The Blue of Distance

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance.”

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

A New Flame

The longest relationship of my life is the one I’ve had with running. And we’ve made incomparable memories, running and I.

Over the course of thirteen years, though, we’ve had our share of rough patches; there have been long stretches when heading out for a jog felt like more of a chore than a joy. But the moment I set foot on the Shevlin Loop Trail in Bend, Oregon, a flame was rekindled—and it’s been burning brightly ever since.

The sun was sinking as I set out, and almost immediately, the trail began climbing over burnished orange hills. My usual runs are conducted on city sidewalks in the Great Plains; this roller-coaster trail was studded with tree roots, and should’ve felt out of my league. But there was a creek rushing below, and evergreen-scented air all around. The more difficult the trail became, the more I craved the challenge.

For years now, I’ve been trying on cities like they were pairs of jeans, trying in vain to find one that fit. Bend was the first place to check almost every box, and I’ll be fervently awaiting the opportunity to return. And as I wait, I’ll be lacing up my shoes every morning in Chicago, running out the door with renewed vigor—and training for the day when I can make myself at home on the trails.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Getting Lost

We left Portland as tourists, but for the rest of our circuit around Oregon, we were wanderers. Not long after returning to Chicago, I picked up Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost to read on my morning commute—subconsciously yearning for a reminder of our drive through swaths of national forestland sans cell service. We knew our destination, and had a sense of our route, but weren’t completely confident of our exact whereabouts.

I’d served as designated driver in the city, so for the next few days, I had the distinct pleasure of switching to the passenger seat. After a detour on foot—we hiked Eagle Creek Trail to Punchbowl Falls, in order to dip our toes in icy river-water—I watched the Columbia River carve the gorge that separates Oregon from Washington. I counted each berry farm and orchard we passed along the Hood River Fruit Loop; I watched Mount Hood disappear and reappear, ever closer, from behind a wall of evergreens.

We emerged from the forested mountains into a rain shadow, where unannounced canyons plunged dramatically away from the road, and scrubland turned golden as the sun sank. We crossed the Warm Springs reservation and drove into Terrebonne as darkness threatened; directly ahead, the silhouetted monolith of Smith Rock sprang up from sea level, making it clear that we’d arrived.

We set up camp in a pristine site surrounded by rock-climbers, and packed up early the next morning to hike Misery Ridge at Smith Rock State Park. In the desert heat, it lived up to its name, but the views justified the pain.

We’d more than earned our breakfast—and for that, we headed to Bend.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Thicker Than Water

I became the unofficial family paparazzo five years ago, over Thanksgiving weekend. I’d just purchased my first medium-format film camera, a boxy twin-lens reflex manufactured in the late ’60s, and had become unreasonably enamored of its numerous quirks. After stuffing ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie, I accosted various family members with it, and the resulting photos were my favorite images of the year.

I was hooked.

Each year thereafter, I continued to harass my brother and cousins, prodding them to pose for me in the hotel rooms we piled into every Thanksgiving, over the breakfast table at my grandparents’ house, and at every other celebratory occasion that brought us together. They became my muses.

When we visited Oregon in June, my brother and almost all of my cousins—by now, all located on the West Coast—descended on Portland for a reunion weekend. We found ourselves mired in a blistering heat wave; I insisted on taking their photos anyway.

All too often, I hesitate to pick up my camera when I’m busy having fun (or when everyone else is busy having fun). I don’t want to be disruptive, or ruin the simple pleasure of living inside a moment.

But without exception, I never regret photographing my family. As the years pass, and the images pile up, I go back to them again and again and count my blessings for all the people I call my own.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Say Yes to Texas

On Spontaneity

Last time we met, I wasn’t a prime candidate for spontaneity: my weeks filled with work and class, my weekends with reading and schoolwork.

That steady drumbeat of work and school has continued relentlessly since then, but when I got wind of a flash sale on airfare about a month ago, the prospect of a commitment-free long weekend in a new-to-me city won out over the prospect of yet another Saturday and Sunday curled up with my estate planning textbook. I paid $154.20 for a round-trip ticket to Austin with a departure date less than two weeks later, and woke up the next morning with a spontaneity hangover.

If you’re familiar with Brené Brown’s work, you’ve probably heard of the concept of a vulnerability hangover: that deep feeling of shame and regret, which arrives in a wave after you’ve shared something that makes you feel emotionally exposed. And if you’re not familiar with her work, well, I’m sure you know what that feels like.

I felt something similar after purchasing my plane ticket. The blowback didn’t come from vulnerability, however, but from indulging a spontaneous and carefree urge to treat myself—something I don’t do often enough. Regretful questions flooded in: would I be neglecting my study group that weekend? Shouldn’t I wait to travel until work quieted down?

But obligations are ever-present, in one form or another, like a real-life game of whack-a-mole: you fend one off, only to find another crop up in its place. As a responsible, duty-bound person, I’m highly skilled at finding easy excuses for staying put. It is my life’s work to fight that inclination and commit myself to new adventures instead.

On Itineraries

Something else I’m highly skilled at? Overplanning my vacations.

My 9-to-5 deskbound brethren can probably relate: overplanning always starts as an innocent desire to make the most of one’s limited free time. For awhile, overstuffing the itineraries of my various weekend trips gave me a sense of accomplishment, and a heady adrenaline rush: look how many amazing experiences I can pack into 48 hours! (See: Michigan, Kentucky, Seattle.) It felt like a pleasantly subversive way of reclaiming my paltry supply of vacation days.

Over time, though, that approach has become less exhilarating and more exhausting, and I’ve begun to prefer a balance between structure and spontaneity. It’s nice to leave myself enough room to be surprised by a place, and to be gentle with myself when my mood or energy level doesn’t correspond with the next agenda item. And when I inevitably miss out on something, it’s a fun excuse to come back again soon.

On Barbecue, Bats, and Breakfast Tacos

Our reasons to return to Austin? Mount Bonnell, Texas hill country, and Jester King brewery. (And photography! I was too busy relaxing to shoot more than one roll of film.) Despite missing out on all of the above, four days was plenty of time to experience much of what Austin has to offer.

We spent ample time outside, hiking to Sculpture Falls and splashing around in the river, and beating the heat at Barton Springs Pool. At dusk, we paddled Lady Bird Lake in a double kayak, and idled beneath Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the bats emerge en masse.

We balanced our active time with plenty of fuel, of course, mostly in the form of barbecue and breakfast tacos.

And we spent plenty of time exploring Austin’s neighborhoods on foot, chatting with its ridiculously friendly residents along the way. We stayed in quirky South Austin (with the world’s nicest AirBnB host), window-shopped on South Congress, and ate and drank in colorful East Austin. And we hung out downtown—exploring the Texas State Capitol, hydrating at the unique bars on Rainey Street, and catching a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Next chance you get? You should say yes to Texas, too.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 160