For The Trees

The trees. We were definitely in it for the trees.

It began with towering red firs and western white pines and mountain hemlocks in Lassen Volcanic. They greeted us along the winding two-lane highway as we approached the park and with every rustling wave of their limbs, we were welcomed, waved in with a ruckus as if returning weary from the wars. We breathed in their scent and lingered in their shadows and felt the first stirrings of release in our too tight shoulders.


After taking that respite, on we searched, until the cool of coastal fog and deep shade heralded giant country. There we laid our cheeks against the redwood ancients and felt the fingers of time draw us closer for embrace. In the damp crumble of rotting timber, we witnessed new life spring forth from the death and were reminded of the inescapable nature of cycle and season.  In the perpetual gloaming cast by these great elders we found sanctuary and belonging and the whispers of home, wisdom sought and found.


We traveled on, as travelers do, and we came to the places where fire turned us back. Heat and milky smoke blocked our path forward and we paused to grieve the fallen armies of douglas fir and white pine even as we acknowledged that some beauty, some life, can solely be forged, be born, of fire.

We veered back to the west, to the water, fleeing the flame and the smoke. Through Pacific mists we saw the great Sitka spruces and patient western hemlocks teeter on the cliff edges as the mountains rose out of the wild sea. Unable to resist the siren's call of forest floors carpeted in sword fern and narrow trails winding through soaring spires, we ran. Clumsy, heavy steps lightened as our own rhythms began to fall into sync with the endemic cadences enveloping us, and we felt leggy and fleet as the deer as we moved. 


And north we continued until we came to rest among the silver firs and yellow cedars and white pines and mountain hemlocks growing in the shadow of the mighty volcano. Among the huckleberry and Sitka valerian and Seussian pasqueflower pods we laid down our burdens and leaned our backs against fat trunks. We found there, among Patriarchs and young friends both, a renewal of courage and faith and timeless devotion. And it was there, among sentinels standing guard against the fallacy of thinking ourselves important, that our shoulders and our humor and our creative spark fully shook loose. 


We were definitely in it for trees. And like any travelers in search of Avalon, we met mystery and fire, solace and water, magic and healing along the way. For the trees are nothing if not arcane. And in their shadows, in their depths, our follies and triumphs fade allowing us to begin again and begin again. And still begin yet again.  


The Sierra

Did you know that the proper shortened name for the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is "the Sierra", singular, not “the Sierras,” plural? I read that shortly after we arrived in Reno, but admit to slipping back to using “the Sierras” on occasion…forgive me, I’m working on it.

I’m heading home today from a whirlwind ten days in the PNW followed by a fantastic visit with a dear friend in North Carolina, so while you’re in the business of forgiving me, please add “didn’t write a blog post this week” to my sins and enjoy these images from a quick weekend getaway we took with our friend, Geoff, a few weeks ago in the Sierra (see? I’m improving already!). We hit up the fantastic Sierra Butte firetower and pretty much every lake in the immediate vicinity, most notably Upper Sardine Lake (the one I mentioned a few weeks ago)!


Artist Feature: Blaire Zika

One of the very best things about this life on the road is meeting people that we would never have met otherwise. And we stick around long enough to allow some of those meetings to turn into friendships. Blaire is one of those meetings. I wish I could say that I was cool about it, but I totally wasn’t (I never am, dammit)…I’d seen Blaire walking her sweet pup, Lucy, around our RV park and I have no idea if it was the confidence in her walk, her gorgeous tattoos, her fantastic style, or just her general mojo, but it’s distinctly possible (ahem) that I ran out to the street as she passed by our camper and asked her to be my lifelong friend. Yup. Totally cool. 

To Blaire’s credit (and courage), she didn’t run screaming from my awkwardness, and I have been bowled over by her in conversation after conversation ever since. Smart, compassionate, courageous, kind, funny as hell, and committed to simply and honestly moving through this life in the very best way she knows how, I cannot even begin to capture her many dimensions.

And on top of all of her other virtues, Blaire is a extraordinary artist. 

She has a show coming up here in Reno next week and I have been fascinated by the work and energy and preparation that goes into such an endeavor. In the midst of all that work, Blaire graciously agreed to allow me to photograph and interview her and I am so excited to share her words and her work and her amazing smile with you!

What is your art background…have you been formally educated or are you self-taught or some combination of both?

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a "doodler.” I can remember teachers in elementary, middle and high school initially becoming upset with me because they felt I was not engaged in the class. During the progression of the year, my teachers began to understand that doodling helped me to process information. I never had to focus on the doodles or sketches, rather they just seemed to create themselves. What I discovered was my ability to think through questions or thoughts that were on my mind. I understood from a young age that my artistic, creative outlet was highly therapeutic.

My first year of college I took an art class and I HATED it!!! I remember feeling super frustrated around the concept of “grading” someone’s art. I dropped the class by the second week and never looked back. I never wanted to feel that my creative outlet was being critiqued for a grade. I understand the judgement (for lack of a better term) that will accompany my first art show: my art isn’t for everyone. From an art show perspective, at least my work will be judged from an artist platform perspective and not from an instructor ensuring that I am following a rubric.

What medium(s) do you most enjoy? 

I most enjoy pen and paper. My art is deeply intricate and the precision I can achieve with my pen and paper is where I like to play the most. I will  incorporate liquid acrylic into my pieces from time to time, but on rare occasion. 

Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

As I mentioned above, yes. I have always felt that I am a creative being. I have a deep appreciation and respect for all art. I consider anyone’s self expression art. How people choose to share themselves with the world is art. I love all of it.

Can you tell us a little about your process?

My art usually follows moments or events in my life when I am feeling blocked from progressing forward. When I feel the need to really sit down and process and work through an aspect of my life, art is how I make that progress happen. I am able to sit with my sketch pad for hours upon hours without having to think of anything other than what is weighing me down. I always have music playing, music is my lifeline. I light some incense…ambiance is so important to me. Feeling comfortable in my space allows me the freedom to release myself from the world and slip into a sacred space of healing and creating. 

Generally speaking, where do you tend to draw your inspiration from?

I just begin. I don’t try to get in the way of my art or manipulate it in any way. I just allow it to become what it is meant to become. People may assume that because my art is a tool to support me through my grief, that I draw inspiration from it, but that isn’t the case. Rather, I find inspiration to live as a result of my art. 


Your upcoming show is called Reflections of Now and was created during an intensely personal period in your life. Can you share what aspects of that period inspired this particular work and what effect creating this art had/continues to have on you? 

Reflections of Now is a collection of artwork I created in the aftermath of my husband’s death. I would work up to 11 hours at a time on a piece and that would allow me time to recognize, acknowledge and work through each component of my grief. I made a commitment to myself early on in my grief process that I would feel each part of it. I didn’t want to wake up 5 years from now and realize that I didn’t process what had happened to me. I wanted to be raw with my being and give myself grace and the space necessary to heal in a healthy way. I remember not even really enjoying a piece once I was done with it. I would simply finish a piece, turn the page, and it was on to the next one. It wasn’t until about a year after my husband had passed that I began to look back through what I had created. I will always remember the profound moment that I understood that I was truly healing. I was looking through my art and I was overcome with the thought that during my darkest hours, I was still able to create something beautiful. It took my breath away. In that moment, I knew I was going to be ok. I was surviving and doing a damn good job of it. 

Has sharing your work publicly come with any unexpected emotions/challenges? Can you tell us a little about that process and why you ultimately chose to share your work?

The upcoming show will be my first experience sharing my art with perfect strangers. The trepidation I feel around sharing my art publicly isn’t so much about my art, but the vulnerability that comes with sharing the story behind my art. Trauma and grief are highly personal experiences and sharing that time of my life is always uncomfortable. But I realized that if just one human can see my journey and may then realize that they too can heal the darkest of places in their soul then it is 100% worth it for me. 

Do you have any specific hopes for what someone taking in your art would get out of it? 

I hope they can appreciate the healing that creating each piece provided to me. They don’t have to enjoy the work I have created, but it is my hope that they respect the power of healing through creating. 


What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t consider themselves creative?

They need to get out of their own way. The fact is that we are all creative beings. Society tends to navigate us in a certain way and with that comes personal judgement around how we express ourselves. If we could just experience our own creativity without judgement then there is a strong chance that we can experience one another without judgement. 

Any thoughts/philosophies/ideas you’d like to share about making art or the creative process or its value to you or society as a whole?

Yes, when we can appreciate the process for which creation comes then we can appreciate the person who is creating. We are all trying to navigate this crazy journey called life and creativity helps that process. 

If you are in the greater Reno-Tahoe area, be sure to join us for Blaire’s opening at Boho Gypsy’s Treasures on September's going to be quite the shindig!


I Forgot

I’ve forgotten to take my camera along with me a lot this summer. On at least five separate occasions, in my eagerness to go explore or in the excitement of our preparations, I drove away from home only to realize upon arriving that I left my camera behind. It’s frustrated me and at times induced me to wonder at my legitimacy as a photographer…I mean, what kind of photographer forgets her camera?!?!?


On one hand, I have been beginning to feel a surge of creative energy over the last few weeks that I have come to believe is a direct result of having spent most of my summer not being especially creative. I’ve believed all along in the importance of creative rest, but hadn’t realized until I spent a couple of months rafting instead of creating that I was in dire need of it. Not that I haven’t been creating at all- on the contrary, I have doodled in my sketchbook and scribbled away in my journal and dipped my toes into art that I don’t make my living from and, of course, I’ve maintained this blog. But I have done very little work for clients this summer and that break, I’ve come to see, was very necessary for my long term creative health. I suddenly feel energized to experiment and push myself, and doing some writing and shooting only for myself has allowed me to step away from “safe” work and allow failure to return to my process. It’s thrilling, really.

On the other hand, this camera-forgetting has also reminded me what it can feel like to simply have an experience without any requirement to capture it. I consider the noticing that photography has taught me to be one of the great gifts of my life and very often my camera is the tool that best allows me to move past the superficial and truly see. But sometimes that same camera can create a barrier between me and experience, allowing me to keep my distance on the edges instead of fully engaging. And, even more disturbing, is when I catch myself in the photo-or-it-didn’t-happen mindset, the idea that the value of my experience is somehow diminished by my lack of photographic evidence to present to the public. What blarney. To be deeply embedded in a moment, to cry-laugh with new friends in the light from a campfire or to stand by the edge of an alpine lake and share the awe of the Milky Way’s perfect reflection on its silver surface doesn’t require public approval in order to be treasured. Photos are photos and have their own power, but memories are memories and the two are not interchangeable terms. Sometimes it’s simply worth making a memory and missing a photograph.

Maybe I’m simply justifying my own laziness or forgetfulness, but I suspect more has been behind this forgetting of my camera this summer. As the season begins to shift and the very first hints of autumn’s impending beginning nip at the early morning air, I feel my own shifting. A readiness to return to the work, to pick up what I briefly put down, to dig in deeper than ever before. Sometimes we must step back in order to move forward…it’s a simple truth that takes me by surprise again and again. But truth it is and I am no more exempt from it than any other. We cannot produce without end, without break, if we want our truest and most creative work to pour forth. And we cannot always remain on the edges of experiences, capturing but not fully participating, if we want depth and meaning and life to infuse our work. 

So...sometimes I forget my camera.

I did remember to bring it along a few times, so here is a bit of miscellany from the last month or so...


Refracted Light

As I glided upward through the cold, clear water I opened my eyes. Light filtered through the turquoise and the water around me glittered as I moved toward the surface right above me. 

I don’t remember the last time I opened my eyes underwater. For that matter, I don’t remember the last time I swam in a body of water without a nawing sense of discomfort and a fighting back of niggling fear and underlying disgust. Even now, the thought of deep impermeable water, of oozing muddy banks, or seaweed caressing ankles, or vast depths in which I cannot breathe, creates within me a visceral unease that catches in my chest. Occasionally I go in anyway, willfully shoving that unease down, down deep in my stomach and smiling with wonder at everyone around me who seem to splash around with real enjoyment.

It’s not a fear of drowning. I’m actually an excellent swimmer and swam competitively throughout all of my childhood and teenaged years. And it’s not a fear of critters per se, though the idea of what could arise from the depths of an ocean is certainly enough to give me great pause. Swiftly moving rivers don’t bother me at all, though I have a deep respect for moving water and for the inherent risks associated with its power. But confronted with the vastness of the sea or the murky depths of a muddy lake, I have to swallow hard my fear and reluctance and my preference is always to limit my interaction to wading no deeper than my knees.

But this water was different. This lake in all its alpine glory was deep, yes, but its depths shimmered with clarity and its banks were lined with great boulders that tumbled into the water, slick where wet but not slimy. For the first time in what might be decades, I could not resist the call of the blue-green sparkle and I dove out towards its center without reserve, without the need to ignore any misgiving. The icy water was sweet and invigorating and I had a real moment of shock to realize that I wasn’t faking it, that I wasn’t putting on a brave face because I was embarrassed to once again be the only one left on shore. I meant it, this smile, this childlike energy and innate calling to splash and play and dive back under the surface. 

When did it happen? When did these fears begin taking root? I have precious childhood memories of swimming out past the breaking waves with my dad when we lived in Virginia Beach, his teaching me to body-surf my kindergartner self back toward shore, my hiccuping with laughter when a wave pummeled me back into the sand. Or my high-school self running back into my hotel room for goggles when in Florida for a big swim meet, eager to dive into the ocean and see what mysteries awaited, only relinquishing the water when our coaches threatened to pull us from our events if we didn’t rest. I can’t pinpoint when exactly the prospect of swimming in the wide sea began filling me with a leaden dread, but it happened somewhere between high school and now.

It’s only swimming and I know I’m not alone in my reticence, but I wonder about this inclination toward fear and reluctance as I get older. How many tiny ways I allow my world to grow smaller in order to avoid unease and uncertainty. As I floated on my back in this mountain lake, I wondered how many moments of shared exuberance I’d stayed on the sidelines for, watched from my knee-deep comfort-zone at the edges. As I relished the icy embrace of the clear, pure water, I wondered what other fears I’d allowed to move in, to shrink my existence, to become habit, maybe less obvious than murky water. 

I flipped over and dove down, the cold hitting my face, playing with my hair as it floated around my head in a cloud. And as I made my way back up toward the sun and sky and warm late summer air, I opened my eyes. I opened my eyes and took in the glittering beauty of refracted sunshine and deep quiet. 

And I resolved once again to keep them open, to set aside habit and comfort and to look at my decisions closely, to do the work of honesty and to push out against the fear that would keep me on shore, that would keep my life and my experiences and my perspectives small and shrinking. 


A Wrench

Tomorrow marks the end of Justin’s 13 week travel nurse contract here in Reno. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at maps with eager anticipation  and Justin has applied to nearly every opening that’s come up in Washington in hopes that we could call the PNW home for the fall months.

However. There was a wrench thrown into our plans.

At the recommendation of some other travel nurses, we reached out to Travel Tax, a tax firm that specializes in taxes for travel nurses (well, actually for anyone who travels in their job, but they really know their way around travel nursing- if you are thinking of traveling, reach out to them asap- they are seriously awesome). We simply wanted to make sure that we were doing everything right with plenty of time to course correct if necessary. We’re really glad we did as it turns out that there are some steps we need to take before the year’s end to be all squared away. Without diving into the tax code with you, suffice it to say that the most notable of the steps we need to take is that we must establish New Hampshire as our “tax home” by having Justin take a full 13-week travel nurse assignment there while we live at our permanent address there (i.e. at his parents’ house).

So. New Hampshire it is.

As you might guess, we were initially quite disappointed by this news. Not because we have a problem with New Hampshire or Justin’s folks- on the contrary, we adore them both! But heading home for three months before we were even a full year into our road life wasn’t exactly how we’d planned things, you know? So we let the “womp womp” of the news settle in for a few minutes and then we regrouped and started looking at our options for how to go about things. And here’s our rough plan…

The hospital here in Reno offered Justin an extension, so we will be here through September 30, another six weeks. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all that we want to do here, so we thought we’d continue to enjoy this backyard access to the Sierras and Lake Tahoe for another few weeks. We also have a 10-day trip up to Washington planned so we can get at least a quick PNW fix! Once this contract finishes, we’ll winterize our sweet little camper and store it at a facility here in Nevada and begin to make our way east. While we haven’t decided on a route yet, we are thinking an epic month-long road trip is in order for the month of October! We’ve got our sights set on western Montana (maybe via Idaho?), Grand Teton, and Yellowstone just at first glance and I’ll be sure to update you as we firm up what plans we’re willing to commit to. So that leaves November-January in New Hampshire to fulfill our requirements and we are excited at the prospect of having plenty of time to catch up with our community of family and friends in New England and to get ourselves a little fix of winter before heading back west to grab our home on wheels and head to wherever will be next.

This is what adventure looks like sometimes. Plans that go awry and the necessity to adapt and be flexible and search out ways to create new and wonderful experiences that weren’t even on the radar until a wrench got thrown into what was planned. We didn’t exactly embark on this lifestyle looking for certainty or guarantees and we find ourselves once again confronted by the many reasons we have to be grateful, not the least of which is a welcoming place to call home (thanks, Ma & Pa Gio!) and a lifestyle that allows us the flexibility to course correct when necessary.

So friends in New England and along the route there, be ready- we are coming at you and we should warn you: we hug like we mean it!