Low Blow, High Spirits

On Tuesday, I was told that the position where I work was being eliminated and August 21st would be my last day of employment. While it saddens me to leave the many things I loved about my job (the many awesome people, great sense of community, working with incredible teens, and helping to connect members of our local climbing community) there are a few things I’m more than happy to leave in my rear view window. So it kinda sucks, but its also a chance for a new beginning, and frankly I’m feeling pretty darn optimistic about the whole thing.

If I wanted to focus my energy on the negative aspects of this whole situation there would be plenty of opportunity, but that’s not going to help me move on from this point, so I’ll choose to cast my worries elsewhere. I don’t post profanity online, but seriously, #$%& it. I’m good. Life is going to go on just fine.

I always have photography to fall back on. Or my writing skills. Or teaching. Or guiding. Or any number of things. Maybe I’ll be a greenhorn and make a ton of money catching crabs on the Bering Sea. Why not? I’m considering it.

Anyway, one exciting thing I do have coming up is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Fall Photography Weekend at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. Last year, my group had a great time, and I’m already excited about this year’s trip. It’s October 2-4, and the leaves are always gorgeous that time of year. For more information about the weekend, check out the AMC’s website and definitely go ahead and shoot me an email if you have any questions.

And you know what less time stressed out at work means? More photography, more rock climbing, and more adventuring. Don’t worry about my bills. They always get paid. Adaptation is my game. I have two mottos, “Adversity builds character” and “Perfection is boring” (and “I’d rather be crazy than boring” but that’s kinda a spin on #2 and maybe not entirely relevant here). This is just an opportunity to embrace them both.

Life sometimes has a funny way of being awesome.

#keeponkeepingon

Facebook is No Friend of Mine

I am the Facebook generation. Facebook became a thing my freshman year in college. That means I was one of the first to use the online social media platform. Since 2004, I have had a Facebook page and lived my life, or at least part of it, through an online profile.

I never had a MySpace profile because I found them too creepy. Facebook, in it’s infancy, was different. When I joined, Facebook was limited only to those with college or university email accounts. This automatically limited the audience of my profile to those similar in age and pursuing an advanced education degree – this exclusivity made it seem safer to me somehow. While my first connections were friends and classmates who I interacted with in person on a somewhat regular basis, today my Facebook friend network includes more than 1500 people, plus I am an administrator or contributor to at least a half dozen each different pages and groups. I also have accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest, and have tried three different online dating platforms at different times.

Facebook is by far the worst. Rarely does a day go by where Facebook is absent from my life. I connect to it constantly, even when I don’t mean to. Sometimes I just type “facebook” into my browser window without realizing it, or tap the app on my phone by default. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that I spend hours on Facebook more days than not. Some of it is useful – I get my news from Facebook and it reminds me of birthdays and upcoming events – but most of that time is a waste. While I appreciate Facebook’s convenience and how it has enabled me to stay in touch with or reconnect with friends from past chapters in my life, I often wonder how much more productive I would be – and how much better I would feel about myself – if I could quit Facebook.

I admire those without Facebook accounts – I really truly do. I suspect those people accomplish more with their day and feel more fulfilled in general. I think Facebook and the internet in general is a paradoxical wonder. Strange it seems that these platforms simultaneously connect and disconnect us from one another. Digital connectivity means that young people are spending more and more time “living” through media than being present in the real world. I think it’s sad.

Take the typical weekend night out for a single 20-something. Dinner with friends at a restaurant, followed by a trip to the bar/club. Just fifteen years ago, this would have been accomplished without much of a fuss, maybe a call or two to a friend to confirm a location and time, or to arrange a meet up with other friends later. Today, at a restaurant there is the obligatory check-in on Facebook, checking texts or likes during dinner, swiping left or right on Tinder en route to the bar, and at least a couple Snapchats posted while grabbing drinks or hitting the dance floor. Today, millennials and younger document their every move via social platforms. Post about it or it didn’t happen.

What we do and don’t post to social media paints a distorted picture of what our lives are really like. Everything on Facebook, like photos posted to Instagram, has a filter applied. The one I use most often is “happy.” I post mostly about things that make me smile and feel good. I don’t do it to try to make my life look better than anyone else’s (the not so subtle humblebrag), but I generally try to post positive things because that’s how I’d like to see myself – positive, upbeat, and generally hopeful, not whiny, complaining, or criticizing. Like everyone else I have good days and bad days, but I’m unlikely to share the negative ones on such a public forum. To me, those moments are more private and intimate, and ones I’d prefer to share with a select audience of friends and trusted souls.

My choice to share my finer moments is not a deliberate decision to overshadow others experiences or to disregard my own pain and sadness. I’m not competing, I’m just trying not to look like an a$$hole in public.

The truth is, despite all of the conveniences, I think social media is a burden. Which is why I want to quit Facebook. Unfortunately, social media has become so heavily ingrained into our society that quitting has become a great sacrifice. Not participating in social media is just not an option for many small businesses or organizations that rely on Facebook and other platforms for marketing and communication. So far the reason I haven’t managed to quit Facebook is because I use it for work and my photography business. Deactivating my account would leave me unable to post to those pages, and I don’t have an alternative solution for that.

What I do know is that Facebook causes me to sit at my computer more, which means I am less active and less engaged in my life outside of the digital world. I stare more at my computer screen than my garden and sometimes spend more time chatting with friends online than with friends in person. Chores that need to be done, such as sorting through moving boxes, mowing the lawn, making the next days meals, and cleaning, don’t get checked off my list in a timely manner. My workouts, which I depend on for my sanity and well being, get cut short and delayed because Facebook distracts me from being able to efficiently manage my time. I get headaches from staring at my screen for prolonged periods and also allow myself to get dehydrated from drinking too little water. I rarely get eight hours of sleep a night and often have trouble falling to sleep, no matter how tired, run down, and sometimes sad I feel.

Facebook is no friend of mine.

I wonder what life will be like without Facebook. Will my photography business suffer because my photographs won’t instantly pop-up on followers’ feeds? Will I miss out on important milestones in friends’ lives? Will I not get invited to parties or included in events because I cannot be invited to them with a single click? Will I never see the photos my friends take of me? My mom lives several hours away and we see each other for short periods of time only a few times a year when I go to visit her. She has never seen my house or met a single one of my friends who is active in my day to day life right now, but she has seen pictures on Facebook. I can’t text my mom photos because she doesn’t have a cell phone and the firewall on her computer at work email attachments and messages inconsistently, so Facebook is the easiest way for me to share pictures with her. In fact, the only reason my mom has Facebook is because I invited her so that I could show her photos (specifically, those taken of me but posted by others on Facebook and not shared publicly) – she never posts anything or “likes” or comments. I wonder how disconnecting from Facebook will affect my relationship with her. Will the distance feel farther without photographs for her to see?

Sometimes I long for the good old fashioned days of my childhood, when I entertained myself with balls and books and dirt instead of an internet connection. Even though I can disconnect my Facebook and turn off my computer, it will be hard to voluntarily remove myself from a world that others rely so heavily on. Just because I might choose not to use Facebook doesn’t mean that others won’t, and by removing myself from the social standard, will I, in a way, make myself obsolete? Will the peace of mind I gain from taking a break from Facebook and the computer outweigh the consequences of not posting for work and isolating my photography from the Facebook crowd? Will leaving Facebook help me feel less overwhelmed? Will my social life suffer or benefit? Will I be happier?

For a decade, my life has had a Facebook profile attached to it. My entire adult life has been documented, photographed, liked, and hashtagged. I’m not sure I want that anymore. I’m not sure I ever did, but back in 2004 I had no idea that the exclusive college networking site I was signing up for would become the monster that Facebook is today. If Facebook had been then what it is now, I might never have given it another look.

A world without Facebook seems foreign to me, in a romantic kind of way. I find myself drawn to the idea in the same way I am attracted to the old time-y rural setting of books like A Day No Pigs Would Die, The Yearling, and Copper Toed Boots, where boys go hunting and fishing in the woods and bond with animal friends. Times when everything seemed so much more simple, when there were fewer distractions and pleasure came from simple things. But like my other favorite genre of books, the dystopian novels of 1984 and A Brave New World, Facebook has created a society where everything we do is watched and recorded, where our “free” world seems strangely suffocating. On some level, when we opt to participate in Facebook we are plugging ourselves into what is essentially a soulless machine. Maybe Facebook is really just Big Brother by a different name.

I am starting to think that all of this digital technology makes the world too bright. There is beauty in the darkness that you just can’t see when you are blinded by LEDs. Much like light pollution from cities spoils our ability to observe the night sky and the stars in all of their glory, being constantly connected to Facebook means that we miss out on the beauty in the real world. The subtle things. The things that really matter, that really make a difference, that bring us joy and happiness.

They say, only in the dark can you see the light. For me, the time is near when I hope to turn technology off for a while. Not all of it, just the parts I can’t seem to manage while managing everything else, like Facebook.

I’m ready to go dark.

Let These Roots Grow

Lupine Sunrise : Prints Available

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) stretch across the hillside of Sugar Hill, New Hampshire as the sun rises over the nearby mountains. Each year Sugar Hill hosts a "Lupine Festival" celebrating the beautiful wildflowers.

Spring is my favorite season. You probably know that by now because I say it every year.

This time of year I open my windows for the first time in months and let in the fresh air. It smells of damp earth and later will carry the sweet scent of blooming flowers. The songs of birds float through my window on a warm, gentle breeze. You can actually feel the energy in the air as new life bursts out of its cold winter shell. Pretty soon there will be more colors than Crayola has names for painting the flowers and trees and little critters will be scurrying about in reverent joy. Right now it is still too early for the stinging and biting insects that plague summer so there is absolutely nothing to stop me from enjoying it all. Everything about the natural world is ripe for enjoyment in spring.

This will be my first entire spring in New Hampshire because this year I won’t be taking a two week trip to Baltimore and West Virginia like I have for the past five years. I will visit my mom in New Jersey for a couple weekends, but I’ll mostly be in New England and I’m so excited about it! By the end of May, which is only about six weeks away, I will officially have owned my home for a year and will have gone a whole year without boarding a plane. It may sound silly, but that milestone means so so much to me.

I didn’t grow up traveling. I grew up in a modest house in suburban New Jersey never going anywhere. My first time on a plane was when I was fourteen, and it wasn’t until late college that I began to travel and explore regularly. Just a few years ago, I spent nearly one third of my time on the road, in other countries and other states. I experienced and saw many amazing things on my travels, but eventually, I got to the point where I just wanted to be home again. I grew tired of missing things and saying goodbye to people constantly, so I traded in my travel bags for some house keys and gave myself some roots.

I quit being a self employed full time photographer and landed a normal full time job working with teens at a local non-profit. I LOVE my job, but its one of those jobs where 40 hours a week never quite cuts it and leaving work at work is impossible. So I take photographs far too infrequently because I’m tired often, and I’ve sort of made a habit of staying home and sleeping in on weekends because I actually really like my house and days off are only time I get to enjoy it.

The funny thing is, even though I seem to be doing far less photography than I used to, I like being a photographer in New England so much more than being a photographer anywhere else. New England photographers are pretty cool! For the most part the nature photographers I’ve met in New England are humble, ethical, friendly, and make pleasant company. They generally know a lot about the subjects they photograph and treat those subjects with respect. They are polite and kind to other photographers, even going so far as to encourage and help each other. They know how to create incredible images in challenging conditions, and work with lesser known icons with a craftsmanship that rivals the work of well known photographers who travel to and photograph in exotic locations. They tend to stick closer to home and develop an intimate connection with the landscape and wildlife that they photograph and because of all of this they inspire me in a way that other photographers can’t.

So even though I’m shooting less than ever before, I’m proud to call New Hampshire home and be able to shoot with the likes of Jerry Monkman, Jim Salge, Jeff Newcomer, Adam Woodworth, and so many others when I do actually pull out my camera. I hope I’ll get to meet some of those New England photographers I haven’t met yet, like Mark Picard, who is so passionate and knowledgeable about his favorite subjects – moose and Baxter State Park – that his photos of them are unrivaled. New England is a magnificent region with is no shortage of inspiring subjects and even after five years here there is so much more I want to see, explore, discover, and photograph.

So hopefully this spring I’ll get a moment or two to enjoy the place I call home and maybe even take a picture or two to share. Being busy with other things does have its downsides, but at least it keeps me home and there’s no place I’d rather be.

Venting Again

There’s a saying that goes like this: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

This is largely why my photography blog has been silent for a while. But alas I need to vent and writing is often how I vent. You’ve been warned: get ready for some hot air.

Let’s start with this truth: I believe that people are innately good. In general, people are well intentioned, but they can also be selfish, proud, and ignorant. This is relevant because, when it comes to nature photography, people are largely both why I love and hate it.

I tend to be a social person, even though I definitely enjoy my alone time too. I love the company of good friends, and great moments shared with others always seem to trump the great moments I have alone. Photography for me has always been a personal and private pursuit. I love sharing my knowledge and passion for photography with others, but that is often very separate from the act of me actually creating photographs. So photography as a full-time career choice didn’t work for me because it was too lonely – too much time spent alone or only interacting with others from behind a computer. Now I’m finding that a good number of the people in this industry are so rotten to deal with that I’d rather be alone than have to deal with them with any sort of regularity anyway.

In all fairness, when it comes to nature photography, I have met far more wonderful folks than rotten ones. Online, the ratio seems a bit more skewed towards jerks because just like in the real world, bullies are often the loudest, boldest, and most obnoxious, and they are compelled to be even more so in virtual space. Just having to tolerate a handful of them consistently is enough to leave a sour taste in my mouth. With so much of the photography world online, those self-centered, egotistical, and ignorant personalities are emboldened by the lack of real face-to-face interaction and seem to have popped up in greater numbers recently. And while it’s far easier to throw around hateful words and slanderous opinions from behind the shield of a keyboard, it doesn’t make dealing with it on the receiving end any less painful.

When I go out into nature to take photos, I often find peace there. I love it. When I’m at home, marketing my work, sharing my photos online, or otherwise existing virtually, I discover validation is often mixed with poison. Is it worth it? Sometimes I’m not sure.

Let’s get this straight: online friends are not real friends. No one who randomly friended me through Facebook* or started following me on Instagram is going to run into a burning building to drag me out of it, but I sure have real friends that would. I am as disposable to photography colleagues online as the next photographer and you are too. To them I am not a real person, and therefore it is perfectly acceptable to send harassing messages or leave hurtful and inconsiderate comments when some click of a keystroke that I make offends their sense of entitlement. Online, ignoring someone you know, stalking someone you don’t know, or picking a fight is perfectly normal behavior. Sadly, I have found that this happens more often with photographers than with any other industry I have ever been connected to. Lately, these unpleasant interactions seem to be more prevalent than usual, so I’ve just shied away from posting much because most of what I feel about nature photography is unfortunately pretty negative at the moment.

Fortunately for me, my current job is fulfilling and surrounds me with amazing people every day. I work in an environment that inspires me and motivates me to become a better person and the best version of myself possible. I see people every day, and every day I smile and laugh. It’s long hours and sometimes hard work, but I have fun, and I enjoy what I do and who I work with. If I get a nasty email I counter it with a positive one, and then someone I love is there to make the sting of angry words go away. People get angry, upset, and frustrated from time to time, but every day I work is filled with kindness and joy. I miss spending time out in nature, going on adventures, watching sunrises and sunsets, and framing the beauty of those moments in photographs, but don’t mind having left the photography industry behind.

*I no longer accept friend requests from people I do not personally know in real life. When I worked for NatureScapes, I felt obligated to accept requests from random nature photographers because I felt it was a commonly accepted professional networking courtesy, even though it was never asked of me. At this time, I am connected via Facebook to only a handful of individuals who I have never met in person and these individuals are only those whom with I have maintained a positive, professional, and mutually beneficial virtual friendship with for years. Now if I receive a friend request from a person whose name I do not recognize with no message or prior communication, it is declined automatically, regardless of the number of photographer friends we have in common, and I periodically cull and unfriend photographers who I do not know that may be left over from that time period. This is not personal, but a way of protecting my privacy and respecting my own network of real life friends.

Everyday Inspiration

These days, I’m not prioritizing photography very much. But if and when I can find or make time for photography, I know I am able to pick up my camera and find a subject I love nearby and that’s pretty special.

I live in a beautiful place. Not a week goes by where I don’t feel lucky for that. I would be lying if I said I noticed it every day, but most days I do.

Sometimes I notice it only briefly on the ride to or from work. I’ll see Monadnock rising high in the sky against the fading daylight or fog lifting off beaver swamps at the break of day, the sun penetrating through the forest mist in rays of shimmering light. Sometimes I go for morning runs around a local pond, and no matter how many times I tread the same path, I still can’t help but admire the view.

On the days when I notice, I think, boy am I lucky to live in a place like this.

Chesterfield, New Hampshire, cow, fog

I love this state.

Life is for Living

Lately, I haven’t written very much and the reason for that is actually rather simple – I’m happy. I always find that I tend to write more when I’m struggling; I write when there is conflict, or when I feel anxious, challenged, or discontent. Writing helps me express negative feelings in a positive way, and helps me share big events and experiences after I have had some time to reflect on them. When I’m happy and things are going well I tend not to write as much. Instead I tend to busy myself with enjoying the beauty of each day. I spend more time present and less time reflecting and processing. Writing seems too limiting for expressing happiness; the words I know just aren’t good enough. They fall short and fail. It seems silly for me to write about happiness because happiness just IS and my words don’t describe it well. Somehow I can find language adequate for frustration, disenchantment, and conflict, but when it comes to joy, to love, to elation, I just don’t know how to express those feelings through a blog post in a way that does them justice. How do you compress such amaze-wonder-fantastic-gorgeous-beautiful-ness into letters organized on a page?

I love my life. Every day I smile and laugh. My friends and coworkers inspire me and motivate me constantly. My job is amazing, and the work I do leaves me feeling fulfilled and happy. I feel more in control of my life than I have in a long time. Regularly I find myself making progress towards reaching my goals. I am healthier and happier than I have been in years, and because of all these things I like myself more. I am proud of myself, of who I am right now at this very minute and of who I have the potential to be. I am constantly striving to be the best me I can be, the best version of my unique self that is possible. My life is not perfect, but it is beautiful and wonderful and full of magic and love.

So, I apologize for being distant, but know it is for the best reasons. I write less when I live more, and right now I am pursuing different passions, learning, exploring, expanding my interests, nurturing relationships, and building a sense of community in the environments where I work and play. I am busy living and loving the experience and whenever I am fortunate enough to stumble upon the appropriate words to share it with you I will.

Prose from the Mountain

It was dark,
and the darkness was long and cold.
Stars peppered the night sky with distant points of light,
their warm life far too far away to ease our suffering.
Wind,
steady and strong,
poured over the frozen earth,
enveloping us in the cold and empty night,
pulling from us the last warmth of our wilting bodies.
We were alone,
save for ourselves,
tied to one another as fish hooked on a long line,
dying at sea…

My Highlight of Today

Forster's Tern, hover, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia

Angel Wings

“Do you like your job?”

The question came from a sixth grader. We sat together at the kitchen table in her family’s house, myself with a glass of water in hand, she bent over a few sheets of paper covered in questions she had come up with. My interview was part of a school project; the girl wanted to be a nature photographer one day. We were on her third page of questions and my second glass of water when she asked me if I liked what I did.

“I love it,” I told her. “I think it is really important to find something you are passionate about. If what you are doing doesn’t make you happy, then you have to ask yourself why you are doing it.” She nodded with eager eyes, lost in what I was saying. I had to repeat myself so she could write it down.