photography, travel, writing

A Crescendo, Part 2

02/18/22 – Our National Parks odyssey has shifted into a different kind of journey. Nearly 6 years ago we set off on an adventure to travel the country and see/ document all the national parks. Since then, 3 new parks have been created, 2 presidential changes, a 2 year (and still counting, in some states at least) pandemic raged, and in the midst, we found a new direction. We abandoned the goal of all the parks, though it is absolutely something we plan to revisit someday.

What the pandemic allowed us to realize in a very sobering way was that we were financially living on the edge. No money in savings, a fairly substantial pile of debt, living job to job, stressed constantly about how we were going to pay for this or that, and worst of all, no plan. It was exhausting.

Ellen and I dont care about being rich, we simply wanted to remove the burden of limited choices. So we made a decision together a little over one year ago to take control of our life. Take responsibility for our spending habits. Quit being victims of circumstance. And, as Ellen says, to work our lil hineys offand pay off every penny of debt we have.

Image © Andrew Slaton

Deep in Big Cypress preserve I found a gator hole that has become a favorite spot for me to fish and enjoy some much needed solitude, away from the crowds of south Florida. What I have observed over the years of visiting the Everglades ecosystem during the dry season is that the fish often get funneled into ever shrinking pools of water. If they are resourceful or lucky, they make it to a gator hole.

These small ponds stay deep year round and provide a perfect little habitat for fish, as well as myriad creatures. But for those who enjoy the freedom of roaming the vast waterways and floodplains of the glades in the bounty of the rainy season, eventually they will slowly get choked out of existence, as the water subsides day by day, hour by hour this time of year. It must be excruciating. The world begins to close in on them. Death does too.

Image © Andrew Slaton

Eventually they are literally sucking air, baking on their sides in the hot Florida sun.

When Covid hit, we realized we were swimming in the freedom of the road. Endless possibilities. No plan. It was magic, for a time. But what Ive foundagain and again, allowing myself to lose my way is sometimes the only way to find it.

Image © Andrew Slaton

03/24/22 – Im not backpackingI wish I was. Im sitting at the airport in Orlando waiting for a southwest flight to Tucson to pick up our new (to us) truck. A Hoss 2.0. Nothing super fancy, but we saved up and are paying cash. It feels momentous. Ive always had car loans. Like an annoying pet.

Last year we managed to get scrappy and pay off a huge chunk of the debt that was weighing us down so heavy. This year, we are still on track to change the trajectory of our lives within the next few years. Debt free, homeowners, continuing to live the life we love, on the road, this time with options.

Image © Andrew Slaton

Approaching the six year mark is exciting for us. Mostly to look back and reflect on the beautiful memories, to see how far weve come, and to renew our resolve. The road ahead is still long. And we plan to stay nomadic for several more years. But we now have a plan. Were not wandering aimless. And its working, at least for now. Good jobs continue rolling in and keeping us busy,focused. And beauty is always at our doorstep (literally). We found our little gator hole in a vast wilderness, during the driest of seasons. We could stay here through the worst of it.

Ive just recently started shooting for fun again. But I mix it in with time fishing. Both have the ability to fill up my soul. Fly Fishing is a lot like photography. It takes immense practice, patience, and perseverance. The payoff is never guaranteed. No matter how much preparation, planning and knowledge you employ, the angler, just like the photographer is at the mercy of nature. Sometimes the light just doesnt show up, and the fish just dont bite. But when either do, its all the magic you can hope to witness. Pure joy.

Image © Andrew Slaton

The gliding ghosts beneath the surface, taunting me to try my hand at enticing them to bite. Presenting the fly just so. Irresistible to the hungry or territorial specter in the shadows.

The apparitions of light, fleeting. Pastels and hues of delicate gradations of blue and pink. Sometimes orange. Clouds of immensity passing, revealing cracks, rays. Illuminating the beauty that surrounds us always, but in these moments, overwhelms the lens, and the witness behind it.

Im looking forward to being back in Wyoming in only a few weeks, roaming the mountains again in search of the most spectacular nooks and crannies rarely seen or photographedand of course, stalking those illusive, prized trout.

— Andrew

Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com

All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2022

If you like the images and sentiment of the article, please consider joining me on one of several photography workshops in the Everglades and Big Cypress. For more info, please visit www.andrewslaton.com/workshops

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photography, travel, writing

A Crescendo, Part 1

“Disfigurement is synonymous with the whole idea of frontier. As soon as we lay our hands on it, the freedom we thought it represented is quickly gone.”Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces.

01/19/22. The light filters through palms and dances seductively along the prickly- looking edges of the Spanish moss. It hangs in a pattern of almost perfect randomness on the ancient oaks above my camp. Florida feels like home. Hell, who am I kidding? So many places feel like home these days, it’s hard to decipher what “home” really means anymore.

This June will mark six full years of living as nomads. Gertie, our 29- foot travel trailer shows the scars to prove it. Both Ellen and I are bewildered that she’s still standing. Our 2011 ford truck, Hoss is a few inches shy of 300,000 miles. His noises attest to every hard mile and dirt road he’s traversed.

Image © Andrew Slaton

A transmission slip, exhaust leak, and front (and rear, for that matter) shot suspensions all announce our coming and going to anyone nearby. We must sound like a joke to all of these well-heeled, newly-retired boomers neighboring us on all sides at the RV parks. I don’t really care. As Townes Van Zandt once sang, “you cannot count the miles until you feel them.”

I’ve largely stopped shooting images for fun lately. Strange, I know. After shooting nearly every sunrise and sunset for 4 years (and staying motivated and interested), I needed a break. Last year, after making the decision to pay off all of our debt, I was consumed with working… shooting portraits, weddings, real estate, commercial. I really didn’t have time to shoot for fun. Or the energy. This year, I also have a lot of work to shoot, but something else is edging out my time typically devoted to honing my craft of landscape photography…fly fishing.

02/04/22 I awoke to the rhythmic patter of a woodpecker. Somewhere nearby, not far above, an owl. Palms sway and clatter with the gentle wind. Last night, my sunset ramble filled my soul, though I didn’t see the bear or panther for which I came.

I arrived at camp early – 2:30 or so. I rested in the shade of my tent for a bit, may have even dozed a while. As I felt the sun gain a lower angle, I loosely slid on my hiking shoes. Camera and 400mm slung over my shoulder, I set out with a relaxed vibe.

Image © Andrew Slaton

The sun was low enough that the landscape sang with accent light. On more than one occasion, it was necessary to place my left hand out before me to block the glare long enough to see the path ahead. My imagination skipped wildly with images of a panther sauntering down the two-track trail before me, backlit, or that distinctive bear butt waddling up ahead.

My tobacco pipe rests precariously between my lips, the loose grip from my teeth bouncing the stem to the cadence of my walk, like a just-released spring on a diving board. I like to smoke and walk; I’m beginning to find my rhythm again.

02/14/22 There’s a rustling near my tent. I’m a few feet away, cooking my dinner. It sounds like a snake. I slowly rise, back and leg muscles sore from the 15 mile hike in, to inspect the sound. Nothing. Or at least nothing I can spot. Likely a snake somewhere beneath the dense ground cover.

Image © Andrew Slaton

It’s now 4:43pm many miles deep on foot in the Everglades. I caught two decent sized Mayan Cichlids (pronounced Sic-lids) earlier on the fly, but that’s not what I’m cooking. I threw them back, like every one I’ve caught since I learned to fly fish in August.

But then I recall that Mayan Cichlids are an invasive species. I can’t for the life of me remember, though, if the park service wants you to kill them on capture or not. National parks are weird that way. A few years back, I came across a 14 foot Burmese Python not far from here. I tried to wrangle it but didn’t have anything with which to kill or capture it safely, and it slithered surprisingly fast off into the marl prairie.

I quickly made my way to the Flamingo visitor center and happened upon the “python ranger” to whom I told my story and showed a video to prove my seemingly tall tale. I wanted to know what the protocol was for such a find.

Image © Andrew Slaton

See, pythons are a highly destructive invasive species here in the Everglades. They have reproduced into the millions and are decimating the mammal populations. The python ranger looked at me sideways, “I didn’t tell you this, but if you find another huge one like that, kill it.”

Thankfully,  slaying these giants does not rest solely on my shoulders. A recent study in Big Cypress found a particularly brave bobcat preying on a clutch of python eggs. Returning over and over in the course of days, the native wildcat invalidated nearly all 40 plus eggs. It may suggest that the native fauna are beginning to “retaliate” against the successful invaders. It may take time, but nature’s ability to maintain balance is a powerful force.

To Be Continued

— Andrew

Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com

All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2022

If you like the images and sentiment of the article, please consider joining me on one of several photography workshops in the Everglades and Big Cypress. For more info, please visit www.andrewslaton.com/workshops

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national parks, photography, travel

ONE LAST HURRAH

Just a few days before leaving Wyoming for the year, I was fortunate enough to have my nephew and brother come visit. They wanted to get some backpacking time in before the snow came, and of course, we had to see the Parks too.

We spent the first few days getting them acclimated by touring Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

We hit many of the main attractions, but mostly they wanted to try to see some animals. This year was a great one for wildlife viewing, and we got to experience a close encounter with a big male griz. Safely from our vehicle, of course.

We were able to view several moose, as well as other critters I didn’t document.

It is hard to beat the scenery of this part of the country, so our eyes were continually treated to the majestic surroundings.

We then headed down to our area for a few days of late season backpacking in the Winds.

The Labor Day storm this year devastated several of the main trails going in to the range, so we decided to base camp at Green River Lakes and head in to the base of Squaretop for a little adventure.

The days were just glorious, especially when I think about how this land can be covered in several feet of snow this time of year, and it commonly is.

My nephew and brother did a little fly fishing, with no luck, but who really cares when this is the backdrop!?

The smaller ponds and creeks were starting to freeze up. The nights and mornings were quite chilly.

All in all, we had a wonderful time together. I never feel like I get enough time with these fellas, but I cherish every moment we do get. Especially when we get to spend it in my favorite place on the planet.

I cannot think of a better way to have one last hurrah for the season. I will miss Wyoming… until (hopefully) next year!

— Andrew


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family, photography, writing

Revisiting Shirley

When we first hit the road, back in June of 2016, Ellen and I had an idyllic summer up here in Wyoming. We had already spent a good bit of time in the area, but now we had the time and freedom to explore and get a deeper knowledge of these spectacular mountains.

One of our first day hikes was to a little known high alpine lake. I was scouring my maps one day and saw it…

“I’ve never been here,” I exclaimed to Ellen.

And like that, it was settled.

We saw Islay’s abilities as a true mountain dog blossom on that long, challenging 13.5 mile day hike, our confidence and trust in her solidified. We skinny dipped in the crisp high mountain lake for the first time, ate cherries on the banks as we dried out in the warming sun. It really was one of our fondest memories from our entire time on the road.

But we haven’t been back in over four years. It’s almost as though we didn’t want to affect or soil the great memories we had from that experience by returning. As though we might be risking disappointment somehow.

However, this year, we decided to revisit this lovely spot. And this time, we wanted to do an overnighter and spend a little more time.

 

We set out with heavy packs, and a new companion. Well, new to this particular hike. Skye didn’t join our pack until the winter of 2017, so she’d never been on this trek with us.

The hike for me wasn’t as hard as it was the first time, even though on that initial trip I was only wearing a day pack. This year, I’ve been backpacking all summer already. To me, a seemingly unending resume of much more challenging treks than this.

It was nice to feel this good and confident as I approach 40 this year!

Skye of course loved every second of it and fit right in to the new landscape.

I even got to explore the lake just above us this time, which was just as gorgeous and peaceful.

Photographically, it wasn’t the best trip, as I didn’t get any of the clouds or light drama I love so, but regardless, we had a wonderful time as a family doing what we love best.  

It reminded me that our memories are important, and that the ones we hold dear don’t have to be jealously guarded so as not to lose the sacred nature of them. But that perhaps to piggy back off of them by revisiting them, honors the memory and often times expands their beauty and specialness. Good memories beget good memories. And good memories beget gratefulness. And gratefulness begets joy.

 — Andrew


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photography

YET ANOTHER BASIN

My goal this summer was to spend most of my time backpacking and hiking my home range. So far, I am thankful to have been able to walk an inordinate amount of time and miles already in the Wyoming wilderness. This past week was no different.

I chose a really difficult loop that was 80% off trail navigation. I got to see countless lakes I have never visited previously, and a whole new basin. Waterfalls, granite monoliths, and miles of difficult terrain unfolded before me.

  

 

The weather was lovely, and the mosquitos are getting to be manageable at this point in the season.

 

 

And the wildflowers are still going off!

 

Several new peaks to fall in love with.

 

 

  

All in all, it was a very difficult hike, due to the massive elevation gains and losses, dangerous boulder fields at steep pitch, and miles of felled trees. I was so ready to be done the last day, and not sure I would do the hike again… but I am so glad I did it. I was able to see some of the most spectacular wilderness, AND I didn’t see a soul for four days! Unfortunately, that is becoming less common in these mountains these days.

— Andrew


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