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.
Vermont has transitioned from Winter to Spring since I last wrote, and with it, I feel the end accelerating towards me. I am on track, continuing to garner compliments on my thesis progress from both of my advisors and to make time for fun activities on a daily basis, and yet I find myself teetering more frequently than I would like.
Events have passed by in a blur, and I hope to capture the most meaningful snippets in this post. Below are two photos from “Winter” – the first, from my final visit to Craftsbury over Spring Break (I think that brings my total Craftsbury days to five –not bad considering the distance from Middlebury); the second, from the April Fools’ Day snowstorm that dumped eight inches of wet powder on Westport.
Two days later, I was out on my road bike for the first time, and now that it has reached 75 degrees two days in a row, it is officially Spring. When I delineate in this manner, it all sounds so easy. But the first week-and-a-half of the second half of my final semester has been anything but straightforward. My thoughts exist in multiple planes and temporalities, seemingly at all times. Between two theses and their upcoming deadlines, woodworking projects, and the temptation of springtime activities, I have enough to crowd my vision – but that is just the present and nearest future. I am also considering my bucket list items and all of my commitments before graduation, the logistics of my post-graduation plans before I leave for Germany, and finally the reality of moving to New York and beginning my job there. It is not stress that I feel, but rather a desire to not let anyone down, especially myself. Every day that is unproductive or strays from the plan that I outline feels like a blow to this goal.
But I am moving forward, even if I allow myself to relish in long lunches on the Atwater patio, spend extra hours in the wood shop, or drink a beer on a weeknight. And I am allowing three facets of my life to spur me onwards. First, my fingers continue to write. The lulls in motivation to do so are there, but every day I am able to write something, and when I sustain focus, the results are impressive, even to me. Second, I have a new pair of running shoes – The Freedom ISO from Saucony (pictured below). They are the best running shoes I have ever owned, and they will be put to the test in races this spring, beginning with two that I have signed up for at the end of April and first weekend of May. With a spring in my step, I am getting fitter and faster. Third, and most notably, Maddie and I have signed a lease for an apartment in New York. We will be on the first floor of a newly renovated building on 58th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, and though the space is significantly smaller than our setup in the Townhouses on campus, it will be the first time we can call a space our own. We are particularly jazzed about the location (both of us can walk to work), the tiny-house concept applied in the design to maximize the utility of the space, and the small patio out back for sitting in the sun or grilling on the weekends. There will be many details to come about the apartment, especially as I begin to build furniture for it, but for now, I am thrilled to know that come September, Maddie and I will be settled into New York life together.
I am commencing the sixth week of my final semester at Middlebury, and in four days I will be home for Spring Break. Whereas February Break was all about the big adventure (my trip to Norway), this upcoming week will be about appreciating the little details and enjoying some of the places that I love most.
Enjoying a place that I love was really the storyline of this past weekend, too. For the fourth year in a row, I helped out at Camp Dudley’s JL Weekend – an opportunity for junior leaders (sixteen-year-olds) to get some training and bonding as they prepare for the summer ahead. It has developed into one of my favorite weekends of the year, for even though it is usually snowy on Dudley’s campus, I always leave feeling like I’ve received a full dose of the summertime Dudley spirit. It is usually at this point in the semester, too, that I need it most. March can be dreary, and a refreshing weekend with fellow Dudleyites always helps me finish the first half of the semester on a high note.
A few items to note about this year’s JL Weekend that made it particularly special. First, I have been taking care of my dog Pepper while my family went to Virginia for the weekend, and having her around always makes things more fun. She had a nice vacation, too, because she got to play with my friend Tom’s puppy named Mango for much of Saturday morning. Second, I had the privilege of touring Dudley’s new Leadership Barn – a multipurpose space that will house many groups in the summertime and off-season, including Dudley’s new gap semester program, and be a hangout spot for Leaders during days off and nights out. It is a beautiful building, and with my newfound appreciation for woodworking and cooking, I was particularly impressed by the kitchen and the detail that went into the building. Lastly, I got to deliver a chapel talk on Sunday morning – a short “words of wisdom” speech to kick off the day. Given that I’m writing a lot about memory, both in my critical thesis and in my reflections for this blog, I decided to apply the framework of collective memory to Camp Dudley. Here is an excerpt meant to inspire the junior leaders to trust in themselves and in the Dudley community.
I feel like I’m at a pretty big transition point in my life. For this reason, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, a lot of reflecting, and a lot of reminiscing. Though I don’t think dwelling on the past is the best way to live life, I’ve become really interested recently in exploring the concept of “memory.”
So let’s talk about it. Memories are kind of funny, aren’t they? It’s crazy that our brains can decide for us, a million times a day, what scraps of information or random experiences get stored away for future recollection. That we can try for hours to memorize facts for a history test, and think that we know them, only to have that critical piece of knowledge slip our minds when it matters. That our memories make up a collection that we call “memory” and that our memory is always evolving and growing. And even more importantly, that our memory plays such a huge role in creating and recreating who we are and how we define ourselves, every single day.
Our group conversation last night was really just an exercise in selecting a memory and channeling a coherent response, and just like that, we had an amazing collection of leaders and leadership characteristics floating around the room. And think about this one: I may have never met your favorite leader, and you may never have met mine, but we can create memories about each other’s memories, and thus learn about each other’s favorite leaders through the process of collective memory.
To put this line of inquiry in other terms, remember as a camper how you probably had a canteen account for purchases at the store, going Sunday golfing, getting those archery pins, etc. right? Well, we all have our metaphorical Dudley canteen accounts, and each of us has been adding memories to that account every time we spend a day on campus, have a conversation with a fellow Dudleyite, or live the other fellow first. What I find inspiring and humbling is that a lot of the ideas and skills and memories that make their way into our accounts are not original. The messages you’ve received over the years from vespers and chapel talks, even from Bill Harper’s Sunday sermons, were all inspired by even older Dudley memories. It’s a cycle of listening, learning, reflecting, and passing on to the next generation of Dudleyites. When we lump all of our individual canteen accounts together, we are constantly building and extending the Dudley community and the Dudley spirit.
So when you’re facing your toughest leadership challenge of the summer, just remember that you not only have all of your Dudley experiences to draw from, but you also have the collective memory of 135 years of Camp Dudley boys and girls, men and women behind you, every hour of every day, without fail. That’s an empowering feeling. Sure, it’s a responsibility to inherit all of these memories from all of these years, but it’s the greatest gift you can receive as a leader. I can’t wait to see all of you put it to use this summer.
I am thankful that I was able to share my thoughts with a group of people who are continuously trying to live the Camp Dudley motto, “the other fellow first,” and that I have been able to mark the JL Weekend on my calendar for the past four years.
It is an evening in the middle of the week
and soon it will begin to snow, not a light
snow like the kind that sifted lazily onto my windowsill
last Sunday morning as I transferred coffee grounds
into the paper filter, water from cold to a slow boil,
my slippered self from groggy to awake—no,
this snow will come hard and fast and could deliver
upwards of twenty inches. I know this, of course,
not because I have watched the sky darken
or the barometer rise, but because the National Weather Service
has issued a blizzard warning for eight states
and my father has sent a series of pixelated maps
highlighting Windsor County as the predicted location
of the highest cumulative snowfall. I also know
that the cabin in which I currently check my phone,
the blue blob inching closer—first the Catskills,
then across the Taconic Range, then into the southern Greens—
has surprisingly good cell reception and an equally surprising
lack of beer in the refrigerator. I am here, in part,
because I have graduated and have not found
the motivation to face the future—because I have been
wrapped in veils of scholarly discourse and intellectual
thought exercises that have taught me little more than
the fact that I require a beer at the end of each day.
At least I have learned how to build a fire.
And now, as the driving flakes begin to appear
in heavy clumps that slide down the length of the glass door,
melting and accelerating as they are touched by the warmth
of the woodstove, I consider the possibility of driving
into town to get more beer, which of course presents
the inherent risk of finding the liquor store closed early
due to the storm; the potential of getting snowed in
so deep that I must spend another night here, alone;
the question of whether we all proceed in life
on insufficient knowledge or if I will ever find something
to hold me in an embrace of willfulness and clarity
and lay me down to sleep.
I often measure and differentiate winters, as I am sure many New Englanders do, through defining events or characteristics. Last winter, the record warm temperatures and meager snowfall were the highlight (lowlights), although I will always remember waking up in Waitsfield, VT over February Break to a foot of powder when the forecast only called for a dusting. The winter of my sophomore year was particularly epic, but the most memorable feature was the stretch of six weeks where temperatures did not rise above freezing in any location in the entire state of Vermont. As a freshman, the single moment I will always remember is the mid-March blizzard that dumped close to three feet on Middlebury’s campus – by far the biggest snowstorm of the year.
Despite wonderful wintery weeks over the past few months, and despite the most enjoyable skiing days of my life, I believe the Nor’easter that is currently dropping snow on Middlebury and the rest of the Northeast will define 2016-17 for me. For one, we already had half-a-day of classes canceled – a first for the college in decades. This is the largest storm of the winter, and it reminds me of the March blizzard from my freshman year. At that point in my life, I did not fully appreciate winter, nor did I know how to fully take advantage of it. Though I woke up this morning with mountain biking and trail running on my mind, I am in no way complaining about this storm. It means one more pow day for me and the potential for another handful of days on skis, especially if the temperatures stay as low as the long range forecast is predicting. I am glad winter decided that it had one last round left to fight and that it was able to unleash all its fury.
UPDATE: Having posted this yesterday evening in the midst of the storm, I had no idea how much snow it would dump, and I was blown away to wake up to nearly two feet in Middlebury – with reports of 25-30 inches at Mad River Glen and 40+ in the Adirondack High Peaks region. Even better, it made my (potentially / probably) last pow day at MRG the best one yet. Cruising in knee deep snow on the groomers felt like floating, and bouncing around trees was a pillowy joy ride. It was the deepest snow I had ever skied, and one of the most enjoyable afternoons of my years as a Middlebury student.
I fear this winter will not again reach the heights of this past week. The warm temperatures and rain forecasted for the next few days won’t make it difficult to spend time getting to better know my thesis carol, and while I’m there, I can draw inspiration from my recent adventures to Mad River Glen and Craftsbury – cumulatively, my best week of skiing in the past two years.
Blue skies and deep snow made for excellent photo opportunities. Above: riding the single chair at Mad River Glen, February 14. Below: the barn in Murphy’s Field at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, February 17. This one is perhaps my favorite I’ve been able to share on the blog thus far.
How is one supposed to feel when commencing his or her final semester of college?
Today was truly my last first day as a Middlebury student, although I certainly didn’t spend it doing typical first-day-of-classes types of things. No bookstore visits or dropping off “add cards” to the registrar. Instead, I battled the snow day crowds at Mad River Glen and found the best powder turns and tree skiing of the season. The East has been getting hammered with snow recently, and this storm was the icing on the cake. 14-18″ of fresh, fluffy white stuff at the best ski mountain anywhere. I was fortunate to have a few friends join me, and we quickly concluded that it was the best first-day-of-classes ever.
The reason I was skiing and not inside listening to a professor? I have only three courses this semester, two of which are theses, and the third being a woodworking class that meets on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I take independent work seriously – (see the athletic nutrition guide that Maddie and I made during Junior year) – but I trust myself enough at this point to know that I won’t procrastinate away my time. As I set aside wide open blocks of time each week, I know that if I can use these hours productively, I can afford myself timely adventures. Taking advantage of the best skiing conditions of the year was an adventure of which I wholeheartedly approved. So will be midweek overnights in Westport, hikes in the ‘Dacks, a few more powder days (hopefully!), and random excursions with close friends.
Now as I ponder the magnitude of launching a semester that I have anticipated so eagerly and for so long, I realize my biggest challenge and priority will be to carve out space. I’ve given myself time and trusted myself to use it productively, and to do so, I’ll need to do my best to find spaces that encourage creativity, eliminate distractions, and allow for sustained focus. These spaces are physical – establishing a thesis carol is high on my to-do list – and temporal – creating routines that give me the best chance to think clearly and operate efficiently. Keeping a daily “theses grind” journal of morning check-ins will be a way for me to stay on track, and dedicating my “20% time” to this blog will also give me purpose and opportunities for reflection. And if I stay on it, that will mean a comprehensive critical thesis, wild and poignant poems, more time in the wood shop, and the freedom to take adventures.
I remember a reoccurring internal struggle when I was keeping my gap-year blog over whether, after completing a noteworthy travel expedition, I should pen my thoughts as soon as possible so as not to forget any of the details, or let the experiences and memories simmer for a few days to allow for a more distanced, thoughtful reflection. Both types of writing inevitably produced successful and unsuccessful posts, so I remain undecided on which side to take.
Today, after returning from Norway fewer than twenty-four hours ago, I feel that same debate pulsing in my fingertips – both urging them to write onwards and pulling them back from the keyboard. But the decision to write, in this case, is in part made for me already. In the next two days, I will travel from New York to Pawling to Williamstown to Middlebury, I will sort out my life when I return to school, I will catch up on emails ignored while abroad, I will (most likely) ski if Sunday evening’s Nor’easter brings snow to the Green Mountains, and I will commence my final semester at Middlebury – the fifteen weeks between now and graduation that I have prefigured as the ultimate culminating experience of my college experience. The unique (and now imminent) nature of this time excites me in a way that prohibits me from allowing this Norway blogpost to linger.
Of course, I’m contradicting myself. I want to share all of my recent travels, to unload my thoughts and photographs, and to happily share my reflection with any who ask, “So how was Norway?!” And yet, I’ve spent these first paragraphs writing about a topic that has little relevance to that ski trail I discovered, that cup of coffee I sipped, that piece of fish I tasted. Perhaps it was my subconscious attempt to allow space for reflection, even if it was only half-an-hour instead of half-a-week. But now, I really must begin.
I’d never traveled to Europe in the winter, or for such a short trip. This made the trip feel very different than anything I’d previously done, but having Maddie traveling with me made the whole thing comforting and exciting. The compressed timeframe allowed us to push through jet lag, plan specific adventures each day, and not feel bad about missing out on some of the more typical touristy sights and activities.
Cross-country skiing was the priority, and we departed content and thrilled about the three mornings of skiing that we completed. It was an inspiring feeling to be dressed in full ski attire waiting for a tram in the middle of the city and not get looked at as if we had three heads. Everyone skis, and we were especially inspired by number of young kids and elder folks we saw out on the trails. They were well prepared for the cold and eager to be skiing. We found that most people were friendly, engaging, and excellent at English, but they were not at all sympathetic when we got cold. And it was quite cold. The forests surrounding the city received an inch or so of snow to refresh the trails each night, and we were often skiing through a mix of flakes and sun.
We based ourselves out of Frognerseteren on the first and third days that we skied – a train stop at the end of the metro line overlooking the city and the Oslofjord. There we found numerous trails, frozen lakes, and a handful of ski huts interspersed throughout the Nordmarka forest. We got first tracks (occasionally), got lost a few times, got passed by old women, and got to know some unique, fun terrain.
Our best day of skiing came in the middle of the trip, when we navigated an A-to-B route from Fossum to Sorkedalen west of the city. We passed through a multitude of different landscapes: dense forests, frozen lakes, open farmland, forested hillsides, mountain streams. It was both a test of navigation abilities and endurance, but we made it to our destination proud of and exhausted by our efforts.
I realized two things about traveling during the trip: first, taking photographs in cold weather is hard, and second, mustering up the energy to sightsee when it’s cold outside and we’d already skied for a good part of the day is also hard. But the city exploring that we did do was exceptional. We listened to our bodies as best we could, and in the instances that we did get out and about around Oslo, we found coffee shops at every street corner, many unique secondhand stores, and Scandinavian design shops. What impressed us the most was the city’s cleanliness and punctuality – though waiting for busses and trams in the cold was never pleasant, at least we knew that the public transport system operated on schedule, without fail.
We stayed in the hipster neighborhood of Grunerlokka with Roy, who hosted us in his apartment. (Side note, although I haven’t used Airbnb often, every experience I’ve had with it has been positive and so much more fulfilling than staying in a hotel). Roy was happy to answer questions about Norway, give his opinions on American politics, and share his space with us. We found the kitchen was a great place to experience authentic Norwegian cuisine. Though we ate out very little, we found great fun in picking up an interesting piece of fish from the local fish market and cooking it ourselves. I even tried a cod roe dish that looked like a mixture between liver and tongue. It was fantastic fried up with onions and mushrooms.
The gastronomic highlight was the coffee. Oslo’s coffee culture is perhaps the city’s most striking feature. We couldn’t walk a block without finding a coffee shop, and even the chains served drinks that were much better than your average Starbucks. Decaf was non-existent. We tried to make a point of visiting the most authentic, single location shops, and at these we were served some of the best cups of coffee that I’ve ever tasted. I particularly enjoyed Henrix Ibsen, Supreme Roastworks, Fuglen, and Java, but the best shop by far was Tim Wendelboe. This tiny but elegant shop had two seats, roasting machinery right in the middle of the room, and a menu of six different single-origin coffee beans, which would be ground and hand-brewed right in front of you. The caffeine kept us going, but the quality of the coffee was what kept us coming back for more.
A few inches of snow in the city greeted us on our final morning. Walking the city streets reminded me of my final days in Germany during my gap year, when I was forced to ask myself: when will I be back to Europe? This trip was much, much shorter, but the excitement I felt was the same. And it’s nice to know that I won’t have to wait four+ years before I again make the trip across the pond. But more on that later.
I think there’s a lot we can learn from a country like Norway, especially at this hyper-political time. America does not have a relatively small, relatively homogeneous population, and Norway isn’t void of issues, either. But it was nice to see a place that seems to run smoothly, where the kids are all happy and bundled up in their full down winter outfits, where there is cleanliness, punctuality, and quietude, where people are cheerful even in the cold, dark winter months. We left with all smiles, knowing that we’d discovered a place that aligns with so many of our passions, interests, and opinions. Perhaps we’ll return down the road and travel even further north, skiing under the northern lights or running in the midnight sun.
Tomorrow, Maddie and I will depart for a week in Norway. It is now officially our February Break, and we will soon be five time zones away. This is by far the biggest trip we’ve taken together. I’ve had my fair share of adventures during my college years, but this is my first time returning to Europe since my gap year. All of my travels have been memorable, trips I would gladly take again – Florida, Colorado, and Cape Breton Island to name a few – but there is something irreplaceable about navigating a European city, deciphering a foreign language, and experiencing a place where everything is new and exciting.
Though we probably won’t see the Northern Lights, explore the furthest reaching fjords, or backcountry ski in the remote and rugged Norwegian mountain ranges, we look forward to cold days of outdoor adventures and cozy nights with good food and world-class coffee. As we discovered when looking into a Norway trip, the country is known for two of our favorite things: cross country skiing and coffee. Perhaps no where else in the world is there such an accessible location that offers such an ideal combination of urban and rural. We’ll be in Oslo most or all of the trip (our flight is direct from NYC), and from the city center, we’ll easily be able to take a train or bus up into the hills, where there are miles upon miles of cross country skiing trails. It’s Norway’s national sport, and subsequently, all of the trails are free to access and maintained regularly. There is even night skiing if we’re feeling up for it. Daylight is scarce this time of year, so we’ll have plenty of time in the mornings and evenings to visit cafes and food destinations.
I’m still coming to terms with the idea of taking a “quick trip to Europe.” The last time I was there was for five months, and the only other time was for four weeks. This will feel very different, but it is equally exciting. Hopefully we have smooth travels, an easy adjustment to the time-change, and a week of unforgettable days. No matter what, it will be an adventure, and I look forward to posting a recap upon our return.
Last week entailed hiking, trail running, and only one day of skiing – not exactly an ideal array of winter outdoor activities. We did have a significant ice storm, which resulted in my first ever Middlebury College snow-day (not school-wide, just my professor’s executive decision), but otherwise, the week was beginning to drive a stake through the heart of what I originally thought was going to be an above-average winter. December was great, but January just hasn’t been cutting it.
That is, until now. I celebrated my 22nd birthday on Friday, and the best gift that I received was a drop in the temperature. With it, the mountains and the Mad River Valley have received much needed snow-dumps. We’re still waiting on Middlebury to catch up, but we’re back to strapping on skis when we head into the hills.
Two venues that were in the most dire need of snow were Ole’s and Mad River Glen. Both are in the Mad River Valley – an area with which I quickly fell in love, especially because Maddie went to high school there and knew all of the best spots to take me. Ole’s is a small cross-country skiing center in Warren, and unlike many of the other venues where I ski, Ole’s predominantly features open fields instead of wooded trails. Both are nice, but the change of pace is always appreciated. Maddie and I skied there on Sunday, and it was special for two reasons: first, it was our first visit of the winter, and second, it was my first time attempting classic skiing. I’m grateful for Maddie’s patience and wax knowledge, and I found it to be a unique and exhilarating challenge. I hope for more “extra blue” days and chances to improve as fast as I can!
Today (Monday), I bolted from class at 12:30 and was strapping up my boots an hour later for an afternoon of alpine skiing at Mad River Glen. This infamous skiers-only destination has no frills – only an old school ski lodge and the most interesting, gnarly terrain in the East. Because they don’t make snow, good days at MRG are often few and far between, but when they’re good, they’re impossible to beat. Today was one of those days. The weekend snow they received provided a solid base, and the six inches of powder from the night before rendered ideal conditions. I can’t remember the last time I skied until the lifts closed, but there was no reason to quit today.
With two trail runs, a day of nordic skiing, and a pow day at MRG, my first days of my 22nd year leave me feeling optimistic. The snow and cold bode well for February. J-Term has flown by; we’re in our final week, and soon I will be on vacation. I am hopeful that this cold stretch stays for as long as possible, because with all of the independent work that I’ll be doing this spring semester, I’ll have the flexibility to ski on a pow day at a moment’s notice. Still, it will not be J-Term, and I will miss it. J-Term is hands down the best opportunity to get off campus, take on new adventures, spend time with a wide variety of friends, attend events, and take a step back from the rigor and stress of normal semesters to appreciate all that Middlebury has to offer. Oh, and I’ve always had a birthday to celebrate during the month. Looking back on my four J-Terms, I can say without a doubt that this year I’ve taken advantage of it all more than any of the previous. Each served a unique purpose for me – sometimes for academic, sometimes for athletic, and sometimes for personal reasons. I would like to think that this final J-Term has been the optimal combination of all three.
I want to carry these vibes with me into my final semester. I’ll compare it to my summers at Camp Dudley; when I’ve returned from the Dudley bubble to the realities of life beyond summer camp, I’ve always tried to keep the Dudley spirit alive in me for as long as possible. Now, I hope to do the same with J-Term – a month where I’ve found it easiest to say “yes” to as much as possible. All of these “yeses” have made my recent experiences fun and fulfilling, and more importantly, they’ve been on my own terms.
For now, I will close out the final few days of class, do some serious thinking about my goals for my 22nd year, and pack my gear for my upcoming trip with Maddie – to Oslo, Norway! Much more on that to come soon – I couldn’t be more stoked for the adventure.