I have only slept in my own bed 3 nights this month. My suitcase is beginning to feel like home. There are alway challenges but I’ve found that once you slightly adjust perspective, the road can feel like home; liberating in its material simplicity and implicit lack of clutter. Still, those 3 days in my actual home in Denver felt special and beautiful. They felt like critical moments to regain bearings and reflect (though 3 days was far from enough to really digest the insane amount of life I’ve lived in the last month). I haven’t quite wrapped my head around my recent travels or where they’ll fit in my personal catalog of life experiences but I’m working through it, and writing these updates feels like part of the process.
Andaman Sea: Thailand :
I traveled straight from Brazil to Thailand and within hours of arriving we pushed off into the Andaman sea on our 48′ catamaran.
The journey fills my head as spinning collage of otherworldly imagery. It all blends and bleeds together in my memories.
I’ll share Icelantic’s Blog post (that features a few of my photos) a few small journal excerpts as snapshots of the experience:
[10/10/2017 : 6:35am : Ko Hong, Thailand]
The morning sky was filled with vivid points of light hovering above sheer faces of rock carpeted with jungle. Slowly the world spun alive; vivid warm hues under a morning star. From the NE a wall of dark ominous moisture rushed towards us. Squal! The prominent formations created their own mini weather cells, swirling and clinging to the vibrant festooned faces.
[10/12/2017 : 10:45pm : Rai Le, Thailand]
Each night the foggy horizon was dotted with eerie green lights radiating skyward and dispersing into the mist. Distant squid fishing boats beamed hundreds of thousands of lumens of neon green LED light into the water, coaxing thousands of alien looking squid to the surface.
[10/14/2017 : 11:20pm : Phi Phi Don]
The most insane phosphorescence I’ve ever seen in my life…
My arms radiate galaxies
Swirling vivid pixels
A vague outline of bodily form
The ink black depths
Frightening though they are
Bring beauty beyond measure
Amazonas, Rio Negro : Brazil
I recently had the opportunity to explore the Amazon River with Doug Stoup from IceAx and capture the story and the location for Roam.Media. It was my first official project with Roam or IceAx and it was an amazing experience.
In preparation for the trip, I hammed through “The River of Doubt” Candice Millard’s masterful telling of Teddy Roosevelt’s harrowing journey in the amazon in 1912. The book painted a picture of a place filled with death and danger around every corner. The specific tributary that Roosevelt and his crew traveled was a narrow angry section of river that forced constant portages. I think this is the vision most Americans conjure when they think of the Amazon.
Though the book gave me a fascinating background from which to view the place, its ecology, and its history, it was extremely different from my experience. The Rio Negro is a spanning wide stretch of river. At times the far shore faded into a faint horizon or was swallowed up by incoming storms. Thanks to Mo, our second generation Amazonian river guide (his father guided research missions for the Nat Geo Society and eventually built a tourism business that they share today and Mo is a trained biologist) we were able to interact with the wildlife instead of fearfully avoiding it. We caught caiman, held sloths, hand-line fished for piranha, caught frogs and toads, listened to howler monkeys, held tarantulas, caught peacock bass, swam with pink river dolphins, saw river otters, and identified dozens of species of exotic birds from macaws, to toucans, to eagles.
Other highlights: I shot (and purchased) a 10′ long bow built for hunting turtles in the water, a staple for one of the villages we visited. I practiced my extremely rusty Brazilian Jujitsu sparring with our Brazilian guides by a bonfire on the banks of the Amazon. I could go on and on about the experience and all that I learned but I’ll keep this short and do my best to record some thoughts in a blog entry on my site and a video will be launching soon.
Elk Archery Update
A Story of Failure
5 Years of failing. Thousands of arrows into the target (plenty of disappointing shots), tens of thousands of vertical feet hiked, dozens of fireless nights camping alone in the wilderness, dozens of hours staring longingly through binoculars, burnt socks, wet feet, tired legs, disappointment after disappointment, bad decisions, self doubt, burs, prickers, and thorns, shelterless rainstorms, moments of loneliness and boredom. Close calls… so many close calls. Single moments with hours, days, weeks… years really, leading up to them. Years of hopes pinned on a million tiny things going exactly right… only to have the wind shift directions and you have to start from scratch.
I’ve given every ounce of my body, mind, and soul to this pursuit since the moment I set my attention in the direction. And I’ve failed. I’ve failed over and over again. Invariably anyone who knows that I’m hunting, which is to say anyone who know me well, asks, “So…”, with a hopeful look in their eyes. Over and over I have to tell them, “Not yet,” or “That’s why they call it hunting not killing”. Every time they respond with disappointment and forced encouragement, “Don’t worry… It’ll happen”, “You gotta just keep trying”; easy sentiment from the sidelines. Still, I appreciate the curiosity and encouragement.
I’ve never done anything in my life so filled with challenge, struggle, difficulty, and ultimately failure… and I fucking love it. I wouldn’t take back a single day that my boots have touched the ground with my bow in my hand.
I’ve gone from knowing nothing about elk and little about the specifics of their environment to being able to accurately look at a topographical map of an area I’ve never been and predictably put myself amongst a herd of massive and illusive animals in a matter of days. I went from not knowing the difference between a deer and an elk print to being able to analyze the habits and recent whereabouts of specific animals by looking at the mud, sand, grass, or snow. I can hear a bugle and guess the intent of the bull or make cow call that brings a herd charging through the dense forest towards me. I know what time of day the wind begins to climb back up the valley and when it drains down. I’ve killed, cleaned, cooked and eaten grouse and deer along the way. I’ve weathered rainstorms and been charged by a herd of cattle with my back to a cliff. I’ve had bears nearly walk up and sniff me while I was silent and still in my camouflage. I’ve silently observed pine martins, ermines, foxes, bear, birds of all shape and size, squirrels, deer, goats, sheep, and moose as they go about their business, unaware of my presence. I’ve watched bulls and bucks clash antlers and hawks dive onto their prey.
I’ve sat silently as the earth spins and the sun dips below the horizon or back up hundreds of times. I’ve had a million tiny victories along the way: the perfectly placed practices shot, the celebration meal at the top of a hard won ridge-line, the intense adrenaline and satisfaction of calling in a massive beast to 10 yards or just predicting where an animal will be based on maps and tracks. I’ve looked into a 700lb bull elk’s eyes as his heaving chest breathed cold smoke into the morning air.
This season was cut short by sickness, work, travel, and family obligations but still I was able to spend a handful of days moving through the mountains and beautiful solo nights on remote ridges. I was only able to be out one day after the rut began (mating time when the cows go into estrus and all the animals start verbally communicating). I got within 30 yards but didn’t get a responsible shot. I’m already planning and excited for next year. I’m recounting the lessons and failures from this season and ready to put those lessons into practice next September. It’s the failure that puts the experience into perspective. I love it because it’s hard, not in spite of it. It took my mentor 5 years before he put his first elk on the ground with a traditional bow. I didn’t succeed on my fifth year, but I’m no less excited or determined for my 6th.
PS. Sorry for the iPhone photos. I try to keep my experiences free from the real camera so I can stay present and in a non-photo mindset.
The Chicken Dilemma
The Ethics of Killing
Four years ago I began a new chapter in my life. I had already begun hunting and two years prior I had decided that I would not eat meat unless I knew where it came from and approved its origins. I was looking for ways to live more deliberately and diligently according to my values and reduce my negative impact on the world. I focused on food because it was a system to which we are all inescapably complicit on a daily basis. It was a system that seemed more broken, cruel, and wasteful the more I learned about it. I saw it as a chance to vote for the world in which I wanted to live 3 times a day. I had filled my freezer with deer and elk meat since I began exploring the idea of becoming more self reliant on my food but I wanted to supplement that and provide as much for myself as possible. I decided that raising chickens for eggs was the next most productive way I could extricate myself, in some small degree, from the larger industrial food system.
I started researching. I built a coop from scratch. I found 4 birds that met my requirements and began the learning process of raising animals for food. I knew from the beginning that the day would come that I’d need to make a decision. Chickens only lay eggs for about 4 years of their 12+ year lifespan. After 4 years, if you have laying birds, you can choose to keep your birds as pets for the next decade or so, kill them for food, or give them away, all of which have their downsides.
4 Years later, after living with my girls on a near daily basis, feeding them, caring for them, learning about them and basking in their soothing movements, the idea of personally killing them is a more immediate and visceral moral question than I had imagined.
I’ve already decided, for the time being at least, that I am not broadly against the idea of killing animals for food. I feel that we are inherently a part of an ecosystem of life that necessitates death. I don’t believe there is any conceivable way to eliminate yourself wholesale from the cycle of life and death (even strict vegans sustain off the direct death of plants and the indirect death of insects, rodents, and often deer or other “pest” animals killed to protect crops. This is not to mention death caused by loss of habitat etc.) and so questions of which death and how much death becomes a much more murky subjective sliding scale than most people imagine.
Does the closeness to an act matter when making a moral judgement? Does my familiarity with the animals make it more or less moral to kill them? If you found out that your grandfather flew bombing flights over Dresden you would feel differently than if you learned that he killed a woman and a child with a shovel, yet the actual damage inflicted is certainly far greater in the former circumstance. In the famous “trolley car problem” thought experiment, most people would readily flip a switch to divert a train onto a track that will kill one person instead of five, however, studies show that most people would hesitate if the action was direct instead of indirect (the “fat man variation” requires the thinker to push a man in front of the train to stop it from killing the five people instead of flipping a switch to divert it onto a track with a single person instead of five).
My chicken dilemma feels like the fat man variation. I’m coming to terms with what I think needs to be done but it’s certainly not an easy decision. An appointment has been made with a farm that will allow me to be a hands on participant in the process and learn each step for next time… if I choose for there to be a next time. I’ll keep everyone up to date on my first experience of killing an animal that I raised and lived with and if it still feels like the right moral decision after the fact.
Instagram of the Month
We walked our bikes over 3,000’ through the Italian Alps (out of 9k+ climbing for the day). For a few fleeting moments I found a rhythm and observed my sphere of consciousness from a place of calm detachment and objectivity. I was able to feel the lack of separation between myself and the world: Its oneness and my selflessness. The dewy grass underfoot. The serrated ridge on the horizon. The sound of the forest birds, the same as at home but somehow different. My burning thighs and calves. The slightly too warm sun on my neck. Wildflowers. Sweat beads on my brow. My wandering chattering thoughts: “Did I bring enough food?” “What should I have said in that discussion with my girlfriend,” “Am I shooting enough photos?”
“Should I have bought that new lens? Carrying my drone?” “What am I going to do for fathers day?”… All the same as a matter of consciousness. Some reference the physical world outside my brain, some my internal world, some reference the past or the future, while others are present tense… but each thought is only that, a thought; another mental object. They occupy the same space in my mental world and carry only as much weight as my conscious mind gives them. There is no separate “I” in the center, only consciousness.
Behind the Scenes Throw Back Thursday. Stories from behind the scenes of favorite photos.
Every month I’ll pick a favorite published photo or maybe one that hit the edit room floor and tell the story behind it.
Opa Hut, Colorado 2017 – Full moon and prayer flags. This place holds a special spot in my heart. I’ve spent many nights here quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) sharing life with beautiful people. No devices, no distractions, just the essentials (melt snow for water, keep the fire going, cook when hungry), each other, and this epic spot. Opa is nestled in a perfect spot under Taylor Peak with skiing 360 degrees and as much to look at. This photo makes me think of those people and those quiet moments enjoying the simple things.
You are what you watch. In a very real way, the books you read, podcasts you listen to, radio, tv, films, news you consume, all make up your identity. These are the things that create a frame a reference for everything you experience. A strange amalgamation of all these bits of stories and ideas becomes the content of your dreams and the source material for the incessant voice in your head during your waking hours. Your media diet literally becomes you.
Some people dismiss tv/film/books/etc. as escapism or entertainment, but I believe that it’s a much more important part of what makes us who we are as individuals and what binds us together as a culture and society.
Every month I’ll pick an favorite published photo or maybe one that hit the edit room floor and tell the story behind it.
Such amazing work. I’ve been a fan of Branden for years, I own his books and often share his posts. These Humans of New York edits should be required watching by everyone. They remind us to be kind and open, that everyone is fighting a hard battle, and that everyone has hidden depths, talents, art, intelligence, poetry that we might not see from the outside. This is exactly what I crave when I look at a city scape from some high pulled back vantage… what’s happening in all those tens of thousands of individual minds scuttling around in that space? Here’s the answer.
This piece hit particularly close to home for me. It poses a question that is often at the forefront of my mind. Is it better to live simply and deeply or cast your net as wide as possible to experience the greatest breadth of what this world has to offer.
Despite my unending gratitude for the amazing things I’ve had the immense privilege of experiencing over the past months, I’m left a little empty. I’ve challenged myself from a creative and photographic perspective, but I’m yearning for more physical challenge as well as more cultural engagement. I’m excited to look toward my winter planning to find these deeper challenges.