of noise.

We wake up to the sun. It is about 7:30, and we have no cell service, and this is not a bad thing. Logan makes breakfast, a delicious scramble of potatoes, eggs, and tomatoes. We wash the dishes, pack up the tent, and drive a little ways to the river to swim. We apply sunscreen diligently and wade in. It is cold- very cold. The river is higher than I remember and I am loathe to fully immerse myself. We swim up the river a bit into the canyon and I start to get nervous. We are both strong swimmers but the canyon is thin and the rock walls are sharp- I’ve skinned my toes and banged knees many times before. We swim up a bit and float down and then get out. It is too cold and fast for us to enjoy ourselves, but it is amazing to see the canyon walls and feel our fingertips grip the rocks. We revel in what nature does, but decide to let her do her thing.

We drove through the park and saw no animals. Road construction and fires likely scared them into more remote parts of the park. This was the first time I had never seen a bison in the park. Usually a cocktail of critters emerge or are spotted, but this time- nothing. It was odd to be in a park where there was no animal life to be seen, but I knew they were just doing their thing out of sight.

The Boiling River was too full to stop by, and we drove into Gardiner for ice cream. The drive back was long but we made it. What a good little weekend foray.

To the river!

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Two of the best days I’ve had so far back in Montana were spent 3.5 hours away from home, soaking wet, with damp hair and an intense chill. I feel so lucky to be so close to such an epic place, where you can literally just wade your way to a warm spot in the river at almost any time of the year in Yellowstone National Park.

We brought an underwater film camera and with it documented this glory- including the most hideous, distorted picture of us ever. I am very pleased with it, and cannot wait to return. I am a creature of the water, and water I shall return to.

A weekend around Yellowstone

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Logan and I decided a few weeks ago to head to the Boiling River for a weekend. It being not quite tourist season, May seemed like one of the best times to go! We booked a stay at the Gardiner Guest House on the recommendation of a friend, and packed swim suits, towels, and comfortable clothes.

The Gardiner Guest House was the best decision ever. It was affordable, clean, full of character, and the proprietor, Nancy, was the friendliest, most welcoming, and yet not intrusive host! She welcomed us in, showed us where everything was, and told us to settle in. She was attentive, funny, and warm. We got hugs upon departing. (We’re going back for sure). The only thing we had to do: make sure to shut the gate so deer wouldn’t eat her gorgeous flora.

Yellowstone was blessedly quiet. The masses of ridiculously large RV’s and hordes of tightly packed tour groups were not yet present. We sat in the river, saw cow elk (some no doubt pregnant with babies), bison, eagles, hawks, deer, and breathed in the smells of sulfur and sage. It was chilly but not freezing.

Gardiner at night was eerie- there was almost nobody out on a Saturday evening, and we had a quiet beer in a bar on the main drag. I sipped a Bent Nail (Red Lodge Brewing Company I missed you!) and we ate a delicious, cheap pizza at Yellowstone Pizza Company. We walked in the middle of the streets, peeked in alleyways, but didn’t stay out too long- we were chilled from the river.

The next day we had breakfast at the Guest House- a ridiculously delicious affair! French toast with banana and pecan praline sauce, yogurt, fruit, cereal, coffee, tea, and sausages. Sharing breakfast with our hosts Richard and Nancy, we chatted and got the best start to a glorious day. After soaking still more in the river, the Mammoth Terraces called and we admired bacteria mats, terraces, and the gorgeous colors of the thermal pools. Stairs, stairs, and more stairs.

As we drove out of Gardiner and Yellowstone we decided to stop in Livingston. We headed to Katabatic Brewing, which whips up some seriously delicious beer. I had only heard good things from friends and upon entering I saw why- the space is welcoming and the beer awesome. Logan got a flight and the first beer, a Kolsch, was gone immediately. A growler of it came home and it was indeed delicious. We then headed to The Murray Bar, a historic and awesome bar that serves up incredible burgers. We walked around Livingston for a bit, but a toe I hurt badly on the rocks in the Boiling River and the wind drove us to the car pretty quickly (wear sturdy shoes in the Gardiner River y’all!).

Driving home, we were satiated, happy, hot spring river soaked creatures. I could not have had a better foray into Yellowstone and its surrounding area.

 

Lonely landscapes

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I have been lonelier as of late than I have in a long time.

My social life is bordering on dead, a husk of what I imagined it would be this summer. I had a break-up, took a job I was very unsure of, and have spent most of my summer working and catching up on sleep, feeling as though I never had enough.

I moved out of my apartment in Bozeman permanently. Packing is hot and sweaty work but it also brings to light how much unnecessary stuff one has. I wanted to throw most of it away. I cried intermittently. I know that many people have bigger struggles and harder lives than I do but it doesn’t make it easier to move and deal with a break up.

This summer has been the hottest, loneliest, and hardest one I can remember. It doesn’t help that I worked too much and didn’t see enough of the good people in my life.

I hope my next post has better positive vibes attached to it, but I’m not going to apologize for being a person and having a difficult time at the moment.