This site was created to fill three desires: my insatiable yearning to write, my longing for a creative space of my own, and my aspiration to practice mindfulness as I navigated my final months as a college student and my transition into a working life in New York.
Unequivocally, the project allowed me to accomplish all three of these goals. It has, first and foremost, been a digital journal where I have dumped my words, thoughts, photographs, and memories. In filling the blog with content and making it my own, it became a space devoted to creativity and mindfulness, just as the idea of the blog became lodged in the back of my mind at all times, forcing me to be more intentional and thoughtful in my everyday interactions and long-range dreams.
Now it is time to let go. Whatever worries I might have had about losing parts of me that I cherished as I transitioned into a new phase of life are now gone. I explored myself, adventured in places that were in my backyard and those that required flights to reach, pushed my creative limits, and figured out ways to take all of that joy with me into a new home in New York. Throughout all of it, I strove to remain true to myself.
On October 5, 2016, I wrote the blueprint for this site in my journal. I then spent the next four days creating it, tapping into WordPress skills and picking up new tricks. Little did I know that exactly 365 days from those first notes in my journal I would be publishing my final blog post. I wrote fifty-two, plus a few preliminary trials, which is as good of a number as any.
For a while now, though, I have known how I wanted to close my final post. So with that, I say thank you. Here are the lyrics to my favorite hymn, “I Would Be True” – the inspiration for this blog and a set of guiding principles that I carry with me wherever I go.
I WOULD BE TRUE
I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend of all – the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love, and lift.
Call them photos, captures, a portfolio, a galley, or a year’s worth of adventures and memories, I am proud of the images that I have featured on this site. Full disclosure, not every single image was my own; as I have noted on the sidebar throughout, I utilized Unsplash.com – an opensource library of photos by some of the most talented and generous photographers out there – to supplement my own photography when I lacked the perfect image for a post or idea. As the project progressed, however, I did find myself relying less on external images and instead utilizing my improving photography skills more.
I wrote extensively on photography and the approach I tried to bring to my practice of it in my July post titled “Photography, As It Sits With Me Now”, so I feel no shame in sparing words in this post. I kept a gallery of my best photos going throughout the blog, titling the page “Captures.” I encourage everyone to visit / revisit that page, but for viewing simplicity (and a little guilty pleasure), I have compiled my favorite images in this post.
Like other elements of this project, I do not intent to stop practicing photography just because I am bringing this blog to a close. In fact, I am inspired to continue (and maybe even upgrade my equipment). But for now, these photos are my best work. Thirteen selected favorites from thirteen months of working on this project. They can stand alone or they can represent the stories, memories, and ideas that I have tried to capture on this site. Or both. With each selection, I have provided a brief synopsis of where I was and what I was doing when I took the photo. I enjoyed the process of remembering these locations and moments, and I am pleased to share them.
Though I took this picture a few months before the idea for this site was conceived, I believe that it was the kernel of success that I needed to push my desire to practice photography from passive to active. The image is one of spontaneity. I arrived in Neil’s Harbor, one of the most northerly towns on Cape Breton Island, after exploring the island’s west side and its famed Skyline Trail, the crown jewel of the Highlands National Park. Caught off guard by the thirty degree temperature difference between the warm St. Lawrence Bay and the chilly Atlantic Coast, I nearly missed the dingy pulling out into the foggy harbor and out of sight. I appreciate the mystery in this image – a quality that I have tried to capture in my photos ever since.
Traveling to Norway in winter, Maddie and I found ourselves caught somewhere in between magical bliss and bitter-cold reality. It was our first big trip together, and with cold temperatures and a fresh dusting of snow every night, Nordic skiing was our priority, and photography was not. But, standing on a frozen lake somewhere in the hills north of Oslo, I did manage to capture this image, which I find appealing in its simplicity.
Ah, Craftsbury. Home to the best Nordic skiing in Vermont, and probably the Northeast. With newfound freedom in my class schedule during the Spring Semester of my senior year, I was able to make the trek to the Northeast Kingdom far more often than in previous years. After a fresh snow dump and my first foray on the Craftsbury Commons trail, I spent an hour puttering around the main trails and captured this barn image – so prototypically Vermont and perfect in every way.
My second barn photo came a few weeks later as I drove from Middlebury to Westport for what felt like the hundredth time. That number is not all that inaccurate. Counting summers, my back-and-forth between the Vermont and New York sides of Lake Champlain during my time at college easily reached triple digits, if I count each there-and-back as two drives. Everything about the drive and distance was ideal – not too short, not too long, never any traffic, and views the entire way. Plus, it connected two of my favorite places in the world. This barn was always the prettiest thing I passed on the Vermont side, so I finally took the time to stop.
Speaking of favorite places, during a quiet springtime weekend I chose to do something a little different and spent a night camping out at North Point on Camp Dudley’s property. I have always slept in my hammock when I camp, and this time was no different, but with temps reaching a low in the thirties and a direct view of the sunrise over Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains, I found myself stirring at 4:15 AM. I stoked up the previous night’s fire, set out to make some coffee, and played around with camera settings to dial in an ideal exposure for capturing the sunrise. This image frames the entire experience; spring buds, the sun directly over Camel’s Hump, a boat drifting down the lake, reflections off the water, and an ethereal glow.
One of the greatest graduation gifts I received came as a complete surprise, when Hank Barrett asked me to be the fourth for a day of thirty-six holes at Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links of America, two of the country’s finest (and toughest to get on) golf courses. I have never had a better day of golf in my life, and never felt so lucky, especially when I closed out our final match of the day with a par-par-par-birdie stretch on the fifteenth through eighteenth holes at National. This is an image of National’s iconic windmill, and I love the late-afternoon lighting and the arrangement of highlights and shadows it created.
This image does not stand in for one particular moment for all of the memories I have from this location. Sunsets with my Dudley pals, games of CanJam and corn hole, rest stops on early morning training runs, walks up the hill from my grandparents’ house between dinner and dessert. I took it when I was relaxing in Westport, in limbo between graduation and launching for Germany. The school house might be the most iconic structure in my life, and I am glad I could finally capture it in its full glory.
My crazy, awe-inspiring West Coast road trip with five of my high school buddies was the best way for us to celebrate graduating college and spend time together before we all started up jobs in various cities on the East Coast. Though my photos will never compare to the memories of that trip, I do particularly like this one from the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. We had risen before dawn in attempt to beat the crowds and heat in Yosemite Valley, and it paid off in unparalleled views and one of the best ten miles on trail of my life.
This is a more somber image, taken of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany. My month in Germany featured stark contrasts, inner disparities, and a roller-coaster of emotions. Perhaps I am drawn to this photo out of all of those I took during the trip because of the profound balance depicted. On the surface, everything is aligned and appealing. And yet the experience of walking through the memorial is anything but calming. Walking between the rectangular concrete columns, the looming, maze-like construction of the site quickly reveals itself. It is claustrophobic and disorienting. In some ways, I felt the same during my month leading the exchange trip. On the surface, I was leading a group of awesome kids from the best camp in the country, I had just graduated, and I have a job lined up in New York upon my return. But internally, I felt the pressure of responsibility and the anxiety of transition, and those emotions made it harder for me to relax and enjoy myself.
New York, New York. I arrived to the city exhausted and full of questions, and it took me a few weeks to settle in. I am still settling in, and I do not know if I will ever be completely comfortable here. And yet, I have found solace in my daily routines and my opportunities to step outside of those routines, if only for a detour through Central Park. The calm in this photo masks the hectic nature of the city, but in seeking spaces that remind me that nature is still out there, I have found beauty and incredible juxtapositions. I love that the lady in the red dress made an appearance in the image (fitting Matrix reference).
Pawling has served as weekend escape, and I am so grateful that I can get out of the city, be with Maddie and her family, and maintain some of my favorite outdoorsy activities that are just not possible in Manhattan. This is another photo that captures mystery; the gate is both open and chained closed, and the grass (and trees) are certainly greener on the other side of the fence (stone wall). But ultimately, it is inviting, and that is the way I feel about New York: being in this new place is an invitation to try new things and expand my parameters for how I define “adventure.”
I kicked off September and autumn with a trip home to Williamstown with Maddie to celebrate birthdays, be with family, and find more adventures. No moment from the weekend was more striking than when the sun rose over Lake George at the start of Maddie’s triathlon. With the air temperature thirty degrees cooler than the water, the fog rising off the lake was mystical. I felt lucky to be present for that moment, and I always feel lucky that mountains and lakes have been such an integral part of my life.
The foliage has been more muted this autumn, and that is okay. There is still plenty of beauty in less vibrant tones. I love the layering of greens and browns in this image, and I was thrilled to capture it when the priority of this particular morning was running a trail race, and not going out on an adventure to take photos. There is nuance in this image, which makes it a fitting one on which to end. Who would have known that my year long quest to capture moments worth savoring would end with an image of an unnamed bog somewhere in northwestern Connecticut, but I like it that way. Beautiful yet unassuming, bright yet mysterious, an ending and a beginning.
I went up to Vermont this past weekend. I was not in search of anything in particular, but I found the process of driving the familiar country roads and returning to Middlebury to be both nostalgic and uniquely eye-opening. My college-aged self, the one who conceived of this blog a year ago and graduated in May, is now fixed in history and memory. It is, and will be, impossible for me to return to that version of myself ever again. Change is unavoidable, and certainly not something I fear or reject. I have learned and grown in the months since leaving Middlebury, and upon my return, I learned that the college and town has been changing too. There is construction in the downtown, a few shops have moved or closed, the co-op has expanded, the dining halls now require a swipe system, and the soccer team looks different than the squad that wore those same jerseys a year ago.
Of course, I went to Vermont to enjoy some of the same activities I loved so much when I was living there. I shared a few Vermont craft beers with friends, made coffee, breathed the crisp autumn air, and went on an outstanding trail run early on Sunday morning. I loved seeing so many people whom I care about and having that feeling reciprocated.
The trip was just what I needed, but as I returned to the city on Sunday afternoon, I felt a peculiar sensation of heading home. Vermont is a state that I have loved and a place I could so easily see myself down the road, but it is not my home right now. My home is on the twenty-eighth floor of a large building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And while I do not think I will be calling myself a New Yorker any time soon, I am proud of the space that Maddie and I have created for ourselves.
It is reasonably sized with big windows to let in light and a kitchen that is ours to use as we wish. We have a new bed that came in a box and plenty of design touches that evoke the rural settings both of us have loved all our lives. I feel comforted knowing that I was able to take bits of my homes over the years – the Berkshires, the Adirondacks, Vermont – and bring them into a metropolis of steel and concrete. It works for me.
This home is far from permanent, but it is the most permanent place I have lived since I left home in 2012 to set off on my gap year adventures and then attend Middlebury. Each dorm room there was a nine-month lease, and though I moved only short distances around campus over the four years, it was something new each year. Now I am settled in a space that I can call my own. It is a reassuring feeling amidst plenty that is still unknown.
The city is cooling down, days are getting shorter, and the leaves are just beginning to turn. I hope that in two weeks, when I head back up to Middlebury to celebrate my soccer coach’s thirty-third and final season at the helm, my timing aligns with peak foliage. I have a home in New York, and with the relative permanence that brings, I am beginning to wind down this blogging project. It has served its purpose and remained by my side over the course of twelve incredible months. The time and emphasis I have placed on the blog has not been insignificant – fifty-plus posts, a gallery of photos, my selected writing from four years at Middlebury, a few adventure guides and favorite selections. Most of all, it has been a running dialogue with myself – a means of capturing the highs and lows, the moments of elation and uncertainty, the beautiful little details and life-altering choices. I am proud of what I have produced, even if no one has read my posts or reveled in my photographs as much as I have, because it has pushed me to seek balance and mindfulness in my thoughts, choices, and actions.
I have two more posts lined up and then I will conclude the project. I plan to savor those last words and images, for they have meant a lot to me.
At this time last year, I was relishing in my yearly three-week stretch of being a professional soccer player. That is, from the time my team gathered in late August to the first day of classes the second or third week of September, I devoted all of my time and energy to soccer. Preseason was always highly anticipated for so many reasons, and as a senior, I found myself relishing in my final opportunity.
And yet, with plenty of time to relax beyond the daily training sessions, I cherished the chance to reflect on the summer and mentally prepare for the school year. For my final year at Middlebury, I wanted to have clear goals in the back of my head that would remind me to take advantage of it all.
I did not know it at the time, but I was beginning to design my senior year. Goals, bucket lists, mindfulness, and clear intentions all contributed to the road map that I was laying out in front of me.
On the first day of classes, I stepped into my only course not required for my major and minor: Design Thinking. I expected it to be an easy class that I would prioritize last, but as I learned to understand the concept of design thinking and subsequently realize that I was already a design thinker, I found the coursework growing into something much larger than a series of assignments for the purpose of earning a grade – (this blog was a a product of that class, and here I am a year later, still pouring time and thought into it).
As I internalized the design thinking process, I found myself applying it to countless ideas and challenges. It factored into everything from my thesis projects to my job search to my woodworking, and especially here in this space. “I Would Be True” is a product of that Design Thinking course and the ideas we tossed around that classroom. The question: “What would you do with your own domain on the web?” I went through many iterations of designing this site and choosing what kinds of material I wanted to display, and even now, I am still tweaking it to suit my goals – always looking forward while continuously circling back to the original question.
I occupy a different space (physically and mentally) than I did when I conceived of this blog. This site has served its purpose for me, and though I am not putting the lid on it quite yet, I am thinking beyond this space. My job has provided me plenty to keep me busy, and New York offers endless possibilities for fun and adventure. But I also have new windows of time on my hands – during evenings and on the weekends. I have found myself considering new seeds of ideas, and as I begin to pursue other endeavors, I know that the design thinking process will help them grown. New York is a great place to start anew, and as I enter my first September that will not be dedicated to kicking off a soccer season and heading back to school, I want to keep my ideas flowing so that I remain enthusiastic and creative.
Design thinking, for me, is both a label that I can place on my desire to create and a process intended to steer my ideas into actions. I like knowing that I have it in my back pocket any time I get bored or stuck with something that is problematic. And I appreciate that every idea requires many iterations; I will not always get things right the first time, but I can find joy in the process of revision.
I have held many jobs in my past – mail deliverer, caddy, camp counselor, metal plating factory worker, to name a few – but nothing really compares to the journey I have recently embarked upon in New York. It is not because of the time commitment, or the increased pay, or the suit I wear Mondays through Thursdays, or the fancy office building and my own business cards. No, it is because all of my previous jobs were never my primary focus – (full disclosure: working at Camp Dudley has never really felt like a job to me, even though it certainly consumed almost all of my time for almost all of my summers) – whereas this one is. I spend the majority of my waking hours at my office, I expend the most mental energy trying to learn as much as I can to get up to speed, and I structure my days around my job.
And yet, even in a repetitive, Monday through Friday, 8:45 AM to 6:00-ish PM life, I feel a new kind of freedom. I may have fewer hours to spend under my own jurisdiction, but I also do not have the constant weight of homework or studying in the back of my mind at all times. I can tune out my job the minute I leave the office in the evening, and weekends feel like real breaks.
Granted, August in New York, especially in the financial world, is pretty slow. I am sure that there will be weeks this fall where work feels more consuming than just the hours I spend in the office. And life will get in the way sometimes, too. There will be weekends that feel more like catch up instead of relaxation, and perhaps I will choose to take on additional responsibilities that also fall under the blanket of “work.” But for now, I am enjoying the new prospect of structuring my non-working hours around activities that provide balance. Exercising, writing, blogging, spending time outdoors, and meeting up with friends have all served as a punctuation mark on a normal workday to elevate it from good to great. Even just researching the plethora of NYC food offerings or stopping at a fruit stand on the way home from work are exciting ways to spend my time.
As I think about the concept of work-life balance, I am first and foremost appreciative that I have a job that allows for freedom in the evenings and on the weekends. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a job that enables balance, and others make the choice to forego that balance for other reasons. However, I am hesitant to define “work” as what happens in my office and “life” as what happens outside of it. Putting boxes around those two spaces and separating them under an implied mental framework that one is has a negative effect on balance and the other a positive is inherently problematic; it can take any potential fun or joy out of work while putting pressure on what happens outside of work to always be fulfilling. I am not yet ready to define work-life balance for myself, nor do I want to be formulaic about how I set out to achieving it. But I do know that the process will take open-mindedness, a “yes-first” attitude, and continuous reflection.
I would now like to mention a concept that I have heard of in the past but never really considered closely, and that is “flow.” Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pioneered the study of what he described as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
I have come across “flow” numerous times in books and academic discussions, but thinking deeper on the concept, it would seem that achieving flow each day is critical to overall happiness, wellness, and balance. I have known for a long time that physical activity is one of the easiest ways for me to slip into the state of flow, and that is why I take so much pleasure in waking up for 5:45 AM runs or going on long, hilly bike rides around Pawling on the weekends. It is why I have trail races lined up for this fall and hope to continue playing soccer, albeit at a less intense level than at Middlebury. Other activities that induce flow include writing, fishing, and putting a little extra effort into preparing a meal (especially when it is on the grill). I found this Spring that flow happened almost instantly when I spent time in the wood shop.
All of this is to say that I do not feel any issue finding flow outside of my job at the moment. Now, as I get more comfortable in my office and more accustomed to my responsibilities, I intend to be mindful of the tasks that induce flow and which ones seem to sap my energy or feel downright monotonous. Not every duty I perform at work will lead to flow, and I am perfectly fine knowing that. What is important is that I understand which tasks will help me find flow, because I think a little bit each day will go a long way towards enjoying my working experience. And, if I am truly happy at work most of the time, the line between work and play will not seem so rigid.
Blurring the work-life dichotomy seems to me the best way to achieve work-life balance. Perhaps that makes the big picture a little muddier or more complicated, but in a positive light, I can also view it as more nuanced. I am all for keeping things simple, but when I am using my brain as much as I will be, both at work and at play, I think that a little nuance is essential. This discussion is more circular than linear and will certainly lead to more questions than answers, but working towards contentedness in the present moment is the best way to be positive as I look towards the future, and that is why it is essential.
What is next? This was one of the big questions I was asking myself when I launched this blog in the December 2016 – specifically in regard to sports and fitness. I had just completed my fourth and final season as a member of the Middlebury soccer team. Everything I had worked for in high school and beforehand culminated in the opportunity I had to play college soccer. I felt so lucky that the experience was so positive, that I found teammates who will be friends forever, and that the program encouraged me to pursue all of my academic interests just as strongly as they supported me while I was on the field.
And yet, coming to the end of my college soccer career left a void. Though I am sure I will have pangs of longing when its late August rolls around and I am not stepping onto the pitch for the first day of preseason, I have tried to see filling the empty space that soccer left in my life as an exciting opportunity.
As winter and spring sped by at Middlebury, I tried to use the time that I had usually devoted to offseason soccer training to enjoy other forms of physical activity. The winter included more skiing (both alpine and nordic) than ever before as well as rock climbing and IM basketball. During the spring, I ramped up my trail running, cycling, and mountain biking – and I now consider all three of those sports to be among my favorites. And there was always time for a hike, a round of golf, and of course, pick-up soccer.
One of the frustrating elements of my month in Germany was the lack of time and freedom I had to work out. Sure, I managed to enjoy some incredible runs, to swim in the pool, and to play plenty of knock-out and one-on-one on the Abbensen basketball court, but I missed many of the activities that I love.
Now I am living in New York City. The move felt like I could press the reset button on my athletics. There is plenty I can do in the city, but nothing will beat stepping out of my dorm and finding myself on the eighteen-mile Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), or seeing the sun set over the Adirondacks and scaling a peak the following morning. So I have entered a process of discovery: reconsidering my athletic goals, seeing what is possible (and affordable) in the city, and tinkering as much as I can to make both of those align. I am thrilled about Central Park, about yoga mats in small places, and of course, about Pawling.
Getting out of the city this weekend felt amazing. I fished and swam in Quaker Lake and went on a grueling twenty-eight-mile bike ride that featured a few Category 3 and 4 climbs. Pawling is a hilly place. I know that I have done little to deserve this fortune – for many, getting out of the city in the summer is not an option, let alone someone who has only worked for three days – so I am doing my best not to take anything for granted.
Between the city and Pawling, I will have plenty of opportunities to train and to stay in shape. I have a ten-mile trail race in the Shawangunks bookmarked on my calendar for late September, and I will go from there. My swimming and biking have improved tremendously in 2017, and I can see giving triathlons a shot down the road. And soccer will always be there. A team of mostly Midd Soccer alums plays on Sunday afternoons in New York, and I hope to get in on the action as soon as I feel settled in.
There is one thing I know for sure: New York will give me an entirely new perspective on sports and fitness, and I see that as a great benefit for my continued transition into post-Middlebury athletics.
Today is Friday, August 4th, and later I will leave Manhattan to spend the weekend in Pawling, which requires a subway to Grand Central and then a ninety-five minute train ride on the Metro-North Railway. It sounds very typical for a New York City resident during the summer months working a Monday – Friday job in the financial sector.
But “typical” in this context is relative. For me, the word is as inaccurate a description of my experience over the past few days as I can think of. Five days ago I was leaving Germany. Four days ago I repacked my life and took my Yukon on what is possibly its final drive, from Westport to Pawling. Three days ago I began settling into my temporary residence with the Leopolds on East End Avenue in Manhattan. Two days ago I started my job at Landmark. Yesterday I went on my first ever run in Central Park. Today, I am finally feeling the weight of this crazy transitional moment of my life lifting, and so naturally, I am writing about it.
Since the inception of this blog, New York was the final destination – both as a physical landing place and as the conclusion of my figurative growth trajectory from college to the “real world.” The entire time that I have been writing, I have tried to be mindful of the notion that it is not the destination but the journey that matters most. My journey took me to Norway and California and Germany, saw the completion of two theses and the reception of a diploma, broadened my artistic skill sets with improvements to my photography and the introduction of woodworking, deepened my appreciation for the places that I am lucky to call home, and brought me closer the the people I love the most. It forced me to ask tough questions of myself, to seek answers, and to see “not knowing” as necessary to the harmonic balance I was striving to achieve in my life.
I speak about all of this in the past tense, but landing in New York does not simply mean that I can wrap the previous phase of my life into a neat bundle and store it away. Neither does it mean that my present is static or permanent. It is quite the opposite of all these things. The people, places, and experiences that construct my past will shape every decision I make going forward. Furthermore, the distinction that I have given New York as my final destination is utterly false. Sure, I may be moving to the big city and I may be contractually obligated to work at Landmark for two years, but this new phase is a journey in its own right. Perhaps it will be bigger and more eye-opening than I could ever expect.
After three days at my job, I can report that I love the office environment and the people with whom I will be working closely. The summer is slow in New York, especially in the financial world, which makes it a perfect time to begin. I will have some time to get up to speed, and it is amazing how quickly you can go from ignorant to knowledgeable about something by just committing to reading about it. I love to read, and I love to learn, so it does not feel like work to me. Still, it will be a long time until I feel confident with the material, which is all the more reason why I am thrilled about the mentors I have here.
I am also still in a transition phase in terms of my living situation. Returning from Germany and starting my job was plenty for August, so moving into an apartment right away was not an option. Fortunately, Maddie’s family has been incredibly gracious to me, and they made sure I had nothing to worry about as far as housing goes during this first month. My walk to work takes about twenty-five minutes, and though it can be warm, I would so much rather be walking than taking the subway. Maddie and I have things lined up for September, which will represent a more permanent ending for all of the moving around I have done over the past few months, and I cannot wait for our setup.
So, I still have a train to catch to Pawling, and I still have a weekend to be outdoors and grill and relax waiting for me at the end of the train line. “Everything has changed, though nothing has,” to quote my thesis adviser Jay Parini. I have a new journey in front of me, a lot to learn about living in New York and working at Landmark, and plenty of new opportunities. And yet, I see no reason to change who I am. I will always love seeing nature and cooking fresh food and writing and making adventures big and small out of every day. New York will certainly have its impact on me, and I welcome it, but I am not shy about bringing some of my crunchy-Vermonter self to life in the big city. And that gets me excited.
I am back stateside, and my one-month whirlwind adventure in Germany is over. Ever since I returned from the German Exchange in 2009, I had dreamed of leading this trip. In the months before we departed from Camp Dudley, I had already constructed a vision of what the trip would be – built on memories from my past two stays in Germany and my expectations of what the third time around would entail.
Now the trip sits in concrete details, blurred only by the occasional foggy memories due to a lack of sleep. I have not written much about the last week of Intercamp or the round trip around Germany, so I will focus mostly on those sections of the trip. They were the weeks that flew by the fastest and packed in the most fun.
The one-hundred or so campers and leaders at Intercamp 2017 really became a community following our return from the hikes. With just a week to go, we were determined to form strong friendships and make every game better than the last. As the days progressed, I was struck by the sheer effort and selflessness of the German leaders who poured everything they had into the planning and execution of each day. With such a minute support staff compared to Dudley’s operation, everything fell on the leaders to make the camp go smoothly. That dynamic created a tight-knit community among the leaders – everyone had to have each other’s back or else it would not work.
I enjoyed increasing my responsibilities as time went along – taking on barbecuing jobs and leading wacky interest groups and even running the final game of the camp. In that game, based on the classic Saratoga Morning from Dudley, campers were assigned to roles as either a horse or a jockey, and they competed in races. There were, of course, odds on each horse and betting opportunities for the campers who were not racing.
Saying goodbye to the Intercamp community was challenging because it felt like it came too soon, but we quickly turned our thoughts to the excitement of the round trip. The week was stressful, especially for the leaders, because we were tasked with taking forty-seven kids from four different nations around Berlin, Dresden, and Munich. Every step of each day took coordination, which left little time for relaxation. Through determination and plenty of problem solving, the round trip ended up a success. We played beach volleyball in Berlin, ate Indian food in Dresden, toured the Dachau concentration camp, and spent an afternoon wandering freely in Munich – not to mention all of the guided tours and typical sightseeing activities in each city.
I rarely experienced the free-spirited feeling of exploring new cities that I had come to love during my gap year, but the few moments I had for myself were all the more refreshing and rewarding. I went on one sightseeing run in each city, found the best cup of coffee ever at The Barn in Berlin, snagged a few hyperlocal craft beers as a gift for my dad, and spent quality time with the other leaders on the trip. We spent the final day of the trip with only the Dudley / Kiniya crew, and traveling with fourteen instead of sixty-four was fun and much more relaxing.
Throughout the entire month, I was impressed by the maturity and general awesomeness of my Dudley group. I knew they would be great, but they blew me away. I felt really good knowing that I could help reward such a great group of kids with a month unlike any they have ever experienced.
On Sunday, we woke up early and began the last leg of traveling – from Hannover to Paris to Montreal and finally back to Dudley. As we neared the Montreal airport, knowing that the stress and responsibility of the trip was basically over, my body started shutting down. I heard a quote once along the lines of: “The best compliment your body can give you is to get sick the moment you finish a task into which you have poured every ounce of yourself.” I kept that in mind as I arrived back at Camp, weak and exhausted but beyond happy about how the month had gone.
That evening, I mustered up the energy to play in Dudley’s Sunday night brass quartet alongside my brother Sam. The moon and stars were out in full splendor, and I felt so lucky for everything Dudley had given me. Hopefully, my efforts in Germany could serve as a small way of giving back.
When I launched this blogging project, I imagined that I would be able to create a digital space to stash anything and everything that I was passionate about. Writing has always been my favorite and best talent, so that was obvious, but I left everything else up to the passing moments of inspiration I experienced. I have kept the blog in the back of my mind at all times, and because of this, I know it has affected the way I see the world.
What I could not have predicted as a result of this project was the amount of time I have spent thinking critically about photography. I have flip-flopped with my views towards photography over the past few years, ranging from my seventeen-year-old self who strove to capture as many images as possible in my travels to my twenty-year-old self who rejected many forms of social media and rarely pulled out my phone to take a quick snap. When I was first stepping out into the world on my own, my camera was a way to notice, remember, and quantify my experiences spatially and visually. Later, I became fixated upon a speech by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which he explained to the Middlebury Class of 2013 the dangers of being satisfied with “static memory” – a quick snap when receiving a diploma, for instance – as opposed to “living memory” – which requires an emotional engagement with real life and a knowledge of the possibility of forgetting that memory or having it change over the years. Foer distinguishes between these two types of people, or styles, Both phases were learning experiences for me, and now I think, like anything else, that there needs to be balance and mindfulness in my commitment to photography.
One quote from Foer stands out to me about quality photography: “Clearly some photographs can have tremendous value: those that have the ability to draw us into the experience. These I believe are usually taken by photographers who manage to use the camera to heighten their own presence in the situation. On the other hand, a cell phone photo of someone crossing the stage is a meaningful symbol of the graduate’s achievement and the photographer’s pride and support, but it cannot capture the experience of the day, and more, it detracts from the experience of the day… The more our cameras can do, the less possible being present becomes.”
I believe it is essential for me, and all of us, to continue to ask ourselves why we do what we do. It is easier than ever to snap an iPhone picture, to remove ourselves from the present moment by checking Instagram, or to recuse ourselves from the emotional commitment necessary to achieve “living memories.” But I also see value in mindful photography – not necessarily good photography, but a step above a mindless cell phone snap. My photography has certainly improved due to this blog, and I have enjoyed attempting to heighten my own presence in the various situations and adventures about which I have written through the images I choose to share.
Here is the link to my Captures page,
where I have archived my favorite photos dating over the past year.
Endnote: I also learned a lot about photography at Abbensen from my co-leader Luke, who is an aspiring photojournalist and has a wonderful knack to be in the right place at the right time, camera ready. I watched him make photography so much fun, not only for himself but the people involved. He inspires me to keep exploring the art, adventure, and human connections wrapped up in the practice. He also gets photo credits for the cover image of this post. To Luke, thank you.
Coming to Germany for my third time has felt decidedly different than the previous two trips. Of course, this seems obvious – I am doing a variety of things, meeting new people, and holding a different role than before. But even though I have embarked on a unique month, the simple fact that I am back in Germany has prompted and triggered old feelings and memories. Though I am in Hannover and at Camp Abbensen, in the first week of living with a host-family, I found myself thinking much more about my gap year travels than my first German Exchange trip.
So, though I was thrilled to join the other Abbensen leaders on a week of fun activities and late nights, I also found myself craving self-directed moments each day. I see two reasons for this desire: first, that I associate Germany primarily with the solo traveling that I did during my gap year, and second, that I feel so close to full adulthood, with my first real job beginning in August, and therefore want to be making my own choices.
As we proceeded through the first week, I found equal joy joining in on group activities as I did ducking out for an hour or two to wander the city, navigate on my own, and sit alone for a few moments with a cup of coffee. It is not that one way of filling my days is right and the other is wrong, it is simply that I require some form of balance right now. This self-understanding comes from four-plus years of maturing since my last time here, and I believe that it is something I have earned, not simply grown into. I get to enjoy it in the form of early morning runs through fields of windmills and long conversations with German leaders who seem genuinely interested and impressed with my life’s path over the past few years.
Now, camp is beginning, and I am thrilled to let myself be as much of a kid as possible. Knowing myself, I will still find moments to write, reflect, and find balance throughout the two weeks at Abbensen.