I got to ring out 2018 with a final Shoestring Adventures trip in the Grand Canyon. This time around, the Canyon reminded me that most things in life are temporary- pain, joy, fear, hurt, love. We experienced 4 seasons worth of weather in 3 days, and just when I thought it would stay rainy or cold or cloudy, the weather shifted and offered something new. So it goes with our many seasons in life. I wrote more about our adventure on the Shoestring blog, which you can read here.
Friends! I’m stoked to have some work hanging in my favorite SB coffee shop, Breakfast Culture Club. These pieces are from a project that formed while I was hiking the John Muir Trail. I encountered a few disappointed hikers who felt that much of the scenery we walked through was the exactly the same. Though I couldn’t agree with them, their comments inspired me to really pay attention to what was around me- for even in the slower pace of hiking life, it is easy to miss beauty if you’re not looking for it. So I started paying attention to the textures of tree bark, rocks, and plants that I passed on my daily commute. I couldn’t believe the differences in color and texture. I began taking macro photos of the textures followed by a slow shutter speed photo to capture the colors. Sometimes one person’s negativity can inspire positivity in another. Look up, my friends! This world has so much beauty to discover. I’ll be offering more photos & prints from this series soon!
Printed by my photo family at Color Services.
Last October, I had the opportunity to document a 5 day women's backpacking trip in Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness with the Atlanta based nonprofit SheisABLE (which was founded by one of my favorite humans, Elise Knicely). Florence Williams joined us on behalf of Outside Magazine, and I'm thrilled to say that her words & my photos are in Outside's May 2018 issue, and featured online here.
This trip necessitated conversation within the outdoor industry on ways to structure outdoor programs for populations that have suffered long-term psychological trauma. The outdoor education and adventure world predominantly follows the formula of putting students in harsh and physically demanding environments as a means towards self-discovery and interpersonal breakthrough. Words like grit, endure, conquer, strength, tough, and survival are centerpieces of learning. For certain populations, this method is fantastic- I experienced it firsthand while working at Voyageur Outward Bound last summer. However, with other populations, different approaches have to be considered. The women I went on the trip with are some of the most resilient, gritty, and tough people I've ever met. They've endured pain beyond belief for horrific periods of time. When I asked one if she had previously been camping, she responded that the closest thing to camping she experienced was homelessness. This group didn't need to learn how to survive, they'd been surviving their whole life. They needed comfort, empowerment, compassion, self-care, safety. The benefits and healing that come from nature cannot begin if your population feels like their basic safety needs are not met.
As Aleya explains it, healing trauma is complicated. That’s because the brain wants to hold on to memories of danger. “They’re separate from linear, logical thought processes,” she says, “so your nervous system acts like it’s happening now or is about to.” Simply talking about traumatic memories doesn’t fully work, because it engages only those neural pathways associated with logic and speech. Healing involves both separating fearful emotions from bad memories and bringing the nervous system back to the safer, quieter present. “Trauma healing happens not only through talking, but also through integrative nonverbal therapies,” Aleya says, referring to both movement and mindful-ness. These happen easily in adventure sports, as long as they feel relatively safe.
So what does that look in the context of an expedition? For our trip, it meant fewer miles, lots of verbal processing, and play. Not only was it the women's first time camping, but we were camping in Colorado in October, where we experienced freezing temperature and a snowstorm. For most of the women, playfulness and goofiness were emotions taken from them at a very young age. Partnering a playful spirit with a sense of safety in a natural environment brought many moments of laughter, fun, and healing.
Our trip ended in Toth Ranch, a retreat center in Hot Sulphur Springs that brought warmth, food, and a safe space to process their experience in the wilderness. Hiking with heavy packs immediately grounded the women- for some, it was the first time in years that they felt aware of their bodies, and that they could claim ownership of their body once more.
The fact that she is even feeling her body is progress, according to researchers like Julie Anne Laser-Maira, a trafficking expert and associate professor at the University of Denver. “They’ve been through so much brutality,” she says. To survive those experiences, women often dissociate from their bodies.
I hope that this article sparks conversation amongst outdoor educators, companies and outfitters to consider alternative ways of facilitating outdoor programs for other student populations. Nature is accessible, healing, and nourishing for all, and I would love to see continued effort towards creating programs that provide powerful expeditions for populations that have suffered long-term trauma.
Florence wrote an amazing book on the scientific ways that nature affects creativity, health, and happiness on our brain. It's called The Nature Fix, and you can buy it here. Outside's May Issue is available in stores now, and the online article is available here.
E, I am so proud of you. Keep following that beautiful heart of yours.
A thousand thank you's to E for creating SheisABLE, and to Outside & Florence for being their megaphone.
Honored to be on the latest episode of the She-Explores podcast series, Women On The Road. Huge thanks to Laura Hughes & Gale Straub for letting me be a part of such an inspiring & curious community of women.
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.
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."