Climbing — like running, owning a business, facing a fear, or being a human— at times asks us to suffer.
I’ll save the story of my accident for another day, as right now my mind is flooded with memories of my recovery.
I fell 15 ft while lead climbing on this day last year, suffering a three-column compound burst fracture of my L1 vertebrae, retropulsed bone fragments 8mm into my spinal canal, and a triangular fracture of my T12 vertebrae. In non-medical terms, this is code for “hurts like hell.” I should have experienced nerve and neurological damage, if not death.
Instead, I was told I could recover. After an invasive spinal fusion surgery and six brutal days in the hospital, the medical staff sent me home with one simple command: walk.
So, every day I pushed myself up out of my geriatric recliner and gave thanks that I hadn’t lost feeling in my legs, that I could still feebly get myself out the door, to stand in the sun and remember that I was alive. I was given another day.
I cruised the sidewalks around my neighborhood, slow at first and then swiftly. Paired with my methodical, step-and-breathe routine came a newfound awareness of my body and surroundings. I began to intimately pay attention to the neighborhood I had called home for over a year, yet barely known.
Every day, I walked by the “weave on Marie street” — a sad, abandoned clump of hair that once resided on someone’s head. I passed the shirtless, overweight man at the top of the hill who routinely yelled in a monotone voice, “beautiful day”. I frequently passed a sharply-dressed elderly man who was always chasing a family of kittens around his yard. I anticipated waving to the two women who sat in rocking chairs on their porch every afternoon. I winced at the effects of gentrification weighing on my fellow neighbors.
I noticed a familiar determination in the young boy who practiced basketball in his front yard, without a hoop. Neither of us had the immediate gratification of a scored goal, yet we labored on.
On one particularly rough morning, I turned a corner to stare at the face of Jesus on a pillow in the middle of the sidewalk. I took the encounter as a divinely comedic reminder that healing also requires rest.
I routinely smiled at the shy, awkward neighbor who religiously tended his garden. He was the proud owner of an albino turkey that squawked every 30 minutes. I learned to walk-sprint by the man who always, without fail, let his damn dog chase me a block before he called it home.
Over the span of a year, I counted 15 abandoned diapers, watched the construction of an entire row of new houses, and developed a deep admiration for the guy who built out three Volkswagon camper vans two blocks from my house. And as I grew more aware of the world around me, what was broken within me healed, a little stiffer & a little stronger.
I watched spring shift to summer, day-by-day. This is not a sudden process. It happens gradually, patiently, faithfully — and most of us feel sideswiped by the change because we are too busy being busy.
I walked and I walked and I walked. My neck brace was removed, and my wobbly, tentative stride took a more purposeful pace. My lungs regained their strength, and I learned about balance. I relearned how to trust. Eventually, I could bend and touch my toes. Then I ran, over and over again, arguably faster than I’d even been before my accident.
I can’t help but think: what if I paid this much attention for longer than a span of a few months? What would I see? What have I already missed?
To my friends & family: you were my backbone when I was broken. Thank you for the meals, the walking buddies, the hugs, the listening, the truth-telling.
A year later, I stand a little straighter, stretch longer, breathe deeper. A year later, I continue to say: Thank you God, for this day. Thank you God, for this body. Help me to steward it well.
Climbing also compels us to reach. It demands that we stretch beyond our limits and muster the strength to pull ourselves up, crack-by-crack, finger-by-finger, breath-by-breath.
May we all look back, bless how far we’ve come, and never stop reaching.
Honored to have some photos & words featured on Rock Meets Soil. Full feature on their blog!
Each of these photos has a silhouetted theme—
it's difficult to see the faces of the subjects. To me,
they represent the vulnerability and mystery of human
relationships. Often we only display curated parts of
ourselves deemed worthy of revealing.
Most of us are half hidden—we're
anthropomorphic glaciers gliding through the world,
carrying most of our burdens beneath the surface.
Photography feeds my curiosity, allows me to evoke
emotion, and every so often, grants me a glimpse into who
someone truly is. May we continue to welcome life's
mysteries, keep asking questions, and have
the courage to show our scars.
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
10.22.16 | Knoxville, TN
Thanks to my pals at Hipcamp for the feature!
"No matter how long you’ve been shooting, mistakes are always going to happen and the lessons will be unending. I recently super-glued my card reader shut (with no card in it) 30 minutes before a shoot. You have to learn to adapt and laugh along the way, to take your art seriously but give yourself some grace and compassion—plus a big ol’ high five for choosing to pursue something scary and unknown."
This is my step grandfather, Wayne. He's a 75-year-old energizer bunny who eats chocolate chip cookies every day for breakfast. He is also a cabinetry wizard who transformed Fran the Van into a tiny home in the span of a month.
There's a poetic undercurrent to this venture: Wayne had a serious stroke in Jan. of 2016. The medical staff transported him to surgery so quickly they broke a hospital record. He recovered fully. I broke my back in April of 2016 ( rough year for our family ). I had emergency spinal fusion surgery and my healing since then has been remarkable. On life's continuum, I reside near dawn and Wayne leans towards dusk. We are two differing humans who intimately understand the fragility of life. Both of us have second chances with healthy bodies. Both of us want to honor this gift.
Saying thank you feels futile. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Fran would consist of duct tape and plywood if not for your beautiful work.
Cheers to future Franventures with new Frands!
Friends! I’ll be in New Mexico, Utah, & Arizona for April/May, and I’m looking to shoot some weddings, local businesses, and musicians while I’m out there. All travel fees will be waived!
Any connections or suggestions would be amazing!
Belief isn't always easy.
But this much I have learned-
if not enough else-
to live with my eyes open. -Mary Oliver
Endlessly grateful for the gift to document life in all of its wonderful and wayward ways.
Cheers to 2016!
favorite place, year 33
Last October, 4 pals & I road tripped around the Northeast in search of fall.