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Westbound Pt. II: The Road

    “Last call for Boston!” the woman at the end of the dock shouted down McMillan Pier. In typical fashion, I was late, running with my 60 L Osprey pack to catch my ferry back to the mainland at the last possible moment before I missed it completely. I had said my goodbyes that morning, to dear friends both old and new that I had made in town, and wished them well, promising to send pictures and postcards whenever I could. I said a last goodbye to my friend who had run with me down the dock, boarded the ferry, and felt the whirlwind of everything that was happening spin the thoughts swirling in my head as the boat took off and the wind whipped my hair around my face as we picked up speed.  As I watched Provincetown diminish on the horizon, I wondered at how quickly I had grown to feel a sense of home and community there, wondered what would’ve happened if I had stayed. Whenever faced with the option, stay or go, I almost always choose to go. A couple days earlier, I had thought again about when or if I would ever choose to stay, and then remembered the words of one of my favorite authors, in his book about his road trip out west:

 

We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn't it?

It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you:

Leave.

 

Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn't it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.


    

last afternoon on Longnook Beach

last afternoon on Longnook Beach

We slipped through the deep blue water past Herring Cove, the Long Point Lighthouse, the breakwater where I spent so many evenings in its marshy tide, a silent sanctuary just a few minutes from the hectic town center. In the growing distance, I saw how the sand cupped a protective arm around the small town, its eclectic collection of residents who arrive, stay, and return year after year because they feel, in some way, protected and safe in the acceptance of others there, something, they say, they do not find anywhere else. I found this to be true as well, was surprised at how perfect strangers reached out and watched out for me, welcomed me into their lives and stories and mealtimes unprompted. These strangers quickly became friends.

    When I got off the ferry in Boston, I said my last goodbyes to the Atlantic Ocean, knowing that the next time I’d see the sea, it would be the at the Pacific coast in Seattle. I met Paul at a restaurant by the dock, hopped in his Highlander, put my pack in the trunk, and we set off for New York. In the week that followed, there was hardly a moment of rest, as we drove through 12 states, Massachusetts to Wyoming. No road trip is complete without a soundtrack, and ours was a montage of story-based podcasts, the alphabet game, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Band, and The Hobbit audiobook.   We stayed with friends along the way, in New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and I was thrilled to get to see two good friends so soon after graduation. (Here I'd like to thank  Ping and her family, Spurge, Payton, Shahani, and the Sill family for being our gracious hosts along the way!) 

    

rooftop/skatepark in Brooklyn

rooftop/skatepark in Brooklyn

on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota

on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota

The night before we drove through half of South Dakota and all of Wyoming, we camped in the Badlands, falling asleep to coyotes yipping, waking up with bison outside our tent. We were in new territory, and I realized that at some point in the previous day we had passed whatever line it is that distinguishes the east from the west.  It passed in a blur, and there are too many vignette stories to write about here, so I will just leave you with the pictures. 

 

After crossing the South Dakota-Wyoming border, I saw that the state flag features the white silhouette of a bison. I remembered the necklace that hung around my neck, a silver chain that I had bought from a Columbian woman street vendor back home before I left in June. I bought it because it reminded me of Alberta, the province in Canada where I was born and spent the first 9 years of my life. The charm that hung from it? A silver bison. Even my impulse buys were pointing me West!

totally unstaged.

totally unstaged.

IMG_3097.JPG
that guy's hat makes the photo, amiright?

that guy's hat makes the photo, amiright?

 

     Wyoming is massive, with more acres of land filled with cattle than there are people. Most of eastern Wyoming that we passed was only moderately hilly, mostly brown as far as the eye could see, and featured the occasional stray butte but not much else. I began to worry about the landscape I would be spending the next month and a half in. 

     “Is this what Jackson looks like?” I asked Paul, driving. 

     “Kind of. Sort of. It’s different. You’ll see.” he replied with a slight smirk, purposely being         vague. 

     “But…there’s like trees and stuff, right?” I pressed, gazing warily out the car window. A storm was brewing ominously on the horizon, which extended so far it could've been a hundred miles out.

      “Haha yeah, don’t worry. There’s trees. And water. You’ll like it.”

 

He wasn’t wrong.

 

     The land soon began to rise, hills turned into buttes, turned into mountains and canyons. The sun was beginning to set, making our entrance into the Teton Valley all the more spectacular. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I saw the jagged mountain range rise up out of nowhere, silhouetted in front of the setting sun, like larger than life paper cut outs against the pink-blue sky. 

 

     I had a few days to find a place to stay, figure out a way to make money, and get around town. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I had shown up places before and not known where I was staying that night. I was too excited, too exhausted from the journey to think much past the bed I’d get to sleep in that night. I’d figure out the rest in the morning. 

 

 

To be continued

 

 

 

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Westbound Pt. I

I woke up with a sinking feeling, remembering the anxiety of the day before that was mercifully, albeit momentarily, reprieved by my slumber. I lay there, sleep-and-panic paralyzed in my borrowed bed in Paul’s family home in Wyoming, where I'd been staying the last  few days.  I looked out at the Tetons outside my window, wild and windy cutouts pasted in front of a brilliant blue sky, majestic mountains proud and established and completely indifferent to my fragile mental state. I don’t know where I’m sleeping tomorrow. I’m running out of money. That’s OK. Take a deep breath. Something will work out. One step at a time.  To stave off the panic, I texted a friend that I’ve been keeping posted on my journey’s progress. “Praying for a place for you to burrow, a reprieve from not having a home” she wrote back. I’m thankful for friends who can believe in you, believe for you.  How did I end up here? I wondered for the umpteenth time since this trip began. What am I going to do now?


 

Let me rewind. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the pilgrims in Provincetown, and was working at a photography workshop at the Fine Art Work Center on the tip of Cape Cod, at the end of the world and surrounded by the Atlantic on all sides. I bought a one-way ticket; it was cheaper, and I was toying with the idea of making a conscious decision to stay, find a studio, a restaurant job and doing the whole starving artist thing. Provincetown was, after all, the country’s first art colony, a haven for outsiders, and the place of new beginnings for this nation’s first settlers. Where else could serve as a better start?

 

Upon arriving I realized that my plan may need some adjustment. The season was ending, and businesses were cutting their workers loose. Real estate was at a premium, bought up by vacationers with high paying jobs and hedge funds. It seemed like there would be no room for a homeless, jobless, naively aspiring artist like myself. 

 

While staying on a little couch in an already overcrowded apartment my friends were subleasing, I considered my options. 

 

  1. An internship in DC that paid far below a living wage. 
  2. Staying in Ptown and fighting an uphill battle
  3. Going home to NC and figuring it out from there

 

I purposely chose to not secure myself into a job this first fall as a postgrad to leave myself open to life and where it wanted to take me. I knew from my previous travels that there were always more opportunities out there than what existed in my understanding, and without the schedule and structure of school, I saw this as my opportunity to really test that theory. A restless spirit, I craved the open road and unexplored territory (insert obligatory allusion to Kerouac here), chance encounters with strangers, and the freedom to say “yes” to accidents and spur of the moment invitations. So when a friend emailed me about a house sitting job in Seattle, my problem solving, Macgyver-ing brain went into overdrive.

 

 How would I get out there? I couldn't afford plane ticket home, let alone a cross country flight. I remembered a friend I met at a job training in June who mentioned a possible road trip out west this fall. He had just graduated from college, and like me, had no plans after the summer abroad trips we were leading. I reached out in a Facebook message, explaining my situation, not sure how he would respond.

“Hey Kristi, driving out there soon, would love the company if you want to join! You can probably crash in Jackson for a bit if you want! What brings you out west? Everything ok?"

 

After a few more exchanges, I considered the possibilities, the risks. I didn’t know Paul very well, but he seemed like a decent guy. I had no idea where Jackson was. I had no job anyway. But I had nothing holding me back either.

 

 I was going to be poor whether I stayed on the Cape, went home, or moved to DC. Might as well have an adventure if I’m going to have to be scrounging around anyway. To tell a good story, you’ve got to live a good story, I reminded myself. I could see the door opening, feel the story’s exposition forming around the framework of my ad hoc plan. I graciously turned down the internship, Googled “Jackson Hole,” (a mountain town in Wyoming, I learned. Sweet.), and told him I’d meet him in Boston the following week. I was going West. 

 

To be continued.



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Provincetown

Below is the work produced during a week long workshop at the Fine Art Work Center in Provincetown, MA taught by fine art photographer David Hilliard and installation shots from our group show at FAWC. 

Artist Statement:

 

It was Provincetown’s reputation for collecting outsiders that first drew me here. The oldest art colony in America, the arrival site of the first pilgrims in America, it now seems to be no accident that my arrival in P’Town marks not only the end of my previous, planned life, but the beginning of a personal pilgrimage along an unmarked path. 

 Never before have I been faced with so many blank pages to fill, never again may I stand on the threshold of so many empty days, weeks, months. Next week is the first week of many where I don’t know where I will be, what I will be doing, or who I will be doing them with.  I came here by a one way ticket on the heels of college graduation and a photo job in Argentina with a backpack, notebook, camera, and pesos still in my pocket.

Photography has been my way of relating to the world around me, an extension of my curious and creative mind. In the past I’ve worked in a photojournalistic style, documenting the stories of the people and places around me. As I enter this new stage of life, I find my work to be emerging into a new phase. These photos, ethereal, environmental, and experimental serve as the exposition to the next chapter of my life. I tried to capture moments of stillness and meditation, something I seek in the midst of this complete, chaotic uncertainty.  I still don’t know where I am going, but I don’t think I will until I get there. This is reflected in my work this week, my process as exploratory as it is experiential. My story is evident in these photos through the stories of the characters they depict and are as much an exploration of myself as they are of this new place and passage. 

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