Fire and Icefields

As the last leg of our inaugural journey to the Canadian Rockies, we spent a leisurely day driving up the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper.

The wildfire smoke—an ever-present threat during this trip—was mostly absent that day, treating us to unforgettable views of Peyto and Bow Lakes, Mistaya Canyon, Sunwapta Falls, and the Athabasca Glacier.

One day, 144 miles, and countless wonders of the natural world: this winding stretch of asphalt is undoubtedly worth a reverent visit.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Retracing Our Footsteps

I don’t have any memories from my first trip to Lake Louise; I must’ve been three or four years old at the time, whisked up to Alberta alongside my baby brother Jamie. Our parents strapped us to their backs, nestled securely in baby carriers fit for a day hike in the Canadian Rockies. My grandparents gamely joined us on trail, ruggedly stylish in their trench coats.

A few weeks before Dan and I revisited the scene of that childhood family vacation, I rifled through dozens of old photos. Granny was laughing uproariously, looking very much in her element at altitude; baby Jamie and I were alternately enthralled by the enormity of the scenery…and sobbing uncontrollably.

Without babies strapped to our backs, Dan and I were able to hike all the way to the teahouse at the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. We refueled there with cake and coffee, as I quietly wondered which of my family’s footsteps had been retraced around the lake earlier that day.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Love, and Lake O’Hara

For a place that would become the site of two huge milestones in our life together, Lake O’Hara was giving us a rough first impression. After piling into a yellow school bus with a few dozen other eager campers, we were driven seven miles into the backcountry; as we were ushered off the bus into the chilly subalpine air, the skies opened up, sending everyone scurrying for cover from the rain. With no shelter in sight, though, we had to move quickly to set up our campsites instead—soaking most of our belongings in the process. Dan and I spent the next twenty minutes carefully wiping down the inside of our tent with a flimsy backpacking towel, shivering and cursing under our breath.

A week earlier, we’d been absolutely thrilled to get an opportunity to visit Lake O’Hara—and once we dried off a little, we’d regain that giddy feeling, reminded of the fact that we were pretty damn lucky to be there at all.

Lake O’Hara operates on a very strict quota system, limiting the number of day-use visitors and overnight campers who can be bussed in. There’s a reason it’s so popular: as some of the most pristine backcountry in the Canadian Rockies, it boasts beautifully-maintained trails, jaw-dropping views, and almost complete solitude.

We’d snagged our bus tickets and a one-night campsite reservation one week beforehand, when someone else cancelled and we, miraculously, happened to be refreshing the park’s website at the exact right moment. And that, my friends, is how we gained admission to the awe-inspiring place where we got engaged.

Last summer, wildfires were raging across British Columbia, filling the sky with clouds of smoke. On the morning we hiked to Opabin Prospect, though, the winds changed, mercifully sweeping that dark, heavy air to another section of countryside. We shared a trail lunch on a broad, flat rock perched above a network of glittering blue lakes, after which we made the decision to spend the rest of our lives together.

It’s been almost a year since our first visit to Lake O’Hara. In the ensuing months, we planned a wedding at San Francisco City Hall, got married (!), and then returned to Lake O’Hara for our honeymoon. That first lucky visit introduced us to the place that would, eventually, become forever tied into our love story.

And honestly, we can’t imagine it any other way.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Through

After three important people in my life passed away last summer—two important people, and one important animal, to be precise—my first momentary escape from sadness came as I walked through subalpine fields teeming with wildflowers. Mount Rainier’s Spray Park bursts into bloom each July with beargrass, Indian paintbrush, lupine, and avalanche lilies; we spotted a black bear, a mountain goat, and two hoary marmots playing among the flowers. Pika squeaked indignantly as we passed their hiding spots in the boulder fields.

On the morning I hiked Spray Park, the only antidote for grappling with so many endings was to witness even more new beginnings.

Our Seattle apartment building sits half a mile from Ravenna Park; for land so close to a busy strip of restaurants, businesses, and homes, the park feels surprisingly wild. As we walked through the park one evening, we approached a family who’d stopped in the middle of the path, eyes focused on the canopy of leaves and mossy branches. Curious, we paused next to them; before we could ask, they pointed up and whispered “Owls!”

Over the next few weeks, we kept returning to Ravenna Park at dusk to watch the resident barred owl and her three owlets through our binocular lenses: the mother savagely hunting and disemboweling mice for dinner, her babies awkwardly navigating their surroundings nearby. Every once in awhile, the babies would cautiously test out their wings.

My grandmother was prolifically crafty; in her spare time, she stitched countless needlepoint projects—throw pillows, wall hangings, piano benches—which adorned her home and the homes of her three children. When I moved into my first apartment, she sent me a handmade gift: the world’s softest crocheted blanket, made from variegated blue yarn.

To my complete surprise, Koko immediately adopted this blanket as her own; in fact, it quickly surpassed her tiger-striped catnip toy as her most prized possession. She’d knead the blanket over and over with her tiny pink paw-pads, hold it tenderly in her mouth, and fall asleep like that, mid-purr.

For those reasons, crocheting was something I ended up associating—strangely enough—with both my grandmother and my cat. And so, after they both passed away last summer, I found a sense of healing through learning to crochet myself.

I consider myself to be a creative person, but my hand-eye coordination is lousy, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d worked with my hands outside of the kitchen. So perhaps I should’ve been prepared for the reality of learning a new skill: complete and total frustration. I bought a crochet hook and a skein of burgundy yarn, then proceeded to hit wall after wall as I scoured YouTube videos for their wisdom, successfully learning what it meant to “chain” and “yarn over” but failing to replicate even these most basic elements of crocheting on my own.

Humbled by my own limitations, I scheduled a lesson with someone who knew what she was doing—a kind, patient older woman who may have been someone’s grandmother herself. It was like flipping a light switch. She showed me exactly when I pulled the yarn too tight, moved my wrist the wrong way, or picked up the wrong crochet hook for the job.

Sometimes the hardest part of trying something new is admitting when you need help. As I diligently practiced my new crochet skills, I was reminded how much the learning process mirrored the grieving process: both feel hopelessly overwhelming at first, but with practice and presence, you gain incremental comfort in your new reality. The only way out, as they say, is through.

In the past year, I’ve crocheted and donated 29 pet-sized, 20×20-inch blankets to our local animal shelter via Comfort for Critters, with another 6 waiting in the wings—even though it feels like just yesterday that I was staring blankly and helplessly at my brand-new crochet supplies.

Time marches on. And to me, using my time thoughtfully has begun to feel like the best living memorial to those who are no longer with us.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Sea to Sky

For two years preceding our move to Seattle, all of our single-minded work was in service of reaching a simple goal: building a life together near the mountains. When we arrived, I knew that our patience and perseverance would be rewarded with incredible opportunities for adventure.

In our seven months here, we’ve been awestruck by our new surroundings, time and time again—and summer has barely even begun. But of course, this is life, which has a way of humbling you, bringing you to your knees, and reminding you that you’re never really in control.

So if I could characterize our time here thus far, I’d say it’s delivered the highest highs and the lowest lows. I suppose that’s the irony of publishing these words next to photographs from our trip to Squamish, British Columbia, where we spent Dan’s birthday weekend. Squamish is known as “Sea to Sky Country,” and these past few months have managed to familiarize us all too well with both extremes.

But let’s start with the sky.

After unpacking in December, we carried home our first Christmas tree, strung it with twinkly lights, and cooked a vegetarian Christmas Eve feast to share with my brother Jamie. The next weekend, we embarked on our first road trip as residents of the Pacific Northwest: to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, where we floated among the treetops during their annual Canyon Lights holiday celebration. We stopped in Vancouver along the way for dim sum and a walk through Stanley Park, and ventured across another suspension bridge in nearby Lynn Canyon.

Once we returned, I shifted my focus to the CFP® exam. For three months, I spent every free moment studying my financial planning textbooks and taking practice tests. (Without Dan’s support, I wouldn’t have eaten healthy meals or worn clean clothes during this time. Bonus: he helped me maintain a loose grip on my sanity!) I’d never studied so diligently for a test—nor had I experienced such a high level of academic or professional pressure, in which everything rode on one exam-day performance. Despite my numerous fears and anxieties, I passed, and the weight of the world immediately lifted off my shoulders.

Too often, I neglect to celebrate my successes, and instead move directly onto the next challenge. I wouldn’t make that mistake this time; I was thirsty for adventure.

We kicked off the next three months of travel with a ferry ride to Orcas Island, where we hiked Turtleback Mountain, wandered the little town of Eastsound, enjoyed a quiet, rainy trail run through Moran State Park, and finished with brunch and a hot-tub soak at Doe Bay Resort.

The next weekend, we drove out on the Peninsula and hiked to Lena Lake, on a trail that was interrupted by countless early-spring waterfalls. We headed onto the tideflats at nearby Hama Hama Oyster Farm, dug up dozens of clams, and picked our own oysters. Back at home, we made a shallot mignonette, learned to shuck oysters with a screwdriver, and slurped them over the sink.

When Dan’s family visited, we took them to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Another weekend, we drove to Gold Bar—the gateway to Wallace Falls State Park—and managed to glimpse the falls before the skies opened up. Then, in anticipation of the third season of Twin Peaks, we took a day trip with Jamie to see the show’s filming locations in North Bend and Snoqualmie (and were interviewed by a French journalist along the way). We took our first camping trip of the year, setting up shop at Verlot Campground on the Mountain Loop Highway, and even managed a hike up to Heather Lake despite the lingering snowpack. When the season’s first blueberries ripened, we drove east of the Cascades to pick fruit and eat pie at Blueberry Hills Farm, wade into nearby Alta Lake, and enjoy the vibrant live music scene of Pateros, Washington (population 656). And most memorably, I had the honor of celebrating my wonderful friend Anna twice: first at her bachelorette party in Maine, and then at her wedding in Chicago.

The photos you see here, though, are from our trip across the border to Squamish. (If it weren’t for pesky little issues like citizenship, we just might’ve moved there permanently.) To celebrate Dan’s 29th year on this planet, we kayaked in the shadow of Mt. Garibaldi, stood beneath Shannon Falls, ran through Alice Lake Provincial Park, and looked over Howe Sound and the Stawamus Chief from the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola.

These adventures are exactly why we moved out West. The natural beauty is overwhelming in its ubiquity, which means I’ve (uncharacteristically) been forgetting to pick up my camera. Every time we set out for another weekend jaunt, I reflect on our decision to set these big life changes into motion, and feel grateful and lucky for everything we’ve built.

So that’s the sky—the aforementioned “highest highs.” But then, of course, there’s the sea.

In the last few months, I lost my beloved grandparents Margot and Cal within three weeks of each other—after sixty-four years of marriage, their devotion to each other and desire to be together was that strong. I’d been preparing for this eventuality; I’d witnessed them aging over the course of many years, in a gradual but unrelenting process. This preparation didn’t shield me from sadness, but I was thankful that it spurred me to spend the last few years taking portraits of them, documenting my grandmother’s last milestone birthday, and being especially present during the time we spent together.

And then, last week, I lost my darling cat Koko, with whom I spent almost every day of my post-college life. (For that reason, I quite literally don’t know how how to be an adult without her.) She was a talkative, loving furball bursting with personality and energy, until one day, suddenly and shockingly, she wasn’t. Perhaps because we spent every day together, perhaps because I was caught completely off-guard, or perhaps because I was her responsible caregiver, this particular loss hit me like a freight train.

One of my private rules for this space has always been that I don’t write publicly about painful or difficult situations that I’m still in the midst of processing. For that reason, I’ll remain largely quiet about these events as I continue to move through my grief.

But I will share one thought that crystallized for me during this season of loss. All of those amazing adventures I just wrote about? I needed to go on each of them; I wouldn’t be fully alive if I stopped pursuing new experiences, projects, and challenges. But without my sweet family, those pursuits lose much of their meaning.

A crucial part of adventuring is that we get to come back afterwards—to a warm, happy home life comprised of predictable, soothing, joyful routines. For me and Dan, those routines have always involved loud, excited greetings from Koko, and lots of family embraces to celebrate our reunion. When your home suddenly goes quiet, all the adventures in the world can’t make up for that emptiness.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400