June 1, 2013

The Best Year

The best year...well the past year, it has been a great year.

This year's calendar starts in an odd place. Last June, my little sister got married to her high-school sweetheart and a great guy. They planned their wedding date around my adventures, mostly because they wanted a free photographer, who did work like a $5K photographer.  They were too afraid to do the wedding after my Alaskan Adventure because "what if a bear were to eat me."

So this great year starts on June 8, 2012, my sister’s wedding. I’m so proud of my little sister :)

Shortly after her wedding, I drove my newly customized (to live out of) Ford F150 from Chicago, IL to Billings, MT, where I packed for what ended up being my longest adventure to date. I also finished editing wedding photos before I left, just in case something went wrong – you know, like a bear eating me.

I left Billings, MT for Alaska and the trip was legen...wait for it...the kind of trip that gives you memories and stories to fill a lifetime. : ) Jumping off ice into the Arctic Ocean, swimming rivers in remote (almost unvisited) national parks (ANWR and Gates of the Arctic), seeing muskox, climbing in the Brooks Range, hiking in Denali, camping along fishing costal brown bears, spit ratting it, sailing Kenai Fjord, watching orca pods come together to breed, driving the most rugged and remote roads in North America, and getting to photograph it all...I hope your not lactose intolerant because the second half of the word is, dary...legendary ;)

Alaska in the summer is amazing, and I feel okay using that word because it is God's creation at its most unadulterated state. Alaska really is creation at its finest that I have experienced to date.

I returned home with more than 27,000 photographs, and I don't have words to describe the experience justly.

Now for those of you who have not visited Montana you may not realize that it’s  "Big Sky County" and "The Last Best Place." Those things really are true, but it’s no Alaska. My return to home and to my job as a staff photographer and college "prof" was a challenge, and I'm okay admitting that.

I spent two months with the nights being too bright to see stars, with no deadlines, no real responsibilities, and with very few people to interact with. A foreign concept to folks in most of the world, but it was my reality, and I loved it.

My fall semester was a good one with great students in all of my classes, numerous trips to Yellowstone National Park (my favorite place in the lower 48) and plenty of good climbing around Montana and Wyoming. The problem with having a "real" job is that you can't just take two months, or even two weeks off to go on an adventure. And if that's true then I am incredibly blessed to not have a real job, as by November I was ready for another adventure.

I'm Swedish and German, I grew up in the Midwest, and I like cold weather, so there is something about the Arctic that just calls to me like a siren song. As November rolled around, the semester was winding down, and I got to leave for two weeks to go back to the Arctic. I was teaching classes like Digital Nature Photography and Conservation Photography, so the students understand why I “had” to leave for two weeks.

The trip’s timing was perfect. We saw countless polar bears, ample snow, rapidly changing ice, Northern Lights, and magical light. I returned home with more than 12,000 photos and some of them are unimaginable.

At this point in my year, I'm back to Montana after spending two months in Alaska and more than 30 days in the Arctic. I have nearly 40,000 images to edit. It was those images that caused me to make a decision that broke my mother’s heart, just a little bit. I decided to stay in Montana and edit photographs rather than travel back to Chicago for Christmas. I decided that I needed to edit and was not going to let myself have a "real" Christmas unless I was finished editing. Don't feel too bad for me, as I found plenty of time to ski and climb while I was "resting my eyes," from all of the editing.

2013 started off with a new semester at Rocky Mountain College, and being that it was also my fifth year teaching I'm told I was due a "sabbatical." Now as I am not a full-time professor, I don't know how this was really supposed to work, but I took that to mean that I could teach an independent study course or two and schedule the month of March off from the staff photographer part of my job. So that's what I did, and no one has called me on it yet.

Again my images appeared in national ad campaigns and magazines like The New Yorker, Backpacker, National Geographic, and Outside to name a few. I had my worked published in a few books around the world, and in so many US newspapers that I lost count.

Oh, and the region’s biggest paper, The Billings Gazette, named me as one of their 40 Under Forty this year in February.

March 1 I left Billings, MT bound for Las Vegas. Well, actually about twenty miles west of Vegas to Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock is one of the best climbing destinations in the country – it is seriously incredible. But that was only the start of my "sabbatical trip"a.k.a. my "March Through The Southwest," I continued on to Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, The Swell, Arches, Canyonlands, Indian Creek, Natural Bridges, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, The Wave, and back to Zion and Bryce Canyon before I made my way back toward home, with a mandatory stop in Yellowstone.

Upon returning home with 17,000 photographs, I immediately left for a climbing trip to Devils Tower, where I got rained out again, and then off to Bozeman for some more climbing.

April is a crazy month around any college campus, but I love the craziness, as I get to photograph all kinds of different things, and that only makes me a better photographer for whatever assignments come my way through the rest of my life. My April was also filled with catching up with old friends, making new ones, doing 32 hot yoga classes and finding time to climb 16 times despite the cold and snowy spring.  Oh yeah...I was a bit ticked off that after a cruddy winter for skiing, as soon as the resorts closed we got pounded with snow, but I was finished with the ski season so I didn't motivate myself to go and skin up the mountain to earn my turns.

May, and my 28 birthday, was spent in Yellowstone National Park... Sixteen days to be exact. Spring in Yellowstone was slow, but patience and dedication paid off, and after spending more than 100 hours watching and waiting, I was privileged to photograph a grizzly sow and her three tiny cubs of the year. Many of my friends in Yellowstone got to enjoy my birthday German chocolate chocolate chip cookies, but they still couldn’t help but to harass me about my age...I'm getting closer to an age where people will just assume I'm an adult, I hope ;)

I truly LOVE the life that I get to wake up each day and live. I am blessed beyond measure in so many ways, and though this has been the best year of my life, I have a hunch that next year will give it a run for its money and each year to follow will do the same.

Remember, it might seem like I never work, but I average over 50 hours each week. Though I spent one third of my year traveling, that is not much more than someone who chooses to spend each weekend of the year traveling. Oftentimes I travel like a dirtbag, but I do have a nice truck (2012 - F150), I do have a nice apartment (no time for a house, but I do love having a pool/hot tub/sauna), and a great job with benefits and a retirement plan. Yeah, I'm single, but who do you know that would put up or keep up with someone as crazy as me...no seriously what's her number? I'll give her a call ;)

p.s. In August I'm taking students on a three week African safari, and then I hope to climb mount Kilimanjaro.

p.p.s. In October/November I am going to Italy to teach photography for three weeks, and hopefully sneak in a sport-climbing trip on the Tuscan coast with a friend.

I'm living my dream...I hope you find a way to live yours.

1 comment:

  1. Dave, you are an incredibly accomplished young man. My family and I love to follow your adventures. We wish you many more years of incredibly awesome adventures !

    Tom and Nancy