I am excited to announce that I will be leading a winter photography workshop with the Appalachian Mountain Club in the White Mountains this winter! This three day workshop based out of the AMC’s Highland Center will explore the beauty of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in all their winter glory. Lodging is included and the dates are Feb 28-March 2. For more information and to register, please visit the AMC’s website.
Make Next Year One of New Experiences
Every year, at least once a year, I learn or try something new. I think embracing new experiences and learning new skills is important for personal growth, and it keeps life interesting and me sane. Sometimes the new thing is something I have wanted to do for a while but never gotten around to, like SCUBA diving (my graduation present to myself last year when I finished my Master’s degree) or skydiving (circa 2009), and sometimes it is something that had never even crossed my mind but the opportunity presents itself and I just have to take it. I’m one of those people who really doesn’t like being bad at things, and I’ve been tempted to say no to trying new things because of fear of failure. Fortunately, I usually convince myself not to be a wimp, give whatever new thing it is a try, and always have a good time, even if maybe I’m not the best at it. Turns out you don’t have to be good at everything, but if you have a good attitude about it and are able to laugh at yourself a little, trying something you’ve never done before will most likely result in you having a good time regardless of your ability.
This year was full of firsts for me! I went ice climbing on New Year’s day for the first time and led my first sport and trad rock climbing routes, tackled my first high altitude glaciers while mountaineering in Ecuador, traveled alone to Nepal, drove stick shift for the first time, shot my first gun, went for a ride in a snowcat, collaborated on my first documentary film, visited many new areas of New Hampshire, and the list goes on. While I’m not particularly good at trap shooting, still frequently stall when getting into first gear on a standard vehicle, and haven’t yet started editing the film, I enjoyed each of those experiences greatly. As 2013 comes to a close I can look back on the year and say it was a good one, and a lot of that has to do with my willingness to venture out of my comfort zone, go to new places, meet new people, and try new things.
Today the days gradually start growing longer again. It’s not the official new year yet and we still have one of the year’s biggest holidays to celebrate, but with the recent passing of the winter solstice I think now is a good time to remember to seek out life’s adventures, be they big or small. Life is short and fleeting and beautiful, and we better get to experience its wonder when we take advantage of the chances we are given to dabble in parts of it we have never been exposed to before, to step beyond our current perspectives and abilities, and embrace the opportunities that come our way. Enjoy the last bit of this year and resolve to make the next one different, maybe not with a big resolution but just in a small way – try something you have never done before. Go see a Broadway play. Hike to the top of that mountain. Try photographing night scenes. Do a polar bear plunge. Run a marathon. Whatever it is, find something new and do it. You’ll be glad you did.
The world is always changing. Our lives are always changing. Seasons, each year, bring a change to the landscape too.
Photographs are fun because they capture a brief visual moment in our ever changing world. Whether it be a landscape frozen in time, the look on the face of a new bride as she exchanges vows with her spouse, or the flopping ears and goofy grin of your favorite pet running to greet you, those moments are one of a kind. Each moment like this, each smile of a loved one, each second of shared laughter, is unique and beautiful. While a photograph doesn’t capture all of the beauty of those moments, sometimes they are nice to look at because they help us remember.
I really admire people who photograph subjects different from nature and wildlife. When I started getting serious about photography, I mostly shot sports because I had easy access to sporting events and they were a subject I liked. It’s been a while since I’ve photographed anything but nature and outdoor subjects, but sometimes I think I ought to try to expand my horizons again. There are so many wonderful things I have experienced that just don’t have photographs of because they don’t fit with the genre I’ve placed myself in, and that’s a shame.
I don’t think photographs are everything, not at all. A lot of the time, I prefer to leave my camera at home and experience the experience of something without trying to frame it. I think focusing too much on photography can make you miss things, and I’d nearly always rather be present in the moment than removed from it because I’m trying to create an image. Sometimes though, it’s nice to have photographs to help us recall silly things we have done, relive the amazing trips we have gone on, or just to be able to look at the faces of people we miss who are no longer in our everyday lives because of circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes the most imperfect photos are the most precious ones.
In a world that is always changing, the ability of a photograph to freeze time and transport us back to a moment in the past is pretty special.
Behind the Scenes of The Power of Place
Jerry Monkman and I have been logging a lot of hours of filming for The Power of Place over the past few months. We are working on a documentary about the Northern Pass transmission line project, a proposed high voltage power line that would cut through 180 miles of New Hampshire, impacting some of the state’s most iconic landscapes, including the White Mountain National Forest and Appalachian Trail. So far we have interviewed more than a dozen people and visited and filmed areas all along the proposed route. The process has involved many long days, thousands of miles on each of our cars, terabytes of disk space, and hundreds of emails back and forth, but we are accumulating a ton of good material and both of us feel like this documentary is going to actually turn into something that just might catch people’s attention.
Most days after filming I am too tired or too busy to blog about it (although I do tend to post iPhone photos I shoot while out in the field to my Facebook page or to Instagram and Twitter), but I feel really guilty not talking about this project more because 1) working on it has been awesome and 2) not enough people, particularly New Hampshire residents, are well informed about this important issue.
Last night, Jerry and I spent the night atop a mountain under the stars to shoot sunset, sunrise, and the night sky in between. We’ve done this a couple times before by now, and I’d like to say it’s getting easier, but I’m not sure that it is. Even if so, it’s still hard! We rarely get much sleep (believe it or not, it is COLD in August in New Hampshire on a bald mountain summit overnight), and we are always lugging a ridiculous amount of hardware up and down steep rocky trails characteristic of New Hampshire. Regardless of how tough the journey might be, it’s always a pretty awesome experience, and we are getting some great footage thanks to our efforts, so it’s been 100% worth it every time.
Here is a small glimpse of what we’ve been up to. Jerry and I are both trying not to publish too much material that might make it into the film, but I’ve been taking pictures with my iPhone and even turned on my GoPro yesterday to capture some “behind the scenes” footage of the documentary process. Enjoy these snapshots and be sure to check out The Power of Place page on Jerry’s website to learn more about the project.
Jerry and I are hoping to wrap up the majority of our filming within the next month as hints of autumn are already appearing in the north country and even the swamp maples are starting to turn at lower elevations and latitudes. That means there is a lot to do between now and the end of September, so I probably better get some sleep!
Be True to Yourself
“You gotta figure out who you are and what you are and what you’re here to do. Once you figure that out, all you can do is do it. To not be true to yourself is the worst of the bad choices.” – Jon Krakauer
For weeks, I have been trying to write this blog post. It isn’t easy, but it has to be done, and since I can’t seem to figure out a more elegant approach to the subject, I think abrupt and unsweetened honesty will have to do. I quit NatureScapes.Net. There, it’s been said.
For more than four years, I have worked for NatureScapes.Net as editor, forum moderator, assistant, and more. I have traveled, taught workshops, ran exhibitor booths at events, communicated with the whos who of nature photographers via email and dinner dates, and then some. It has been a beautiful, glorious journey that has taken me halfway around the world, taught me a tremendous amount about the nature photography industry, introduced me to inspiring people and new friends, and earned me a little more name recognition in nature photography circles. For that, I will be forever grateful.
There were a lot of things I enjoyed about working for NSN. I loved the people I worked with – Greg, Tara, Jamie, and Erin were fantastic, supportive, communicative, and fun. I was given opportunities to travel, photograph, and network with other photographers. I had the freedom to work from home, or anywhere really, provided I had a reliable internet connection, which meant I could travel, make up my own hours, and live wherever I wanted.
Giving all of that up was not easy, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. I am a people person, an outdoors person, a save the world, tree hugging hippie-at-heart type of person. I love kids and young people, and I love teaching. Money has never been all that important to me, and I love working in non-profits and education. I feel more comfortable bringing low income inner city youth with suspect grammar into the woods than wealthy retired lawyers on safari. I also feel they need me more. Relationships and community are important to me, and my friends are my world. I love being outside and being active. My best memories are those where I was huddled under a tarp playing with grubs in a downpour or jumping on a trampoline, flinging spoonfuls of peach pie from a bag at friends. Without these things I wouldn’t be me, and I wouldn’t like me.
I don’t know what comes next, but whatever it is, it will enrich my life more than hours behind a computer screen. It will be fulfilling, and involve being with real people in real time making a real difference. It will make me happy, and I will like myself better because I’m pursuing my dreams and following my heart’s desire. And although I’m not sure down what path that may lead, I know I’ll be moving in the right direction.
No Place Like Home
The sun is setting after a long day. From where I sit at my desk, it appears to have already disappeared below the treeline, yet I can still see that the top of the tall sugar maple is aglow with the last of the sun’s rays. Insects hum outside as a lone car ambles down the dirt road, and the air stirs, rustling the leaves of the ancient maple. They dance, and the day slowly dies.
Today is my ninth day at home. Like each day since I have returned, I feel lucky to be here. My restless soul, weary with travel, tries to embrace being home as best I can. But the world happens faster than I do, and I find little time to rest.
My life is a whirlwind. I long for a pause button, a chance to stop the clock, to sit and just be. It happens so quickly, and I fear I miss too much of it. Even though I know I can’t possibly do all the things I want to do, I still try to do them anyway, knowing full well that it is a fool’s game and winning is impossible.
I’m not even sure I know what winning would be.
Home feels so good to me right now. I remember not too long ago when home was an imaginary place. During my first semester at Antioch, I achieved the impressive feat of bringing many in my class to tears, myself included, when I realized that I belonged no where in particular and for me, home didn’t actually exist. How could I have a home when my heart was pulled in so many different directions and I felt more fragmented than whole?
I’m happy to reveal that I don’t feel that way any more. I’ve found my home, and it may be the best feeling ever. Now the places and people from where I live are a rich and vital part of me. When I started making my rounds last week to visit friends I had not seen in two months, the words “welcome home” accompanied with warm hugs rivaled the most heartfelt “I love you” ever whispered to me by a loved one.
Every morning I wake up feeling lucky to be back. For the first time this year I am home without plans to leave. I don’t know when I’ll next step foot on a plane or put a new stamp in my passport, and I love that feeling. I love that my next adventures are likely to be day long climbing trips with friends or weekend excursions to the mountains or seacoast. New England may not have 19,000 foot peaks or thousand year old temples, but to me, it’s the most beautiful, charming, and culturally rich place on earth. Isn’t that what home should be?
I feel very lucky and fortunate to have been able to travel as I have, and to have had opportunities to explore and adventure all over the world. How could I not feel privileged to have straddled the Equator or seen Everest with my own eyes? Yet after two months on the road, I am more overjoyed to be back in the place I love most with the people I love most than I have been to visit any destination I have yet been to this year. It feels nothing short of magical.
There truly is no place like home.
Nature is Not a War Zone
It’s early, very early and still quite dark. You step carefully and slowly as your weary eyes struggle to adjust to the dim light until you finally manage to find the spot you are looking for. You set up your tripod and camera, find the perfect composition, and adjust your settings, making sure you are ready for the light show that is sure to come. Then you wait for the sun to rise.
The morning is calm, the air still save for a gentle breeze that brings the sweet scent of the nearby ocean to your nostrils. You hear the song of gulls crying out through the darkness, over the soothing woosh of the waves, as you lick the salt from your lips. Already, you can feel the stickiness of the air. All of these sensations combined touch something in your spirit. Despite the darkness and how tired you are, there is no place else you’d rather be.
And then the peace is broken. From behind you, you hear something, and it is not the call of the gulls or the woosh of the waves or even the pad-footed trot of a murderous feral cat. Instead it is the unwelcome sound of another human being.
From here the story can go a number of ways. Despite the trepidation you initially feel in your heart, the newcomer might be just a passerby, or possibly another photographer that stays well out of your way. If you are lucky, which you probably are on most days, the arrival of another person won’t interfere much with your sunrise shoot. But if you aren’t, which happens to most of us at one point or another, your pleasant morning can completely ruined by the intruder.
I have been both the first person at a spot and a latecomer, but I have yet to have had a negative interaction with another photographer in the field. I have heard many sorry stories however. From photographers maliciously bumping one another’s tripods to tour groups crowding single photographers out of tight spots and shouting matches between workshop leaders, the type of behavior shown by some photographers in the field is downright appalling. Childish tantrums and bullying have no place in nature. I don’t care whether you are the Kanye West of nature photographers or not, don’t be a jerk.
Nature is a sacred place. I’m not religious, but the closest I have ever gotten to feeling a spiritual connection to anything has been when I am out in nature. Screaming hissyfits destroy the sanctity of these most serene and peaceful places.
Just a few weeks ago, I was at Sparks Lane, a very popular photo spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The sun had not yet risen and at least a dozen or so photographers were standing shoulder to shoulder on the narrow dirt road, composing the same shot of trees forming a canopy over the path, waiting for the light to get good. Everything was pretty much fine until a couple with a dog in a beat up rusted out sedan wanted to get through. The photographers parted ways to let the car down the road and then resumed position, only for the car to stop just a short way down the road in a spot that was quite plainly obviously ruining everything! The passengers, oblivious or uncaring to anything other than their own desires, just stayed there, and a few of the photographers in the group started to whistle and yell at them to move. Because I can’t stand hooping and hollering on a peaceful spring morning, I walked down the road towards the car to quietly explain to the passengers that they were in our way, but they drove off right as I reached them. Just a short while later, they came back in the opposite direction and again parked in the road. This time, I got all the way up to the car and very kindly explained the situation to them: photographers had been waiting all morning for this shot – it was a beautiful morning, wasn’t it? – and the light was getting gorgeous. They were in the way, and would they please consider moving? I even invited them to join us and see what a beautiful photograph they could get from our vantage point, and made sure to compliment them on how cute their dog was. While the couple in the car seemed to lack the graces of civilized society, they indeed moved on without a fuss and the photographers were able to get their shots. Instead of having to hear each other shouting and complaining, we listened to turkeys gobble as they strutted in the fields, the toms displaying for their ladies, over the hushed whispers of happy photographers and muted sounds of many camera shutters.
In the past, I have met and befriended photographers simply by walking up to them and introducing myself while in the field. I often go out in nature to be alone, so I hate when another photographer shows up on a day I’ve intended to shoot solo, because then I’m suddenly concerned about them – and whether I’ll get in their way or they’ll get in my way – instead of focused on creating images. The worst is when a big group shows up and it goes from being just me on the beach to me and ten strangers on the beach, all with cameras. I know how awful that feels, and the resentment and frustration that goes along with it. So I’ve resolved this problem by introducing myself to anyone I’m sharing space with and putting the situation out there early. I often say something along the lines of “Hey, I want to get good shots here and I know you do too, so I’ll try to stay out of your way and I’d appreciate if you could do the same for me. I think we can both get the shots we want if we just communicate with each other – that way everyone can be happy.” I do this whether it’s just me or I’m leading a whole group. If I am leading a group, I make it clear to my group that the other photographer has every right to be there as we do, and if the other photographer got there before we did, I make sure they get the priority spot. I’d hate to be somewhere early, all set up, and then have a workshop show up and crowd me out, so I make sure that I don’t do that to anyone else.
I’ve heard so many horror stories of photographers setting up right in the way of others, of workshop leaders bullying out other photographers so they and their clients can get the best shots, and of photographers with big egos just doing whatever the heck they please regardless of how it affects anyone or anything else. In some cases, bigger name tour operators have brought groups to areas where local photographers, workshop leaders, and guides have invested their whole careers and think that because of “who they are” they can do whatever they want wherever and whenever they want. They show no respect to the people who really truly know certain areas best, including sometimes their own ground agents. Etiquette, it would seem, has gone right out the door.
Nature is not a war zone. It is no place for battle, at least not between egos and a-holes. Let predator and prey clash, not us against ourselves. As photographers and people, I hope we can learn to respect one another and treat each other with kindness. If that is too much to ask, at least respect nature and keep the peace.
Southeast USA Road Trip Update
I’ve been on the road since April 10th, spending time in Florida, South Carolina, and now Tennessee. I’ve been doing a mix of my own photography, workshops, events, and scouting and it’s been a fun trip so far.
My days have mostly consisted of not enough sleep, but in between shooting and working, I’ve had time to process a couple shots. Most of this road trip is focused on shooting in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, a place I’ve wanted to visit in springtime for at least five years. I actually haven’t gotten too many quintessential shots from here yet, but I’ll be in the Smokies until Tuesday, so there is still time and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can create something really special before it’s time to leave.
In the meantime, I’ve also been trying to promote a documentary project by my friend Jerry Monkman called The Power of Place. This 30 minute film will focus on the impacts of the Northern Pass, a proposed power transmission line that will cut through 180 miles of New Hampshire and impact some of the state’s most iconic landscapes, including the White Mountain National Forest and Appalachian Trail. Jerry has launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising the funds needed to successfully produce the film, and if successful, I’ll be assisting him – he’s even given me the title of Associate Producer. Jerry is using Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding platform, to gain support for his project. To learn more about The Power of Place and the Northern Pass, visit Jerry’s website. Please also consider donating to this project – we can’t complete it without your help. You can make a pledge on The Power of Place Kickstarter page.
Reflecting on Recent Events
There are many reasons why we need nature. Perhaps the one that draws me most often is its ability to bring me to a happy place, to free me my mind from negativity and confusion, and put a smile on my face and a lightness in my heart.
When I’m stressed or having a bad day, or just feeling terrible because life seems hard or the world seems kind of rotten, I go out in nature and the smell of the air, sound of the wind and water, and the excited little movements of birds and other lifeforms ease away the pain. Nature doesn’t erase the ugliness of the rest of the world, but it helps restore my own spirit, giving me the strength to face it.
Yesterday, some vile person deployed explosives near the end of the Boston Marathon route. Those bombs killed at least three people and injured more than 140 more. Runners and spectators suffered severe injuries, some losing limbs. One of those killed was an eight year old boy.
I’m in Florida right now, many miles away from Boston. I feel helpless, as I’m sure I would even if I had been home in New Hampshire, only two hours from the city. Still, it doesn’t make any sense, and down here, even with the tragedy on every television I come across, I feel isolated in my pain. When devastation hits so close to home and touches something you love and that has become a part of you, you feel it differently I think.
I was in Back Bay, the area where the explosions occurred, just one month ago visiting friends. I knew runners in the marathon – some were teammates from my college track and field team. The bombings are senseless, cruel, and devastating.
This morning, I went for a run around Vilano Beach. I like to run or do some other physical activity every morning because it gets my day off to a good start, and like nature, exercise is therapeutic. Getting outside, in the fresh air, and moving helps clear my head. On my morning run, I saw a pelican and flowers. I watched the sun rise and saw the light of the day turn from blue to gold to white. Sand sparkled on the dunes, and the sweet scent of the salty ocean air mixed with the smells of spring filled my nostrils. There is a flowering vine here called confederate jasmine that I particularly love. Gulls flew overhead, laughing, their white bellies glowing in the morning light, and grackles cackled as they plucked food scraps off the sidewalk and flew them to the tops of nearby palm trees.
The world is no better nor no more evil today than it was yesterday or the day before that. During our lifetimes, we will experience a lot of cruelty and suffer many pains. Sometimes the world will seem hopeless and horrible, but it’s not. For each individual that exists with cruelty in their soul and hate in their heart, there are hundreds of thousands more who are filled with love and compassion. Despite the tragedy of yesterday, I think we need to feel hopeful knowing this. I also think we need to embrace what it is we love about the world, be it friends and family, or wild things and open spaces, and be thankful for all that we have, because it really is so so much.
If like me, you are struggling to make sense of all this or another misfortune in your life, stop. Go outside. Find nature. Spend some time with her. You’ll feel better when you do. She won’t give you the answers to all your questions, she won’t resurrect the dead, and she won’t erase the bad things that sometimes happen in this world, but she’ll remind you that there are so many good things too.
Help Protect NH Loons
This week, New Hampshire State Bill 89 may make it’s way to the New Hampshire state senate. SB-89 is a bill that proposes banning the use and sale of toxic lead fishing tackle weighing one ounce or less, and it’s passage will help protect common loons from lead poisoning.
Lead poisoning is the leading known cause of death for loons in the state of New Hampshire. Loons typically consume toxic lead in one of two ways: they either ingest the weights thinking they are pebbles, which they consume to aid in digestion, or they get lead into their system when eating fish that have lead fishing gear attached to them or in their stomachs. Poisoned loons then die a painful, suffering death. Because loons are slow to mature, have small clutch sizes, and expend a huge amount of energy in raising and caring for their chicks, these unnatural deaths have caused decreases in the loon population and continue to threaten the survival of these beautiful birds.
I cannot think of a single reason not to vote in support of SB-89 and these increased restrictions; there are a number of viable alternatives to lead that can be used for small sinkers and jigs, and their continued use is irresponsible.
More info about loons, lead poisoning, and SB-89, including what you can do to help, can be found here: http://www.loonbill.org/getinvolved.html.
The Loon Preservation Committee is a great organization that advocates for the protection of these beautiful birds in New Hampshire. I was able to connect with them last summer and they were helpful in providing me with some information about loons in NH. Unfortunately, I was unable to spend as much time working with them as I wanted, but hope to continue a project to document and advocate for loon conservation in the northeast with their help. For more info, visit http://www.loon.org/.