A 2002 beige Chevy Silverado 1500 with 4WD, an extended cab and short bed is the first truck I ever drove. Thirteen years ago, in the middle of the same field where I learned to ride horses, my mom put me in the driver seat and told me it was as good a time as any to take the wheel.
As a child I was stubborn and staunchly opposed to learning how to drive. I couldn’t imagine the use in driving when we had perfectly good horses and everything we needed in a five mile radius. Whenever we would drive to the farm with the field we would pass a reservoir, and on the other side of the reservoir was a little wooded island. Every time I saw that island from the back seat I would watch silently but in my mind I was busy plotting: when it came time to get my driver's license I would run away on my horse to that island and live out the rest of my days on blackberries and sunshine. It seemed easy enough, I figured. I would just need to get saddlebags big enough to fit enough berries to tide me over for winter and the rest would work itself out. As one might deduce from reading this, I lived a deeply idyllic and privileged childhood.
I don’t know when my vision shifted (read: became somewhat realistic) but I remember that all of a sudden I wanted to see everything and that my newfound desire erased any fear that had kept me rooted in place. I remember rolling across that field as fast as second gear would take me, right past one of my mother’s friends who tsked disapprovingly and said “Is she old enough to be doing that?” and my usually rule-abiding mother grinning wickedly and laughing as we rolled right on past. Something about horses and freedom always seemed to put my mother in that mood. My mother, a woman who respects laws and institutions, loses all constraints when it comes to a good adventure. At some point when I was still living at home, our neighbor’s acres of open field behind our house were sold into development, and the construction of a new road and a few dozen houses began. My mother and I would take the horses to the field and watch as the landscape transformed from an old American farm to extreme upper class suburbia. I drew her attention to the newly hung No Trespassing sign near the creek where I used to catch salamanders and crawfish with my friends. A brief shadow passed over my mother’s face but was quickly replaced with her wicked grin. “Sometimes we ask forgiveness rather than permission,” she had said.
We don’t catch crawfish in the creek anymore and it’s been years since I visited the field where I learned to drive, but that old truck has been in my family ever since, right up until this morning when it was towed away, probably to be picked to pieces and sold for parts. It had accrued a good 300,000 miles on it and the cost of repairs this year had already equalled what a newer, more fuel-efficient vehicle would cost me in payments. A few days before, part of its brake line had blown - on the highway in the pouring rain going downhill at 50mph - and it was sheer dumb luck and the emergency brake that kept me and the other drivers safe. Or maybe grace.
I don’t live on a farm anymore. I don’t have an excuse to drive a truck like that. Every now and then it has come in handy, helping friends move and such, but it hasn’t towed a horse trailer or hauled hay in years and was usually just putting more fuel waste into the world than necessary.
The man driving the tow rig - Jeff - was waiting next to the truck when I pulled up in my rental. He nodded at me, sweat already beading his forehead in the Carolina morning sun. I handed him my keys and he handed me a check in return. I drove the rental to the edge of the parking lot and began to film the truck being loaded up, wanting to wallow in the nostalgia of the moment and memories passed. It was hot and hard work for him, and I begin to feel a little uncomfortable watching this man I did not know do his job while I sat still. I lowered my phone and reflected.
That truck had provided me with such opportunity. It had gotten me to jobs and classes, competitions and family events. It had been my ticket out of town when I wanted a break. I’d laid in its bed and stared at the stars. I’d read books in my boyfriend’s lap or taken naps between shifts. I loved its dimpled side - my mother’s doing - and its tenacity under duress, but most of all I love the memories I have that it was a part of. Those memories are not attached to the truck. And furthermore while the truck was the actual physical thing that provided me those opportunities, it was my family’s love and privilege that provided me with the truck itself. Hopefully it, or the summation of its parts, will provide somebody else with opportunity as well. And as for me, I stopped filming before the truck was loaded and just drove away. It didn’t make sense to sit there and watch - no matter how nostalgic I was feeling. That old truck was a symbol of the selflessness of the people I love and the lengths they will go to be supportive, and it is with that cushion of community that I drove out of the parking lot, not wanting to miss whatever window of opportunity awaited me down the road.
Ashley and Justin's elopement was a photographer's dream.
One of the joys of photographing weddings in nature is that I can attend countless ceremonies in the same space with a different landscape each time. At the last ceremony I shot at this location, the mountain was just shaking off the last traces of winter. The rhododendron leaves had unfurled, relieved of the cigar-like way they clench into themselves against the cold, but no traces of buds had graced their branches yet. The grass was growing but the trees were still bare, and the spines of last year's wildflowers remained a testament to what the summer should bring. The mountain was in between: all her processes were happening beneath the surface, and while I had felt the energy of her awakening as I'd walked along her back, it wasn't something I knew how to capture with a camera.
This day was different. It had been pouring all day and was predicted to still be pouring during our shoot, but the rain paused upon our arrival. Not wanting to miss our cue, we hurried up the mountain past the mossy trees and through the twisted rhododendron rising tall and junglelike around us. We cleared the forest to arrive in the field above where we would do the ceremony. On a clear day in this field, mountain views stretch all around, but today the mist obscured nearly everything but one giant oak and one azalea bush ablaze in fiery orange blossoms. We set our belongings under the oak and Ashley and Justin were married right beside the azalea.
We paused on the way down the mountain to grab a few shots of the nighttime skyline before saying our goodbyes and calling it a night. We hopped into our cars just after the thunder started, and as we pulled out of the parking lot the rain that had so patiently held off began to fall.
I try not to pick favorites when it comes to weddings - and certainly not when it comes to weather - but days like this one make it hard. This day was a combination of all the things I love about mountains and about people.
shot for @simplyeloped 2019.
An abridged version of this post was published on Blue Ridge Outdoors. Click here to read.
My instinct told me to run. It also told me not to run while the man could still see me or I would automatically become prey. Feigning calm, I walked slowly away from him and out of his sight. The moment I felt sure he could no longer see or hear me, I ran.
It was spring of 2015 and I was hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. On this particular day, I’d been on the move since sunrise and I’d felt a profound sense of relief when the shelter had finally come into view late that afternoon. This shelter was one of many such structures along the trail; a rugged cabin that provided hikers with relief from the elements. Most choose to sleep near a shelter, if not in one, forming colonies of safety and community around them each night. The next shelter was five miles up the trail and as there were only a few more hours until nightfall I figured this was the one I should call home. I walked in, weary smile, and nodded at the three people inside. But something was off.
In the corner to my right was a man eating. In the corner opposite him were two college-age boys whose postures curved into something eerily resembling submission. The man was talking at them with a loud and grating voice, but at my entrance, he shifted his attention in my direction, only briefly, and then turned back to face the boys. Avoiding eye contact with me, he began berating women as a collective, asserting that we were [expletive] weak and didn’t belong on the trail, and furthermore that we would all [expletive] quit when we found out how difficult hiking really was. I stiffened, feeling delirious. I glanced at the boys, thinking they might come to my defense, but they remained silent, their spines frozen into question marks leaving it unclear what they stood for. At the time, I thought them cowards. In hindsight, I have a bit more empathy. Nevertheless I felt angry. I didn’t want to camp near that kind of energy, so I told them I’d be hiking on and wished them a good night. I’d just camp somewhere farther up the trail alone, I thought, I’d done it plenty of other nights.
The man had other ideas. He swiveled his head to look at me, and the moment his eyes met mine something in my brain said predator .
“Oh,” he said, “I’m coming with you.”
There was no reason for a man I had just met, and for whose only interaction with me had been to insult women, to think we were a team. My mind flashed to a book I’d read, Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear , which taught me that anytime someone groups themself with you without your permission, alarms should go off. Many women become prey because they are conditioned to be kind even when their intuition says otherwise. In that moment, I questioned myself: this man’s hateful words were ringing in my ears and still I wondered if I were being unfair. But on a primal level that superseded conditioning, I knew I needed to get away.
“I’m meeting someone up the trail,” I told him. “Have a good night.” It was a lie, but I hoped it was enough to make him decide against following me.
He replied that he would come as soon as he was finished eating.
“No - I’m going to be late and they’ll be looking for me. Enjoy your food.” I turned to leave.
“I’ll catch up to you,” he said.
I didn’t say anything. I walked purposefully out of his sight wanting to seem calm and then I ran.
I was not fit. It hurt, but adrenaline helped. When I would get tired of running I would walk a few strides, catch my breath, then pick up a jog again. Anything to keep moving. I wanted so badly to stop and pitch camp in the woods, but if he found me in that space I would be alone and vulnerable.
By some miracle, or perhaps simply fear, I made it to the shelter just before nightfall. There were more than a dozen tents pitched around it and I exhaled my relief at the feeling of safety.
I later found out that a man by the same description had been threatening to kill hikers while they slept.
The night with that man had been the most frightening experience on the trail, but it was by no means the only time a man acted poorly during my hike. The week prior, a different man had exposed himself to me. I’d thought perhaps he had just been relieving himself, but then the incident happened again, with the same man, when he had tracked me and waited for me alone on a mountaintop. I told him if it ever happened again he would regret it, picked up my pace and left him far behind.
A few days after those incidents, I made it through the Smoky Mountains in the pouring rain and lightning, and onto the welcoming dry porch of a hostel. I was exhausted and soaked down to my socks. The manager of the hostel sat in a rocking chair under the awning, and I asked him if there were any beds left.
He leered at me. “You can share mine,” he said.
I was not alone, that time. There were three boys who I had been hiking with standing next to me. Two of them laughed when he said this. The other looked a bit uncomfortable, but said nothing. I was tired and didn’t have the energy to explain why that kind of comment felt harmful to me, so I just shook my head and said that I’d like a different, empty bed.
Later, the boy who had said nothing came to sit next to me. He looked ashamed and asked if what the man had said made me uncomfortable. I replied that it had but it hadn’t seemed worth acting upon. He listened quietly and appeared to sympathize. There was one other man in the room at the time. Upon hearing this conversation, he looked up at me and told me in no uncertain terms that he thought I was being “too sensitive” and “needed to just get over it. ”
I hadn’t whined. I hadn’t even brought it up. I had only responded to a genuine question about how it had made me feel, but this man was unable to bear my honesty.
Those events took place over the course of three weeks. There are countless more, both on and off trail, but my intention is to give a glimpse into one woman’s experience in the hopes that it plants empathy in places it had yet to live. The stories of women are not a monolith but they do have common elements: obstacles and endurance. There are more stories that need to be heard and it is empathy, not pity, that will move us forward. There are good men to balance out the bad. A male friend who had also hiked the trail told me he had never experienced the kind of harassment I described, and it saddened him to think that female hikers must endure additional challenges to enjoy the outdoors. But it is not only women who face such challenges. Friends of mine who are perceived as anything other than straight white men know harassment in all forms.
The situations I described were blatant harassment, but there is a whole range of other types of harassment that are much more difficult to diagnose and respond to. How each person responds is an intimate mixture of their own experience and instinct, and for many people it has meant the difference between life and death. A phrase I hear often from men regarding rejection is “she could have been kinder about it.” Could she? How could she know that she could? If, when I tell a stranger politely I am not interested, he grabs me and tries to pull me into his seat to convince me otherwise, isn’t it understandable that I would be a little more blunt in my next rejection to avoid any confusion? If casual encounters regularly devolve into harassment, isn’t it understandable that a person might be more hesitant to enter a conversation that held all the same cues as previous conversations that had ended in violence, verbal or otherwise? The reasons why anyone who is not straight, white or male tend to default to self-preservation is often misunderstood by those who do not encounter or perceive threats in the same way.
The man who told me I was being overly sensitive is but a small drop in an ocean of doubt aimed at those who are forced to walk through the world differently than those who look like the people who wrote the laws and formed the structure of society at large.
A hiker was murdered and another maimed on the Appalachian Trail the same weekend I wrote this essay. The behavioral descriptions I could find for the suspect mirrored the man I had met in the shelter perfectly.
The victim of the murder was a male. Ronald Sanchez, Jr.
His companion who was maimed was female, and it is likely that she only survived because her instincts told her to play dead. As soon as her attacker was gone, she dragged herself two miles to find help, and upon finding folks willing to help her had to walk another six miles to safety.
I mourn for them. I wonder at what could have been done to prevent Mr. Sanchez’s death. I mourn for his family, and for the terror that the murderer leaves in his wake. I mourn for the murderer, too, for his path was not peaceful. The trail is a peaceful place for the most part. But I have read many versions of the sentiment that this is not the trail community . And in part that is true, that such an extreme event is rare. But the trail community - just like every community - has never been as safe for women, people of color, LGBTQ and other marginalized people, as it has for straight white men.
There are good men to balance out the bad, yes. But I need to see more from them.
I reflect upon the men I’ve observed remaining silent, or perhaps laughing, when something unkind was said to or about a woman in their presence. I think of the times I’ve been silent at my own expense because I knew biting back would have cast me as a nag/mood killer/bitch.
I feel empathy for those boys who laughed or remained silent instead of showing courage. I have been there. Their reactions don’t necessarily mean that they didn’t care; in hindsight I suspect some of them were also fearful of their safety, despite being straight white males. A lacking response can also sometimes mean that the person didn’t process the situation fast enough to act in time. I have been there, too, and it doesn’t feel good to know if I’d been more alert I could have protected someone better. But we must take ownership of our actions and misactions if we are to learn to do better. Women cannot create compassion between the sexes without the help of men - it takes people from all groups looking out for each other to catalyze any progress. Men need to be holding each other accountable for their behavior even and especially when no women are present.
The months I spent hiking were an incredible experience and a privilege. I wouldn’t trade them. But they could have been different. I believe I have made the most of what I learned, but I didn’t need to learn that I am less safe because of my womanhood: that lesson has been clear to me since I hit puberty. What I needed was the reminder that came from the men who showed me empathy, and then I need those same men to learn to be allies in front of other men, not just in private with women.
Edited by Shalin Desai
Emily and Austin got married on May the Fourth (National Star Wars day, for any unaware) and had lots of awesome celestial details from their blue color scheme to Emily's starry nails and galaxy pumps - which had a nice little Star Wars reference on them for any fellow fans out there!
The ceremony took place on Mt.Mitchell, but the mountain was a bit fierce that day with umbrella breaking winds (literally, my umbrella broke!), frigid temperatures and a rain that fluctuated between spitting and a steady downpour. We did the ceremony as planned (these two and their family were storm troopers!) and then did the portrait session - which you see here - the following day in the beautiful Asheville Botanical Gardens.
The little cutie you see peeking out in some of these pictures is their lovely pup Alba! We learned during that shoot that dogs are not actually allowed in the botanical gardens, so in the future I'll make sure that we leave our four legged friends behind when shooting in this beautiful space to protect and honor it.
Thank you for reading and May the Fourth be with you.
SHOT FOR/PLANNING BY: SIMPLY ELOPED
These two native Alabamian's (Alabamans??) made the trek out to Asheville for their stunning mountaintop elopement. We had beautiful lighting and *mostly* warm temperatures, save for the wind on top of the mountain! The first location you see welcomed us with a village of purple wildflowers - if any of you brilliant outdoor folk are able to ID them I would love to know what they are!
We also had the locations almost entirely to ourselves, one of the benefits of choosing a weekday ceremony which I CANNOT encourage enough! Weekends start to get crazy around here this time of year and stay wild until late fall, so a weekday ceremony is usually much more private.
Enjoy and have a great week!
Shot for/planning by the lovely Simply Eloped.
Chelsea and Mike's elopement took place on a beautiful farm tucked away on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland.Chelsea is a farrier (someone who handles the health and wellness of horse feet) and pictured below is her lovely horse, Domino.
I was blown away by everything about this elopement. What comes through the photos first is (of course) Chelsea and Mike's unique and striking style, but I hope I also managed to convey some of the depth of each of them as individuals and as a couple. The two are down-to-earth, funny, thoughtful, and they emanate a warmth that made photographing their day a real joy for me.
The streets of the District are blocked and filled with bodies, once again. It’s only morning and there is already a colorful blur of counter protestors milling about Lafayette Square (and a number of other spots around the city, but this was what I saw firsthand). The plan is roughly to spread the message that alt-right attitudes are not welcome here. The energy is vibrant and kind.
Machi and I move to the Foggy Bottom Metro station, where the alt-righters are scheduled to arrive. We wait for a few hours as the crowd grows. Police draw lines in caution tape designed to keep both groups safe and separate.
Several hundred members of various alt-right affiliate groups were predicted to be at today’s rally. When they finally ascend the Metro escalators, we count a little over two dozen.
Within moments, the caution tape is broken and a swarm of people surrounds the alt-right group. No violence, but too much motion in too tight a space for my instincts. Machi and I slip out of the mob and jog some side streets to try and get some shots from a new angle.
We enter another mass of people (estimating over a thousand) near Lafayette square. We are circled around a group of dancers led by Black Lives Matter. The energy is once again vibrant and I remember why I love these events. We follow this crowd back to Lafayette Square and explore the demonstrations here. Lots of conversations happening, everyone friendly. A black man stands and stares straight ahead with the American flag hanging from a rope over a tree. I ask if he minds if I take a picture, his eyes are kind and he signals me to go ahead. A small group of us intersect for a moment around him, musing on the power of his statement.
This part of protests I love - the use of art to express. The humanity that allows us to connect and trust instantly.
But that same humanity has tribal roots. I am so grateful for the show of solidarity, but I am humbled by the reminder that people with the best of intentions can devolve...myself as no exception.
A couple wearing Trump 2020 shirts were spotted in the city, and a group of hundreds formed around them. When police saw cause for alarm and began escorting them to safety, a handful of people started throwing water bottles at the couple. Someone punched. The Trump supporters walked, eyes ahead, passive.
I watched, leaning on Machi, while people shouted and cursed at the police. Chanting who do you serve, and other harsher things that don’t need repeating here. A black officer stood with his head down in front of us, the verbal attacks happening directly in front of him.
The officers worked tirelessly, many pulling overtime to ensure the safety of all citizens present. All citizens, not just one side or the other. Please don't get me wrong: police don’t always protect the people as they should, especially people of color. Reform is necessary. But in this moment, I am not sure where the line is.
I feel physical pain when I think of our president. That someone who hates so openly, who lies so frequently, could be leading our nation humbles me. He tells it like it is, and that bothers people. I have heard this sentiment from numerous Trump supporters. He tells it like it is? Whenever I hear this I find myself shaking my head in disbelief. Does this person know that he has boasted about assaulting women, called black countries ‘shitholes,’ called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers (among many other less publicized comments)? Is this person ignorant to the countless, documented, proven lies that he tells? The morning after he was elected I woke up feeling hungover and unsafe in my skin, and I had been half-expecting him to win. I know that as a woman I am less safe in this country than a man; I have been reminded of that just about every year since puberty. But at least we had pretended like we cared as a nation...we’d held up certain ideals even if we knew a lot of folks didn’t abide by them. But President Trump didn’t even pretend to hold up those ideals. Sure, he tells it like it is alright, as he sees it in his bigoted closed mind.
I have empathy for the anger of the people throwing water bottles and punches. I am very aware of my white privilege but as a woman I know what it is like to experience bigotry time after time, until one act tips the scales and all your pain is released into one moment. I empathize fully with disproportionate reactions; I have had them. But how often do those sorts of actions effect change? Humans don’t learn well when they are humiliated, they tend to get scared and go into relative fight or flight mode.
The good I saw yesterday was vast and healing but the violence was grounding. There is a lot of work to be done.
Recent events have me musing on the idea of being welcomed. I can’t conceive of anyone not being warmed by the feeling; even the most introverted introverts know what I mean.
To me, welcoming feels like the harmony that comes from a group of people trusting that their story reads better with you in it (mirrored by you trusting the same of them).
Last month, a high school friend from photo class (coincidentally now also a photographer) invited me to shoot on her team for her cousin’s wedding. We met in a beautiful hotel tucked away in the verdant hills of Pennsylvania the night before the event. On the surface, it was like any other wedding I'd shot. Charge gear, check gear, study the shot list and check gear again. But from the moment Sophia answered the door, it felt different. It had been nine years since our graduation and we’d seen each other once, early on, in that time span. Sophia is grown now; a radiant, brilliant woman confident in her craft. But she is still the girl I used to trade mix CDs with, who shared my youthful obsession with horses and art and is always game for an adventure.
The wedding day was a series of warming moments:
Sophia was the only person I knew before that wedding but it quickly became obvious that I was among friends. Everyone in the wedding party acted as if they trusted my judgement, rolling with any shot ideas I had with enthusiasm and flexibility. My photos reflected the comfort their trust gave me - I felt like I could start to see the progress I’m working towards.
a few more images from that night that are less technical but more fun:
Another series of events prompted these thoughts. I have spent the better part of the past year working full time at my family’s vet clinic and building my photography business on the weekends. Making my work financially viable has proved challenging, but far less so when you have a family that has opportunities and chooses to share them with you. Just before Sophia’s cousin’s wedding, I was told the new housing I’d been counting on had fallen through (twelve days before move-in day). I felt scared and frustrated, and loathe to tell my family lest they feel like I was asking for more from them. They found out anyhow, and quickly made it very clear that I was safe and welcome with them until I sorted things out. It took them one moment of kind and concise speech (and sweeping generosity) to alleviate my fear and present me with an incredible advantage. Now, instead of having under two weeks with a full plate to find affordable housing, I was free to continue my work and begin a far more thorough, thoughtful approach to choosing a living situation. My gratitude was so big it searched for any avenue of expression - cooking, gardening, kitchen tidying; anything to bring a tiny piece of the love back around.
Because I was treated as if I belonged, as if I were welcome, I found it far easier to be my best self.
True, we can overcome being unwelcome with resilience and patience, but what a brilliant thing to be loved in the first place and be saved the trouble.
I could go on about this topic, as it is near to my heart and (I think) relevant to events currently circulating within the political sphere, but I think this is where I’ll leave it today. Thank you for reading and be well.
Special thanks to Shay for taking the time to lend his valuable editing suggestions.
Thanks to Sophia and everyone present at the Davis wedding, and my family for their incredible support and kind patience.
All photos in this post were shot for the SOBED creative (owned by Sophia Bednarik), you may enjoy their work by clicking here.