Starved Rock, Cream City, and a New Year

I love January firsts and fresh starts. Reflecting, goal-setting, and list-making are acts that have always given me energy as I face down the next dozen months.

But this year, I didn’t bother taking the time to write New Year’s resolutions. That’s not because I’ve given up on the concept of resolutions, or because I’ve decided to lower my expectations for 2016; quite the opposite, in fact. For the first January that I can remember, resolution-making seems beside the point, because I’m already so immersed in the act of working towards big, scary goals, and so committed to the baby steps that need to happen to get me there. As far as taking action goes, I am all in, and I have been for some time.

Last March, I started working on a certificate in financial planning at Northwestern University, a series of seven courses that I’m almost halfway through. I haven’t talked about the ins and outs of my work life in this space, because for many years it seemed beside the point: I was searching for, but not quite finding, a meaningful and challenging profession that I could happily spend years mastering; one that was stable, but could someday offer an outlet for my entrepreneurial and creative energies. There are a number of fundamental struggles of identity that happen in your twenties—too many, if you ask me!—and as difficult as these challenges are to work through, they’re even more difficult to write about if you haven’t come out the other side.

In some small way, I’m on the other side now. Being on the other side may still involve night classes, weekend studies, and the inevitability of future twists and turns, but for now, it also involves clarity of purpose—and after years of searching for it, finding clarity feels like relief.

The single-minded pursuit of a big goal can sideline other aspects of your life temporarily; for me, that’s meant less time for photography, writing, travel and running, and that stings more than a little bit. But Dan and I have kept making time for weekend trips here and there, staying active and creative and never forgetting what we’re doing all this work for.

In October, we visited Starved Rock for our last camping trip of the year, on a rain-soaked Halloween weekend that emptied out the normally-crowded trails. Afterwards, we warmed up with wine by the fire at the Starved Rock Lodge and fried chicken at Rip’s Tavern.

And just before the new year, I told Dan to pack his bags for a surprise trip. We hopped the Amtrak to Milwaukee, drank plenty of Wisconsin beer and ate plenty of Wisconsin cheese, and fortified ourselves for the long, hard, rewarding winter that stretched out before us.

Camera: Fuji X100

Every Grain of Sand

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

—The Wilderness Act of 1964

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Of Goats and Aliens

After our stint in Aspen-Snowmass, we drove southeast over Independence Pass—alongside hundreds of cyclists competing in a punishing, multi-day race—to reach small-town Buena Vista. We spent a day relaxing in coffee shops, restaurants, and the local distillery, but the highlight was our tour of a goat dairy on the outskirts of town.

The next day, we drove straight into the middle of nowhere, on pancake-flat roads with shimmering blacktop as far as the eye could see, mountains obscured by haze in the distance. When the UFO Watchtower appeared seemingly from the ether, it took us a minute before we felt sure it wasn’t a mirage.

Cameras: Fuji X100, Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Bell Curve

In August, I fell in love with Colorado.

We spent nine days making a circuit of the state, beginning in Denver and heading west to Glenwood Springs before sunrise to hike Hanging Lake.

As flatlanders, I’m not sure any of our attempts at acclimating could’ve quite prepared us for backpacking the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The thirty-pound packs and steep inclines frayed our quads and shortened our fuses; the altitude made me so nauseous the first day that I had to lie down for two hours before I felt human again.

But I’d do it again for the perfect, perfect backcountry campsite we found below Buckskin Pass.

For the mountainside conversations we stopped for along the way—with a fifty-something graduate of my high school (!), then a fellow film photography aficionado (!).

For all the impish marmots and pika we befriended.

For the rock-solid sense of partnership that comes from setting up and breaking down camp with someone else—that repetitive ballet of unpacking and re-packing, unpacking and re-packing.

And, oh my God, for the way real food tastes (and a real bed feels) after two and a half days in the wilderness. It’s a beautiful, humbling, reverent kind of pain I can’t wait to feel again.

Cameras: Mamiya 6, Fuji X100
Film: Kodak Portra 400 and 160