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.
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.
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.
Big, Bold, and Beautiful: The Boys Take the West Coast
I have safely returned from a whirlwind road trip on the West Coast. Though traveling finally got the best of me during my return flight home, each day during the trip presented innumerable sights to see, new adventures to take on, and well-deserved opportunities for the six of us to enjoy this unique, fleeting moment in life as we transition from college to the real world.
We all took different paths to get to where we are today, and that was epitomized by the various locations that the six of us came from and departed to. Nathan had been in Peru two days before launching the trip, Hank was on his way to Hawaii afterwards, and Alex was meeting his family in Vancouver. I am off to Germany in a week. We will all settle into different cities – Boston, New York, Washington D.C. – to begin jobs over the course of the summer. But for one week, we were all together on a grand adventure.
In total, I saw two iconic American cities, explored three national parks, grilled out and slept in my hammock three times at various campsites, and covered nearly 900 miles. I will describe the highlights in chronological order, and between the six of us, we did well documenting the trip.
Vegas was the most superfluous stop of the trip, even though it was the first for me. I knew that whether I loved it or hated it, the twelve hours I spent there would have little impact on overall experience. I would describe it as a pleasant surprise – everything from flying in over the desert, settling into a gorgeous six-person suite in our hotel, and even making a few dollars at the casinos. I can also see how it is such a trap. But the most defining feature of Vegas was the heat. It was 111 degrees when I landed, and even though West Coast heat had been described to me as more bearable because of lower humidity, the high temps hit me like a wall the moment I left the airport. I was happy to be out and about during the night when things were cooler, and happy to leave for California the next morning.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Electing to camp for three of the nights during our travels through California’s National Parks was the best decision of the trip, and two items made my experience truly outstanding: my hammock for rest and relaxation, and my Aeropress set-up for freshly brewed coffee each morning. Though the rest of the crew slept well in an enormous tent, I was happy to create space for myself – be it elevated between two trees or during the early hours of the morning before everyone else woke. Our campsite in Sequoia was on a river that rushed loudly from all of the snow runoff, and the clean water made fantastic coffee.
Exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon consisted of a series of short hikes connected by an epic “scenic route” drive on Generals Highway. We rose to over 7000 feet on precarious switchbacks, barely wide enough for our large Ford Expedition, to access the Moro Rock trail, and then hiked it to gain 360 degree views of the park. Perched above the valley where we camped, the sequoia tree forest where we hiked, and with snowcapped mountains in the distance, I was amazed that it was all real. That feeling of disbelieve at the scale, scope, and variety of California never left.
No feature of the park filled me with more awe than the giant sequoia trees. We walked through the Giant Forest and saw the General Sherman Tree – the biggest tree in the world. As I learned, it is not the tallest or the largest in circumference, but the volume of its trunk and branches beats out all other competitors. I was most impressed by the immense variety among the giants: some had massive root systems, some sat in dense groves, some had large burn scars, and some had hollows wide enough to walk through.
The scale of everything in these parks, and in California in general, remained larger than life from start to finish. Even driving around, we passed through so many different climates and landscapes: deserts reminiscent of South America, hills like Scotland, rolling fields like Kansas on one side of the road and rows of orange trees like Florida on the other. The largest solar and wind farms I have ever seen. Mountains that will remain snowcapped all summer long. Each new landscape spelled out a new chapter of our adventure.
Yosemite National Park
Some of the best moments of the trip came around the campfire, grilling up a well-deserved dinner. I attribute my willingness to attempt to cook just about anything over an open fire to my many years at Dudley, where I had regular opportunities to grill out for campers. Plus, any food cooked out in the woods just tastes better.
We grilled three consecutive nights, and each time the feast grew larger and more delicious. I got the group hooked on sweet potatoes that we cooked by wrapping them in tin foil and nestling them among the embers, but the highlight for me was chicken smothered in a local California hot sauce.
Yosemite required the earliest wake-up of the trip, but beating the crowds and the heat was well worth the effort of rising before the sun. It was especially important because of the hike we had planned: Upper Yosemite Falls, one of the most iconic and strenuous ascents in the valley. The image of the falls above does not do justice to the scale and sheerness of the rock formations and waterfall. Our hike began at the valley floor, traversed switchbacks, descended close enough to the falls to feel its mist, and then rose again through a narrow crevasse between steep cliffs on either side. In an hour-and-a-half, we were a top the falls. We watched the rushing snowmelt drop 2,500 feet to the valley floor and witnessed the morning sun casting shadows and highlighting the rock formations around us.
Alex, Hank, Nathan, and I decided to push further to Yosemite Point, which was a mile and about 300 vertical feet above the falls. Again, we found the trek to be worth the effort. From the high point, we had sweeping vistas of all of the park’s iconic landmarks – especially Half Dome, North Dome, and Sentinel Dome – and we could also glimpse Yosemite Falls and the rainbow that emerged from the mist.
The descent turned into more of a run than a hike, as we sped around hairpin turns and cruised past tired-looking hikers on their way up. As the day continued to heat up, we were thrilled to have knocked out such a challenging and spectacular hike in the morning and that we would be returning to the lake by our campsite in the afternoon.
After a wild and exhilarating series of adventures in California’s National Parks, San Francisco came as a welcome final destination. We took the scenic route into the city by circling the bay and crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge, but not before we stopped to explore the Marin Headlands and glimpse the town of Sausalito, which climbs the hills surrounding the bay just like some of the most iconic villages on the Mediterranean.
San Fransisco became just as much an exercise in culinary exploration as it was an opportunity for sightseeing. In fact, the two went hand in hand. Half the crew had to leave the night of or the morning following our arrival, so Alex, Nathan, and I decided to spend our full day in the city walking and consuming as wide a range of gastronomic offerings as we could find. Our list included Pork Buns from a street food stand, Sand Dabs and Sole at Soto Marre, a cannoli, coffee at Sightglass and Reveille, oysters, and a few divine craft beers at Cellarmaker. In doing so, we covered a large number of miles and did our best to burn off all of the outstanding food we were eating.
I was inspired by the San Francisco coffee scene, and though it was expensive to have baristas hand-brew a single origin cup of coffee right in front of me, I appreciated the quality and craft that went into each coffee shop and each cup they served. On the other side of the coin, I also loved a feel for the local crowd at The Tempest, perhaps my favorite dive bar ever.
Of all our stops, San Francisco did not quite fit into my “big, bold, beautiful” mantra as neatly as the other locations, but we found plenty of beauty nonetheless. The trip left me breathless in more ways than one: I was equally astounded by all that I saw and exhausted by all that we packed into our days.
I left San Francisco with no regrets about committing to such a wild adventure and plenty of newly instilled desire to continue to travel. I would love to get back to the West Coast and do it completely on my own terms, but for now, I will have to “settle” with a month in Germany.
I am not quite ready to wave goodbye to this month-long graduation celebration that I have crafted for myself, and I still have almost a week to enjoy in Westport. But when the time comes, I will be more mindful of my fortunes, and I will have all of these memories preserved to savor again later.
Today is Memorial Day, May 29, 2017. I sit in rainy Westport, NY having just completed a puzzle. And senior week. And graduation weekend. And college.
The events that transpired over the past week are a blur, but the feeling that lingers is one of deep gratitude mixed with well-warrented exhaustion. Senior week proceeded like a whirlwind – a temporary unorganized lifestyle coupled with the need to organize my life for the move-out. Though I will skim over some of the details, my favorite moments included Tuesday’s epic trip to Kingdom Trails in East Burke, VT for the best mountain biking on the East Coast and Wednesday’s outdoor concert featuring some of Middlebury’s best student bands. The mountain biking was so good that we are hoping to go back in June, so I hope to do a better job documenting the trip then.
On Friday, family and friends gathered at the Storey Farm in Westport for a small celebration and a large feast. I was particularly thrilled to see those who came from further distances: Miranda (who is now a rising Junior at Bowdoin!) and my grandparents who came up from Florida. We dined on grilled chicken, a multitude of vegetable dishes, an incredible carrot cake, and plenty of Alchemist 16-ounce cans. It was also the first time that Maddie’s parents and my parents were all in the same room together, and everyone enjoyed bonding with old friends and new ones. As I have written in other blog posts, I feel incredibly lucky to have a space within an hour’s drive from campus that is so special to me, and having the graduation party there epitomized this experience.
Saturday was a special day in a different way. I woke early to prepare myself for the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony. I am still trying to figure out if I am more honored by the nomination itself or the fact that I got to share the stage with so many insanely smart and talented people. Hearing each of the nominee’s future plans was the best part of the ceremony.
My dad and I went for a run and we took things easy in the afternoon, watching some FA Cup soccer and packing up a few final items. We then attended the English Department reception, and I was thrilled to learn that I had received one of the departmental awards. I never doubted choosing English as my major, and now the pride I have felt for my classes and independent work tastes even sweeter.
The last installment of my penultimate day was the party for the senior soccer players, held at the Woodchuck Cider House. Between the eleven of us, our families, and our friends, we had an outstanding “one last night.” And fittingly, the skies over Lake Champlain granted us the most dramatic sunset of the year.
It is tradition at Middlebury for the seniors to stay up all night before graduation. The townhouse quad where I lived turned into a late-night block party, and I went inside only to fix up a midnight coffee for a few friends. But eventually, my “early-to-bed, early-to-rise” habits caught up with me, and I had to retire at 2:30 in the morning. Two hours later, Maddie woke me for a sunrise run, and we jogged up to the highest point on campus to look out over the Green Mountains one last time. As is also tradition, the bakeries in town open early to serve free breakfast to the seniors, so we jogged down to Otter Creek Bakery for an egg sandwich and a few of the tastiest croissants of my life. Sleep deprivation had nothing to do with it.
A few hours later, I was dressed in my cap and gown, ready to graduate. We could not have received better weather, and though the three-hour commencement ceremony dragged at times, everything in it felt right. And nothing was better than the final gift we received as Middlebury Students. Grace Potter, recipient of an honorary degree from the college this year and fellow Vermonter, broke out her guitar and sang her heart out in the final minutes of the ceremony. The song made some cry, some smile, and all of us pause in a moment of gratitude and unity.
The entire week, but especially the graduation weekend and commencement ceremony, was a gift. A chance to be in a place I call home without the pressure of classes or finals hanging over me. An opportunity to explore new Vermont adventures and repeat old favorites one last time. A time to be with those who are closest to me, and to show them how lucky I have been to attend Middlebury. I will remember it all.
Before I close this post, and this chapter of my life, I will remind myself of two thoughts. First, I am not really leaving Middlebury, but rather I am beginning the next phase of my learning and growing. I look forward to new challenges knowing that I am equipped with all that my college experience has taught me. Second, there is a Mary Oliver poem that Professor Brayton gave to me and my peers on the final day of my favorite class at Middlebury. I carry it with my to this day. The message was appropriate then and still fits now.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Being done has been nice. On Friday, with finals in full swing on campus, the temptation of warm Spring weather luring me outdoors, and the need to move some of my personal items from the dorm to Westport for the summer, I headed to the New York side of Lake Champlain for a solo adventure.
First, I delivered a car-full of items that needed to be stashed temporarily in my grandparents’ barn. I was happy to help out with the necessary springtime upkeep in exchange, clearing a few small downed trees, moving patio furniture, tidying up the barn. I was also thrilled to join Mommom and Babo for dinner – I even got to grill for the first time this year! The Storey Farm is looking beautiful, with apple blossoms and lilac trees in full bloom. Mommom said this has been the best year for lilacs that she can remember, and I feel lucky to get to enjoy moments of Spring in Westport, when so many of my family members and Dudleyite friends only see it in the Summer.
Connecting with my grandparents in a setting different than the large family gatherings of summer or of holidays in Williamstown is something I appreciate more and more every time I get to do so. They have a different perspective on my college experience and plans for the near future than my family or friends, but it is one that I cherish hearing.
After dinner, I set out for North Point on Camp Dudley’s campus – a destination for cabin suppers, overnights, and council rings. It is the most exposed promontory, jutting out into Lake Champlain and enclosing the cove that is home to Dudley’s boating and swimming areas. I have fond memories of fishing at North Point and watching the moon rise over Vermont’s Green Mountains. This time, I was alone and content to enjoy the quietude, embracing the serene calm that Dudley experiences ten months out of the year.
I strung up my hammock, built a fire, and settled down to read Walking To Listen, a powerful coming-of-age personal narrative written by Andrew Forsthoefel. Andrew graduated from Middlebury in 2011 and in the year following walked across the U.S. – traversing from eastern Pennsylvania to California over the course of nearly a year. Though I am only partway through the book, I can recommend it, because I believe that his true anecdotes and thoughtful reflections speak to the empathy that is so lacking, and so necessary, in modern American culture and society.
I fell asleep with the fire still flickering and the stars above me shining bright.
Sleeping outside, I am always more in tune with the cycles and rhythms of the natural world. So I was not surprised when I began to stir at 4:30 in the morning, just as the earliest glow of the sunrise began to grow across the lake. I stirred the fire and quickly brought it back to full strength. I sipped coffee and at my overnight-oats. All the while, I watched the sunrise fill the sky.
I get conflicted when taking photographs in beautiful moments. I had not watched a sunrise like this in years, and my camera felt ancillary – a distraction from being present and enjoying the moment. But I can also draw a distinction between photography as a stand-in for memories and photography as an expression of art. I choose living memory, that which is encrypted into our brains, over static memory, that which is stored in hard drives, every time I can. But I also choose to be artistic, to improve my abilities, and to seek out things that make me proud.
I cannot capture the essence of a sunrise, the vastness of a starry sky, or the warmth of a campfire in words alone, nor can my pictures to them justice. If given only one means of expression, I will always choose words. But part of why I enjoy this blogging process is because it allows for a unique combination of modes of communication.
The day with my grandparents and the night at Camp Dudley served many purposes, but most of all, it was a reminder of how lucky I have been to go to school so close to my second home. The benefits have ranged from simply having a place to store my personal items to having access to a loving community of people who all take utmost pride in Camp Dudley and its mission. I am so appreciative for all of it, and I can say with full confidence that it has been one of the defining aspects of my college experience.