Montana is for Bada**es

If I were to describe my recent trip to Montana in one word, it would most likely be SMOKEY. 

But, that's just one word. The rest would be adventuresome, exciting, beautiful, educational, inspiring... and many more that I could go on and on with. This was the third time I've visited this state (other than driving through) and it always leaves me wanting to return. What took me to Montana this particular summer was a photography course. For four years I had been wanting to attend the Rocky Mountain School of Photography (aka RMSP) in Missoula. So this year I signed up for a week-long education in macro photography; something I have wanted to learn more about. 

But, back to the smokey part. As the bottom half of British Columbia has pretty much been on fire all summer, apparently the western side of Montana has been about the same. Our usual blue summer skies have been replaced by a haze of smoke to varying degrees, creating an ever-present orange glow all around. When I crossed into the state of Montana from Idaho, and pretty much straight into an area with a wildfire, I realized I wasn't going to get any reprieve from the smoke I'd been inhaling in BC for weeks. This didn't stop my excitement, however, and despite being in near hazardous to hazardous air quality the whole time I was there, I had an expected amazing visit to one of my favourite US states. 

 

That orange glow at sunset.

 

After a quick overnight detour up to Seeley Lake to check in with my friend Tanya (where I was introduced to the Rice Ridge Fire threatening the town and surrounding areas... I'll get back to this later), I moved into my studio apartment for the week in downtown Missoula. Missoula is surrounded by a few wildfires itself, the largest and closest being the Lolo Peak Fire. It doesn't matter which way the wind blows, smoke is pretty much inevitable. Through the orange glow, I found myself in a town with an eclectic mix of artists, hippies, ranchers, professionals, hipsters, students, and outdoor enthusiasts. Everyone who lived there was enthusiastic about Missoula in a you-would-fit-in-why-don't-you-move-here kind of way. I coveted my apartment location on West Broadway and Higgins, within walking distance to restaurants, shopping, parks, outdoor concerts, the farmers market, a street fair, and RMSP. I wanted to live in Missoula for a week, and I got to do that. 

 
Downtown Missoula.

Downtown Missoula.

My apartment building.

My apartment building.

Home for a week.

Home for a week.

 
Breakfast with a downtown view each morning.

Breakfast with a downtown view each morning.

RMSP did not disappoint. The four years was worth the wait, though what took me so long I don't know. People come from all over to attend this school and I now know why. After the first day of class and shooting I felt like I had already been there a week. Of course, by the last day it felt all too short a time. That's what happens when you are enjoying yourself and loving what you're doing. RMSP has a six week Summer Intensive program that solves that too-short problem though. Perhaps, someday. But for six days, my fellow photographer classmates and I learned everything we needed and wanted to know about photographing the world which is generally beyond our easy sight. Our fantastic instructor, Tony Rizzuto, challenged us with finding the tiny details at Fort Missoula, in a second-hand home building store (or "junk" store to my Chicago classmates), at Garnet Ghost Town, in a garden nursery (much more to the Chicago crew's liking), in our bathroom (beauty is everywhere!), on the streets of Missoula, and in the controlled environment of a studio. It was a whirlwind of lectures, shoots, critiques, and lots of laughs. We even managed most of this in the orange glow of the smoke-filled sky. I have always loved macro photography and am excited to see where this training and knowledge will now take me as a photographer. As for Missoula... I will definitely be back!

Fort Missoula / Old fire truck.

 

Home Resource / Bucket of red screws.

 

Garnet Ghost Town / Pitcher.

 

Caras Nursery / Lovely lavender.

 

My bathroom / Makeup brush.

Downtown Missoula / Schwinn bike.

 

In studio / Gerbera daisy.

 

The next leg of my Montana trip took me back up to Seeley Lake. During my macro course, Tanya kept me updated on their local fire, which was continuing to grow toward them. It seemed that this wildfire was starting to, and was going to, get quite angry. I showed up at the same time Tanya's husband Alistair got there from Bismarck, where they also have a home and Alistair works for half the month. They had decided that because they have a place to be far from this wildfire mess, it would be a good idea to get themselves and their pets there. An evacuation "party" started, with friends driving out from North Dakota to pick up their Montana horses and help move vehicles to another location. Important things were packed up in another trailer that Tan and Alistair would drive back with. While this all happened, we continued to look at fire maps, get information from firefighters, and watch the fire crest over ridges and burn its way all too quickly down the mountain toward us and the meadow that Tan and Alistair live in and share with other ranches. Though they were lucky to have a place to evacuate to early, I know the worry and stress is still there. Since they left, the Rice Ridge Fire has continued to grow and is now at over 100,000 acres. Most of Seeley Lake is evacuated. The meadow has come close to evacuation, and the fire is threatening other populations. And if it isn't fire that people are dealing with, it's hazardous smoke. I read so many posts from Western Montana locals about their frustrations and the lack of concern and coverage this is getting on a national level. I think about my own province and the orange glow I wake up to every morning, with the constant threat we still face due to the severity of this dry spell. Winter is still too far away. 

Time to go to Bismarck.

 

Cresting.

Heading down way too fast.

 

Completely engulfed in smoke.

 

Looking back at the house and the fire. We still managed to get some sleep that night.

 
 

On my way home from Montana, I decided to take a side trip to the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, not far out of Missoula and in the Flathead Reservation. This was a gem of a find, and a good way to end this trip with a little serenity. I also thought a chat with the Universe in such a sacred sanctuary on behalf of Seeley Lake and my friends wouldn't hurt either. Though I found this site in a Missoula guide book, it's not one of those pull-over touristy places. Which is nice, because those who want to find it will. I spent an hour or so peacefully strolling through the garden, spinning prayer wheels, and appreciating the tranquility, while still surrounded by a smokey haze. It was a calm spot in the chaos of fires. I left hoping that everyone everywhere can stay safe and be mindful of their actions out in the wilderness until the weather can turn in our favour. 

Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.

 

Now that I'm home, I'm processing photos, catching up with work, and looking ahead at the cooler months that we all seem to be craving right now. I'm checking fire maps daily, both in BC and Montana. Tanya and Alistair still have a house to go back to. And hopefully it stays that way. In Missoula, I bought a t-shirt that inspired the title of this post. Seeing firsthand what the residents are dealing with and surviving gives it a whole new meaning. I think those of us in BC can adopt this sentiment as well.

 
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July Update: Odds n Ends

I've realized that while I've been waiting around for the "big" story to happen, so that I can blog about it, all the little stuff has started to fall by the wayside... and the little stuff adds up to be big eventually. It's like running into someone whom you haven't seen in years and they ask, "What's new?" Uh... well... everything? If you haven't been in touch or updating on a regular basis, you literally have nothing to say to this such person. Lately, this way of thinking started reaching over into my photography as well. I've found photos I haven't shared for one reason or another. Maybe there wasn't a story, or they felt too random. But part of my love of taking pictures is the beauty in the simplicity of capturing a "real" moment that doesn't have to be big. And I don't want to deny the joy I get out of sharing those moments with others. So no more waiting because, really, life is just a bunch of this n thats and odds n ends, and this shouldn't keep me from having something to say or photos to share.

 
 

Change has been my constant companion for quite a while now. Sounds funny, I know. Change... constant? But it's true. While some people fear Change, I've grown to rely on it. It encourages me to get out of any comfort zones I put up around me so I can continue to grow and learn and see how amazing this adventure of life can be if I'm open to it. It's not always that comfortable and makes me face my truth a lot, but tough love is still love, and I've learned to love Change back. The first part of this year consisted of waves of personal changes, again, that now have me sitting mid-year with about as much uncertainty as certainty about my future. But this is okay, because while still facing change, I know the uncertainties will slip away soon enough. 

A big decision based on changes was to put my wonderful dog, Kai, up for adoption. Now for those of you who have met Kai personally, or have followed him on my social media, you know what a special guy he is. He was a rescue to begin with and I really had no idea what a lovable, crazy goofball he was going to be. Kai the catahoula, or "hooligan," or "goober," or "doodles"... he's all of them and more. He's been a bit of a wildcard since day one, but the choice for his rehoming is based on my own issues, not his. I've read plenty of Facebook posts about how people have kept their dogs through college and break-ups and pregnancies and you-name-its. The shaming is out there. However, I'm realistic enough about life to know that if it really was that easy, there wouldn't be so much need for shelters or rescues or pet adoption groups. People are far from perfect and life is far from ideal. Not all relationships, including those with our animal companions, are meant to be forever. And it's never an easy decision to make when things have to end. Despite having the need for a regular meal, a roof over his head, and a snuggle occasionally, Kai is a wild and independent soul. I'm not the only one who can love him and provide for him. I've had to let that control go, knowing that his new forever family is out there looking for him right now. And we'll be grateful to them when they show up. In the mean time, we'll enjoy each others company until we must part ways. He, and I, will be just fine. We both have a lot of adventure ahead of us.

While not a lot is scheduled into my future based on the uncertainty I talked about, I do have a couple up-and-comings to share. Late in August I will be heading to Missoula, MT to attend photo school. This has been something I've wanted to do for a couple years now, and this just seemed like the year to go for it. While I don't have a bucket list, this could qualify as a bucket list item. I found the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in a Missoula visitors guide I picked up on a trip to visit my friend, Tanya, in Seeley Lake in 2013. They have some amazing classes and programs and I'm excited to immerse myself in a week of learning macro photography; a style I love. I'm also looking forward to catching up with my good friend in her beautiful part of the world while I'm down there. Stay tuned, I promise to share this experience.

In October, I will have my work featured in the Arts on 3 Gallery in Christina Lake. While a few months ahead still, I am starting to curate and prepare for it now. This is a first for me and I'm excited and honoured to have this opportunity. It will be interesting to see what photos I choose and how I will deal with my own inner critic, because we all have one. But the ability to share and create something beautiful outweighs any fears and doubts I could possibly come across. I have been writing positive affirmations on Post-It notes as reminders for myself this year. I'll just put up a few more, dive into this task, and see what happens! More sharing ahead.

 
 

For those of you who continue to stick by me and my changes and the ups and the downs, thank you. Truly. I'm finding that the more truth one has to face, the harder it becomes to hide. And hiding behind a false-front is too much work. We're only here to live our lives for ourselves, and perhaps help or inspire or teach something to others who may need it along the way. All those Post-It affirmations I have are because someone shared something I needed to hear. Hopefully I can pay it forward in some way. 

 
 

So, here's to enjoying the rest of the summer, with certainty or uncertainty ahead. Things are going to happen one way or another. And I'll be back, telling my stories when they do!