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.

Endless Sunset : Prints Available

Help Protect NH Loons

Loon with Sunfish : Prints Available

A Common Loon (Gavia immer) with a sunfish it caught while hunting on a pond in southern New Hampshire. This adult was catching fish to feed its chick.

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.

Common Loon : Prints Available

A Common Loon (Gavia immer) in its handsome black and white breeding plumage swims on the calm surface of a pond in southern New Hampshire.

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/.

Growing Up : Prints Available

A baby Common Loon (Gavia immer) begs its parent for some food. This youngster is growing up and white and dark gray feathers are starting to replace its mousey gray-brown down.

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…

Another Summit, a New Perspective

I don’t snore. I’m a very quiet sleeper. I don’t toss and turn, and I don’t breathe like a Mack truck. I’m the type of person you want to go camping or road tripping with because as far as sleeping goes, you can give me a sliver of a corner of a bed or sandwich me between others in a tent and not have to worry about me assaulting you in your sleep, physically or audibly. I sleep peacefully, at least on the outside. The only time I snore is when I’m sick and congested, and even then it’s rare.

But, after a long and successful weekend of working with the North American Nature Photography Association’s College Program, my student roommate lodged a complaint about me – I snored. I’m not even sure if I believe it, but if it is true, the only excuse can be how exhausted I was.

Two years ago, I was a scholarship recipient for the college scholarship program and participated as a student. This time, I was on the flip side, engaging with the program as a committee member and mentor to this year’s crop of talented students. Together with other members of the committee, I spent more than a year planning and preparing for this year’s program in Jacksonville, Florida. I connected with a local land trust to establish a conservation project for the students and flew in a day early to scout the area before the students arrived. Once they got there, I spent most of my time with the students in some capacity, shuttling them around Big Talbot Island for field shoots, sharing meals and staying with them in a house on the island, helping facilitate the creation of their project, joining them for summit events, and doing my best to connect them with other important and inspiring photographers and share what knowledge and experience I had with them. If I wasn’t with the students, I was in the trade show fielding questions and taking orders at the NatureScapes booth. I sure as heck wasn’t resting.

The NANPA College Program provides an intense but immensely rewarding experience for the undergraduate and graduate students selected to participate. I know because I was one, and my experience as a NANPA student changed my life. Through the NANPA College Program, I had the opportunity to collaborate with peers on a project that would help contribute to the conservation and protection of wild habitat in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas. I had the opportunity to meet and talk to professionals doing the exact work I wanted to be doing. I found people who inspired me and supported me, and I met people my age with similar goals and dreams. I knew from then on that my photography would change, and indeed it has.

I didn’t think any experience in my life would have the potential to eclipse that of being a participant in the 2011 NANPA College Program. There was nothing else that I felt would feed my soul in the way that it did, but I was wrong. Being on the flip side is even better.

I joined the College Program committee because I wanted to be involved in creating a powerful and life changing experience for others similar to the one I had. Little did I know how much that experience would give back, and how much it too, would sculpt my future.

As a program participant, I was inspired by my peers, and as a committee member the students inspire me even more. Selected student applicants are talented. They’re intelligent and creative. They are motivated, enthusiastic, and each one brings a unique perspective and set of skills to the group. They have innovative ideas and endless drive and passion.

But the students are only a part of the equation, albeit a huge and wonderful part. This year, a lot of the joy I felt was in working with my fellow committee members and others involved in the college program at the summit. The program would not have been possible without the combined efforts of so many people working together. Working with these people gave me opportunities to make new friends and for us all appreciate one another in new ways. Just like being a part of the college program built friendships with and respect for my peers, being a committee member has exposed me not just to the capabilities of the students, but the efforts and dedication of dozens of others working in various capacities. It was incredible to see the support for the students from professionals like keynote presenter Art Wolfe and companies like Canon USA and Canon Professional Services that provided the program with professional equipment to use. Others, like Hunt’s Photo and Video and Lowepro, donated gear. So many photographers wanted to meet with the students that we had to turn some away because there simply were not enough hours in the day.

Through the College Program, I am able to experience the spirit of the people involved in NANPA, and am reminded of what a special organization it is. The students motivate me to better myself as a photographer and inspire me to continue to share my knowledge and passion with others. They encourage me to think in new ways and push me to use my work to create positive change in protecting the environment. As a committee member, the impact the program has had on me is powerful and life changing, just as it was on me as a student.

At the summit, people kept telling me I looked tired (which I’m sure is a nice way of saying, “you look like goose turd”). I was tired. But every bit of exhaustion I felt was worth it to be a part of the College Program, to have the opportunity to work side by side with an amazing group of committee members and mentors, and to get to meet and bond with the exceptional group of students at this year’s summit. Being involved with the College Program enriches my experience as a NANPA member, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even if it means I snore.

Back from Nepal

Wow, what an amazing whirlwind adventure! I’ve just returned from ten days in Nepal on a photography scouting trip and I’ve absolutely fallen in love. Nepal is an amazing country full of opportunities for creating stunning images; I could have created thousands of photos every day there if not limited by some technical and logistical issues while overseas. Right before I left, my laptop’s Logic Board died, so I ended up computer-less for the entire time I was in Nepal, which meant I had no way to back up or edit images while on the trip. Now I’m playing catch up, trying to edit and process at least some images before I leave for Florida tomorrow for the NANPA Summit in Jacksonville.

The purpose of my trip to Nepal was to scout photography locations with hopes of running a tour or workshop there in the future. NatureScapes.Net and Explore Himalaya teamed up to provide me with the opportunity, and I’m happy to report that the trip was a huge success. Nepal has a TON of potential for such endeavors, and I plan to work on developing an itinerary that would allow me to return there with other photographers and share with them the amazing culture, architecture, and natural scenic beauty that the country has to offer.

Here is a small collection of images from my week and a half in Nepal. Most of them have been minimally processed, as I haven’t had much time to go through them, but I wanted to make sure to share a sampling of them before I got wrapped up in the NANPA Summit this week, where I’ll be helping facilitate the College Scholarship Program, working the NSN booth, and also meeting in person with other photographers whom I have been collaborating with on various projects. If you happen to be going to NANPA, be sure to find me and say hello!

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A portrait of a young Nepali girl and her sister taken while they were walking home from school.

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Fog along a forest trail in Pokhara, Nepal.

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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.

In and Out

It’s been only one week since I returned from Ecuador, and I’m already anxious to hit the road again. Traveling is mentally pretty challenging for me – I love to go on adventures and explore new places, but returning home from such trips always requires a bit of an adjustment. There’s a period of time where I feel pretty bummed and lost, as if I’m coming down off of a high and going through withdrawal, and I just don’t know what to do with myself. Anyway, that’s enough complaining from me! I’m really lucky to have the freedom and opportunity to explore the way I do, and one day I’ll find a way to make all the puzzle pieces of my life fit together in a more orderly fashion. It just takes time to sort it all out.

So, let’s talk about how friggen awesome Ecuador was! I got to chill with some super amazing college students and outdoor educators, climbed my first 19000 foot peak (and first 15000 and 18000 footers, for that matter), ate guanabana and passion fruit, almost got eaten by a trolley door, played games and sports with Ecuadorian schoolchildren, and was re-alerted to the fact that I really don’t speak Spanish. My body got pretty beat up in the process, as can be proven by my multicolored toes, and climbing Cayambe might have been one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done in my life (I haven’t signed up for childbirth yet), but the trip was incredible and I feel way fortunate to have been able to participate in it, particularly with this awesome group. Coming home was bittersweet, as the ending to most adventures should be.

I’m way behind on processing images (what else is new), but that’s mostly because I have a lot more traveling coming up that I need to prepare for. Tomorrow I head up to North Conway for the 20th Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival hosted by International Mountain Equipment this weekend, then I come back and pack for Nepal, where I’ll be spending about 10 days on a scouting trip for NatureScapes.Net. After that is the NANPA Summit in Jacksonville, Florida and then I get to come back home to New Hampshire and chill out for most of March before heading out again. It’s a crazy life, but I’m sure glad that it’s mine!

Ecuador, mountain, volcano, mountaineering, Andes, glacier, Johns Hopkins University, Cotopaxi

Bringing Home the Awesome

A rope team from Johns Hopkins University, led by Ecuadorian guide Robinson, approach the summit of Cotopaxi just before sunrise. Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador's most popular mountains and it attracts mountaineering expeditions from all over the world. It's high elevation but fairly non-technical slopes make it an ideal climb for beginning and experienced climbers alike hoping to summit a high altitude peak. The summit rises to 5,897 meters or 19,347 feet in height and has more clear summit days than any of Ecuador's other glacier covered volcanic mountains. Cotopaxi is part of the Andean Mountain Range.

A Streamlined Adventure

Tomorrow I take off for Ecuador! Unlike most trips I’ll be leaving my laptop and most of my camera gear behind. It’s kind of exciting to be going pseudo “off grid” for a while. For camera gear, I’m packing my 5D Mark II with my new tiny 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, a spare battery and charger, plus 31GB of memory, my travel tripod and ballhead, and that’s it. I’ll have my iPhone too, so will be sure to share my adventure via Tweets and mobile snapshots on Instagram, but I won’t have a computer to post DSLR images to or write long emails from. Even with all of the mountaineering and climbing equipment I’m bringing along, it still feels like I’m packing light, at least in terms of technology. I’m already looking forward to going through security without having to take out my laptop and not having to wrestle my Kiboko bag filled with 30+ pounds of camera gear into the bathroom stall with me at the airport or heave it into the overhead compartment on the airplane. Yay for adventures!

See you in a couple weeks America!

The End of 2012

Growing Up : Prints Available

It’s that time of year again. Many photographers are sharing their favorite images from 2012, and while I think that looking back at the past year and picking out your favorite images is a cool tradition and all, I’m never very good at picking out favorites, so it’s not something I often do. Typically, when I look back at a year photographically, I always feel like I did so little and ought to have gone out shooting more.

2012 has been full of ups and downs, as many of you who regularly read my blog could probably decipher pretty easily. It started with trying to desperately wrap up my final semester of grad school amid traveling to Haiti and Costa Rica, then fell into a sobering summer where I was determined to take time away from work and responsibility to just focus on recovering from the past couple years of little sleep and much stress. Following that, I was bored and broke, so I found some purpose in teaching and, as usual, I landed myself an erratic schedule filled with part time jobs based in various states to ensure that doing my taxes at the end of the year would be borderline impossible. I scraped by, hung on, loved hard, and was plenty foolish. I had beautiful moments, some filled with smiles, some with tears, many with both. I met new people, made new friends, and found inspiration from the completely random people I met on my travels. I even started to think about photography very differently than I have in the past. 2012 unraveled not exactly in the way I might have expected it would, but fortunately a good friend once told me not to have expectations suggesting they were a surefire way to be disappointed. So thanks to him, I was neither disappointed nor surprised by the turns the year took. Life happens, and you’ve just gotta roll with it the best you can.

Cloud Forest

As much as the end of one year is an appropriate time for reflection, the beginning of a new one also seems like an appropriate time to set goals. Photographers have a tradition of doing this too. While New Year’s resolutions notoriously end in failure, it’s still probably good to have a few goals lined up. After all, having goals gives you purpose, something to work towards and strive for.

So I’ve thought about it, and the only goal that really seems worthy of making a goal is the same one I’ve had my whole life. To be fair, it’s probably one of the few goals I’m any good at sticking to. I just want to BE HAPPY. Simple, vague, largely immeasurable, but totally attainable. And 100% worthy.

Choosing the Right Photo Workshop

I often get emails and messages from photographers asking for all sorts of advice. Recently, a photographer I met started asking me about workshops through NatureScapes.Net, the company I work for. A workshop he was particularly interested in had filled for the upcoming year, and he was looking for alternatives, as he didn’t want to wait until the following year visit this particular destination. As he started to send me links to a number of other photo trips to the same country, asking what I thought of them and if they would be good trips, I realized that many aspiring photographers have no idea what to look for when it comes to finding good instructional photography trips.

When I started shooting nature and wildlife in 2006, I was a poor college student and had no interest at all in paying someone to teach me about something I could learn on my own for free, and to this day I’ve still never paid for any photo workshop or event, although I have attended many. I’ve also never been the type to fork over any significant amount of money for anything without carefully researching it first, so I often forget that many others aren’t as cautious. What I’ve discovered is that many photographers sign up for workshops without even the slightest clue of what they are getting themselves into. Sometimes participants just don’t do their homework, but often photographers just don’t know what to look for or what questions to ask.

My newest article, published just today on NatureScapes.Net, is designed to help photographers identify what to look for when choosing a photo workshop or tour. Inspired by the photographer with all of the workshop questions, I wrote it to help photographers avoid ending up on one of the horror story trips I’ve heard too much about. I hope that you’ll find “Choosing the Right Photo Workshop” a valuable resource when deciding on your next paid photo adventure, and that it can help you pick a trip that is right for you.