Sunday, July 10, 2016

Whirlwind trip to the desert

Took a trip down to Capitol Reef National Park and the Fishlake national forest on Friday and Saturday. It was a quick trip to support my friend, Sam, who ran the Capitol Reef half marathon, a race I told her I'd join in and for which I ultimately failed to register. I figured I'd still head down there anyway and check out a part of Utah I'd never seen and hang out with my friends. Jake came along, too, and Sam's two pups, Lady and Cocoa.

We left early Friday morning and stopped to check out the Fishlake Ntnl. Forest and Fish Lake before heading into Capitol Reef. As we were driving towards the lake a hillside spotted with purple meadows caught Sam's eye. We parked and walked a couple miles up a forest service road to check out what exactly was so purple. What we found filled me with overwhelm: acre after acre of wildflowers, a sea of color surrounded a fire-affected, skeleton of an aspen grove. There was no one up there. We wandered.
(Click pictures to see them in full res. otherwise there's a slight blur... anyone out there know how to get around this?)

The lesson here is if you see a place, one that looks like it might be wonderful but you're just not sure whether or not it's just an optical illusion, take your chances and walk towards it. It could be the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. You'll never know otherwise.

We headed to the lake next, had some gas station ice cream, and drove though (unbeknownst to us at the time) one of the oldest known living organisms on the planet (!!!!), Pando, an aspen grove in the Fishlake National Forest. We headed into Capitol reef a little bit later. The scenery went from green, fir tree forests and rolling mountains to shades of red, orange and pink sandstone. It was like venturing from one planet to another over the course of an hour. As climbers, we stared up at possible routes quite a bit and wondered about development. Aside from some pockets of what looked to be wingate sandstone,  most of the rock looked fairly soft and adventurous, but it sure was gorgeous.

On Saturday, Sam ran her race. Jake and I headed to a diner instead, before checking out some andesite bouldering near Loa, Utah. At that diner Jake ordered second breakfast, and I ordered a slice of pickle pie. Good company, philosophical discussions, and the pie was oddly delicious. Picture fancied up relish in a delicious flakey pie crust. It's okay if you don't trust me on this one. It just was what it was.

Then Jake and I headed to Loa and proceeded to get terrified by the choss and the target shooters out there. We headed to a nearby canyon to wander quietly and look up at sandstone instead, and giant ponderosa pines growing out of the cliffs. It was like we couldn't lose in any direction we turned... as long as it was away from the guns.

It was good to get lost with some good friends and dogs for a couple days. I love those two all the more now and the things we saw together.


Monday, July 4, 2016

What the West Desert Holds

I've lived in Salt Lake City for almost 7 years now. Counting the pieces and leaving out the time I was away, that is. To stare out at the view west--catching the ever-flattening landscape of the Oquirrh range being taken over by the Rio Tinto mine, the density of houses in the West Valley thinning and giving way to salt and sand, and a blinding strip of aquamarine blue that one can make out as the Great Salt Lake--was to quickly acknowledge something bland and unpleasant and then turn back east to set my eyes on the beautiful, dramatic, attention-stealing Wasatch mountains.

Lately though, I've been focusing on and thinking more of the West Desert. It started with an impulse decision on a warm night a couple weeks ago. I was by myself, listening to a podcast, bored, stir-crazy, coming home from running an errand. I was stealing glimpses of a beautiful sunset while driving when I suddenly decided to head further into it. I drove west for twenty five minutes until I arrived at the Great Salt Lake state park and parked my car to stare out at the water and sand, and the morphing and deepening colors of the sky above it. What I saw in the West Desert then was a quiet and unassuming beauty, a highly discriminating ecosystem that could only sustain a certain type of life, brown, crunchy ground, and a breath-taking vastness. To be in the barren West Desert is to consider your own life and its brevity, and to forget about it all at once. The landscape struck me as all-consuming;  it could swallow you up so easily if you kept walking and you'd likely never be found. It is an odd and beautiful place, and one that I intend on coming back to regularly now, to try to capture with photos. So without further ado, here are some from yesterday's walk out to the lake.

Click on images with a smart phone to see in full resolution. Or enjoy the slight blur...

Over and out.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

An assortment of photos (mostly recent, some not) and gratuitous musings

    My brother gave me his old DSLR this past week when he found out mine got stolen after FedEx delivered it to my doorstep. Here's kale drying after a rinse.

(The pictures appear blurry on phones unless you click on them. Why is that? Any webpage smarties out there?)

    It has been awhiiiiiile since I last posted or have written anything for that matter. In efforts, I'm sure, to feel like I am doing *everything possible* to get into a graduate program this year, I've arranged my schedule in a way that leaves an impossibly small amount of free time. It's maybe not the best arrangement I've ever made, and it feels maybe a little unnecessarily masochistic.

When a friend texted me today hang out and take a break from one of my preset homework days, I actually had to say aloud "Yes, Laura, you will go. You will go do this. It will be good for your health." You see, the other night I stumbled across an article in a health journal that was talking about how loneliness can be as harmful to our bodies as obesity or alcoholism, because it causes a sort-of constant low-grade stress that creates an inflammatory response in the body. And we know enough at this point to know that inflammation causes all sorts of disease.

And it was lovely, by the way. The time with my friends, that is. I smiled, I laughed, I was so alive.!. and not like the robot I've felt so much like lately. So I decided just to roll with it for the rest of the day. I ran 5 miles and basked in the sun. I climbed plastic at the gym (still fun!), I went to yoga. I ate brown butter dark chocolate. And now I'm wrapping up the day with photo editing of some recent shots I've taken on the DSLR, and some old photos from the archives. And now I'm writing, my favorite of all activities (besides eating brown butter dark chocolate).

         I found this gorgeous picture (tooting my own horn...) of a bunch of roses I bought myself last February, only months after a break up that I still (still!!) am processing (there, I admitted it). I look at this picture and I think of being newly single again and how frightening it all felt. How quitting that relationship felt like maybe quitting a bad habit of many years might feel. Dark at times, confusing, incredibly depressing, but very, very, very good for me. My hormones were all fucked then. I feel a lot more even now. I feel comfortable being single... most of the time. I've developed all sorts of quirky single-lady habits that I'm sort of weirdly proud of. Popcorn in bed while reading at night maybe should ought not to be mentioned. But there, I did it anyhow.

  I was at the end of my work-exchange shift at Centered City Yoga today when I paused in the alleyway while taking out the trash. The light was good. I was particularly drawn to the "I AM NorML" bit. I take time to look at street art when I can. I wrote my thesis on it in one of my seminars on Latin American history during my last semester at UVa (7 years ago! ahhh!!!). At that time, I spent months email interviewing (what I thought to be) a random street artist named Saner from D.F., Mexico. He asked to read the paper after I had written it and I sort of carelessly forgot to send him a copy. The thing was, at that time- shortly after I turned that paper in- I was also graduating and getting the hell out of Charlottesville, away from all the pomp and prestige I'd grown to resent in my 3 years at the University. Two winters ago I was flying to South America and there was a magazine on the Delta airplane. There was a really long article featuring Saner's world-renowned work. I almost dropped the damn magazine. I want to take a little bit of time to say: I am normal, Saner, you are not. You are something of a genius. When I was 22 and struggling to understand colonialism's effects on modern day Latin America, you helped to solidify some BIG truths for me. In a big way, you altered my worldview. Thank you for that.

      A few days ago there was this crazy windstorm that took place while I was working at the hospital on a sort of stagnant-feeling day in the psych unit. I watched the rain and snow blow all around outside from the 5th floor window of the medical school building. A couple patients watched it with me. Watching the storm was weirdly rejuvenating when I was (and I'm certain they, too, were) feeling soul-tired. When I was walking into lecture after work there were tumbleweeds scattered about the Salt Lake Community College campus. A maintenance guy with a stick-thing was picking them up and putting them in the trash. I snapped a photo before he got this big one. People were staring at me as I was kneeling over the tumbleweed with my iPhone.

          Washing vegetables. I've been slightly better about washing more thoroughly since being recently reminded that there is often chemical residue from fertilizers/insecticides on even certified organic produce. Wash, wash, wash. And photo shoot. I like how the water looks in this picture.

          I found this photo today. This is a photo I took just outside of Zion National park two Decembers ago when me and my buddy, Dan, were about to head into the park to fix ropes on the first 3 pitches of Moonlight buttress. We jugged the lines the next morning at 430am. It was 26 degrees outside. My body wasn't warm even after jugging 2 full rope lengths to the beginning of the 4th pitch, even under an 800-fil down coat. I started up the 4th pitch aiding and was making painstakingly slow progress. I balked at one of the 5.10 free moves for fear of falling onto my daisy. I blamed the cold at the time. I've recently come to terms with the fact that I didn't finish that climb not because I was fucking freezing (I was), but because I was fucking heartbroken. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be the kind of person that triumphed in the face of a bad breakup and climbed a world-famous line. But, really, I was just too damn sad to care to finish the climb. As we repelled to the base I cried. I looked at the snow-dotted orange, red, and white sandstone peaks around me and felt guilty for feeling so damn sad in such a beautiful place, and for blowing such a good opportunity. Things are different now. I like climbing again. I don't do it for weird reasons like I used to. I do it because it's just fun. It's funny, too. I'm climbing better than I ever dreamed I could.
     Speaking of dreams, this was taken while I was daydreaming on a 15 minute break during work yesterday. The sun was setting over the Oquirrh mountains in the west. I was wanting to be done with work. I had just eaten 3 pieces of pizza. Didn't even much stop to breathe I was so hungry/bored. I started thinking about Hemingway. I instagramed this shot with a Hemingway quote. It was kind of a depressing quote but I was feeling just peachy, admittedly, if not a little bloated. 

Things are well. More photo-weeks to come. Perhaps with less musings and more pictures but we'll just have to see. xoxoxox.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Western travels, hipster pants

I was in that state of dreamy half-sleep in the back of the Logan Hotshots alpha-squad buggy, legs starting to tingle from the weight of my fire boots and feet not quite fully reaching the floor, when we went over a large bump in the road. My eyes opened, and I peeled my groggy head off my fire pack and worn yellow nomex---the best pillow system I'd worked out all summer---when I caught my first view of the Lost River Range in the early-morning light. I snapped a few photos on my crappy flip phone and tried to text a picture to my Dad. No service. Constantly tired and never quite feeling like I was keeping up with the energy levels of the rest of the crew during those 14-day assignments, I fell right back to sleep. We were headed to another fire again, and my body understood very well by August that when you had a moment to get some shut eye, you damn well better use that moment properly. I was a coughing, clunky, work-horse that summer; even parts proud, achy, humbled and quiet, while just barely keeping up with the rest of the guys. It would be my last summer of fire after my L1 vertebrae protested like a diva, "honey-child, you're so done carrying a 40-pound pack all day."

That was two years ago. I thought about that summer with a smile and a couple silent chuckles over all the haggardness and physical suffering while I snapped a few photos with my DSLR on the side of the road in skinny jeans and big, silly movie-star sunglasses. The contrast was almost alarming. Here I was in summertime-glam-mode, jacked up on coffee, and acting like a tourist on my way to Powell, Idaho to visit a friend who still worked in fire. The old Laura would have stared in awe and disappointment blankly, and then would have questioned current me why I wasn't still chasing old glory dreams of hotshotting for multiple seasons and earning she-hero status, savin' babies!, as they'd joke. But there I was anyway; I felt so happy and good in those skinny jeans, and I wasn't saving a damn thing, except maybe my back. The breeze was nice, and the sun felt warm. I got back in the car to continue on the drive.

 In Challis, Idaho there are striking red and white mountains, sage brush scattered and rooted in their sandy soil. The fragile desert ecosystem of the Great Basin possesses a different beauty, one that is captivating in its barrenness. Cattle land stretches across this valley, dotted with small homes that in their humble simplicity seem to pay reverence to the earth they sit on. I had seen it all before, but only with a certain half-attentiveness to the beauty of the land around me, as the pressure of keeping up in work governed nearly my whole outlook during the summer of 2013.

I stopped in a gas station to pee. I walked in with those giant movie-star glasses on. The lady behind the counter stared at me without smiling. In efforts to win her approval, I thought of apologizing for all the smoke that socked-in her town, hung over it like a plague for weeks on end, during the Lodge Pole fire two years ago. That was a real money maker. I bought a package of chewing gum and another coffee for the road. I smiled extra sweet at her at the cash register. She looked at me like the foreigner I was but said, You have a good day, Dear. Non-emotional, straight forward, sensible, but courteous; the characteristics of people that live in farm country. I felt my appreciation deepen as I walked out the door with a jingle. Eventually, I really need to move out of the city, I thought. And I started up again my little lima bean Toyota corolla and headed off towards northern Idaho.

I had to cross into Montana before heading back into northern Idaho to get to Powell. I drove 100 miles thinking about someone with whom I'd once driven that stretch on highway 93. I listened to blues and vacillated between annoyance, resentment and a kind of bittersweet nostalgia. Once I reached Lolo on the 93, feeling a little emotionally weathered and a little older, I put it all behind me as I crossed into no cell service. 50 miles into the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, I'd soon reach my friend, down a winding road that parallels the Loscha river. But as I drove deeper into the wilderness, up and over Lolo Pass, I began to question my ability to change a flat tire if the need arose. Or how comfortable I felt hitchhiking with a logger if my car broke down (I can't really help it; my brain does this sometimes). 

But the trees. Holy shit.

The trees backed right up to highway 12 in a way that almost scared me. Some towering a hundred feet above my car, they were draped with a moss colloquially referred to as Old Man's Beard by folks that like to talk about foresty things. There was a giant cedar grove that smelled like my late grandparents' old house when I stopped off the side of the road to stare up at it. The last light of the day shot god fingers through those old, giant limbs, and interrupted the cool, damp river air with pockets of warmth. I could see the Lochsa river sitting behind those trees, I figured it was sometime around the salmon spawn, and I wondered with a little unease about Grizzlies in the region as I decided to head back to my car (again, my mind).  
That evening I reached my friend in Powell. We shared wine and pan-fried steak. I felt a certain peace at the ease of the conversation, resumed after months of not hearing from her so far out in the boonies as she is. Lying in the guest bed I fell asleep so effortlessly with the window open to the cold northern air, and the backdrop of crickets chirping in the darkest forest I could ever imagine under millions of hole punches in the sky.
The rest of the next couple days I spent a little time in Missoula with Mel, mountain biking in a nearby canyon and window shopping downtown. One day Mel had to work, and I rode my mountain bike on the road up to Lolo pass. It was a lonesome, weighty, 12-mile slog, except for a brief interaction with a road biker, who passed me by pretty quickly. After a pause for a cup of tea at the Lolo Pass information center, I rode down the mountain against a heavy headwind that made the descent feel like a slow-motion ride into heaven with the sun warming up my back.
After 4 days spent by the river and big trees, with ample quiet alone time, punctuated by the sweetest time with my dear friend, I was feeling comfortable in my own skin again. I drove back to Utah in my skinny jeans, headed back to my city-slicker life, the anxiety ache in my chest gone, having been released into that wild, unmapped wilderness.
And you'll never guess what I saw as I was listening to the worst radio country ever, celebrity sunglasses, big ol' wad of gum making my jaw feel sore, going 90 mph on I-15 headed south. Dead moose on the side of the road, a hotshot buggy, and a flock of Canada geese traveling determined and swift, somewhere between solid ground and the heavens.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Camera trix + Gabi

 Just when you think you've got the perfect light, and a good-enough hand, the lens fogs.

Gabi: "This could be a better picture with a better lens, Laura." (with my camera). Good friends tell it like it is.

Gabi's trick.

Hey friend!