Archive for July, 2015

Thin Places (an excerpt from Journeys; the adventures of a Nomad)

The following is a short excerpt from the second draft of Journeys; the adventures of a Nomad.  Hope y’all enjoy!

The summer following my sophomore year of high school, I received the opportunity to journey alongside forty of my classmates and friends to a weeklong summer camp at Young Life’s Saranac Village in upper state New York.  …

In the early morning hours, we boarded the bus and I began to open my eyes to those that surrounded me; we were an eccentric group of high school kids.  We had the jocks and the preps, members of the marching band and drum line, shy kids who kept to themselves, drug dealers and users, skaters, punks, and everything in between.  And as we began our journey towards the hills of the Adirondack Mountains of New York, we began to form a bond that crossed all the lines of our high school society.

We slept throughout the night as the miles flew beneath us. After a quick stop midmorning, we continued on our way, somehow ending up heading in the wrong direction for several hours. By lunchtime, when we were supposed to be arriving at camp, we were completely lost and still several hours from our destination.  After receiving directions from one of the locals in the area, we headed back onto the road hoping to catch the first night’s activities.

I don’t know if our bus driver missed the turn or forgot where we were going, but we were forced to make a quick turn around when we spotted a sign that simply stated “Canadian Border 5 Miles, Have Passport Ready.”  As night fell around us, we entered the wilderness and back roads that surrounded the Upper, Middle, and Lower Saranac Lakes.  For several hours we continued to wind our way up and down roads that we were sure contained our destination, even as someone shared that this was exactly like a scene out of Jeepers Creepers.

Unbeknownst to us, the light that stood at the entrance of the camp had burned out, leaving the driveway shrouded in darkness.  Although we had found the correct road, we continued to pass by the entrance, unaware that our destination was within reach. After stopping to ask for directions from a cop standing in the rain under a lamp post, we arrived at Young Life’s Saranac Village.

We piled out of the bus, unloaded our things into our cabins, and fell asleep after an exhausting twenty three and a half hours of traveling, to wake several hours later to see the beauty that surrounded us.

As I stood outside the cabins the next morning, looking out over the path that led down to the shores of Upper Saranac Lake and the Adirondack Mountains beyond, I felt a physical presence that I had never felt before. Within the golden rays of the sunrise reflecting off the waters, throwing a golden hue over the camp, I felt something looking over the islands and mountains that rose out of the waters before me; it was a physical presence up on the hill beside me. Everything seemed small as the air moved in peaceful breaths around me. It felt as if a friend was standing at my side, welcoming me back with open arms.

It wasn’t until I returned to this place, three years later, that I discovered the words to describe what I felt as I stood there.  There are places where the beauty of nature and the untamed wilderness allow us to feel a spiritual connection to something bigger than ourselves. These places where it feels as if the physical and spiritual worlds intertwine together were described to me as “thin places.”

And in that first morning at Young Life’s Saranac Village, I stumbled into one of these thin places and knew that there was something more.

I write this because it was just over 11 years ago that this adventure with Young Life changed my life. There is so much more to this story that is yet to be written out in words, but it has remained in my heart and has shaped my life.

I share it today because this morning, I was frustrated.  I was upset and angry. And yet, I have been surrounded by the beauty of nature each and every day for the past six weeks up here in Montana. When times our rough, we each need a reminder that God is and will always be present. Especially in the Thin Places.

This also goes out to an amazing man who showed me what it meant to give your life for something bigger. He has continued to be a positive influence in the lives of the youth and a pillar of faith in my life, even though our paths parted years ago. He was and is more than a Young Life Leader, but a mentor, friend, and brother in Christ.

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Lessons Learned

This weekend is the 75th Anniversary Reunion of the Smokejumpers in Missoula, Montana. In 1940, the first individual jumped out of an airplane to combat a wildfire. Ever since that moment, young men (and now women) have followed suit to don the parachute and drop through the skies to fight fire. It is a history rich in stories, individuals, and friendship.

This past week, I headed down from Butte, MT to join members of the National Smokejumper Association (NSA), not to be confused with the other NSA, as they volunteered with the USFS outside Wisdom, MT. Myself and two other teammates joined five retired Smokejumpers at Hogan Cabin (just past Big Hole Battlefield) as they began work in the construction of a jackleg fence. Three other teammates headed over to Gordon Reese Cabin (on the Idaho border), where they joined another group of retired Smokejumpers who were cutting and splitting firewood for the winter.

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When I first heard of this project, a couple weeks before it actually happened, I came to the conclusion that this would be a challenging project; Smokejumpers are the elite wildland firefighters. They constantly push themselves, find challenging obstacles to overcome, and are complete bad-[edited]es.  I was expecting these muscular dudes who were stoked about wildfire, jumping out of airplanes, and still fought fires.

What I never expected was to work with a lawyer, a surgeon, a retired marine, and some of the most humble firefighters in the world. These men did not consider themselves heroes, but were at one time young men paying their way through school. Smokejumping back then was not a career, but a way to survive, to gain experiences, and to explore the world.

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We spent the first couple days dragging posts and rails out of the woods. These dead and live trees had been cut by these retired Smokejumpers to provide materials for the fence that we were scheduled to create. It was exhausting work, but we knew, and the guys we were working with constantly reminded us, that this project would have never gotten accomplished if we hadn’t been there for the “heavy lifting.”

Yes, a green tree 21 feet long, even when it is less than three inches in diameter and limbed accordingly, is still heavy. The 12 foot sections that were slightly thicker were just as heavy. Sometimes they were heavier.  Even the dead, dried out posts and rails were a struggle to drag out of the woods.  But we did it. We dragged what seemed like several hundred trees out of the forest, loaded them up onto the trailer, and towed them back to camp.

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As we constructed the fence, cutting the posts to size with the jig, nailing them together to make jacklegs, fixing together rails, supports, and posts, the members of the NSA invited us to constantly learn.  Maybe we already knew some of the things they taught us, but we smiled and enjoyed the friendships and comradery that spanned the generations.

As the evening fell upon us, we sat around the campfire and listened as they shared stories of a time not so long ago, when they were young men and the world was before them. They shared how they trained, partied, and fought side by side and I saw the companionship and the family that they had become through this shared experience. I saw how they smiled and reflected on what made them into the men they were today.

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As younger individuals, they praised us for our dedication to service and marveled at the adventures that we had been a part of through AmeriCorps. Many of them shared how they saw hope in us and poured out advice onto us.  I could probably write an entire post about the advice they shared, but I will shorten it and end with the (often conflicting) advice that the five of them shared with us:

When looking towards the future, we were advised to: Find a career. Find what makes you happy. Follow our dreams. Don’t work for the government. And if all else fails, it’s alright not to know. Don’t worry if it takes you until you are 30, married, or broke.

While I am not a smokejumper (and have no desire to jump out of an aircraft to fight fire), I am honored to have had the opportunity to work beside these amazing men. And while they are old in age, each of them have a youthful fire that continues to burn within.

A View into Life

Sometimes, we get the opportunity to see into other peoples lives through the lenses of photography.  Over the past 26 weeks, I have participated in a 52 Week Photo Challenge Course with Ricky Tims (letsquilttogether.com).  We are over halfway through the course, and still continuing to learn and have fun behind the camera.

Below is a selection of images taken through the class.  I’ve included some, but not all, of the details and notes from each image.

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Week 1: Selective Focus.

The first couple weeks were all about learning how to utilize the camera. The course is designed for artists of other mediums to learn about photography and techniques with the camera (pre and post editing). I decided to focus on my primary medium, painting and drawing.

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Week 3: Windows.

We were given the broad challenge of Windows.  I captured this image looking out my bedroom window over the Soulard neighborhood of St Louis as the sun was rising and I was preparing to head out on project.

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Week 6: Forks.

While not technically a fork, this broom rake was utilized to cook some hotdogs for lunch over a burn pile.

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Week 7: Black and White.

I found these steps above our housing at Roaring River State Park and the contrast of black and white brought them to life.

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Week 8: Abandoned.

Another find at Roaring River State Park.  I wont actually share where it is located, but this self portrait is one of my favorite images.

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Week 10: Board Games.

This week, our challenge was to use board games to establish unity and cohesion in our image.  I chose to use figures from my favorite game, Last Night on Earth, to create an image that I enjoy.

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Week 12: Do Over #1.

The first time I did a mirror image, I didn’t line up the edges correctly, so they didn’t match up to my liking.  So, I retried and used a photo of a burn pile of freshly cut cedars for Fen Restoration.

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Week 13: Composite Montage.

An image of one of my teammates after a controlled burn with the Nature Conservancy.  The second image is of the burnt ground and the remains of the leaves, twigs, and rocks.

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Week 14: Street Photography.

I chose to wander through the Soulard Farmers Market with my camera to capture the images for this week.

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Week 15: Happy.

Some of my teammates cant help but smile.  Especially when hanging out with one another and creating and burning burn piles.

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Week 16: Golden Hour.

This image was captured through the condensation on the truck window in the early hours of the morning as we prepared to head out for project.

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Week 17: Dreamscape.

The staircase of the Stegall Mtn Fire Tower caught my eye, and the Dreamscape technique of editing in Photoshop brought out the sunset on the wood.

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Week 19: Red.

While out at Prairie State Park, I broke out the red face paint and four yards of red fabric and had fun with a couple of my teammates.

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Week 20: Mirror Montage.

Another find at Prairie State Park: the hip bones of a deer.

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Week 21: The Road.

I took some liberties, as this was the closest thing to a road that we could find while working in the Silver Mines Recreation Area of the Mark Twain National Forest.

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Week 23: Stuck In Place.

This week, we were challenged to set up in a single location and not move for over an hour.  These were three of the images captured while up on the roof of my apartment.

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Week 25: Do Over #2.

Last week, this image was chosen as the photo of the week.  This self portrait was taken by utilizing the timer and then laying down in a freezing cold stream.  It only took 20ish tries to finally get the image that I wanted.

As you can see, this year has been both a challenge and a joy as I’ve started to figure out and rediscover how to utilize Photoshop to bring my photos to life.