Wonders from a Lake

…A September sun sets on the water, in the midst of the Adirondacks. Alone I paddle, accompanied only by loons, swimming circles ever so cautiously around the canoe. The purest of silence is occasionally broken by an exhale and a dive, as the birds forage for fish below. Where they resurface, a mystery. The story repeats itself as darkness sets in, until a campfire once again brings light to the lakeshore. The sweet smell of pine consumes the air, as a symphony of cracks and pops give character to the flame. The eerie, yet inexpressibly beautiful wails echo endlessly in the darkness; a reminder of whose territory I’ve decided to borrow for the night…

Impulse decisions call for long car rides and crazy ideas at the end of them; like loading my gear into a boat and paddling away from the world left ashore. Out of the craziness and into nature, to wild places. Where tasks derive from only the simplest of sources, like gathering wood for a campfire, setting up the tent, cooking dinner. Where time is passed purposefully, and easily, in fresh air and good spirits. Where happiness is imminent.

Once ashore, I tucked my phone deep down into my pack and opened a book. It was Runes of the North, by Sigurd Olson, which has quickly become a favorite of mine. Only a week or so prior, I had read a chapter about Olson’s journey up the Knife River and into the northern boreal forests of Minnesota by canoe. He wrote about pure wilderness, just as he had experienced it many years ago. He too paddled far away from any signs of human life, into the unknown, describing so beautifully his encounters with moose and loons and the limitless stretches of wild lands that connect Minnesota to the Arctic. Ambiguously, with my kevlar canoe and Canon camera, I tried recreating it.

The Adirondacks in fall are populated, and in many cases unbearable in the way of people. Every road lay flooded with cars, every trail conquered by day hikers. The same can be said for the lakes and ponds. Immediately upon arrival, my heart sank, as I watched and listened to dozens of canoes and kayaks making their way around Follensby Clear Pond in the September sunshine. I knew right then and there, my hopes of recreating Sigurd Olson’s journeys were impossible, even silly. But still, I paddled out. As I arrived at my island campsite, the day was still young. I burned hours chopping wood, cooking pirogies and relaxing on the lakeshore from a hammock, as I waited anxiously for the sun to sink in the sky, and cast softly on the loons. Commotion from boats on the water ceased to end.

Late in the afternoon, I awoke from my hammock, unaware that I had even fallen asleep. Distant wails and tremolos rang out from across the lake. I looked out to notice the evening light, which had begun to set the stage. In one motion, I grabbed two cameras, pushed offshore and set out to find the birds. Before long, I was surrounded by loons; nine of them, to be exact. Together, we floated in silence. It then occurred to me, I was alone on that lake. I looked far and wide for other canoes and kayaks, but found only emptiness. The water glowed orange with the late day sun, the loons swam before me and for a moment, I closed my eyes and I was there; Chapter Two: The Explorers. I felt the magic of wilderness, as I imagine it existed so very long ago. How exactly it all came together is a mystery I choose to leave unsolved, but its manifestation leaves me inspired. I will find that feeling once again, wherever it takes me.

The loons and I floated together until nightfall. We watched each other intimately. I knew I had been accepted, as they no longer seemed concerned by my presence. After a short while, I set down the cameras, the ore, laid back in the canoe and admired the scene. For only my eyes and ears could experience its beauty and its grace so purely. I will never know how long that moment lasted.

I lit my fire and relived the evening over and over again. Wails echoed across the lake that night as I fell asleep.

My runes have come from the wilderness, for in its solitude, silence, and freedom, I see more clearly those values and influences that over the long centuries have molded us as a race”

- Sigurd F. Olson


Once You Find It

When you first come across real solitude, you fear it; perhaps not right away, but definitely somewhere in the beginning. Before long it will grow on you. It grows quickly, especially when you need it to, and eventually it becomes part of you. You breathe it in every morning, consume it throughout the day, replenish it at night, whether it's by a warm fire, or tucked beneath the roof of a car. If you're lucky, you will experience this in an amazing place, like the mountains and prairies of Montana. And just wait, it will be calling you back once you leave. 

I found some form of solitude here, on a muddy lakeshore, during the first cold day in September. It was like seeing an old friend again, one I'd been missing. 

Well cheers, friend. I'll be seeing you again soon.

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Oh how I could use a sunset in the sage... 

Where noise only emanates from a few things, like sparrows and nighthawks, a gentle breeze. Or a pack of coyotes, howling in the distance, just over the ridge from the tent. Commotion knows no name here.

It does, however, know its name here, at school. But I am grateful for that. I love it here, regardless of how much I miss Montana. Plus, time away will only enhance the emotion of returning. I look forward to that day.



What Matters Most

I get so caught up in the competition sometimes. It is hard not to get discouraged by many things in today's world, including the art of photography. Everyone has a camera these days, and some people are really, really good with them. I remember vividly an afternoon in my favorite Red Lodge coffee shop, Honey's, I picked up a photo book about Yellowstone, created by an incredible photographer whose name has slipped my mind. The photos were beautiful, and so epic. Every one, too! I was in absolute awe as I flipped through page after page. The book was set up to follow the course of the seasons, similar to my favorite book of all time - The Outermost House. Everything was so spot on. The animals, the landscapes, even photos of snowflakes and wildflowers. I could not believe it. I was inspired for about ten minutes, until discouragement snuck its way into my head. It would not leave, and the book only got better with time. Not necessarily the combination you dream about... I eventually put the book down, finished my work and went back to my campsite.

The next couple of hours passed as I contemplated from my hammock what I could have done differently the week before. I had spent four unforgettable days with my camera beside me in Yellowstone, enjoying the experience in its entirety, but failing to create any real compelling images. I was down on myself, and my gear. Naturally, something had to change in that moment. I forget exactly what it was I said to myself, but it was probably along the lines of "Enough dude. Think about where you are!" 

Before I knew it, I was twenty miles up the pass, immersed into a herd of mountain goats, pinching myself just to be sure I had not fallen asleep in my hammock. The thoughts blew away with breeze and once again, I was reminded that the experiences are what got me here. Not the competition, not the "perfect" images or the best quality, but the subjects, the moments and the places they happen. Like this goat, missing a horn, but filled with character. And the backlight, so different and unique. Photographs only help us to relive the experience, and tell the story. This is the story of an evening that changed my life, and a not-so-perfect image to tell it with.





Look into the eyes of innocence. What do you see?


I see a memory, a moment, something unforgettable. I see stories, lots of them. Perhaps some like this, stood out from the rest. I see the whole state of Montana. I see the people that made this journey possible, the mountains and trees that kept me sane. Of course, I see a goat, and I can picture his mother not far behind. I can hear the camera shutter clicking, and imagine his reaction once again. I still remember the rock I sat upon, and how uncomfortable it was, just as I remember reassuring myself to stay still and be cool - it's just a goat man, it's just a goat. I can picture the look on my face, as I first glanced at the back of my camera. Tom's too, as I showed him the result of the encounter. Beyond the goat, I see my evening hikes in Yellowstone and Red Lodge, listening to the birds and the creeks rushing through camp. The marmots squeaking outside the tent, as I sat atop the Beartooths, braving the 40mph gusts of frigid wind. I can feel each breath of air I fought for up there, as I battled elevation and the thoughts in my own head. I can see the hikes out, and the drives down the pass each night. I can see the Flat again, as if I were still there. I can see the open road that never seemed to end, and how quickly everything changed once it did. In the end, I feel the drive to get back to you, Montana. 


As I sit on my summer porch in New York, I reflect. I will relive this journey through words, and photographs, and memories, until I experience it again, in all of its forms. 


Look into the eyes of innocence. What do you see? 

I see all of these places, the places I want to be.