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

This is Thirty

Our trip to Charleston was supposed to be a celebration.

I turned thirty on November 28th, and since my birthday always coincidences with Thanksgiving travel, we’d planned an earlier getaway for November 12th to toast my soon-to-be new decade.

Election day, of course, fell four days before we left for South Carolina. When the time came to pack our bags, I was busy grieving my lost hope for our first female president, and deeply worried about the dark, divisive vision of America that would soon be driving national policy.

I’ve always cared deeply about politics, and held strong opinions about government’s role in society; it’s part of the reason I chose to attend college in Washington, DC. I grew up among parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who were all politically engaged, and as such, politically-charged conversations were commonplace at our dinner table.

My worldview continued to evolve throughout my twenties. My circle of friends became more diverse, and I found myself humbled by how little I understood about the privilege I’d been born with. And as an ambitious young woman, I began to recognize the myriad ways in which members of our patriarchal society stack the deck against us—sometimes inadvertently, sometimes quite knowingly.

Outside those dinner-table conversations, though, I struggled to raise my voice publicly. As uncomfortable as it is to admit, opening myself to criticism felt brutal. Instead, I made monthly donations to causes and political campaigns that I believed in; subconsciously, I must’ve felt like my money bought me the relief of getting to stay quiet.

By the time we left for Charleston, I’d realized that keeping my mouth shut wasn’t a neutral stance after all. Allowing other people to dominate public discourse—on the right or the left—meant that they defined the conversations our nation was having. And if I vehemently disagreed with their logic or values, it was my responsibility to say so.

This realization came as the election dust was settling, but in some ways, it was also a function of getting older.

Having shaken off some of the time-consuming—and, frankly, not very interesting—fixations of my younger self (Am I [insert insecurity] enough?), I’m intent on asking and answering better questions in my thirties: for example, What am I capable of? It’s a question that, quite intentionally, is unconcerned with other people’s perceptions of me—and thoroughly concerned with defining success on my own terms.

In December, I fulfilled a longtime dream by moving halfway across the country to Seattle. Now, we can see the Cascades, the Olympics, and Mount Rainier from our rooftop, and I get to spend my free time trail running, hiking, and backpacking among those mountains. And next month, after taking nearly two years of financial planning coursework, I’ll sit for a comprehensive exam that will propel my fledgling new career onward and upward.

So far, my new decade has been defined by taking bigger chances, speaking out more frequently and consistently, and ever-so-gradually becoming comfortable with change, risk and uncertainty. If this is thirty, I’ll take it.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

36 Hours

Thirty-six hours is, admittedly, not much time, especially when we’re talking about time spent with a dear friend. But when you’ve been living in separate cities for a decade, you’re often resigned to catching up over the phone—an hour here, an hour there—or over one of those all-too-infrequent dinners when you’re both home visiting family. When you get the opportunity to spend thirty-six hours together, then, it feels like a total luxury.

At the end of October, I flew to Boston with the sole purpose of spending time with Anna. It was one of the best decisions I made all year.

It was pouring on the afternoon I arrived, so we scrapped our sightseeing plans in favor of relaxing at the Inman Oasis, grabbing takeout Indian and re-watching Bring It On (cue the nostalgia!). The next day was beautiful—chilly and gloriously sunny—so we drove up to Portland for all the bakery and brewery visits we could pack into one day.

As much fun as we had in Portland, though, that first rainy afternoon was my favorite of the trip. It’s all too rare that I get to spend a completely unscheduled day with one of my favorite faraway friends—which meant it was the best encouragement to start making it happen more often.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Little House on the Prairie

If you get the chance, there’s nothing more centering than hand-feeding kale to a litter of hungry baby rabbits.

We spent our last camping trip of the summer in a pretty atypical setting, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. Instead of picking a spot in a state park campground, we found a farm that was offering up space on their land to intrepid campers like ourselves. My friend Carolyn and I, with our respective significant others in tow, set out to spend the weekend on a hilltop overlooking fields of vegetables and edible flowers, with a soundtrack composed by the resident roosters and hens. And we befriended the aforementioned rabbits, which was certainly the highlight of our time at Willoway Farm.

Perched on the hilltop, our campfire eventually reduced itself to embers, and the last s’more of the season became a memory. We were left with dozens of constellations overhead—and the knowledge that it had been a wonderful summer, indeed.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400