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The last week in December my friend Russell and I went on a backpacking trip in the Smokies through four-foot drifts of snow (three rolls of slide film from that trip are awaiting developing). After we got out of the woods, we met up with our our other college buddy, Meredith, for our annual New Year’s reunion. Meredith’s husband Jeremy joined us as well as our friend Ruth from Asheville. We drove and hiked through beautiful country, we rode an ATV up and down the long drive to our cabin, we ate big meals, and at the end of the day we felt our age and took naps, barely waking up to watch the New Year come to pass. keep reading
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I had an exceptional birthday this year. First of all, the date was easy to remember (1-11-11). Second, we got a heavy snowstorm in Asheville two days before the big day; so there was lots of fun white stuff to play in. And third, many good things happened that I didn’t plan on, the best being a pair of house-visits in the morning from friends baring presents.

Here is a brief photo essay to remember the day and to thank my friends who made it such a fine and memorable time:

During the morning I piddled at work and cooked tortilla soup. Shortly after lunch Ruth, Chad and Sunshine arrived. We headed out to go sledding, and Ruth thought it would be a good idea to bring a kayak paddle.
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This past summer has been a very full and active season in my life. In May, I marked the beginning of the warm season with the planting of a garden at our new house. Jeb helped me move a truckload of well-composted horse manure into raised beds in the back yard of the West Asheville house we would be renting together (along with Jeb’s wife, Stevie). The day after we moved all of our possessions into the new house, we left boxes and furniture cluttering the living space and spent a day in the yard planting lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, squash, various herbs, and more. During the coming months, we watched the garden grow and spent a good amount of time (though not enough) tending it with weeding, watering, and the occasional war on invading pests. A few plants failed (the summer squash produced a bountiful harvest before succumbing to boring beatles and all the tomato plants slowly gave in to a soil-borne fungus), but in general I was amazed by how well everything flourished despite our inattentiveness. I spent some long, hot days out in the garden beds weeding, setting up support structures, and helping the plants as best I knew how (and I suffered two righteous sunburns for it), but overall, I felt I did very little to deserve the goodness that soon poured out of our garden and into the kitchen.
C.S. Lewis makes gardening a metaphor for tending our loves in his book The Four Loves, and he expresses the emotion I have felt wonderfully:

“[A garden’s glory] lies in the fact that it needs constant weeding and pruning . . . It teems with life. It glows with colour and smells like heaven and puts forward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined. If you want to see the difference between its contribution and the gardener’s, put the commonest weed it grows side by side with his hoes, rakes, shears, and packet of weed killer; you have put beauty, energy, fecundity beside dead, sterile things . . . And when the garden is in its full glory the gardener’s contributions to that glory will still have been in a sense paltry compared with those of nature. Without life springing from the earth, without rain, light and heat descending from the sky, he could do nothing. When he has done all, he has merely encouraged here and discouraged there, powers and beauties that have a different source.”

Around mid-summer, My family came up from Birmingham for a week-long visit, and we took the opportunity to host a harvest party. Dad prepared his famous smoked ribs, Mom and I used garden produce to prepare squash casserole, pico de gallo salsa, cold tomato salad, regular salad, smashed potatoes, and a handful of good friends new and old joined us for a truly joyful evening of sharing food and fellowship. Jeb made his mother’s recipe for baked beans. Ruth came and entertained my parents with her stories and humor (had my Mom in stitches a few times). Chad and Sunshine were there and continued to build on the foundation of friendship that we’d begun laying together that summer–Chad provided the evening’s desserts (cookies and brownies) from the bakery he runs with his mother.

One of the funniest moments of the evening came when everyone was already deeply absorbed in various conversations. I had a music mix playing in the background, and as luck would have it, Miley Cirus’s “Party in the U.S.A.” came on (I don’t know how that got on there). Leave it to my younger brother Zach, who is acutely attuned to all things musical, to notice this fact and loudly point it out to the room. I was caught, and I sheepishly apologized for my trespass, walked over to the iPod, promising to change the track, and then jacked up the volume and started “movin’ my hips like Yeah'”. Zach was mortified–that was a good time.

Various other highlights of my family’s visit include: traveling the Parkway in search of mountain mist shrouding the blue ridge, a scene my father became enamored with on his last visit and wanted to paint. Taking a waterfall day with James Michael and Jeb along for the ride–showing off on the 40-foot jump at Courthouse Falls and then watching everyone get wet on the rope-swing at the teacups swimming hole (including Abbie, our dear pup). Riding Kitsuma Ridge on mountain bikes with Zach, getting mad at him and acting like a jerk when he got tired on the up-hill trek, and immediately receiving his forgiveness afterward (that’s a long story in itself). Anyway, here is a short photo essay showing some of the things we did together:

Another important event of the summer was the wedding of my friend Meredith. Meredith, Russell, and I have been partners in crime since our college days at FSU, meeting up every New Year since graduation to celebrate together and laugh at each other. Weddings being what they are, we three didn’t have much time to re-connect in a deep way while we were in Raleigh (we were mostly running around trying to accomplish last minute preparations), but it was still a very joyful experience watching Mer take this next step in her life and also getting to reconnect with some old college friends who’d come from far and wide to be there. Here are some pics from the weekend:
Me and Rusty.
Me and Rusty.
Mer and Jeremy showing off.
Mer and Jeremy showing off.
three amigos
three amigos
And lastly, this summer I’ve had a few opportunities to get work placed in regional publications. In large part, I owe these opportunities to my good friend Spencer Cooke who helped me establish connections through his own work. The first piece is an article I wrote for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine about the Jerry’s Baddle kayak and bike race, and the second is an article on the Linville Gorge from High Country magazine for which a few of my photos were selected. You can click on either image to see it in greater detail.
So, the summer has ended (first official day of Fall passed just a few days back). Lately my work has been focused on completing the Camp Greystone promotional video, and with that project nearly in the bag, I’m looking ahead to what comes next. Hopefully in the next few weeks I will be sharing some new work on here. For now, Jeb, Stevie and I are continuing to dig Pontiac Red Potatoes out of the garden like hidden treasure. The peppers plants have entered their second late and prolific harvest, and the fall garden of mixed greens and carrots is just beginning to push up through the soil. I’ll leave you with a picture of promise from early in the summer.

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I’ve been delving into taxes this week, and my mind is feeling addled and burnt out from crunching numbers. So, I’m taking a break this morning to post a few photos I took in January. These were shot with my film camera using BW400CN, a film stock recommended by my friend Clark. Clark has been developing his own black and white film at home lately, and he suggested this film stock as a cheap, easy alternative to true black and white photography. BW400CN is actually a color film that is developed using the ubiquitous (and cheap) color process, but it produces a quite effective black and white image. Here are the results: The Bowerbirds are a new favorite band of mine, and they played a great show at the Grey Eagle on January 12th. James Michael and Anne went along with me, and they were both very impressed with Yann’s multitasking at the drums, keyboard, and backup vocals. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the show. Bowerbirds music can best be classified in the alt-country and freak folk genres. This latter genre title is new to me and doesn’t seem quite appropriate for the music itself (in fact, many of the artists labeled as freak folk resent the title), but it’s the most specific classification I’ve found yet for this brand of contemporary folk; so there you have it. Whatever you call it, this is music well worth checking out. I also participated in a pair of cold-weather kayak races in January: The Iceman Championship on the Saluda River and the Chattooga Race. I left both events feeling I’d underperformed and fallen short of my potential, but this is a regular theme for me in competitions. I almost never feel like I’ve done as well as I ought. In the Chattooga Race I made a strategic error coming off the starting line and got swallowed in the pack of twenty boats that were all vying for position. In a head-to-head start it’s essential to get out front early so that you don’t waste energy fighting with the pack, but I got myself stuck in the thick of the racers, all of us paddling behind the two-foot wake that the leaders were raising across the narrow river bed. I spent the rest of the race trying to gain ground, and I managed to work up to fifth position (still about a hundred yards behind the front group of three). I would have been somewhat happy with a fifth-place result, but at the final rapid of the race, Sock’em Dog, I pulled a weak boof stroke and back-endered into the hole. I was stuck in there long enough for three or four other paddlers to boof in atop me and pass right at the finish line. I was too exhausted to fight out of the hole and eventually left my boat, was recirculated three times, and finally caught a rope to be pulled out. No glory there, but still a thoroughly fun day on the river with friends. Here is the last picture of the set and my personal favorite. It was taken at my friend Bryan’s house on a night when he had several people over to enjoy a backyard bonfire and a pony keg of Pisgah Pale Ale. This is the best of mountain living in winter, though by now everyone around these parts is ready to bid winter farewell. Well, I’ve been playing the avoidance game long enough–it’s time to turn back to my least favorite harbinger of Spring: taxes. Thanks for visiting, and please leave a comment if you’d like. -Chris
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Last August, when Adam Goshorn offered me a spot on his winter Grand Canyon trip, I thought at the time there was no way I could swing it. The base cost of permits and travel combined with the extensive gear I would have to acquire loomed large. But the idea lodged in my mind, and after it worked on my imagination for a few days I laid down the $100 permit deposit to hold my spot. Flash forward four months, and I’m standing on the beach at Lee’s Ferry with the six other members of my group preparing to launch onto the Colorado River. In the weeks prior to our December 5th launch date I had managed (with extensive help from my local outdoors shop, Diamond Brand) to put together the equipment necessary to make this journey–a three-season tent, 15-degree sleeping bag with fleece liner, gloves, wool socks, drysuit and insulating layers, etc., etc. With these items packed away in my drybag I was feeling pretty confident for the journey ahead, but the ranger giving us our orientation that morning seemed to have other ideas. She went to great lengths to impress upon us the seriousness of the expedition we were embarking on, warning us about the various critters that would try to steal our food and share our sleeping bags at night all the while making foreboding references to a heavy winter storm coming our way. In reference to the whitewater we would encounter downriver she said simply, “You’re going to be surprised.” Once we slipped our four kayaks and two rafts into the cool, green waters of the Colorado, we quickly forgot the ranger’s gloom. Our group of seven had pulled together around the gravity of Adam’s organization: there were his four college buddies from the Radford University Outdoors program (Chris “Odie” Odell, Brandon “Beadle” Dale, Herb Crimp, and Dave Goodman), there was his co-worker (and the only woman on the trip) Kim, and then there was me, a friend made through several days spent together on rivers around the Southeast. If there was any common characteristic that bound our party together during those first days we were getting to know each other, it was that we shared a vibrant sense of humor–a cardinal virtue when you have to spend fourteen days in the wilderness together. The air was comfortably cool and the skies clear and sunny as we floated down the river that first afternoon. The canyon walls began to rise around us, and a still quite replaced the bustle and conversation that had dominated our morning preparations. We drifted beneath the Navajo Bridge (the last sign of civilization for many, many miles), and the tiny silhouettes of people high above looked down and waved at us. We whistled and waved back and forth to them. This river journey was unlike any boating I had ever done, and I had a lot to learn. I learned how to efficiently pack my personal drybag. I learned not to pitch my tent beneath the tamarisk trees. (While setting up, the prickly needles dropped down my pants and stuck to my longjohns). I learned not to thaw the congealed olive oil in the pot of hot water intended for drinks. Day by day our team of seven tightened up our routine and the distribution of labor. Due to scheduling conflicts, we had allotted only fourteen days to complete the Canyon (normal winter trips take nearly twice that long). This meant that we had to average twenty river miles each day, which was a heavy load for the rafts. Our three dedicated oarsmen (Kim, Herb, and Dave) all had minimal rafting experience and were learning the slow-moving, eighteen-foot oar-rigs for the first time. I found the rafts to be an exciting challenge and took many opportunities to share in the oar work. Lining up for a class 4 rapid is pure fun in a kayak, but in a huge inflatable weighing over a thousand pounds it becomes a daunting challenge. To my surprise, one of the greatest challenges in the raft proved to be the flat water. The river would often meander through mild stretches of long oxbows and pools. In certain pools, nearly all the current dove below the surface, creating a river-wide eddy current that the oarsman would have to fight to cross. In swifter water, the main concern was being swept into a recirculating eddy where the swirling current would trap the raft behind eddy fences and keep it spinning in circles, unable to re-enter the main flow. On our third day out, the character of the river bed was particularly fickle and the effort of downriver progress exhausting. We stopped at Lower Nankoweep Camp in the early afternoon, and as we unloaded the rafts a light rain began to fall. The winter storm had finally caught up with us, and it rained off and on throughout the afternoon as we hiked up the canyon walls to visit the ancient Indian granaries. By nightfall the rain was falling steadily and gave no indication of letting up. Kim and Adam had managed to pitch their tents before things got really wet, but the remaining five guys all elected to huddle up under the kitchen tarp for the night. I attempted to set up my tent fly and poles under the tarp, poking several people in the face before all was said and done. A cold, windy front blew through camp as the darkness became complete, and the tarp overhead soaked through until it sagged and dripped all over. A few sleepless hours into the night, a major gust lifted the edges of our tarp and brought pots and pans cascading down atop the heads of the guys trying to sleep beneath the kitchen tables. A chorus of colorful language followed. Shortly before midnight, the falling rain and sudden drop in temperature conspired to set off a series of rock slides on the canyon walls around us. It was an eerie, thunderous sound–each long rumble was followed by expressions of awe from beneath our tarp. Balled up in my sleeping bag and trying to stay dry, I thought to myself that if there was anything that could redeem this miserable night, that sound was surely it. The next day dawned clear and very chilly. The night at Nankoweep would be the worst weather we encountered on the trip, but it set off a stretch of persistently cold, wet days that were trying for our group. There was a tradeoff of this miserable weather, however: the wintry conditions produced some of the most beautiful scenes we would witness during our time in the Canyon: It took me a long time to get used to the size of our group in the Canyon. Many nights, while sitting around the campfire, I would look up and wonder who was missing, only to count and rediscover that we were just seven, and all present. For me, this new sense of scale was the most impressive part of the experience. Being way down in the Canyon truly puts a person “in his place.” We’re forced to recognize how small and insignificant we are in the context of creation. This is a humbling thought, especially in light of the out-of-scale impact that we humans frequently have on the natural world (for example, the two enormous dams that bookend the Grand Canyon). The Canyon is an embarrassment of riches in natural beauty, and for the avid photographer it can be a challenge to simply pull back from the lens and be present. As our journey progressed, I found I had to remind myself to spend time apart from my cameras in order to take it all in. Here’s more evidence that I was not entirely successful in this effort:

In addition to the wonderful scenery, the Grand Canyon offers a lot of high quality whitewater. Our whole journey down the Colorado I lived in dread of a raft flip, and as luck would have it, I was the only person to come close to actually tipping a raft over. We were fortunate, though: Our three oarsmen/woman navigated every challenge with grace. The whitewater of the Grand Canyon can be pretty well summed up thus: big waves, big holes, big fun. We made our mileage quotas, and by day eleven we were able to take a layover at Whitmore Wash Camp. We slept in, hiked to a nearby pictograph panel and continued up the adjacent lava flow to the rim, and in the evening we ate as much of our remaining food stores as we could stomach. At Whitmore we savored all the best aspects of the Grand Canyon in winter: no crowds, no motorized traffic (helicopter or boat), driftwood campfires, and minimal threat of embarrassing exposure while grooving by the riverside. After nearly two weeks on the river, I’d finally grown used to the small size of our group and the remoteness we felt each day in the Canyon. As our journey neared its end I began to feel some reluctance about re-entering the “real world.” You might understand the quotation marks here, for in many respects a wilderness trip like this is much more of a substantial experience than the day-to-day grind that forms our customary routine. That’s why we hunger for wild places. The natural world is good therapy for the culture-addled mind and heart. Take away culture, take away cell phones and television and the Internet (and yes, even cameras sometimes), and you begin to pay attention on a different level. You watch the play of light across the carved landscape, you smell the dry sage aroma of the desert in the morning, and at night you hear the river and are exquisitely aware of the absence of any other sound. Two days after our layover at Whitmore Camp we rose before dawn and floated one final mile downriver to our takeout at Diamond Creek. Drifting out of the Canyon in the pre-dawn stillness felt like a fitting way to conclude our trip. This journey down the Canyon took me by surprise in so many ways. It was one of the greatest adventures of my life. I’m grateful to the folks at Diamond Brand who supported me in this journey, and I thank you readers for participating in the story this far. In closing, I’ll leave you with two final images from the Canyon. Here’s to adventure and to sharing it with good friends:
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Here are a couple of photos that I shot this past November while paddling the Green River with my friend Spencer: This was my return to shooting film (Kodak 100NC in this case) after a few years hiatus in the digital realm, and I found it very refreshing. To me, shooting film has all the warmth and nostalgia of listening to an LP. There’s also more interplay with the medium in film photography. Shooting with a digital SLR produces immediate, controlled results whereas the film process requires more patience and often produces surprises in the results. It’s a hell of a lot more expensive to work with film, but in the weeks following this first photographic venture I would go on to shoot my first rolls of slide film and 120mm print film (in a Holga camera: Holga on Wikipedia). In my opinion, the expense proved well worth the results. Yes, there’s much more to come.
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