From both sides…

Warming up at The Event

It was certainly and interesting weekend here in the Flathead. Summer is here and with these precious days of light and warmth there are more events going on than any one person could attend. This weekend I found myself experiencing two extremes of one sport. Competition riding. On the one hand there is the extreme formality of The Event at Rebecca Farm, an equestrian triathlon consisting of dressage, cross-country and show jumping. On the other hand, my very first rodeo (welcome to Montana).

Barrel Racing and Bronco Riding in Columbia Falls

I have loved horses since I was a little girl. I think my love of horses grew out of an early obsession with Unicorns, or was it the other way around?. I grew up in Saudi Arabia, home of the most majestic horses I have ever seen, the Arabians. There is just something about them when they run. I have never found the words for it, but to me they are the most beautiful. I didn’t see a lot of my favorites this weekend, but I did get to find quite a few new favorites. Personally I loved the coloring of the gray and white Irish horses. The photo up top is a thoroughbred, not an Irish, but that’s the look that I loved. That was one of my favorite photos from this weekend. It’s not the peak action stuff that all photographers go looking for. But rather it is a quiet moment, a behind-the-scenes, if you will.

There were also moments like this one: a student completes her ride and gets a congratulations from her coach. At an event like The Event there is a lot of emotion, but not a lot of it on display. Is it the tuxedos they wear when they are competing? Is it the sound of Nigel’s voice, the announcer from West Virginia who still retains his English accent? I have always been told to remain calm around horses, that they can easily pick up on the feelings of their riders. So perhaps it is that high emotions are detrimental to the horses sense of calm? I don’t know. The sport is elegant, and maybe it’s simply that elegance prefers restraint.

This is Karen O’Connor of Ocala, Fl., and her horse Mandiba competing in the Cross-Country challenge on Saturday and on the right, just after completing the Show Jumping challenge with no rail or time penalties on Sunday afternoon at The Event at Rebecca Farm. O’Connor, a three-tim Olympic competitor, and Mandiba, an eleven year old bay thoroughbred, finished with a final score of  44.2 winning the HSBC FEI Wold Cup.

Both events were fascinating in their own way. There will be more rodeos to come so doubtless I will be exploring that side of the sport more in the months to come. But for me this weekend was an absolute treat. It took me back to being a little girl and the love and awe that I still feel when I am around horses. Now, if only I could capture the way I feel on film…


The most awe-inspiring mountains I have ever seen are the ones that reside here. Glacier National Park is celebrating its centennial this year. I love Glacier. I love it. I went there for New Year’s Day. Again for my birthday. And now that the road to Logan Pass is open I have begun to venture farther and farther into the park. On my next weekend I hope to travel the full length of Going-to-the-Sun Road. In my recent visits I have found the skies partially filled with low clouds. Or perhaps it is not the clouds that are lying low, perhaps it is the mountains that are so high.

These rocks always strike me a regal. Proud. Maybe even a bit arrogant. But they also speak of the violence of their creation. They were literally carved as the world fell into the last ice age. And though they are melting, remnants of that ice age are still to be found right here in Montana.

The National Parks website describes it thus:

As the ice moves, it plucks rock and debris from the sides and bottom of the valleys. Rocks falling on the glacier from above mix with the glacial ice as well. A glacier is filled with rock and gravel. Over long periods of time the sandpaper-like quality of the moving ice scours and reshapes the land into, broad U-shaped valleys, sharp peaks, and lake filled basins. Massive ancient glaciers grinding over the bedrock below produced the spectacular landforms seen today.

The Park is filled with horns, cirques, arêtes, hanging valleys, and moraines; landforms given special names because they were produced by the action of glaciers.

One of my favorite things to see is the way the clouds interact with the mountains. I love watching the way the wind blows, watching the way the clouds scrape themselves over the rocks separating and reforming themselves. The winds howl like a petulant child and the mountains remain unmoved. It looks like dance sometimes — the clouds and the peaks. And to me, they bring each other to life. Like the mountains are a playground eagerly waiting for recess when the can clouds to come out and play.

These are some of the photos I have made on my last two trips to Glacier. Every time I come to the park I find myself singing the same song; I Will Lift My Eyes, by Bebo Norman.

I will lift my eyes
to the maker, of the mountains
I can’t climb
I will lift my eyes
to calmer, of the oceans
raging wild
I will lift my eyes
to the healer, of the hurt
I hold inside
I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes to you

I love this place. Glacier is one of those landscapes in which I cannot help but feel the hand of God. It seems to me these rocks were formed not by the movement of ice but by God Himself sculpting His cathedral. I am always going to be thankful I got the chance to live here. It truly is a wonder.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

I have just finished reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The copy that I have is miserably worn out: whole sections have become detached from the spine, the cover is ragged and torn, pages are dog-eared and bent and throughout the paper has become soft. I don’t know how many times I have read this book but for whatever reason I keep coming back to it. The story never fails to draw me in and as soon as I begin to read it I become eager to read every page and to reacquainted myself with the lives of Henry and Clare.

I purchased my copy of this book years ago. I was traveling somewhere and I saw it in an airport bookstore. I had my journal with me, of course, but at that moment I didn’t want to write, or get mired down in the concerns of my own life. I wanted to escape. I wanted a good story. Intrigued by the title and the cover art I picked the book up and skimmed the back cover. Time travel? Seriously? While the story does revolve around this most fantastical phenomena it is really the characters that make the book so engaging. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a love story. And for me, it is an unforgettable one.

Henry, a librarian by day and unwilling time traveler (due to a genetic disorder) meets Clare at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Henry is 28 and Clare is 20. What he doesn’t realize is that he is standing in front of the woman who will be his wife. Clare has known Henry her whole life, she met him for the first time when she was 6 years old (and Henry was 36). As their lives intertwine the future Henry begins to time travel into his wife’s childhood. And that is how the story begins. Niffenegger somehow manages to weave this complicated time line into a compelling story that holds my attention from beginning to end.

Niffenegger possesses a soulful artistry in her writing. It varies from  lush and elegant to crass, even offensive, then off again becoming austere and refined. The reason I like it so much is that it feels real for these characters. And it feels true to life. No one is ever elegant all the time. Sex, drugs, punk music, opera and season theater tickets, gallery openings, friends, pregnancy and all the stuff that make up a life, when you read this book you go through so much with these two. Another reason I enjoy the book so much is what the characters are — Clare is an artist and Henry is a man who loves poetry and literature. Niffenegger uses this to add depth to her own words by spicing it with quotes and ideas from a broad spectrum of sources. Rilke (my favorite poet) makes an appearance. Homer. A.S. Byatt. And Andrew Marvell (Henry’s favorite). Throughout the book Henry makes use of a line from Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress. He turns it into a toast at Christmas, a pledge to his wife and again the words come back at the end. “Had we but world enough, and time…”

I think I remember reading this poem in high school, but it didn’t really stick with me. Now I associate the quote with this book and I love it. When there are words, quotes, poems that I can’t get out of my mind I often try to combine them with photos. That’s the story behind the image that started this blog: it’s my attempt to illustrate the words that I want to hold onto. For this photo I used two images — the image of the earth at night I found on Google, the other is a selection of a clock I photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I want to make a print of this and hang in on my wall, but I am trying to be responsible, so for now I will have to be content with posting it on my blog and using it for the background of my computer. Responsibility sucks. Or as my friend Miss Brett likes to say “Adulthood is over-rated.”

In memory of friends gone too soon.

This has been one of the most difficult weeks I have ever experienced at a newspaper. Two staff members, two of our friends have died. But we didn’t know that in the beginning. So it has been a week of wondering, and searching, and hoping and praying. Until Wednesday evening when we finally learned the truth — a truth we had suspected, but dared to hope against all the same.

On Sunday Melissa Weaver and Erika Hoefer, two staff members of the Daily Inter Lake, took off from Kalispell City Airport with two friends from Missoula. They were going on a scenic flight over Glacier National Park that afternoon. When Monday morning arrived and still there had been no word from them law enforcement got involved and the search began. That afternoon, my part in the story began. Scott called me into the office to tell me he needed me to go to the airport and get a shot of a car in the parking lot and to look for any search planes taking off. Normally that information is something he could just tell me over the phone, except in case the car that I am looking for belongs to a friend. And search planes are going up and looking for people I know. He asked me if I was able to do this assignment. I am grateful for that kindness, but I felt I needed to do my job and so I went to airport.

In the news business we try to keep the right amount of distance from the stories we cover. In the best case the desire is to document and tell their stories objectively. Emotions destroy objectivity. Therefore we have all been trained to build and maintain our very own wall of separation. It serves the truth because we keep our objectivity. And it protects us. So, in the news one of the cardinal rules is: tell the story, but don’t become part of the story. In this case that has been impossible. This is not merely a missing plane. This is members of our family who have gone missing. And the story to tell, is our own.

So Monday afternoon I went to the airport. Through tears I took the photo of the car. I found out a pilot was preparing to take off to go searching and so I waited around and asked him he would mind if I took some photographs while he got the plane ready to fly. Did they go down in Glacier? That was one of our nightmares. Glacier is huge. And wild. And there is still snow up there. A white plane and white snow — if the plane went down in Glacier we had to acknowledge the fact that the plane may never be found. When the pilot started working on the plane I went with him. He was very kind and encouraging. It made me hopeful. And as I took my last photos of the plane taking off I prayed that these would be the pilots who would find my friends. I prayed for a miracle, that they would be safe and well and simply waiting for rescuers to pick them up and bring them back.

That evening we learned that the plane had been picked up on radar in the south, and that search efforts were now focused on the Bison area. On Tuesday Nate, the other photographer, and Jim one of the reporters, headed down to that area to cover the search. While Nate worked all day on that I was in Kalispell to cover whatever else there may be. It seems to me that Tuesday and Wednesday were only about waiting. I felt over and over that I should be doing more, but there was nothing more to do. We all waited.

Wednesday Nate and Jim returned to the south and again I am in Kalispell working and waiting. That afternoon things began to change. For three days every time Scott’s phone rang the newsroom quieted to listen. He would give us any updates he had as soon as he hangs up, but we were desperate for clues and so we listened to what little there was to hear. In a way it reminded me of the way I imagine newsrooms of the past must have been. I have never seen it, but there was a time when newspapers were king, when the newsroom was the very heart of the flow of information, and when journalist were the vigilant guardians of the truth. In these days information has come into the newsroom, updates from rescuers, phone calls from family members, tips and sightings from the genuine to the bizarre, and all of that gets sorted through carefully for the truth. “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Where did that quote come from? I don’t remember, but it’s the undercurrent to everything. Keep to the facts. Report the facts. Tell the story. Tell the truth. As I have watched my co-workers this week I have seen again and again that remnant of the nobility this profession used to stand for. Wait, that came out wrong. The news industry still does stand for those principles, still does strive for the truth, but world has changed. Now people are more eager for a rumor (credible source or not) than for clear, hard facts from journalists.

Wednesday evening we finally got the word. The plane has been found. The crash site is nearly unreachable. Rough terrain. One person has been lowered from a helicopter to the site. No survivors. No survivors. No survivors. It echos in the mind. Erika Hoefer, 27, Melissa Weaver, 23 as well as Brian Williams, 28, and Sonny Kless, 25. None survived.

If you want to read something beautiful check out the story by Lynette Hintze. She cried as she wrote this.

Later that evening a lot of us gathered at Kristi’s house. KJ brought over a copy of Lynnette’s story and read it to us. That evening we sat around talking about our friends and remembering. Melissa and I had been planing to go river rafting here in the next few weeks. I was so desperately looking forward to that. Two weeks ago I was pretty severely ill and she got me the happiest, silliest little card, yellow with bright flowers and sparkles, telling me to get well. As we talked I suddenly remembered that I spoke to Erika on Sunday afternoon. She had called to tell me that there were people jousting at the park near the courthouse, just an FYI, in case I needed a photo. It was after one when she called and she must have been on her way to the airport.

We talked about our friends. Their smiles. Their style. How they brightened the newsroom and our lives. How much they will be missed.

Yesterday was another day of news related to the crash. Nate went south again to do arial photos of the crash site. When the day finally ended I was so ready to be home. I came to the house, made supper and thought about what I wanted to do, what I needed to do. I needed to be out making pictures. I needed to find someway to grieve and remember and show honor to my friends and to keep on living because you never know which day will be your last. My friend Nancy and I talked a little about that as we left Kristi’s. The need we feel to live with heightened awareness. To value each day, each moment. To tell the ones we love that we love them while we have the chance. I’ve felt this before…when my parents died…that inescapable knowledge that everyone of us will face death and we must therefore live the days we are given as fully as possible.

And so at 7 o’clock I headed for Glacier. One week prior I had been in the park for the opening of Logan Pass. The road that runs through Glacier is only open a few short months in the summer. This year it opened on June 24th and I was up there documenting that for the paper. The road was already closed when I moved to Montana last November so that trip was farther into the park than I had ever been. As I drove up to Logan Pass I pasted a section called The Weeping Wall. The melting snows create a section of the road where water pours off the rocks non-stop. I asked someone about this – they said that unless it is an extremely dry year the weeping wall continues to gush water all summer. I like the name. And as I wondered where I should go to honor my friends I immediately thought of this place and knew that is where I was headed.

It was beautiful. By the time I got up to the wall it was 8:30/9 o’clock. The sun was setting fast and light was very low. But the rocks and the water, they picked up every trace of light available. And as the Weeping Wall cried, I found the pictures I wanted to make. The drops of water became tears and I wanted those individual drops. The rocks created blue and purple and black abstract backgrounds for those individual tears. By the time I was finished I was drenched. Water had soaked my hair. Soaked my sneakers and blue jeans. When the sun set the air became positively frigid and all I could think was that I was wet and very, very cold. But also happy. I am really happy with the photos from night. I am really pleased with this small memorial to my friends. Hereafter when I visit Glacier I will associate the Weeping Wall with them. It will be my way to remember.

There is a poem by Gregory Orr that I read recently and loved. At the time I first read it my thoughts were of my parents. But grief is universal. And the words he wrote are just as true for Melissa and Erika. The poem is untitled.

In memory of friends gone too soon.

“And flights of angles sing thee to thy rest.”