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