Growing up in the north east I felt there was a subtle, nagging force pulling me westward. As a young teenager my friends always talked about heading to California, Colorado, Arizona, anywhere out west. To us it was the Promised Land. We just had this idea that things were better “out west”.
My first foray west of the Mississippi was to visit the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho for an Outward Bound program. I fell in love with the mountains and backpacking. I returned back east, but not for long! A few weeks later I left home for good and hitchhiked out west visiting friends in California. Things felt different! And I knew that my future was somewhere on the Pacific coast. Exactly where, I didn’t know.
Returning back east again I remember seeing a NatGeo issue about the Pacific Crest Trail (I was in high school at the time), and that seemed like the dream of dreams. I showed the mag to some friends and recruited two to head out to Oregon to hike the PCT. We split up and hitchhiked out, meeting at a camp site along the Columbia River, near Cascade Locks. We backpacked most of Oregon on the trail and had a magnificent time.
Over the next few years I continued traveling, hitchhiking through just about every state and visiting 13 countries in Central and South America. Again I wound up back on the east coast. I started to get antsy in just a few weeks, saw myself getting back in to old ruts and patterns. I knew I had to head west! So when a friend said she was driving out to Arizona and California, and was looking for a companion I signed on.
That trip took us through many adventures and I wound up in Washington State for the first time. After backpacking trips in the North Cascades and the Olympics I was sure that the North West was home. But again I headed back east for family and work.
I had narrowed down my choices on where to live in the NW, and in 1980 finally decided to head back out west to settle down. My plan was to visit Washington for a few backpacking and climbing trips and then head south and settle near Eugene, Oregon. But after the mountain excursions I couldn’t leave Washington! I wound up staying in the Seattle area for 15 years.
Of course I made short trips all over the state but the one place that seemed to have a hold on me was Skagit County. Every time I drove north on I-5 and started down the hill into the valley I felt I was coming home. I just had a feeling that somehow I would wind up living there.
But work and adventure pulled me away again. I left the area in 1995, and for the next seven years lived in Russia, Kazakhstan, France and Denmark. After my overseas travel I landed in NYC and worked/suffered there for three years. Each year I would fly out to Washington for a trip in the summer, feeling exhilarated and enthusiastic on the trip out west and depressed and miserable on the trip back!
I’ve sort of felt like a compass that has been shaken around a lot. It takes sometime for the needle to settle down and point north. I visited 50 states, 5 continents, and more than 70 countries. It took nearly 50 years! But finally after all my travels I was able to come home.
So, for me the question, “What does Skagit Valley mean to you?” is a deep one. It’s my home. It’s where I feel at home. I recall a song that said that home is a frame of mind. And that’s true, at least for me. I have lived in many places where I was happy with life: work, relationships, love. But I was not satisfied with my environment. Living in the Skagit Valley I am close to the mountains, the water, the forest. Even if I cannot go there every day I am so close I can feel them. And that feeling makes me calm and contented. They are with in my reach.
Photography for me has always been bound with outdoor adventure. I never had an interest in taking pictures until I started to go backpacking. Then it seemed like a necessity, you know, the packing list was: backpack, tent, camera, sleeping bag, stove, food…it never occurred to me that you could go out on a trip without a way to capture the images. Of course taking pictures, good ones, is harder than it looks! But once you start to get the hang of it, what a joy!
I have heard more than once that “You take nice pictures, you must have a nice camera.” (This still makes me smile) But I have always felt that a great part of taking beautiful pictures is going to cool places! And of course that’s what makes it so much fun! The planning, the trip itself, being there, in the outdoors, that’s the best part. Being able to capture some part of the look and feel of the place is an extra bonus. It helps to keep the memory alive and makes it possible to communicate some small part of what it was like to others. That’s what photography means to me!
Now that I am living in Skagit Valley everyday is like a trip or excursion! There is always something beautiful to see. So taking awesome photos is as simple as remembering to take the camera with me when I leave the house everyday! Just knowing that possibility exists makes me smile!