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 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

Call to Post

I took my first darkroom photography class in junior high, and my most memorable assignment was the one I shot at Arlington International Racecourse. Like many girls my age, I was horse crazy, and Arlington was the perfect place to bask in the glory of these powerful creatures.

After each race, the grooms rushed onto the track to cool down their charges: stripping off their saddles, walking them out. I stood watching from the grandstand, camera poised, as one groom threw a bucketful of water over the back of his horse. When I developed my film in class, each drop of water was suspended in midair.

That was the moment I fell in love with photography. So when I visited the racetrack with my family this summer, I couldn’t help but bring my camera—for old time’s sake.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Tri-X 400

Best Coast

Our first hike along the Oregon coast took us straight up a mountain; upon reaching the top, we were rewarded with an unreal aerial view of our surroundings. On our way down, we encountered a few others ascending the switchbacks, and offered them smiles and words of encouragement.

One frail-looking hiker must have been in her seventies, and was moving slowly with the aid of a walking stick. “Almost there!” we said as we passed each other on the trail. “Oh, I know,” she said, kindly but dismissively. “I do this walk three times every week.”

I want to be her when I grow up.

Here’s what else I’ll remember from our drive up the coast:

  • Our neighbors in the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park campground, who donated their own firewood when our campfire was burning low.
  • The tidepools at Cape Perpetua, littered with inky mussels, purple urchins, green anemones, and pink sea stars.
  • The dozens of tsunami evacuation zones we drove in and out of.
  • The jewel-toned seaside motels and B&Bs in Yachats.
  • The seafood at Local Ocean in Newport—roasted garlic and Dungeness crab soup, lingcod tacos, pan-fried oysters.
  • The world’s smallest harbor at Depoe Bay.
  • Watching the sun set over the beach from our hotel balcony in Lincoln City, wrapping myself in blankets to ward off the chill.
  • The drive through miles of wheat fields to reach De Garde Brewing, where we enjoyed the best sour beers of our trip.
  • The marionberry cobbler ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, worth every bite despite the inherent tourist-trap nature of it all.
  • The dramatic sea stacks at every scenic viewpoint, from Cape Kiwanda to Three Arch Rocks to all the nameless others.
  • The insanely fresh halibut fish and chips at the Old Oregon Smokehouse.
  • The weather-beaten brown clapboard beach houses of Manzanita and Cannon Beach.

On our last day in Oregon, we woke to overcast skies and drizzling rain, and spent the morning in gritty Astoria before taking the scenic route back to Portland. We stopped at the Coffee Girl, which is propped precariously on a drive-in pier (!) in the Columbia River, next to the old Bumble Bee canning facility. We sipped our coffees and watched the fog roll in over the water, trying in vain not to think about our impending flight home.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400, Tri-X 400