Monthly Archives: May 2011

Simplicity, Honesty, Validation

I was looking back at some of my journals recently and found tons and tons of spirited entries about lots of things that were simple yet extraordinarily moving. Sitting in markets in a faraway country, sitting on a high pass absorbing 360-degree views, eating strange foods from street vendors, sitting with my coffee watching a foreign city awaken to a new day are just some of the things that I’ve wrote countless and countless pages about. It’s the simple things that always pull me back to “center” so much of my travel is spent trying to go as simple (sometimes dirt bag is the correct term) as possible.

I like to think that my appreciation for those simple things filter into most aspects of my life, from the way I live day to day to hopefully the way I capture images with my photographic pursuits. In fact, I try to keep my photos as simple as possible in order to convey that very thing, simplicity.

On Monday of this week I received an email which, for me, validated my efforts and passion for capturing some of these simple images. The email informed me that some of my images were going to be used in a globally recognized publication, one I personally have a great deal of respect for, one of the extremely few.

The best part about this is that I can honestly say that in getting those shots I stayed true to my desire and passion of capturing the simple side of life. I didn’t go looking for the shots, it’s what came at me at the time. I didn’t manipulate the situation, only embraced the moment and let emotions, my own included, dictate the shot. I’m not the best photographer in the world, far from it, but I know my own emotions and perpetually look for simplicity in life and that’s where I think I can make my photos capture something a little different, if only to me.

So getting word from that publication was definitely a nice highlight in my work as a photographer/journalist. However, the day before I actually received something I’m far more proud of and certainly hold as a higher form of validation. I humbly received the Devon Award completely out of the blue.

I don’t know who said it but there was once a quote that went something like “Cats and kids are very much alike, they both know who they can trust in the first second they meet a stranger”. I think we all have that gut instinct about the people we meet but as we become adults we learn to fake our way through uncomfortable interactions so as not to hurt feelings, offend or downright piss off others. Naturally that’s a matter of courtesy and I’m not saying we should stop being nice, but the unfiltered honesty of a cat and a kid can deliver a stinging blow, especially if we take the time to reflect on that honesty.

So, on Sunday I met with a good friend who founded and directs a non-profit organization called Mountain2Mountain www.mountain2mountain.org. Because of our schedules and life, we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while so needed to catch up. Shannon brought her daughter Devon along, who I’d never met until then, and a couple of my best friends also popped over the pass from Vail. It was so incredibly nice to step away from everything for a couple of hours, have a leisurely brunch with great friends and just enjoy life in the mountains.

While we were having brunch, Devon busied herself with her drawings since all the adult conversation was likely about the most boring thing a six year old could possibly endure. As we talked, she quietly went through page after page, filling her sketch book full of amazing drawings. It was pretty impressive that she endured well over an hour of our talk and never once asked to leave or do something different. So dialed into her drawing was she that she even turned down breakfast AND hot chocolate.

Then, just as we readied ourselves to leave and go out for a walk, she handed me one of her drawings (and an envelope) and told me it was “for me”. I was also instructed that the envelope was not to be opened until I got home, to which I promised I wouldn’t…and didn’t.

We walked around town for a while and sat in a park to continue our conversations from brunch. Devon engaged herself again with climbing on rocks, putting shards of sandstone into fun designs and stopping by every once in a while to point out the chipmunk (through she was convinced it was a ferret) sunning himself. As we sat there I thought a lot about what it meant to have received that drawing from her. I actually thought about the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that goes something like, “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Naturally I had my camera with me and several times there in the park I wanted to pull it out of its case and snap some photos of Devon. Every time I thought about it, I couldn’t. Not sure why actually, but I couldn’t. Maybe it was that I knew all to well I could never capture the emotion I had of being accepted as a person through the unfiltered eyes of a six year old. Any photo I took wouldn’t do justice in my mind. Or maybe it was just one of those moments where the camera needed to stay holstered and I needed to enjoy life for what it was in that moment.

This was on Sunday, word came about my photos on Monday. While Monday’s news was amazingly validating for the photography work I’d done, receiving the Devon Award the day prior definitely put everything into the context it needed to be put into. Yes, I had captured simplicity of emotion in a couple of photos and it was luckily recognized by a publication I respect, but to live my life honestly enough to have it recognized by such an awesome kid is far greater validation to me than any publication, buyer, critic or editor could ever bestow upon me.

For a person who laothes the thought of putting any awards in my office or hanging my diploma for all to see, I have no hesitation at all at proudly displaying my Devon Award.

Thank you Devon. I hope I can always live up to your expectations.

Worth the Effort?

Me, post skin and ski up Peak 9

This past autumn I sort of decided that I would maybe start thinking about the possibility of trying something other than snowboarding this winter season. Keep in mind that about thirteen or fourteen years ago, after discovering snowboarding, I had vowed to never ever ski again. Besides that, I was always just an “okay” skier and never really excelled at it so the thought of going back never seemed an option.

The thought of strapping two skis back on my feet only came back to my thinking when my buddy Chris told me I should give up the snowboard and try some AT gear  (all-terrain). He said that instead of post-holing in waist deep snow with my snowboard strapped on my back, I should skin up so I could move as fast and efficiently as my lungs would allow. Yeah, it was hard to slog up backcountry peaks just as he said, but I truly loved the sensation of ripping big powder turns on my snowboard so much that it always seemed worth the extra effort. Reluctantly though, I told him I’d consider skis for this season.

I still remember his excitement when I told him that I’d indeed bought a pair of skis off Craig’s List. But let me clear that statement up a little. He was excited until I told him I was buying a telemark set up instead of the AT set up he had suggested. If I remember correctly, I think his exact words were, “Why’d you go and buy that hippie shit?”. Then, just like the Chis everyone knew, he laughed and  immediately starting listing out all the “skiing projects” that we HAD to do this winter in the backcountry. I hated to squelch his always present enthusiasm for the next great “project”, but I told him I at least needed to get my ski legs back under me before I ventured off into the backcountry. I told him it shouldn’t take long at all since I was athletic and as he knew, can be as determined as anyone once I put my mind to learning something.

Because of the circumstances, my maiden voyage on the the tele skis was put on hold for a bit. However, when I did finally get them out, I decided that A-Basin would be a great place to start learning this whole telemark business. I figured I could just run laps on their intermediate terrain while I got the whole knee dropping system worked out.

Seriously, how hard could it be? I could go anywhere I wanted on my snowboard and I had all the confidence in the world when it came to ripping big turns. I surmised it shouldn’t take but a single day to figure this tele stuff out because like I mentioned before, I was athletic and had the determination of a pit bull when it came to learning how to do something new.

Well, that was terrible assumption number one…of many to come. Let’s just say that getting clipped into those funny looking bindings and getting on the chair lift went off without a hitch. Once off the lift, the overall game changed a little. I was quickly served up the biggest piece of humble pie I’ve ever eaten. There would be no intermediate anything that day. For the first time in many years, I cowered at the sight of a blue square on a trail marker and frantically searched my trail map for anything with a green circle. In fact, every joint in my body would turn completely rigid when I’d look down anything more steep than a handicap ramp at the grocery story. There was simply no controlling those damn skis with those crazy loose heels flopping around.

So to recap my first day on tele skis, let’s just say the pit bull mentality I thought I possessed turned out to be more befitting that of a pitiful little lap dog. And yeah, my bravado about being able to learn things simply because I was “athletic” had been reduced to a head-hung-in-bitter-defeat walk back to my car after only three exhausting hours. I admit it, I was shattered. Fail.

As is the always the case with me, I whimpered around for a day or two nursing my demolished ego before I got another little spark of determination. I decided that I’d go back the following weekend and try again. And against my better judgment, I asked my friends Bryan and Andrew if I could tag along with them…them both being freakishly good tele skiers. My thought process was that I could follow them around, watch them and try to learn what I was doing wrong. I say “doing wrong” because I had pretty much determined that nothing I was doing was “right”.

The day started better than the ego crushing marathon I’d had at A-Basin but chasing Bryan and Andrew around was not as much fun, or as easy, as I thought. After a couple of easy runs I told them to mercifully leave me to my misery and go have fun, which they thankfully did. However, in the following couple of hours, I finally managed to link a few crude tele turns together. I wanted so desperately for someone I knew to see me to show them that I really could do this. But alas, only elderly grandmas and their tag-a-long toddlers were to be found on the embarrassingly flat terrain where my first true quasi-tele turns finally happened. Therefore, I kept the jubilation to a minimum.

Bryan, Andrew and I had agreed to meet back at the village later in the day so despite my newly found slightly-faster-than-glacial pace, I started down a little early to allow plenty of time. About 500 vertical feet above our meeting place, I glanced up and over to see Andrew screaming down a steep trail that fed into the trail I was on, naturally making some beautifully graceful tele turns!

So happy was I that I had finally linked some turns, I decided I would confidently bust a couple out right in front of him…to which he would be duly impressed. What I hadn’t calculated was the immense degree of leg fatigue that learning to tele can dish out. I sort of dropped my right knee and I turned a little to the right. I sort of dropped my left knee to link the turn back to the left.  What followed was the most wicked cramp in my quad that I’d ever experienced. I crumbled into a massive heap right in front of Andrew. Fail. The elderly grandma and her three year old granddaughter confidently skied around me. Fail, again.

For the next few weeks I continued to go up both days of every weekend to try and get those elusive fluid and beautifully graceful turns figured out. Some days were grim, other days only horrible. Just when I’d gain a little confidence, the changing terrain and snow conditions would move the target and I’d come home frustrated and demoralized…but never defeated. I just kept plugging away and even went up to Canada with a friend where I got thoroughly schooled, again.

With each and every outing I honestly would learn something new and then one day, just after I got back from Canada, it finally clicked. I had taken a beating for weeks and weeks and just when I found myself on the ropes and thought the knockout blow to my psyche was on the way, I had my breakthrough day….finally. I left that day with a huge smile…from ear to ear. I had never had such a fun day on skis, and yes, even on a snowboard.

From that point it’s only gotten better and better with each outing. I’m probably in the best winter shape I’ve ever been in. I’ve skied more days than I’ve ever skied in a single season. I’ve met some of the most down-to-earth and amazing people I’ve ever met. And dare I say, despite the complete and absolute smack down I took early on in the season, I’ve never had so much fun in my life. I’ve gone from being terrified of trails with names containing the words “bunny”, “cotton” and  “easiest way down” to feeling confident enough to head out  on my own to skin up peaks and ski down things I wouldn’t have thought possible five months ago.

Was it worth it? Was it worth the early beatings, the rampant frustration, the humiliation, the crashes and all the time I spent leading up to my “Ahhh-haaaa moment”. Click on the link below and I think the answer will be pretty clear.

http://vimeo.com/23094718

Paddle far. Run long. Climb high. Ski hard.