A Collection of Short Stories
Old and new. City and country. Aloneness and togetherness. Routine and adventure. Known and unknown. Too much of any one of these and our senses dull. I’ve always found it’s the contrasts in life where things grow sharper.
This is the nēnē, or Hawaiian goose, our state bird. In the 1950s, there were only about 30 left in Hawai’i. Their population is believed to be about 2,500 today, making them the rarest goose on earth. I’ve seen quite a few in the wild by now, but never had one pose so perfectly. I mean, just look at those wings. They’re not big flyers though, preferring to stick close to home. They’ve even developed longer toes and less webbing to make better headway on lava rock.
Whether you’re religious or not, aren’t churches eye catching? Hard to say why exactly. Perhaps they’re reminders to keep a little mystery burning inside.
Winter is almost here, which ignites one of my guilty pleasures. Buying books… lots of books. Just about every week, I’ve been going to the used bookstore on a solo date. My first stop is always the $1 book cart. Last week, on the other side of that rolling cart, was a unique woman. Her smell was too much for me (which is saying something), but I decided to endure, intent on hunting down my $1 treasure. Then she began talking to herself, something I’ve become much more compassionate about since my fiancé started working in mental health. I didn’t really mind her constant chatter until she said, “Am I going to have to kill someone today?” To which I internally answered, “Um, no you’re not. And definitely not if it’s me you’re talking about!” I tensed up but continued spying on her internal chatter. “People don’t read books… they buy books because they want to be the books,” she said. Whatever had led her to this mental state, something was still working well inside. How many books have I bought that I haven’t touched? Books that contain knowledge or stories that I dearly want to be part of me, but never will? Many of them. She’s right - I want to be the books. I recently read an article that said having lots of unread books around is good for us. They remind us how little we actually know. How ignorant we will always be. How humble and curious we should stay…
Winter time and the living’s... not easy. Yes, Hawai’i has skin-bronzing weather this time of year, but playing in the waters off our North and West shores is far from relaxing... unless you have some kind of screw loose. And many of us do. @kealakennelly chucked herself into bomb after bomb during last week’s Pe’ahi Challenge, before it was called off for being too big. She actually got blown out of this wave, meaning she wore that monster behind her. Gnarly. – For those interested in some background about women’s big wave surfing. Women first began competing in @wsl big wave events in 2016. They’ve been competing in the Pe’ahi Challenge for the last three years, but this year was a big deal – being the first with gender equity in pay, a great move by surfing’s governing body. @kealakennelly got the same paycheck as @billykemper for winning the competition ($20K a piece). I’m excited to see how pay equity could evolve women’s big wave surfing, by showing younger generations of women that we take them as seriously as the men.
I tend to just throw myself at things I’m curious about. Full force. Since moving to Hawai’i, I’ve spent a lot of time under churning water like this, patiently waiting for big waves to let me back up. “20 foot faces and nobody out… let’s go!” I’m very methodical in my life, but rarely do I take the standard route. I don’t know why, but it has never really excited me; and if I’m not excited about life, then what the heck? I bring up this personal philosophy because I’m honored today to be featured in an article on @officialfstoppers (link in bio). It’s a profile piece that takes you on a journey from my childhood roots in the farm fields of Indiana, to my 10 years in Silicon Valley, to my two years living in a van (down by the river), to making a life with photography and words in Hawai’i and beyond. It’s always weird to self promote like this, but it’s my hope that I can help someone else on their journey. In short: just do it, don’t wait for permission. (Thanks for writing a great piece @timbehuniak)
I seek reflections in my work because they allow me to capture what is ever elusive in life - perfect balance. This particular reflection spoke to me because of that cool cloud encapsulated within a larger storm system, one that would leave plenty of ice and snow on my tent that night.
Day of days.
Seems like a really good day to FKHATE, support equality, and go surfing!
Solo travel was once a joy that seemed infinite. A cleanse from the influence and the systems of life. The subtle yet powerful way things are done that remind us, our thoughts are not entirely our own. Things like traffic lights, liquid allowances on airplanes, land designations, working hours, taxes, community beliefs, top stories in the news. While they don’t explicitly say it, these things seek to make us unoriginal… conformists. Solo travel is my antidote. I wake up each morning with a clean mind asking: what do I see here? What do I want to believe? My unfiltered thoughts, or the thoughts and rules of (mostly) dead people? This doesn’t mean I blow through a red light, but I do contemplate why it’s there and why it’s red. I cherish this meditative, playful state so much that I traveled solo from 2013-2015. Interestingly, though, I’ve noticed a shift lately. My last trip to Iceland, after ten days of being alone, I felt a new influence tugging at me. The influence of home. I missed it. A lot. And that made me happy. Like, somehow, I’ve gotten a few big things right in the systems of life.
In a world where our minds and hearts are becoming fused to AI, I still want to be able to drive a stick shift, read paper maps, write letters on paper, read books on paper, talk to humans on the phone, seek NO SERVICE, ponder my own answers to big questions, chop wood, guess the weather by looking into the sky, find new music, shows, and films that aren’t suggested to me, not have my steps, heart rate, and sleep tracked in the background… and know myself better than the machines know me.
One of my absolute favorite things about moving through time and space is remembering that every place I’ve ever visited is still out there doing its thing. Moving on its own trajectory, through seasons and storms and erosion and long nights. My favorite daydream is to conjure up visuals – a mental slideshow – of all the places I’ve camped in my life. I can usually get to about 30-40 spots before my brain runs out of gas. But then I’ll do it over again, and I’ll get another 30-40. This little visual game makes life feel so grand and meaningful in the middle of a normal day (and yes, that grass is the orangest orange I’ve ever seen).
Iceland. It’s so blown out now. So unoriginal. Everyone’s been there, even my aunt who didn’t know it was a country 5 years ago. OK, I actually made that last sentence up, but I’m sure this has happened to someone. For me, once the mass market and magazines and top-10-places-to-visit blogs discover a place, I’m running the other way. Over the last decade, places like Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Mount Hood, Hawai’i, Iceland, and many many more… they’ve become blown out. For good reason – they’re all true wonders of rawness that every human, no matter how metropolitan, still craves at some primitive level. But, when people start to infringe on my holy places, my inner child gets angry. They’re mine! All mine. I find sweet elusive solitude there, and I really don’t want you around. So, yes, I was a bit skeptical going to Iceland. What about all the tourist buses I’ve heard about? What am I going to find there that hasn’t already been found? Nothing with that kind of thinking, except more frustration. But with a slight change of mindset, everything can be found. For everything in Iceland was new to me, and still very much is. I’m working on my attitude about popular places, because the crowding will only get worse since we can’t-stop-won’t-stop ourselves from multiplying. So was Iceland crowded at times? Yes, but it wasn’t bad. A notable moment was my first morning. I unzipped my tent to find a woman in a grey sequin dress sitting in the frozen grass on MY frozen beach, posing for a professional photographer. I laughed and it added to my day. Staying in that kind of mindset makes all the difference in enjoying life. (But, you best believe I’m going to keep traveling to high – or low – latitudes when things get cold, so you’re inside with your slippers on, sipping hot chocolate). #northtothefuture
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