A Collection of Short Stories
I’m already scared of losing it. The “everything’s possible and I’m going to be better in every aspect of life” feeling after an inspiring trip. You know it, right? 36 hours into my return trip, those thoughts are already distancing themselves... beaten back by my commute through America’s two largest cities en route from a tiny island in the Atlantic to a tinier island in the Pacific. (Perhaps I should be more grateful to NYC and LAX for making this kind of thing possible). Yesterday, I got teary taking off from Iceland. Fully lost in its wind pulling on the plane, short-period swell breaking in a blue-grey ocean below, and pink light glowing off massive glaciers on the horizon. Raw. Wild. Harsh. Uninviting but also inviting (with the right attitude and clothes). All the personalities of nature I value the highest, as someone who feels most alive in the thick of it. While it’s a bit strange to tell you, I’m thankful I get tears from seeing the world. I want to hold those feelings close within. Everyday, not just today.
Conceptualizing a book and actually starting it are two very different things. When I started writing, a big question kept coming back: as an American, who am I to write a book about Iceland? Especially one that gets into some pretty intricate topics surrounding conservation and the economy. I assuage my fears by building knowledge — tons of research, reading Icelandic books and studies, and planning a trip to really take in the country. Now, I’m beginning to see that question as the one that keeps me honest — am I taking my work further? Am I doing the country a solid? I’m hoping, as an outsider, I can see with fresh eyes what locals normalize. Yesterday, I met with @andrimagnason, esteemed Icelandic author and environmentalist. I asked him if there was any way this book would do a disservice to Iceland. He laughed. No, he said, the only way to do a disservice to Iceland is to have Justin Bieber instagram from a sacred location. Man’s got a good sense of humor.
Some things I have learned about Iceland: In early November the sun only gets 15-degrees above the horizon, so you drive with the visor down all day, i.e. sunrise & sunset driving elsewhere. Icelanders are friendly but not too friendly, which I like. They are a sharing country - visitors outnumber locals 6:1 (at least) each year... imagine what Trump would say about that! I was asked zero questions at customs. I haven’t seen a gun or a police officer patrolling yet. In a week, we’ve lost over an hour of daylight. When 10% of a country is covered by glaciers, the meltwater produces the wildest river systems I’ve seen to date. Their toilet paper is superior - stronger, better texture - than in the U.S. Their public pools are gathering places with hot tubs and slides, and are extremely clean (everyone showers naked before getting in). I can count healthy groves of trees I’ve seen on two hands. All stop signs are yields (why haven’t we adopted this yet?). You can tell which way the wind is coming by looking at the horses butts, they point them into the wind. When a snow plow passes you on the highway, it’s a complete white out for 5 seconds. Icelandic horses are tough mothers, they stand (or lay) in the snow and wind all winter. You never need cash anywhere. Most of the country lies just below the arctic circle, between 65-66 degrees North. They warn you every time your speed is about to be taken by remote cameras. A gallon of gas runs about $8. Every river, stream, and drainage is named and has a sign posted by it. Only 37% of visitors venture into the country’s North. Street art murals are common in many towns and cities, which adds a nice sense of vibrancy. Rivers are full of floating ice this time of year. The hype is for real and there are a lot of tourists, but like anywhere, once you get off the main roads and attractions, you have it all to yourself. The country is bigger than I imagined - I’ve been driving hard for 7 days and have only scratched the surface. I should get off social media and get back to exploring 🇮🇸.
So why Iceland? Why in November? I’m excited to tell you that I’m working on a book with @chrisburkard (his photographs, my words) set in the fascinating country of Iceland. Chris has been photographing the almost fictionally beautiful rivers here for a decade. You’ve seen some of his images, right? Well, the time is now to set a story behind these rivers, taking you on a journey from glacier to river mouth. I’m aiming to weave together the story of the land, including its history, geology, people, and thoughts on keeping these rivers pristine for eternity. I’ve already started writing the book, but I needed on-the-ground research to fill in the visual storytelling. All the colors, the smells, the cold, the wind, the light, the locals. I’m taking it all in. Chris is flying over next week to speak at an environmental conference, advocating for the creation of a large national park in the Highlands. Stoked to share more of this journey and more about the book soon! I think you’re gonna dig it. (And in the meantime, it’s been bluebird and cold here, so I’ve been shooting a ton of photos like this one before the storms come. Mind expanding landscape here, that’s for sure).
On the road again… on my way to Iceland today. Travel is an evolving concept for me. For awhile there, it was my my drug, my addiction. Keep moving, and move on when things get boring. Don’t dig for inspiration, let new horizons smack you over the face with it. That works, and it’s a really fun life (not to mention, great for a social media feed). But these days, I appreciate that life isn’t in constant motion. Travel isn’t something I have to do, it’s something I get to do. It’s a luxury that helps me recalibrate an open, curious, flow-state of mind. The glorious headspace that (hopefully) makes us better people when we’re at home. I’m excited to share more of this upcoming Iceland trip with you all.
You might believe from this shot that the whole experience was saturated colors and rainbow roads. Ha. This shot is only a tiny piece of the truth. The truth of the better part of two days hiking in a cloud, camera in pack, water dripping from every ledge of our bodies and gear. Soggy, heads down, getting our highs off Snickers and Milky Ways – yes, the candy bar, not the galaxy. Bad weather is a great time to appreciate the friends who will march through it with me, as well as the 2-hour weather windows – like this one – that salvage the assignment @hawaiimagazine
His eyes told me everything about the desert. Lonely. Vacant as a thousand empty hotel rooms. Shifting left, shifting right, up, down. Anywhere but into my eyes. His windburned, dust washed face swollen with grief, somewhere close to crying but not quite there. New York plates on a white Corolla, front left hubcap missing. Fresh off a breakup… that was my guess, though I never asked. Looked like a long, meaningful romance too. She musta called it off. That’s why he was here instead of Brooklyn. Roaming this place so lonesome it would rid him of it. 📷 @k_e_e_n_a_n
I have one piece of art in my rolling home and this is it. A reminder with every look in the rearview what a purposeful life is to me. Fight for something and do it thoughtfully. Get dressed up in your riot gear and throw flowers. Flowers can be anything… words, photographs, humor, smiles, kindness, a listening ear. Or, in some cases, a stencil and a can of spray paint. Flowers are truth. Throw truth. . Since discovering @banksy, he’s been a hero of mine (and perhaps yours). Banksy is anger, well-adjusted. A thoughtful fuck you to the system, defining the artist-intellectual-punk genre. He doesn’t want to be famous, he just wants to do his work and let you decide. It makes me so happy to know in this era of fictitious truths, there’s a balancing act with people like Banksy around. If you haven’t seen his latest art-shredder piece, head over to @banksy now. It’s incredible.
Seeing the first dustings of winter out there… and it’s making me giddy. Growing up in the Midwest, winter was something to be endured. Perhaps with a couple good sledding runs, Sunday football, and a snowman or two. Then out in California, winter used to be a lot of rain. Before I picked up those $20 ski boots at a Tahoe garage sale, I hated winter. Those boots re-arranged my whole life. Rain became powder. Rain all week in San Francisco meant late night Friday drives to the mountains with Bay Area crazies spinning off the road in their A4s, trying to get to the cabin before they closed the 80. Then came the migration even further west, to Hawai’i, where winter means big waves, soft pastel light, rainbows, storm days, cozy nights, and tolerable temperatures. Looks like the first big waves start marching in next week. I never imagined winter would be my favorite season, but I guess that’s what makes life, life.
The other day, I googled the name of my favorite waterfall on Maui, just to see. Until that point, the waterfall was completely off-the-map… miraculously not written up in any guide books. I had never seen anyone there. Then I hit enter. There it was – YouTube footage from a tourist’s GoPro naming and exposing the spot. 500 views and counting. Scores of locals pleaded with her to take the waterfall name off the video, to respect the few places of solitude left on tiny Maui. But she refused. And she continues to refuse. She has the right to expose a “public” place. . Well sure, sure you do, but how is that helping anything? What good is geo-tagging, other than to make our content (and ourselves) more popular to a nebulous blob of followers, while helping services like Instagram or YouTube become more addicting? This at the expense of the land and the solitude of its local inhabitants. Why is it some people’s duty to expose secret places when hundreds who came before them didn’t? Much has been written about Instagram making places “loved to death,” and one way to slow that process is to stop naming the places in our content. To require people to have their own shred of inspiration, buy a map, learn how to read it… and perhaps even walk up a valley and be disappointed by a waterfall that’s not there. That process makes secret discoveries exciting. . The lake above is one of my favorite places in the world. A few of you have probably felt the same way standing here that I did. And that feeling ain’t gonna get any better with more people around.
It’s so easy to forget that I live on the side a massive volcano. Probably because it hasn’t erupted in awhile. Haleakalāʻs crater is far away and usually covered in clouds. The mountain is over 10,000 feet tall, but appears more like 6,000 feet because of its very gradual slope to the sea. I’m always left open-mouth breathing when I make the trek to its core. I say I’ll come more often, and I usually fail. But I need to stop failing. Because Haleakalā produces some of the most spectacular light and colors I’ve photographed anywhere. Like this scene. Check out my story for more from my most recent trip to the House of the Sun.
I’ve been getting up each morning and writing down 3 things I’m grateful for. This morning one of them was “waking up to the first 17-second period, NW swell of the season.” That hasn’t happened since March or April. Checking the ocean buoys around Hawai’i is the first thing I do on my phone each morning. Thank god @doit4tacos loves receiving my animated texts, or I’d drive @haleygracef nuts with surf forecasting talk. So yeah, 17-second, NW swell on the buoys this morning, which means these kind of waves can’t be too far off. I’m looking forward to the day when my surf abilities catch up with my buoy reading abilities 😜
An involuntary phrase just spills out of me when I see a scene like this... “millions and billions!” Haley laughs at me, I laugh at myself, then smile at the wonder all those years have given us.
The words “once in a lifetime” usually feel so abstract. You say them, but you’re not sure if you really believe them. Not on this morning.
Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson, as seen from the flanks of Mount Rainier. Alternatively, you could say this is Klickitat, Wy’east, and Seekseekqua, as seen from the flanks of Tahoma. History is crazy, don’t you think? I’ve sat at many a campfire and wondered aloud: what if a major western explorer had decided native ways made more sense? That they would assimilate into the cultures that preceded them. Maybe then our mountain names would carry meaning, not the names of dead white guys we know little about. Maybe then our epidemics wouldn’t be depression, anxiety, and opioids. Or maybe we wouldn’t be here at all, because disease and hunting & gathering ways kept populations small. Though the historic treatment of natives has been abysmal, and we should do everything possible to correct that, I’m not sure either way of life is better or worse. I just like to wonder about how certain moments in time – like a single ship landing in an “undiscovered” place – have such a dramatic impact on where we end up. My friends usually indulge these campfire questions, other times they tell me to shut the hell up.
Let me teach you a little trick. In the northern hemisphere, if the right side of the moon is more lit up, it’s getting bigger, or waxing. If the left side is more lit, it’s waning. Reverse that trick in the southern hemi. This particular moon happens to be a waxing gibbous. The moon and I, we’ve shared many days & nights together. Just us. It will always be a dear dear friend of solitude.
Five years ago today. Van taking a ride on a flat bed tow truck to a shop called The Abbey in rural Alaska. A gruff man answers the shop phone, “There’s a line of 12 vans ahead of you, if it’s anything major, it’ll be weeks.” Weeks? Living at a mechanic’s shop in the bush for weeks? For this van is my home, I ain’t going anywhere. Mike Strang, the mechanic and shop owner, didn’t know that piece of information yet. Or that he would bump me – begrudgingly – to the front of the line when he found out. Why am I smiling in this photo? I certainly wasn’t happy. I’ve come to know that smile over the years of owning my VW. It’s the look of calm acceptance that only a 30-year-old van could beat into me. It’s the smile of not being in control for once… of not having to be in control. For maintaining control is exhausting. It really is. And most of us toil away our whole lives pretending we have it all under control (me too). So that smile… that’s the smile of surrendering to a stranger named Mike Strang who hates me before he’s even met me. 📷 @k_e_e_n_a_n
Noticing fall in Hawai’i requires an attentive mind. There are no aspens or oaks or cottonwoods changing colors. Snowfall isn’t yet gracing the upper reaches of our tallest volcanoes. But I feel it. Fall is sleeping with two light blankets instead of one. It’s turning off the fans and needing a T-shirt in the morning. It’s a fresh evening breeze that quickly sweeps away the daytime heat. It’s being able to (finally) wear jeans. And if I miss all that, I simply need to glance at our puppy dog… for he has abandoning his summer sprawl for a curled up fall ball.
Old Hawai’i. May we never lose her.
Road trips are my moving meditation. Driving from Alaska to Washington, the days passed by in a blissed-out trance, fueled by mint oreos and Lord Huron. Then I hit north-central British Columbia and its lights. No, not the northern lights... giant fires burning atop metal stands. Gas flares. The byproduct of energy extraction (in this case, natural gas) that couldn’t be bottled or piped at the source. It gets burned. Wasted. I spent two entire days driving through this zone. The tanker truck to car ratio was at least 10:1, and the filth is still indescribable. I wasn’t bathing much those days, but I needed a physical and spiritual bath. This field of horses was it – the first natural scene I encountered after two days in energy land. So while this picture has nice fall colors and light, it’s a lot more to me than that.