When the World Goes Cold

The summer season is slowly coming to an end down here in the land of ice and snow. The weather is getting slightly cooler. The Polar Star (the USCG Icebreaker) has arrived and has begun to break apart the sea ice in front of the station. People have begun planning for their travel and return home once off the ice.

stk_3193 (edited)Oh, and penguins have arrived.

Some people are excited about getting back to a place where plants grow and it gets above the freezing mark. Others are about as happy about the prospect as a molting penguin.

Part of me wishes I could stay down here through the winter and into next year. Part of me doesn’t want to go back because I know how special this place has become for me.

Every day I get to witness the beauty of creation and the glory of the Father above in every facet of this place. Every day I wake up and get to explore with eyes full of wonder. I get the opportunity to go out and see things that most people will never witness.

stk_3194 (edited)And I’ve learned some things about the world and about myself in the process. I’ve learned that while this continent may be harsh, the people that come to this place are far from cold.

Sometimes, you do everything right and bad things still happen. And you cannot blame yourself for what could have been. You got to lift up your eyes and focus on being the best that you can be. To be there for others and to pour out love no matter what.

I learned that not everyone is going to like me, and that is okay. But no matter what people feel about me, I have still been called to love them unconditionally. My love for others will never change.

I’ve learned about independence from the opinions and expectations of others. The freedom of relying on the Lord above for strength to make it through the days. The comfort of the unknown and the mystery of creation.

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In a month I return from the lands of ice and snow. And while I look forward to returning next season, I will be glad to see the colors of life once again.


Bows, Swords, and the Company of Friends

I believe that everyone is capable of embracing the warrior that resides within the soul. As children, we understood the desire to be heroes and maidens, princesses and knights in shining armor, but as we grew older, we learned that society told us to fit into the mold, to go with the flow, to let go of the passion that drives us to be something more.

STK_0859 (edited)About a year and a half ago, through chance and the flame of the warriors spirit, I made my way into the company of companions that has become an extended family of sorts. A group of men and women, artists and crafters that make up what is known as the Fell Company.

I found them through a mutual friend and film maker who informed me of an upcoming project where they were looking for extras for a internet series (that happens to still be in the works). While I had never been involved in filming and was a little more than awkward in front of the camera, there was something more that drew me in.

As a child, my brother and I would swing sticks at one another. Makeshift swords and spears that sparked the imagination of youth. As I grew older, the writings of Tolkien and Lewis drew me into a world of beautiful hardships. Of the grim reality of war and violence. Of flawed heroes and bravery beyond understanding.


In time, I dove into the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, the sword in the stone and the lady of the lake. I found series like The Kings Peace (by Jo Walton) and The Hollow Hills (by Mary Stewart), but also autobiographies of modern day warriors and adventurers, like Eric Greitens’ The Heart and the Fist, Rye Barcott’s It Happened on the Way to War, John S. Burnett’s Where Soldiers Fear to Tread, and Hiroo Onoda’s No Surrender (just to name a few).

But no matter how many words I consumed or books that I read, there was something tangible that was missing.

It wasn’t until I picked up a sword and began to learn how to wield it did I begin to feel like a warrior.

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There was something beautiful about joining the crew of Fell and Fair on set that first day. Decked out in historically accurate costumes and immersed into a world that blends history and fantasy, there was a magic in the experience of storytelling and friendships that were born.

Over the next couple weeks, I returned to those woods as an unnamed member of the militia, an extra in the story that was unfolding before each of us.

Out of that experience came a bond of friendship that has continued to grow throughout the year as I (re)discovered the warriors spirit that was hidden within. The journey has been a powerful reminder to embrace the joy that God places in your path, to embrace friendships that spawn and develop passions of the heart, and to live life to the fullest, no matter the words and opinions of others.

Since joining the fellowship of warriors and artists of the Fell Company, I’ve had people remind me again and again that I should “grow up” and stop playing out in the woods. I’ve had coworkers tell me that I’m crazy for doing what I love. And I’m sure that several people have questioned my sanity.

But here’s the thing: I’ve learned to ignore them.


When you find something you love, embrace it. When you discover the warrior within your soul, take up the sword that brings you hope and fills your heart with joy, whatever that may be. Find your passion and do not let anyone quench that fire in your soul.

And when you discover the sword or the bow or your weapon of choice, whatever it may be, take the time to learn how to wield it. To make it part of who you are.

And when God puts good people in your path, embrace the company and discover the fellowship of heroes.

STK_8937And on a separate note: If you’ve ever wanted to experience adventure, to journey alongside friends and comrades, there is an opportunity to embrace the warriors spirit alongside some of the amazing people of the Fell Company.

In October, Weekend Warrior Experience is returning! Designed and run by the folks over at Fell and Fair, in partnership with The Forge Studios, it is an immersive experience designed to throw participants into a detailed and beautifully crafted adventure.

Sign ups are closing soon, so get your tickets now and jump in with both feet! Embrace your warriors spirit and find the passion you may have never known you were missing.

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Until next time, may God bless you and lead you to discover the warrior He made you to be.


Taking It All In

Last night, I went up to Greenville to watch the fireworks with a couple people from my community group and Church family. I also took up my camera to take some photos and video of the firework show.

As the night settled around us and the fireworks started to light up the sky, I couldn’t get my camera to work (in the dark, I kept hitting the wrong button to start the video). I took a couple photos, then took the tripod down, sat back and enjoyed the show.

One of the guys I was sitting with stated that the reason he stopped pursuing photography was because he had stopped taking everything in.

I’ve noticed that I do this more often. I take my camera places, but don’t take that many photos because I am too focused on enjoying what is around me. On life as it happens. On the people around me. On the adventures.

Viewing life through a lens limits your vision.

As a photographer, sometimes you have to put the camera down and live life to the fullest. Sometimes you have to relearn how to take in the world around you. Stop looking at the world like a thing to photograph, but as something to experience.

A photograph can capture an image every day. But vision is only one-fifth of how we take in the world. How can you capture the other four senses? Well, you can’t. Unless you take your viewer to that exact place in that exact moment in time to experience it with you.

Hmmm…. Sounds like you should always take someone on the adventure with you.

I’ve traveled a lot. And my camera has always been close at hand. But so many times I just stand there with my eyes closed in the attempt to catch the essence of the place, before trying to capture it in an image.

Sometimes I just don’t even think about the camera because the experience is just too amazing to take time away from the adventure to take a photograph what I am seeing. Sometimes I have made the choice not to take a photo, because I knew that I could not properly capture the emotions, the struggles, or the experience that I was part of.

I think every photographer should take time away from the camera to rediscover what it means to experience life. Spend time playing in the sand. Hike to a waterfall and bathe beneath the falls (or swim in the pools). Run down a trail or bike across the city. Breathe in the fresh mountain air.

Don’t get caught up about composing the perfect image. But learn how to make a photograph part of that experience.

And sometimes that means ignoring your camera.

What a Year!

It has been a long, exhausting journey these past twelve months. There has been extreme joys, beautiful memories, and a parting of friends to all the corners of the world. There have been the pain of growth and the love of family defined by the blood, sweat, and tears shed side by side with one another.

I look back and I smile because the memories are good. And as the year comes to a close, we reflect back at who we were and what we have become.


The majority of my year was filled with the experiences of AmeriCorps. I finished my second year as a member of the AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT), which was my fourth and final year of service with AmeriCorps. One cannot put into words the happiness (and struggles) of running around in the woods with individuals that I have come to know as more than friends, but an extended family born out of hard work, laughter, and complete and utter silliness.


I spent (what seemed like) months working alongside the Missouri Dept of Conservation at the Peck Ranch Wildlife Refuge, constructing fireline through the use of backpack blowers and through the process of felling snags and hazard trees.

It was hard work, but through the company of great people, we made it fun. We spent days running chainsaws, learning from experience, and growing together. Yes, I broke the plastic casing to a GoPro (the final tree in the video above) but it was awesome, none the less.


I also spent a month (or more) down at Roaring River State Park restoring glades in the back hills of the park. My team had the opportunity to set fire to hundreds of burn piles that were created by others, even though we ended up chasing a couple run-away fires up the hillside. There is nothing better than hiking a mile and a half through the woods in 70 degree weather to burn a couple piles, only to return a week later through the snow and light off over 100 piles, all before lunch.


I also discovered the different methods of lighting off burn piles. Most of the time, we were advised to keep the fires small and manageable, so the flames were no more than 6 feet tall. Other times the burn piles that we created were up to ten feet tall and lit off from a distance with old diesel fuel, allowing the flames to reach high into the sky. As seen in the photo above, we are standing about 30-40 feet away from the burn pile behind us and were still feeling the heat.


The opportunity to serve in AmeriCorps is more than a journey of hard work and enjoyable experiences, it is a path of self-discovery. I got to have long conversations with my teammates about life, love, and our purpose in the world. We stayed up late into the evenings watching the setting sun as we learned about one another and ourselves. It is a safe place to express your thoughts without the fear of judgement, a place where you can grow through the thoughts of others and be a sounding board for others.


As our year of service was coming to an end, I got the opportunity to depart Missouri and make my way up to Montana for several weeks before the rest of the Corps arrived for the end of year celebrations. The six of us piled into a single truck, packed to the brim with supplies and tools, and drove the three days into the mountain wilderness we called home. I worked and camped off the trail in a trailer with three other second years and two amazing ladies who were crazy enough to decide to return the following year to help teach and lead their teammates and assist the program to grow.

We did more than work and play together. We explored. We sang. We made crazy (and funny) videos. Lets just say that Montana was filled with great friendships that continue to grow, despite the distance that separates us now.


One of our biggest projects in Montana is trail clearing and maintenance. Every year, hundreds of thousands of trees fall in the woods (even more due to the pine bore beetle). A fraction of those land on a trail at some point. We spent weeks hiking hundreds of miles as we cleared trails, including parts of the Continental Divide Trail.

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Many of the trails that we cleared headed right up into the mountains and ended up at beautiful views, glacial lakes, and mountain peaks. On good days, we would be able to spend a little bit of time at the top as we ate lunch (or a snack) and rested our feet before turning around and heading back down the mountain.


I also received the opportunity to work alongside an amazing group of retired smoke jumpers and two other second year members who are some of my closest friends. We camped out at the cabin and assisted in rebuilding the fence that encircled the area to keep out stray animals and unwanted vehicles. We were basically the pack mules, hauling the logs and fallen trees in from the woods that were used for the jacks and rails.

These guys were awesome. We hung out after work listening to their stories and their adventures as some of the elite wildland  firefighters, and discussed how much has changed since the days they fought fire in the wilderness.

Since departing from AmeriCorps I have wandered far and wide. I spent several months in the process of searching for a job. I put in what seemed like hundreds of applications, from positions with the USFS, DNR, State Parks, and Dispatch positions from Alaska to Flordia, Hawaii to Maine, and everywhere in between. I had several places contact me back for interviews, before I eventually was offered a position with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina as a Telecommunication Operator.


I started my new position the week after Thanksgiving, where I got to gather with some of my family in Athens with my grandparents.

Looking back, this year has been a blessing of hope and persistence. I continue to write and go through the process of editing Journeys: the adventures of a Nomad. I have started the Drawing Challenge with my cousin, a project to keep us both active in our sketchbooks. I have continued with the 52 Week Photo Challenge Course (this is the last week) and look forward to continuing with the Critique Group in the next year.

I will continue to explore. I will continue to have adventures. And I will continue to learn to live and love to the fullest.

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.


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.


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.


Week 6: Forks.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Week 14: Street Photography.

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


Week 15: Happy.

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


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.


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.


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.


Week 20: Mirror Montage.

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


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.


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.


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.