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Entries about michigan

The Next Twist in the Path

Writer's Block, The Nature of Blog Writing, Photography and What's Next

Fact: I don’t know what to write about today. I could’ve written this sentence every day this week, but this fact didn’t come to me until this morning. Is this what writer’s block is all about? To be sure, I have a lot of material. Life has flowed along since my last meaningful entry (Yodeling Under a Glacier). But, I don’t know, I just haven’t found the lead. Inspiration has been lacking.

So, I’m just going to tell it like it is. I don’t have any eloquent words this week. I feel like if I write this one, no matter how mundane, I’ll be over the hump and perhaps inspiration will strike next week.
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Part of the reason I’ve been quiet lately is that I’m trying to figure out the next direction for this blog. Is there one? Does there need to be one? What do you do with a blog? Do I want to try to write for money? What else can I do with it, other than what I have been doing? These questions have been rolling around in my mind for a while. I haven’t been able to answer them.
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Here’s the tricky bit about writing a blog: In my life, every day of the week could hold great material, be it great photos, experiences or both. It takes a lot of effort to keep the blog current when each day could possibly deserve an entire episode on its own. I don’t want to get into the game of focusing too much on the photos or thinking about what I’m going to write that I miss the experience. Sometimes it is a close thing. My priorities are life moments first, documentation second.
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I do know the experimental phase is over, though I‘m not sure if that changes anything. I’ve been pumping out a lot of material over the last three years. Some of it is good, some of it is not. I’ve found my voice. I catch beautiful scenes with my camera as I’d catch fat snowflakes with my tongue. It’s a beautiful thing.
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I have thousands of photographs that I have collected from all over the world. I uploaded over six hundred of my favorites to my new Flickr page. It took a lot of time. I archive my photos by Year/Month/Major Location. My digital photos went back to 2003, though I have hundreds more in slide/print form. I browsed through my archives for a solid week uploading the ones I found interesting.

You can see them here:http://www.flickr.com/photos/dustyvagabond/ For those of you who really dig my photos more than my words, this is the site for you. I’m happy with my collection, I tried very hard to keep it diverse and keep it interesting. These photos are a fair representation of my life and what I live for, namely, creativity in action.
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“Where ya been, Thom? Where ya goin’?”
In late May, I left Alaska for Seattle without any clear direction on where I was going or projects I wished to pursue. With unlimited options and many paths to follow, I felt a few of them out before “deciding” to go to Switzerland in late July. Having purchased the tickets, I promptly took a train across the northern tier of the U.S. from Seattle to Central Minnesota. From there, I visited some old haunts and friends in northern Minnesota. Then I took a bus home to the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan.
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However, life has its own comedic timing. Instead of going to Switzerland, I am going to Alaska. I took a new position as an assistant engineer on the cruise ship I work on. The job starts at the same time as my trip to Europe. Ha! So, I’m going to Switzerland by way of Alaska.
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Unless, of course, some other unforeseen event changes everything again. I don’t know why I ever make plans. The plans I make always change - often morphing into something I never expected. I try to go with the flow. I’ll make occasional decisions about my life, but I’m always skeptical about my choices. There have been too many times that unexpected forces trump my decisions. But, that’s the way I like it.
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Be flexible. Be spontaneous. Just be.

Posted by Rhombus 10:09 Archived in USA Tagged trees nature photography michigan paths zen writing blogging Comments (0)

The First Adventure of the New Year

A Mid-Winter Midnight Bus Ride, "The Road Home", Heading to Chicago

semi-overcast 10 °F

This adventure begins at midnight on a wintry night in the small city of Hancock, Michigan. I stepped out of the warm comfort of my brother’s car (and life) and crossed the empty street carrying my mystifyingly heavy bags. It was frigid outside. The snow crunched loudly underfoot - an indication of very cold temperatures. I greeted the bus driver, and I loaded my bags under the bus before stepping aboard.

I found a seat near the back on the right side of the aisle. I prefer the right side because I can read road signs out of my window. That way, I know where I am. I was one of only two passengers that boarded in Hancock. The driver closed the door and we sped off into the night.

I smiled as a current of tingles flowed up and down my spine. I love setting out on the next adventure! I can’t help but think of the line from the Shawshank Redemption, “I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”

It was late, but I wasn’t tired. I called one of my other brothers (I have five), and we carried a good conversation until I lost phone service.
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The bus wasn’t very comfortable. I couldn’t get the seat in the right position. The heaters were blasting and I became too hot in my wool sweater. At the back of the bus, there was a weird blue night light left on for those who wanted to use the head. The light was annoying. I was bathed in a bright blue light for the whole ride. I should’ve moved out its glare, but I didn’t think of that at the time. I caught a catnap here and there, but really didn’t get any solid sleep.

What the bus lacked in comfort, it made up for in speed. The hours flew by, in a bluish blur of wintry scenes and bizarre dreams. I woke up after one small catnap in Escanaba. I gathered my stuff, and stepped off into the cold. The stars were twinkling above, and I admired them for a few minutes before stepping inside the station. I realized it had been too long since I stopped to admire any starry nights. A fool I am.
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The lobby of the bus station had an odd shape, yet warm and bright. The first thing I noticed was a small stack of books sitting on the bench. I sat next to them, and picked one up. It was “The Road Home,” by Jim Harrison.

Harrison is one of my favorite authors- a master artist with words. I thumbed through the chapters trying to decide if I had read this book, and I was pleased to realize that I had not. The title gave me pause, “The Road Home.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what “home” means to me. I haven’t come up with any revelations. I’m not sure. I’d love to have a home again one day, a base camp to recuperate and relax between adventures. I’m also keen to turn it into an amazing place to host other travelers, a kind of unofficial couch surfing hostel. I’m not sure what form this takes, or where it is…yet. I do know that I want to share this project with someone, but haven’t met them…that I know of. It’s very unclear. However, finding this book in such a random place and time has made me think. Is this book a sign? Am I on the road home? It’s far too early to tell, but it is fun to think about.

After a brief layover, I boarded the bus, one book heavier.

I stayed awake for this leg of the trip. It isn’t far from Escanaba to Menominee. I listened to tunes and watched the road ahead. When we reached Menominee, the bus pulled over and I got off. The driver handed me my bag and wished me a good morning. It was 5 a.m. and I had been up for a very long time.

I shivered. My breath swirled around my face and started to freeze to my beard. I called my nephew, and we worked out a place to meet. I walked a couple of blocks back northward and met him at a gas station. The station was bustling with early commuters stopping in for coffee and cigarettes.

It was a pleasant walk through the quiet neighborhoods of north Menominee. The houses stood still and quiet. We chatted, we reconnected, and we reached his house after a ten-minute walk.

At Rex’s house, we sat in his dark living room while sipping hot coffee pressed in the French style. We made a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs with toast covered in homemade blackberry jam. We drank more coffee. I think I had four cups.

Rex put on a movie, “Tucker and Dale VS. Evil” which was stupid enough to be hilarious. I passed out into a beautiful slumber even after drinking four cups of coffee. I was exhausted. When I awoke, there was a gigantic cat nestled next to me, happily purring away. This cat was huge, it couldn’t started at left tackle for a division two college football team. It was unexpected, but not the worst way to wake up. It was noon, and the adventure was off to a fine start.

On Tuesday, Rex and I are going to Chicago to visit his sister. I’ve never been to the windy city in winter. I’m sure it’s going to be cold. I’m also sure it’s going to be fun.

Posted by Rhombus 15:53 Archived in USA Tagged snow winter home bus ice road trip michigan philosophy Comments (2)

Post-Adventure Vacuum

A Quiet Week, Adventures on Ice, What's Next?

overcast 25 °F

I think I’m in a post adventure vacuum. I’m content to while away the hours with a book, a ukulele, a big pile of bread dough or my computer. This seems natural after five months of travel. This is my time to decompress and reflect on where I’m at and what happens next.
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I haven’t come up with anything.

I’m not about to force another trip. I’ve made that mistake before. I’m happy to wait this one out. In the past ten days, I haven’t written one word in my journal. This is rare. I don’t have anything to say right now. I’m enjoying the stillness - the quiet days of torpor.

I came “home” to get my knee looked at by a doctor. I have something called osteochondritis dessicans, which means I have some bad bone in my knee. While this explains my long-term issues I’ve had with that knee, it doesn’t explain my recent pain. After bending it all around, the doctor wasn’t able to reproduce the pain I had. Go figure. Two days later, it was aching again. I’m not sure if I should bring it in or not.

Eagle River

I went to my family’s vacation home yesterday to get some fresh air and get out of the house. The sun doesn’t rise very high in the sky in January; the low light cast long blue shadows across the white snow. It’s been a weird year here in Michigan. It hasn’t snowed much at all. There have been times when I’ve had to strap on snowshoes to get to where I was standing in shallow boots.

The property runs along a small section of the Eagle River. I walked across the snowy lot, eventually making my way to the river. I always find myself by the river. The river is cold, smothered in ice and shadow. The ice was clear in places and I was able to see that it was about four inches thick. In other areas, the ice was frosty or covered with snow. I gingerly tested its strength, and found it held my weight just fine.

I love the chuckling sounds of a healthy river. In winter, the melody of the river changes as the ice muffles the pitch. It’s a beautiful sound. I hunkered down next to set of rapids to watch air bubbles slip along the underside of the ice before surfacing at the next air pocket. This was a treat for the senses, and soon I was lost in the moment.

Ice
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There were little air vents in the ice. The ice that formed around the vent was like a ring of polished white diamonds.
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Investigating further, I found old coyote prints frozen into the surface of the river and filled with snow. I tried several angles, but I couldn’t find a composition that worked for them. I once attended a lecture by National Geographic Photographer Jay Dickman. He said to us, "Sometimes our goal as a photographer is to make the best photograph we can given the conditions." I like that. There are times when there isn't much to shoot. Do the best you can with what you have available.
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When I arose from the prints, I took a step backward. I heard the unmistakable “CRACK” of ice. A small shot of adrenaline coursed through me. I’ll never forget that sound. The first time I heard that sound, I fell through a crack in the ice shelf on Lake Superior. I was able to catch myself with my arms, but my feet were dangling just above the water. I moved fast, hauling myself out of the crack before I fell in the water.

This episode wasn’t nearly so interesting, but I moved slowly back towards shallow water all the same.

I ended my afternoon by sitting in the warm sun and having lunch. I ate a Cornish pasty, sipped a good beer, and read my book for an hour. This was time well spent.

The camp (as we call it) has always carried this good vibe. While I still don’t have any ambitions with my life right now, I know I’m in a good place. As Watts would say, “Murky water becomes clear, only when left alone.”

For now, I’ll continue working on my baking skills, jamming on my new ukulele, and hanging with my people. It might be a good time to finally look into my own photographic website. Let me know if you have any ideas...

The Ghost
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One morning I walked down the stairs and saw this beautiful light coming through the stained glass window. I liked the scene, and decided to see what I could do with it. It turned out to be perfect light for ghost images.

Have no fear. I only haunt good hamburger joints, friendly pubs, libraries, hostels, and of course, my brothers staircase.

Have a good week!

Posted by Rhombus 17:50 Archived in USA Tagged snow winter rivers reflections ice photography michigan philosophy Comments (2)

A Four Month Reflection

Unanswered Questions, Interactive Sunsets, and A Celebration of Summer

sunny 75 °F

QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS
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It is nearing nine thirty in the evening when the sun finally sets over Lake Superior. In a moment of inspiration, I put on my flip-flops and walk up the old pebbled driveway surrounded by ripening thimbleberry bushes. I cross the old highway bridge that spans the Eagle River some eighty feet below. I walk behind the old white schoolhouse, and I climb to the top of the metal slide that is one of the four best pieces of playground equipment in the U.S.

From this perch, I have a panoramic view of the village of Eagle River and Lake Superior beyond. Panning from left to right, I can see the sunset glimmering over the flatness of the lake. I see rooftops, treetops, tennis court, ball field, swing set and the county court house off in the distance. I don’t know how many sunsets I’ve watched from here-too many to count. It’s a good spot.

This is one of my thinking spots. It is one of the oldest I have, perhaps, and it has been a long time since I’ve come here. Tonight, I’m thinking a lot about my current situation. I’m thinking about my future- what do I want to do, and where do I want to go. In short, “What’s next?” This is the age-old question that we all ask ourselves from time to time. I ask it aloud, and only hear the soft rustle of the trees on the hillside not far away. Fair enough, that’s a good answer.

I think back to the last four months, and get lost in my memories for a while. I smile, and take it from the top. In April, I drove four thousand miles across the US with my trusty (and rusty) van Marvin. I think of the pleasures of spring: the hot springs, sand dunes, and endless miles of road. I think of the people I reconnected with. I found my family, my friends, and myself. I went white water rafting, slack lining, hiking, long boarding, and rock climbing. I celebrated my birthday in Seattle with my birthday twin. I flew to Sitka and got my ass kicked by a fever. There, I walked through a living museum of memories from where I had my heart broken. It was an odd experience, but I felt only peace. I flew on to Anchorage and I hitchhiked 240 miles to Denali National Park. I hung out with my nephew and lived in a shack. I danced my Denali mountain dance on a mountain top and the sun came out. I hitchhiked 460 miles in 11 and a half hours. In Homer, I ate the best seafood of my life. I floated to Haines, and slept on the sidewalk in Juneau. I backpacked on Isle Royale-getting drenched in three inches of rain. I flew to Colorado. I saw my first wildfire, and drove to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I followed a bear, swam in an alpine lake, and watched the sun rise from the highest sand dune in North America. I grew weary, and rediscovered Nebraska. I felt the irresistible urge to return to my roots. I came “home.”
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So, what’s next? I’m really not sure. In the immediate future, I’m going back to work for three months. This will take me back to Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. I don’t have any plans after that. In Nebraska, I traveled without a map. It was a pleasure to travel by instinct and allure. I think I’m going to do more of that. I’m tired of having a plan. The trouble with a plan is sometimes I feel like I become a slave to the plan. However, I’m fortunate to realize when it does not feel right and have no problems changing things up. You can’t force the trip.

From my perch, I watch the sun ease into the water. Lake Superior can be frigid, and I’m certain I heard the sun gasp a little as it sunk up to its middle. I’m at ease too. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t have any plans. I’m going to travel without a map for a little while, and see how it goes. The one word I try to remind myself of everyday is FLOW. Everything flows. With that certainty, I’ve set down my paddle and I’m content to let the river of life, energy, and creativity take my craft as it will.

INTERACTIVE SUNSETS
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I’ve been watching many sunsets lately. However, I’ve taken them to a completely new level by wading deep into Lake Superior just as the sun nears the horizon. I love the swirl of colors in the water. I love the tingle of energy from the cold water rising slowly up my body. I love the serenity of the lake when I‘m up to my neck in cold water watching the day fade away. I love being a part of the sunset, rather than just a witness.
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Please don’t take my word for it. Try it. It is amazing.
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SUMMER
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For the last three weeks, I’ve been content to take it easy. I’m unwinding from three months on the road and I’ve enjoyed settling down - for the moment. I’ve spent a lot of time with my brothers, enjoying their peculiarities and good humor. I’ve been puttering around “the camp” (my family’s vacation home) on self imposed projects, and I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made here. I’ve been eating well, and have happily spent many hours in the kitchen serving up fresh bread, rolls, Swedish blueberry pancakes, pizza, gumbo, burgers, green salsa, pineapple upside down cake among other dishes.
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I picked blueberries-summer’s best fruit- at a small patch back at the farm. The crop is good this year, and I’m going to pick some more this week. I transplanted some maple trees here at the camp. I’m optimistic that they will make it, and I’m hoping to slack line between them in a decade or so.

A pair of eagles has nested just across the river from my front porch. This is the first time I have ever seen eagles on the Eagle River. Not only that, but they are raising young eagles in their nest. They haven’t flown yet, but I can hear their shrill cries from the nest when one of the parents brings home a fish.

A pair of Kingfishers has also made the river their home this year. I’ve been watching them fly by throughout the day. One evening, as I was skipping rocks by the bend in the river. One of them flew to a nearby stump and landed. I held still. After a minute, it took off, hovered above the river for a second, and then dove down into the water to snatch a minnow. It was awesome! This was the first time I’ve seen kingfishers in action.
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I think I’ve made the most of my summer vacation. I’ve eaten ice cream cones, stared into bonfires at dusk, and have ridden my long board down to the beach to swim three times a day. These actions are good for the soul.

~RECONNECTIONS~
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ImKAGn7gUU.]
I will leave you this week with a short movie I’ve put together from clips I shot on my road trip back in April. I think it came out ok, but please realize I’m not using top of the line equipment. My cameras have a movie feature on them, and I decided to see if I could come up with anything cool. I’ve also come to realize that editing movie clips takes up far too much time, especially if you are a perfectionist. I finally had to give up, realizing this is just an experiment, and not going to Sundance. Enjoy.

Posted by Rhombus 12:55 Archived in USA Tagged beaches sunsets summer photography michigan philosophy roadtrips Comments (0)

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