Lauren Maier: Blog https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog en-us (C) Lauren Maier (Lauren Maier) Sat, 23 Oct 2021 02:57:00 GMT Sat, 23 Oct 2021 02:57:00 GMT https://www.laurenmaier.com/img/s/v-12/u414485841-o894567949-50.jpg Lauren Maier: Blog https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog 120 80 Watching the Birth of a Galaxy https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2021/10/watching-the-birth-of-a-galaxy


I often think of the night I watched a galaxy being born. The air was gentle, surprisingly so for a mid-September evening among mountain peaks and glaciers and icebergs. The lack of wind gave me the resolve to stay on the rocks to wait for nightfall; mind already framing out the best places for a good astral shot above the expansive glacial lake.

The stars always look extra beautiful in the mountains, after all.

Or maybe not always...

The stars, it turned out, would be a bust. The moon was full and though it lit snowy peaks as well as the sun, it drowned out the rest of the universe until just a few particularly bright novas were visible. Still, as far as disappointing photogenic conditions go, it was a pretty beautiful failure. I stayed for just a little longer, not through any hope of getting a winning shot, but because bathing in the solitude and silence of mountain peaks and glaciers and icebergs is the purest form of meditation for me.

Through the light of the moon, I watched the icebergs dance their slow dance near the outlet, restless in the way only glaciers and their offspring are in comparison to the rest of the earth. Between one moment and the next, I noticed it. Inside one of the ancient chunks of ice, a galaxy was being born. 

I blinked, expecting the image to vanish, but it stayed.

I blinked again. 

It was still there; an iceberg twinkling like the Milky Way. 

I stood and rock-hopped my way closer to the shore, still not quite believing my eyes, but nothing changed as I approached. The galaxy-containing iceberg continued to sparkle while its neighbors floated comparatively lifeless nearby. Not the biggest or the smallest, but the one in just the right place to catch the light of the rising moon, it was alive with happenstance.

I took a picture, because that's usually my first instinct, just to see if it would show up on the screen, a reasonably more trustworthy device than my own eyes. And there it was, zoomed in and grainy as hell, the proof of what I was seeing. 

At first, I was desperate to get a good photo. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen and I needed to preserve it forever. Unfortunately, a good photo of a moving object at night, even a night as bright as that one, is not something my camera or I were capable of. I gave up after a few and chose instead to just watch. 

Just like watching the real night sky, it was difficult to look at any one point of light. You had to look at the whole to really see it. 

I stayed for two more hours, just watching, and it never lost its galaxy. Even as the iceberg floated aimlessly in the milky water and the moon continued on its predestined path, certainly no longer aligned in the way that had sparked the creation, it continued to twinkle. It's as if the moon had gifted it the light to last through the night.

It's hard not to believe in magic when you witness the birth of an ice-bound galaxy.

So I believe that there is magic all around us if only you look with eyes willing to see it.


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(Lauren Maier) life is good Magic New Zealand photography reflection https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2021/10/watching-the-birth-of-a-galaxy Sat, 23 Oct 2021 02:52:00 GMT
Living Intentionally https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2020/3/living-intentionally


It happened on the eleventh-month mark of my year in New Zealand - I've got one more month of exploring this amazing, beautiful country, and then it's off to the Pacific Islands for three months and then home for Christmas and then I'm moving to Tasmania. Life is really, really good. 

It happened on a Tuesday - I was staying in Wanaka, gearing up for my last backpacking trip in the country and generally getting my life together for the next chapter. I decided it was time to fix the table in my van, so I walked to the local Bunnings Warehouse to buy a couple of hinges. 

That's where it happened. 

I walked into the store and nearly started crying.

It was the smell.

That smell, you know the one that all home improvement stores on the planet have, made me yearn with a physical ache in my chest for a house to tinker with. A house to fill with books and plants and animals. A house where I could put that amazing light fixture and pick out the perfect tiles and get around to painting the kitchen eventually. A house with a yard that I fill with veggie gardens and birdbaths and plenty of flowers for the bees. 

Life really is good, but no matter where you are, opposing desires are normal. You can be completely happy with your life and still long for something else. So sometimes I can't help but think of my other life. The one I almost had. Nearly two years ago I was faced with two very clear choices. New Zealand or a "real" job that would've provided upward momentum in the field I'm interested in. I chose New Zealand which in turn lead me around the South Pacific and then to Australia and soon, hopefully, Antarctica.

But what if I chose the stable job in Tacoma, Washington?

I'd have a dog, no doubt there. Maybe my own place, maybe a shared one, but I'd have a jungle of houseplants, a thousand books, and a mountain of fuzzy blankets either way. Maybe I would've met someone early on. Maybe he works for the same magazine and we live ten minutes apart. Maybe I'd have a serious relationship like so many of my peers seem to have already. I would definitely know Washington like the back of my hand by now, with set weekends to explore and discover all that the Evergreen State has to offer with new friends. I'd have a nicer car. I'd be making more money. 

It sounds pretty damn good, some days more than others. 

I'm sure I would've been happy in that life, maybe more or less, but realistically, probably about the same. Fortunately, I know that I'm happy in this life that I've built. 

"The grass is always greener on the other side."

We've all heard it but we tend to ignore what else it implies, namely, that from the other side, your grass looks greener too. 

So I remind myself that it's okay to look at my friend's lives and imagine what it would be like just as they look at mine and imagine the same. Life is life no matter how you live it. We all have problems and worries, joy and happiness, risk and reward. How you live your life doesn't change the fact of that, just how it all comes to play. 

And most importantly, I remind myself and everyone I meet that every lifestyle requires the sacrifice of something but we're under no obligation to keep giving up the same things forever. 

Just as people get stuck in comfort and routine, I know plenty of backpackers who get stuck in a similar rut and can't figure out how to settle down. Your lifestyle becomes such a huge part of your identity that drastically changing it makes people assume that something has gone wrong. The longer people stay stationary, the more seems to be at risk by giving that up whereas the longer travelers move from one place to the next, settling down is seen as and felt like "giving up." 

But life should be fluid. 

Life should be intentional.

As soon as you start doing things because it's expected or habit, your life begins to control you rather than the other way around. 

I love my life. I love what I've chosen to do and I'll do it for a while longer, but not forever. I hope I never have a forever life. Eventually, I'll have a house that I built and I'll live in it with my dog and plants and books and a husband to share it with, but I don't want that until I can tell a thousand anecdotes of my wandering years.

So I'll continue this semi-nomadic lifestyle until I want a semi-settled one more.  

Simple as that. 

If the grass is always greener, it's time to start watering your own side. Chase the things that make the most sense for the time and don't forget about the rest, simply remember to reevaluate every once in a while and make a change when the change makes sense. 

I've found a pretty happy solution to my conflicting desires. I took the Working Holiday Visa to Australia and carved out stability with it. No van-life this time around, instead I'm renting a townhouse filled with houseplants (that I purchased at the local Bunnings - sweet, sweet triumph!) and a garden with an apricot tree, blackberries, and a soon-to-be flourishing veggie garden. I got a super fun job within walking distance and set weekends to explore. I have a car called Taco that can take me all over Tassie and beyond. Still, no dog because even though the temptation is STRONG, I can't in good conscious fly an animal back to America at the end of this all and I can't invest too much into the house because I won't be able to keep it, but it's a pretty nice start to satisfying the conflicting urge for stability and adventure. 


Top Photo: New Zealand - Living intentionally by swinging on every single random swing I find in nature

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(Lauren Maier) about me adventure Australia life life is good New Zealand reflection travel https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2020/3/living-intentionally Thu, 12 Mar 2020 10:41:44 GMT
Let's Talk About The Rest https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2020/3/lets-talk-about-the-rest  

To Be AloneTo Be AloneUoleva, Kingdom of Tonga


There's a lot to be said for the unsaid. We all know that there's more going on behind any particular picture or story, but we can never really know what unless we're there to experience it ourselves. Since that's not exactly possible, the best I can do is try and spell it out. 

I spent three months island-hopping around the South Pacific laying on beautiful beaches, swimming in crystal clear water, and drinking from fresh coconuts on a daily basis. Every island I visited provided all that and more; plentiful tropical luxuries just like all the brochures promise. These are the things I showcased in my photographs because those are the reasons I went to the islands. But these islands weren't built by travel companies to draw in and conform to tourists. Each of these tiny island nations is first and foremost home to diverse cultures, real people, and substantial environmental, social, political, and economic concerns. 

It's true that they boast white-sand beaches, warm waters, and plenty of coconuts but everyone already knows that, so let's talk about the rest.

This is what doesn't make it on the postcards:

Stray dogs missing limbs and covered in fleas and wounds, all pregnant or nursing or fathering new pups destined for the streets. 

Plastic and metal and rubber and styrofoam. Mountains of it on the streets, the farms, the forests, the beaches, the reefs.

People so destitute that things like animal welfare and environmental concerns aren't even on the radar. 

Taxi drivers and market vendors and trinket salesmen promoting their products at a 400% increase with a smile on their face, a special price for palagi.

Tiny impoverished airports that led to more stress than I've ever had in my life.

High-end resorts owned and operated by ex-pats because the locals are "too lazy to work." 

Men whistling and hissing and kissing after you, all vying for your attention, quick to offer their services as a tour guide or an insight into local customs, but only for the women.

Locals stalking you on the beaches demanding made-up entrance fees and not allowing you to leave without payment. 

Being unable to blend into the background - as the only white-person around during the off-season, Tourist was painted in neon above my head.

Producing probably the largest carbon footprint of my life with ten flights, plastic-wrapped foods, single-use straws and utensils that I asked not to receive but got anyways.

The lack of safe drinking water and limited access to proper nutrients and the resulting digestive issues.

The five countries I visited were dramatically different in culture and environment and they weren't equally afflicted with these things, but they shared enough of them that they're worth mentioning. 

There was so much to love about the islands and their people, but they were far from what I would call paradise and it's ignorant and irresponsible for them to be promoted as such. 

The romance of travel, particularly travel to tropical regions, tends to smudge over the reality of those places. The islands, for all their beaches and waters and coconuts, are developing nations with real people living there and real cancers clinging to their economies and cultures and environments.

Tourism can help just as easily as it can hurt. It can support the economy but often at the price of the environment, or maybe it can help the environment at the cost of the culture, and if a visitor stays at a resort and rarely strays from its boundaries, it may only support the ex-pat who runs it at the detriment to all three.

Fortunately, sustainable tourism is possible no matter where you visit. Do a little research and commit to certain practices. It will never be perfect, but every little bit helps. (Visit Sustainable Tourism to learn more)

With all of that said, I'd like to say just a bit more.

It's not black and white. There's more good than bad and the average stuff outweighs them both. No one would travel if that weren't true at least most of the time. During those three months, I met many extremely kind and generous islanders and ex-pats who were doing everything in their capacity to empower local communities. I witnessed and participated in numerous environmental and cultural projects run by locals that will undoubtedly change the islands for the better. I had otherworldly experiences I'll likely never get to experience again and drank from so, so many coconuts (Tonga has the best). 

I'm in no hurry to go back, but I am so, so glad I went. Travel shouldn't always be about purely positive things. It's about learning. It's about seeing what's real and what's imagined. It's about forming your own picture of the world as you experience it. 

This isn't a call to stay away from the islands or even a warning about what you'll see if you do go, it's merely a reminder that nothing is all sunshine and rainbows, even on tropical islands that experience plenty of both.



Top Photo: Uoleva, Kingdom of Tonga

Lower Photo: Aunt Jenny & Jeremiah from the Rongdal School Project showing off homemade 'island dresses' on Efate, Vanuatu

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(Lauren Maier) adventure island life reflection https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2020/3/lets-talk-about-the-rest Mon, 02 Mar 2020 07:10:30 GMT
Land of the Long White Cloud https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2019/10/the-land-of-the-long-white-cloud

A year in the making and I still have no idea what to write here. Should it be a summary? A play-by-play of my New Zealand life that touches on everything, but dives into little? Or maybe a how-to guide for people looking to move abroad? To live in a van. To escape the mundane. It could be a story, a fantastical rendition of a life pieced together through a little bit of planning and a whole lot of sheer blind luck.

It's going to be none of these. 

Instead, it's going to be a series of brutally honest disparate moments that will undoubtedly mean less to you than they do to me. This will be a collection of those tiny moments that have buried their way into my memory because what other way to tell a story than by those moments which never really ended? It's the sandflies, the wind, the rain, the hot, the cold, the desperate search for wifi, the endless hours in libraries, the even more endless hours in the van, the loneliness, the anti-socialness, the questionable diet. It's the mountains, the rivers, the beaches, the oceans, the lakes, the creatures, the ferns, the hundreds of sunsets, the dozens of sunrises (it's much harder to wake up than to stay up), the fast friends, the never before-had strength in my legs, the never before-had strength in my mind.  

This will be a glimpse at the unforgettable moments of a life lived without (too much) fear of the unknown. 

This will be my New Zealand story, told in moments. 


The Hard Part

Ten days in, stuck in an endless cycle of hurry-up and wait with nothing more to do than wander the city streets and think. In those first ten days of sorting out a new life, the thoughts weren’t so kind. That’s the scary part of uprooting your life for something you can never truly prepare for. By day ten in New Zealand what I knew for sure was this: I had no home to call my own (no real reason to return to Oregon and just a house full of my childhood in Wisconsin, but few of the pieces that made it my home), my beloved car had been scrapped (part of the plan, but still a bitter sting), all of my friends were scattered around (but none in the same country as me), and my dog, a beautiful little mutt that I picked out when I was 12, was put to sleep days after I landed on the other side of the world. 

This is the hard part. The part where everything is in flux and you doubt your decision but there’s no going back, even if I caught the next plane home, because there’s no job, no home, no car, and no Kenya, not anymore. 

This is the hard part. The part where you want nothing more than to hug your mom and cry over the loss of your best friend, but she’s 8,191 miles away, so you settle for an empty park bench. 

This is the hard part. The part where you question it all but you have no choice but to move forward. 

This is the hard part. It’s not the first, nor the last, but it’s the worst. 

This was the hardest part, so the rest only goes up. 


The Beginning 

Nearly three weeks in and on only slightly more stable ground, life is better out of the city. I went north, with nothing in mind other than to see whatever there was to see. The beginning was lonely, hurting for company in the absence of routine, something I had never really struggled with before. I pride myself on my ability to enjoy my own company so it was jarring to feel the unfamiliar pang of loneliness so early in my move. 

The beginning was a learning experience, one unlike any other I’ve faced. I had to relearn everything including how to be alone. How to drive (on the left side with all new signs and indicators), where to shop (which one was a grocery store? Which one a general? Where can I find this? Where can I find that?), how to use a credit card (which option to pick on the machine when I’d never had a choice before). The list goes on and on and on. A list of insignificant things that only matter after they build upon one another.

My days were spent driving. No real destination, just a general direction and an image of the ocean. Driving down long gravel roads that dead-end after 20k, using up fuel for no other reason than to have something to do. When not driving, I was hiking, exploring at a pace that would’ve suited a shorter time-frame (the lesson in slowing down would come later), but I struggled to fill the hours just before dark. The in-between hiking and driving and reading, when the sun was still up, but I’d run out of things to do. 

This is where I learned what a culture that values overstimulation really does to a person, even one who never considered herself a standard product of her country. This is where I started to fix that damage.

This is the learning part. Difficult in a new way, but touched with determination and challenge.


Matai Bay 

I’d never been on a beach with no footprints before, at least not one that big and that beautiful. I walked slowly as if moving any faster would invite others in. The water was blue, the sky was pink, the sand was golden, and I was the only one to witness it.

Later I would see a double rainbow paint itself across the bay from the top of a grassy hill.

I wasn’t lonely in that moment, nor would I be for nearly the rest of my time in New Zealand.

This is where it all fell into place.


Coromandel 

Never before have I never had to “get back.” “Get back” to the trail, to the campsite, to school, to work, to real life. There’s always an end that I have to reach. But here, rock-hopping along the shores of the Coromandel Peninsula, off-track, I feel no rush to get back to anything. The track will be there when I decide to turn back. My camp is my car (freshly named 'Sully'), ready to house me wherever I decide to park him. It has everything I need; food, water, shelter. So I can keep my turtle pace, one boulder after the other, and take in the unreal sights before me.

This is where I learned to slow down.


Mt. Taranaki 

This is where I’m starting to get good at this. I know how to navigate this country; the roads, the stores, the ins, the outs. I’ve seen some beautiful things, but this is the first place that caught me and the first place I would visit twice. 

There’s nothing quite like Mount Taranaki. Shaped like a schoolchild’s science project and shrouded in clouds more often than not, this is the first New Zealand mountain that made me want more. I spent a week here, hunting for the elusive peak. I walked all but one of its trails and I’ll be back for the summit.

There are times when the human body can’t contain its joy. That’s why we smile and laugh and exclaim. But typically, we reserve those things for when we have company. It’s when we can’t contain those smiles and laughs and exclamations when we’re alone that really tell a story. I chase those moments where I shake my head and grin and whisper, “wow” to myself because I cannot contain my happiness. 

Taranaki was not the first place this happened, but it was the first where it happened every day I spent there. 

This is where it got to be exciting.


Wanganui 

Day whatever and I’m parked in yet another carpark where I’ll spend my evening and night. I’m cooking out of the kitchen that is my trunk, picking gnats out of my potatoes without a thought. The river is quiet behind me and the ducks are begging for scraps. I’m thinking about which movie I’ll watch after dinner, because, miraculously, this carpark has free Wi-Fi. 

This is where I meet a friend. He’s in the car next to mine, a visitor from Spain. We share stories and food and make plans to explore the town together the next day. We exchange Facebook information and it’s only after I crawl into bed and draw my cowboy curtains that I realize this has become my new normal. 

This is where I realize how much I like my new normal.


Nelson Lakes 

This is where I realize that the South Island is already living up to the hype. There’s no one here. The lake is quiet and still, the reflection of the mountains is perfect and I want nothing more than to wander up and down its shores. So I do. Six hours of walking, not on any trail, not with any destination, slow as a snail. The sky is drizzling, but it looks so pretty on the water that I don’t try and hide. The first snow of the season will be on the very top of the peaks when I wake up the next morning.

I filled a memory card here. The first one filled by one single place. 

This is where I reached a new sense of calm. 

(This is also where I meet the Sandfly and develop a hatred I didn't know I was capable of. Win some, lose some.)


Arthur’s Pass

This unassuming park, the pit-stop between Christchurch and Greymouth, became my favorite spot in New Zealand. It’s where I explored forests and wandered through valleys and summited peaks. It’s where I felt blown away by the beauty one single place could produce. It’s where I felt physically stronger than I ever had before. 

I stood on the summit of some peak I can’t recall the name of and I looked down at a fan of millions of lupines on Christmas Eve. I chased the snowpack so I could build a Christmas snowman, even in the Southern Hemisphere. I ducked down gorges with dead-ends but so many wonders. 

This is where I celebrated my very first Christmas away from home. In the company of two other solo travelers, we shared a gourmet dinner of noodles and beans and rice and we shared stories of the world as we experienced it.

This is where I gained a confidence. A confidence to meet strangers, to tackle mountains, to wander off-trail. To continue this life; even beyond New Zealand.


Franz Josef 

The Untamed Natural Wilderness of the Wild West Coast means a lot of things, but what it really means is rain. All the time. I’m three months into my year in New Zealand, on day four of torrential rain, and vanlife has been good, but it would be nice to have access to a shower more than once a week. And a dry place to stand up. And an income.

Time for the ‘working’ part of my Working Holiday Visa. 

I’m at a campground in Franz Josef Glacier, sitting at a tiny table in the tiny kitchen, looking for a job that provides housing, pay, and is located somewhere beautiful. These are surprisingly loose criteria in New Zealand. I recall the comment of a neighbor at a campground the week before and I type in the words next to my previous search. 

Three emails, one phone call, and 24 hours later, I have a job at the Milford Sound Lodge. 

I had planned to stay for three months. I ended up staying for eight. 

I thought this was the responsible part, but it turned out to be the best decision I made during my whole year in the country.   


Milford Sound

This is the one that deserves its own story.


The Catlins 

This is where I realize that these aren’t just my work-friends, they’re my weird, mismatched group of forever people. The kind of friends I’ll actually go out of my way to see again. The kind of friends you normally only make when you’re a kid. 

This was a weekend of beach bonfires and beach sunrises, stargazing and laughing, hours of Frisbee turned Monkey-in-the-Middle, icecream, and adventures. 

This is where I found yet another family and gain one of the very few things I’d been lacking in the Land of the Long White Cloud.


Aoraki

This is where it all culminated. This is where I was at peace, I was elated, I was strong, I was happy. Aoraki National Park is one of New Zealand’s cornerstones of beauty and I could’ve happily spent my whole year there alone. 

This is where I almost stopped believing New Zealand was real. 


Goodbyes

This is the second hardest part. It’s knowing that you can always go back to see those people or those places again, but it’ll never, ever be the same. It’s knowing that no matter how close you became with the people you meet while traveling, there’s always the possibility that your travels may never line up again. It’s knowing that the world is changing and nothing is forever, not the coastlines, the glaciers, the trees or the animals. 

This is also one of the best parts. It’s knowing that you’ve gained experiences, both in people and in places, that will carry you for decades. It’s the memory you’ll relive twenty years down the road that will draw out laughter so intense it hurts. It’s the friend you’ll visit a world-away from where you first met and how you’ll make each other smile. It’s the stories you’ll tell and the pictures you'll share of the world as only you experienced it. 

This is the bittersweet part because goodbyes only hurt when you’ve loved something enough to miss it. 


Top Photo: Self-Portrait - Tasman Glacier, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

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(Lauren Maier) adventure life life is good New Zealand reflection travel https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2019/10/the-land-of-the-long-white-cloud Sat, 19 Oct 2019 07:35:00 GMT
When the Words Don't Come - Use Someone Else's https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2018/8/when-words-dont-come


         I’m a lover of words, both reading them and writing them. I’ll forever be a person built up from the snippets of thousands of other people’s words. Some are themes for just a minute, some for a day or a month or a year. Some for a lifetime. Those that flash loud and bright in my head permanently decorate my body, but for the rest, writing them elsewhere has to do. 

         A spattering of other people’s words will be this entry’s theme too. The first is this: 


“When is the last time you did something for the first time?”


         I graduated from college. I took the standard timeline - the dedicated four-years following high-school - because I knew I wanted to have a higher education but I also knew myself enough to know I wouldn’t have come back had I taken the oh-so-tempting gap year. I utilized those years well though, taking the opportunity to live outside of my home state – to make homes in some truly beautiful parts of the country. I hiked and climbed and swam and hammocked away my free time and actually enjoyed most of my classroom time too. College was good. But then it was over. 

         The end game has always been writing and photography for some magazine, so that’s what I looked into. I applied for magazines in areas of the country I’d like to live in - the same way I applied for schools. At the same time, in a late-night decision inspired by the passing comment of a stranger, I also applied for a working visa to New Zealand. 

         I got my first job offer the same day my visa was approved. 


“There will be a few times in your life when all your instincts will tell you to do something, something that defies logic, upsets your plans, and may seem crazy to others. When that happens, you do it. Listen to your instincts and ignore everything else. Ignore logic, ignore the odds, ignore the complications, and just go for it.”


         New Zealand it is. 

         One year in a country I’ve never been to. One year in a country of strangers. One year of working on farms and in hostels and house-sitting. One year living in a van. One year of new experiences. One year worth so much more than any starter job in my industry. 

         This is the build-up stage. The planning and the non-planning. The prepping and the purchasing. The mystery and the excitement and the nerves. The happiness for what’s to come and the sadness for what’s being left behind.


“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”


         So far in my life, I’ve decided that two years is enough time to build a home I’m willing to leave. I’ve done it in less and I’ve done it in more, but two years seems to be that magic number. It’s the magic number, but it doesn’t make it easy to leave – a sentiment that brings me to my next quote, one that flashes loud and bright and is forever written on my body. 


“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.”


         I’m not ready, but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine any other route. I want to go more than I want anything else in my life right now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t shed some tears for who and what I’m leaving behind. It hasn’t gotten any easier, but, so far, leaving has never been the wrong choice. 

         I’ve never been satisfied with short-term visits. Seeing a place in a day or a week or even a month can only produce a glimpse. You can’t learn all there is to learn in that time. Ideally, I would spend a lifetime in every place I want to experience, but since I only have one of those, a fraction of that will have to do. 

         You must go grocery shopping at the local market, do your laundry, sleep-in, stay up all night, get sick, fall in love, get lost, see the sunrise and sunset, watch the moon wax and wane, smell the rain as it falls over your new town, watch the seasons melt into each other, learn the faces of your neighbors, drink with strangers who will become friends. 

         Visiting isn’t enough, it’s never been enough, I have to build a home that I always have the option to return to. I’m twenty-two and the world is huge. I’m twenty-two and the world is small. I’m twenty-two and the world is mine (or at least it will be).


“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each and every day to have a new and different sun.”


Author credit in order of appearance - John C. Maxwell – Judith McNaught – Azar Nafisi – Lemony Snicket – Chris McCandless (Alexander Supertramp)


Top Photo: Diamond Creek Falls, Willamette National Forest, Oregon, United States (July 31, 2018) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 80D, f/22 @ 11 mm, 1/5s, ISO 100

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(Lauren Maier) adventure life life is good New Zealand reflection https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2018/8/when-words-dont-come Mon, 27 Aug 2018 19:52:50 GMT
Snow Season https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2018/2/winter Painted PrettyPainted PrettyMount McLoughlin, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, United States

Mount McLoughlin is a focal point of southern Oregon. Everywhere you go, it seems to loom on the horizon. I've gazed at this peak dozens of times over my many visits to this park and I never realized that it was my local mountain! I have to say, McLoughlin doesn't have a bad angle!


          I know objectively why so many people hate winter. In some areas of the country, like the state I grew up in, the temperatures can make it physically painful to be outside (or even prevent cars from starting). Snow can pile up and make travel dangerous, or at least add a minor annoyance to your morning routine. It’s dark for far longer than it’s light and there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Winter is undeniably cold, wet, and dark. 

          But...

          But I love winter. I adore this frigid, frosty, dark season like no other, and I want to help you see why. 

          Picture this. You’re sitting in a window nook in a tiny log cabin with a wood-burning stove at your back and a picture window in front of you. You’re looking out over a vast, rolling landscape with trees and meadows and mountains, all blanketed in a thick layer of snow, except for the meandering river that cuts through it all like a lazy black snake. The sun is setting and casting everything in a dying orange haze. 

          And then it begins to snow. 

          The flakes are fat and lazy and they build upon the frozen landscape quickly, covering all the evidence of the day’s activity. The tracks leading up to the cabin, left there by a curious fox, slowly fill in. The pockets on the ground surrounding the trees, created from fallen clumps of old snow, vanish in the kiss of fresh powder. The orange light is slowly fading to purple and then blue, but the landscape never seems to get truly dark. Purple shadows stretch long and languid, even into the night. The snow glows from an untraceable source and the landscape seems to come alive all over again when the sun finally sets for good. You’re cut off from the scene by the glass and wood of the cabin, but you can still hear the stillness of the world outside. All sounds are dampened by the snow, even those inside your head. 

          You can smell the sharp scent of winter, mixed with the smoke from your fire. The frigid air fills your lungs more fully than warm air ever could and you can’t help but breathe deeply, savoring the action because it seems to light your blood on fire. You’re wrapped up in a bubble of warmth, but it doesn’t stop you from reaching out to lay your bare hand on the frozen glass of the window. The point of connection tingles with cold and with life.

          The feeling you get from picturing this scene is the same feeling I get with every falling snowflake, every puff of frozen breath, every cozy, wrapped in a blanket burrito, night-in.

          Winter is cold, wet, and dark, but it’s also warm, giving, and glowing if only you let yourself truly embrace it.  


Top Photo: Mount McLoughlin, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, United States (January 12, 2018) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 80D, f/5.6 @ 55 mm, 1/800s, ISO 100


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(Lauren Maier) oregon reflection story winter https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2018/2/winter Wed, 07 Feb 2018 00:06:43 GMT
Ageism https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2017/10/ageism


I know, I know, not another –ism! But this one matters as a whole because it doesn’t get talked about or acknowledged as much as some of the others and it matters to me personally because I feel it more than any other –ism. I’ve been disregarded and disadvantaged for my gender before, but it’s my age that always seems to bring out the ignorance and cruelty in people.

Before I move on, I’ll make this clear; I am a white, 21-year-old, middle-class woman who grew up in the mid-west. I’ve rarely felt discrimination, for any reason, beyond the point of minor annoyance, with a few notable exceptions. It’s my age that people cite more than any other criteria to criticize something I do or say. The kicker? It’s always a baseless argument.

I get it, I’m young. I know that my views, feelings, and perspectives will change as I grow older and experience more, that’s the only healthy way to progress, but that doesn’t invalidate my views, feelings, and perspectives now.

Don’t act like young people are the only ones who have room to learn, who need to achieve personal growth and experience to keep relevant. As if you have to reach some arbitrary mark in time to have an opinion on anything (valid only as long as there aren’t people who’ve hit an even further arbitrary mark in time who have opposing views). Age does not equal knowledge; experience does. And here’s the secret: Age does not equal experience. I know some twenty-year-olds who’ve seen more of the world and experienced more types of people and overcome more problems than people quadruple their age.

I do think you get automatic experience with age, the time you spend alive, watching and participating in the ever-changing world is experience on its own, so the older you are the more compulsory experience you’ll have, but not all experience is created equal. There are ninety-year-olds who’ve spent their whole lives in the same town, absorbing the same information, and interacting with the same people. There are fifteen-year-olds who’ve been to half the countries in the world, speak three languages, and have been exposed to a multitude of unique challenges. Comparing the two is somewhat like comparing apples to oranges, but it can’t be said that the ninety-year-old will have a more valid opinion on poverty in Ghana than the fifteen-year-old who lived there just because of their age.

One of the most common arguments against my personal opinions has been, “you’ll change your mind when you’re older.” Assuming this is based on the speaker’s own experience, it’s quite possibly true. I hope I don’t die with the same views, feelings, and perspectives I have now at twenty-one. But this statement treats opinions as invalid because of the chance that they’ll change at some point down the line. It’s like saying you shouldn’t eat the apple now because in a month it’ll be rotten. It assumes that young people are the only ones who learn, and apply, new knowledge to their views, which is a troubling thought on its own. The idea should be to always be learning, for the student to become the teacher, and that can, and should, happen at any age.

I was –am still- told time and again how mature I am for my age. I hear things like, “oh, I thought you were older” all the time. These comments are always meant as compliments, similarly to the idea “you’re not like other girls,” and I receive them as such, but it never fails to make me a little sad too. These reflections imply that the majority of the given category is “worse” than I am, but in my experience, the majority of people my age are similarly complex. I think my ‘maturity’ is noticed by past generations because my personality aligns more similarly to their values and comfort zones, whereas people in my age group who participate in ‘millennial’-type hobbies are seen as lesser simply because it’s new and scary to the people who didn’t grow up with it. We all show our complexity in different ways, but taking a selfie or caring about make-up doesn’t make you childish or immature.

As you age, you lose the memory of what it was like to be twelve and talked down to when you knew so much more than people assumed. You forget what it was like to be seventeen and have your opinions dismissed because you’re not an adult. You forget what it’s like to be twenty; stuck in the limbo of childhood and adulthood, simultaneously belittled and expected the most of. It’s as if you lose the ability to empathize with anyone younger than you as you age; the ever-growing number of people “below” you are grouped together under the label “naïve.” You forget that no one, not the twelve-year-old, not the seventeen-year-old, not the twenty-year-old, not the forty-year-old or the eighty-year-old has all the answers; it’s not possible.

I think one of the main factors for the disconnect between the “young” and the “old” is that young people are classically idealistic whereas older generations have largely had that optimism beaten out of them by both the world and, more likely, the generations that preceded them. I like to think of myself as a realistic optimist (which I admit is probably an idealistic thought). I believe that it is necessary for our world to have more people that believe in the good that already exists and can be nurtured while acknowledging that the bad also exists but can be changed.

Our cultural mindset at the moment is to tarnish that youthful idealism before it destroys you, so the older generations feel an obligation to expose the “reality” of the world to the people who believe in the best of others. I argue that this idealism should be nurtured and expanded, treated as valid so the harsher side of reality can be revealed in digestible sizes that won’t turn the younger generations into the same disenfranchised and crotchety clones that some of the older generations have become. The world is not stagnant. There are good things and there are bad things, the good can be cultivated and the bad can be fixed, but only if people believe it can change and care enough to try. So let us be realistic optimists; if enough people are, something will change.

I get it, I’m young. But let me be young. Let me try and save the world. Let me feel invincible. Let me make mistakes. Let me learn the hard way. But don’t you dare disregard my experiences because I had them at this stage of my life. Don’t treat me like a twenty-one-year-old. Don’t treat me like I’m twelve or thirty or eighty. Treat me like a person. Agree with me, disagree with me, call me out on my bullshit, but do it because I’m a fellow human being with very real views, feelings, and perspectives, not because I’m young.


Top Photo: Hobart Bluff, Ashland, Oregon, United States - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6 @ 17 mm, 1/160s, ISO 100, No Flash


 

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(Lauren Maier) about me ageism life perspective reflection https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2017/10/ageism Fri, 27 Oct 2017 21:04:23 GMT
The Complexity of Wildfire https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2017/9/the-complexity-of-wildfire

Huge shoutout to the amazing firefighters and other emergency responders dealing with this crazy fire season - you guys rock.


PeacockPeacockPonytail Falls (aka Upper Horsetail Falls), Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, United States

Shortly before making the thunderous plunge over Horsetail Falls, Horsetail Creek is shot through a narrow crack and exploded out into a large pool in front of a deep recess, which allows a trail to pass behind the falls. This is one of the more favored waterfalls in Oregon for professional photographers, mainly for pictures looking out from behind the falls. Though the falls are only about 1/3 mile from the trailhead, the trail is steep, gaining about 250 feet in roughly 1/3 mile, hence the moderate difficulty rating.

With a drop of around 90 feet, this isn't one of the largest waterfalls in the area by far, but it offers some of the best vantage points for photographers!


          Before moving to Oregon, I gave very little thought to wildfires. They were an abstract concept to me, just another natural disaster that, though sad, didn't affect me in my Wisconsin bubble. I only ever had to worry about the occasional tornado and flash-flood. I now live smack-dab in the middle of a record-setting wildfire season for the Pacific Northwest.

          As I write this, a thick haze is covering Ashland, as it has been for the entire summer and the smell of smoke comes and goes. Air quality hovers between unhealthy and hazardous every hour of the day and the warnings to limit outdoor activity are endless. Fortunately, there are no fires that present an immediate threat to Ashland -so far-. Of the hundreds of separate wildfires burning in the state, only about a fourth of them have been naturally ignited by lightning. The other three-fourths of the fires were caused by a human-related activity; campfires, fireworks, cigarette butts, innocent sparks from any number of sources. These fire vary in size, the largest of which (the Chetco Bar fire near Brookings) has been burning for two months and had grown to over a 167,000 acres (Oregon Wildfire Info Source). 

          I struggle with my feelings towards these fires. On one hand, I know, logistically, that wildfires are needed for the perseverance of a healthy environment. They clear out the deadwood, fertilize the soil, and allow new growth to take its place, revitalizing the ecosystem. In a scant few years, the forest is full of life again. They're designed to be burned.

          But not like this.

          These forests need time to regrow after a fire, but when human activity causes these fires to come back year-after-year, they never have a chance to recuperate. On the flip side of that, when people suppress natural fires that occur near human settlement, debris (that is the deadwood and readily flammable brush in the woods) builds up to unprecedented levels and when a fire inevitably does occur, it burns hotter, longer, and bigger. 

          When you consider our changing climate, which is causing hotter temperatures, less moisture, and unpredictable winds in the Pacific Northwest, it's like throwing lighter fluid on the flames. The fires have become even more dangerous not only to the landscape and the towns around them but to the brave firefighters that are risking their lives on the fire-line. The fires are bigger and the seasons are longer than ever and resources are not matching up. (Are Massive Fires the New Normal?)

          The fires this year seem to be centered around every single one of my favorite natural spots. They are blazing in Brookings, near Crater Lake, around the waterfalls of the Umpqua National Forest, all around the Willamette, and most recently, along the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Some of these fires are natural, many of them are not, but they're all burning longer and hotter than they should be because of the climate. These places will recover, but they will be scarred for decades to come. 

          My thoughts never stray far from the people and animals affected by these disasters, but I can't and won't pretend like the landscape doesn't get the same attention. I grieve for these areas because they are Oregon to me and many others. They can't be rebuilt or replaced. There is no backup waiting to take their place. They are not going through their natural cycle because we've already interfered with it.

          Wildfires are a complex issue and I won't pretend to know the intricacies of it, but I do know enough to say that the environment cannot sustain itself the way things are now. We need to take fuel reduction and controlled burns seriously. We need to take fire danger warnings seriously and abide by whatever fire bans are in place. We need to take climate change seriously because it isn't just a threat to polar bears, it's a threat to all of us. 


Above Photo: Ponytail Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. (May 27, 2017) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 80D, f/13 @ 10 mm, 2.5s, ISO 100, No Flash 

This waterfall has been completely consumed by the Eagle Creek Fire (10,000 Acres - 0% contained - Expected to grow - Cause: Fireworks).


Above Photo: Lower Proxy Falls, Willamette National Forest, Oregon. (October 23, 2017) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/22 @ 10 mm, 1/2s, ISO 100, No Flash

This waterfall is within two miles of the active Nash Fire (4,862 Acres - Expected to grow - Cause: Lightning). 


Above Photo: Toketee Fall, Umpqua National Forest, Oregon. (June 3, 2016) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/22 @ 23 mm, 1/3s, ISO 100, No Flash

This Waterfall is slowly being surrounded by the Umpqua North Complex, a series of fourteen active wildfires (29,544 Acres - 23% perimeter contained - Expected to grow - Cause: Unknown).



Above Photo: Fairy Fall, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. (May 27, 2017) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 80D, f/22 @ 10 mm, 6s, ISO 100, No Flash

This waterfall will be completely consumed by the Eagle Creek Fire by the end of the day (10,000 Acres - 0% contained - Expected to grow - Cause: Fireworks).



Above Photo: Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. (March 23, 2017) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 80D, f/25 @ 13 mm, 4s, ISO 100, No Flash

This historic waterfall is being threatened by the Eagle Creek Fire (10,000 Acres - 0% contained - Expected to grow - Cause: Fireworks).


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(Lauren Maier) climate change natural disaster oregon reflection waterfalls wildfires https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2017/9/the-complexity-of-wildfire Tue, 05 Sep 2017 20:28:07 GMT
Slow-Motion Wanderlust https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2017/8/Slow-Motion-Wanderlust ComplimentComplimentHurricane Hill, Olympic National Park, Washington, United States

The rugged interior of Olympic National Park was born from the landscape's rapid formation and is almost impossible to explore in depth by foot. The views from Hurricane Hill offer a glimpse into the craggy mountains and that is more than enough for me! (Particularly at sunset!)


“I go back and forth between wanting the universe and wanting nothing more than a small corner of an empty room.” ~Unknown


          This quote sticks with me, just like any relatable quote sticks with a person and makes them feel understood. I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who identifies with this sentiment, but I've only recently come to realize why it is that I connect with this quote in particular. 

          I grew up in a smallish town in southeastern Wisconsin, about an hour west of Milwaukee. My childhood consisted of long summer days living a semi-aquatic life in the many lakes that litter the state and lengthy, crisp winters building snowmen and sledding. I spent the shoulder seasons both wishing for winter to hurry up and come already and then condemning it for overstaying its welcome. This is how I spent the first 18 years of my life; in the same state, the same house, the same room. Like any true Wisconsinite, I'd vacations 'up north' many times, mixing in a few obligatory trips to Florida, and later, many visits to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (affectionately known as the UP) to visit my older brother in college. By graduation day of high school, I'd only been to a handful of states and had never left the country, but the desire to see more was almost painful.

          The first time I remember feeling that urge to go was when I was five years old. It started after returning from a family trip to Kauai, Hawaii. The tropical island was practically a foreign planet to my five-year-old mind. It was so different from what I was used to that I latched onto it and convinced myself that I belonged there (despite my ever-growing dislike for the heat and humidity). I decorated my room in tropical decor, complete with a 5-foot tall blow-up palm tree and real sand and seashells on top of my dresser. The phase passed eventually, but the feeling of restlessness only grew. 

          This urge, most popularly know as wanderlust, was satisfied briefly by a graduation road trip to South Carolina the summer before my freshmen year of college, but it quickly came back with a vengeance. I wanted to go international, thinking that would finally satisfy the hunger. And so I began my plans for Iceland.

          After a full year of planning, it became a reality. For just shy of a month, I solo-backpacked around the western and southern rims of the country. It checked off a lot of firsts. First solo-flight, first time in a foreign country, first time backpacking, first solo-trip. And I loved it. I loved the feeling of being lost, I loved the freedom of walking down the road and seeing nothing but mountains, I loved hearing a language I couldn't hope to understand, I loved shivering alone in my sleeping bag while the wind and hail bombarded my flimsy tent, I loved making unfamiliar sights familiar.

          The trip was a success in every way possible. 

          But as much as I'd like to say I have this insatiable and romantic urge to travel; to go, go, go, and never stop (because that has always been treated like the purest form of travel), I don't. I love to go to new places and see new thing, but I'm also perfectly content to spend a year or two in one place. I love being able to come home after of a weekend of exploring and cook my own dinner, use my own shower, and sleep in my own bed. I like walking familiar streets and knowing which coffee shop is the best one because I've tried them all. 

          It was on one of those newly-familiar streets, walking home at night with only the stars to light the way that I realized what I, as an individual, desire from travel. It came to me because for the first 18-years of my life there was only one tiny corner of the world that held familiar streets, now, at 21, I can navigate hundreds of miles throughout the world without a map. 

          Colorado became my playground after just a few months of living there. I know which grocery chain sells the best produce, which wilderness area has the best hiking and the fewest people, which road to take if the mountain pass is snowed in. A year in Oregon and I can mentally plot a weekend adventure without ever looking at a map. Even the roads that span the middle of the country hold familiar landmarks and quirks. Even Utah, Montana, Washington, and California are becoming more and more like home-ground. 

          And it's this that I value. It's the ability to go somewhere new and exciting and unfamiliar and make it a home. It's the ability to make anywhere I go as comfortable as my hometown. Because comfort is what every human being instinctively seeks and it's what travelers have to get used to not having. I've decided to pursue both.

          I'll never be satisfied with short visits. If it were possible, I'd want to live everywhere I visit for a full month, full year, a full decade, so that I could experience it in its full capacity. I crave immersion in the local culture which means that I'll never be satisfied by being a simple visitor. My personal brand of travel is a slow-motion wanderlust.

          For a long while, I was a bit intimidated by the more ‘extreme’ adventurers I’d come across. Those who thrived on adrenaline and weren’t happy unless they moving and doing 24/7 and risking their lives along the way. It was these people that formed my initial definition of adventure and I tried in vain to match it. Coming to the revelation that adventure is a personal thing that shouldn't be whittled down to an act of comparison doesn't really change anything in the end. I'll continue to travel the way that makes me most happy, but now I can do it with a newfound confidence and pride. 


Photo: Hurricane Hill, Olympic National Park, Washington, United States - Photo taken with Canon EOS 80D, f/7.1 @ 55 mm, 1/160, ISO 100, No Flash


 

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(Lauren Maier) about me adventure life is good self-reflection travel wanderlust https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2017/8/Slow-Motion-Wanderlust Fri, 04 Aug 2017 12:00:00 GMT
Down With National Parks? https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2017/2/down-with-national-parks Into ParadiseInto Paradise


         National Parks are pretty much a standard bucket list item; who doesn't want to see Yellowstone at least once? Even if you've never visited one before, you can name at least a few. The big guys: Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, or maybe even the more obscure: Lake Clark or Kobuk Valley in Alaska, Isle Royal in Michigan, North Cascades in Washington (just hours from the vastly more famous Olympic and Mt. Rainer National Parks). The National Parks are a source of American pride, they're the United States' shining glory!

         Or are they? 

         The National Park Service was created in 1916 and has evolved with time, though its main role has remained largely the same; preserve the ecological and historical integrity of specified places and make them available and accessible to the public. As of January 1, 2017, there are 59 National Parks in the United States and many more National Monuments, Memorials, and Historic Sites. The history of the Service is fascinating, though this particular post is not a history lesson. It's a confrontation. 

         I've heard the question more and more lately; do the National Parks do more harm than good? Their first and foremost duty is to protect and preserve delicate natural spaces and animals. By introducing roadways and buildings and fences and thousands of people into these areas we run the very real risk of pioneering the very things we're trying to prevent. The Great Smokey Mountains, the most visited National Park in the country, receives well over an average of ten million visitors a year. That's more than ten million people driving around the park emitting pollution, walking the trails and trampling delicate flora, eating and sleeping in or around the park leaving behind what all creature leave behind. All in a space that is meant to be preserved. 

         The parks were created for the public, but the overcrowding does lead to a question of who deserves it more? The easiest perspective for me to take is the one of a more avid adventurer who prefers the company of trees to tourists. I've been the person who can't find a parking space in the gigantic lot of the Great Smokey Mountain visitor center, I've stood in lines to take pictures of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, I've had to follow positively massive RVs up the Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park, and you bet I would have preferred these experiences to myself! Just like probably 90% of the people I was waiting in line with. So do the parks belong to the hard-core backcountry Dirtbags or to the family of five from Oklahoma? The answer, at least the answer I've come up with, is that they belong to those who will care for it. 

         Backcountry Dirtbags (called such, fondly) use the land creatively; mountain biking, skiing, backpacking, climbing, boating, the list goes on and on, but it can be assumed that these are the people with intentionally little footprints. Dirtbags are aware of and tend to follow the Leave No Trace rule as closely as possible. They're a minority in the National Parks.

         Most visitors consist of families who use the parks are their rare step into nature. They don't know the unspoken rules or the slang, and they're often confined to the drive-up lookouts and paved trails. They're the majority. But ultimately, both parties go to the parks for the same basic reason; they want to enjoy the nature. 

         If we shut down the roads, hotels, and gift shops and provide access only to those who can hike 40 miles into the backcountry, millions of people, whose only exposure to nature are the National Parks, won't be able to gain an appreciation for how great they are and in turn, won't feel inclined to protect them. A secondary goal of the National Park system is to create Stewards of the Land (a concept otherwise known as Environmental Stewardship, championed by Aldo Leopold as the responsible use and protection of the land through conservation and sustainable practices), whether they're hard-core explorers or first-time travelers. Dirtbags already have this mentally for the most part, so in that sense, National Parks are for those who still need to learn that lesson. 

         National Parks create fond memories and when people have fond memories of something, they'll vote and work to protect it. So though it can't be argued that the infrastructure of many of the Parks is directly harmful to their ecosystems, it has a positive impact as well. It all comes down to conservation beating preservation in the long run. Besides, many National Parks have so much backcountry to explore, untouched by concrete or tacky souvenirs, that those of us who prefer trees to tourists have our options too.

         The most important thing to understand is that these areas need to be protected from greed, whether it's in the form of a National Park or not. They're unique and wonderful natural phenomenon that have to be preserved for future generations to enjoy. They are home to species of flora and fauna that might not exist anywhere else in the world and would be rendered extinct if left in the hands of personal and corporate interests. These places belong to no one and to everyone and that should never change. 

         National Parks have the unique ability to create Stewards of the Land out of anyone and that is what we so desperately need in this country and in the world. So visit Yellowstone, the Great Smokies, and Yosemite, and bask in the wonder they ignite, but don't stop there. Explore your local attractions, even if "National Wildlife Refuge" doesn't sound as sexy as "National Park" and "National Monument" sounds like something your fourth-grade class had to go to. Establish a sustainable connection with the natural world around you and fight like a berserker to protect it from those who've never felt the magic of being in nature. 

        In the end, it shouldn't be a fight against National Parks for the small portion of their impact that is negative, it should be a fight for conservation efforts in whatever form they take. It's a fight to leave the environment in better shape than we found it. It's a fight for what really matters.

        “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.” - John Muir

        #Resist


Photo: Bowman Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, United States - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6 @ 18 mm, 1/1600, ISO 100, No Flash


 

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(Lauren Maier) Adventure Environmental Stewardship National Parks Stewards of the Land Sustainability adventure life is good https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2017/2/down-with-national-parks Sun, 12 Feb 2017 04:49:17 GMT
The "WOW" Factor https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/11/the-wow-factor


          Anyone can pick up a camera, aim it, and shoot it, but you won't ever meet a photographer who doesn't roll their eyes at least once in a while when the first question they get is, "what kind of camera do you use?" The question isn't entirely unfounded; a nicer camera allows the photographer a wider range of creative freedom and image quality, but ultimately a good photographer can use any old point-and-shoot to get a better picture than the amateur with a $6,000 body and a $12,000 lens. A photographer is still an artist, even if they can't control their subjects. 

          Unique even in its field, photography (nature and wildlife in particular) has a different set of rules. Composition and light are major keys to outdoor photography. It's all about timing and your willingness to get dirty. The perfect picture rarely happens when you're standing comfortably on the trail. It takes tramping through thorny brush, leaning uncomfortably far over a cliff-edges, and laying on what you hope is just mud. And that's only the first step. 

          Post-processing, that is editing a photo after it's taken, i.e. Photoshop, is almost a dirty concept in the world of photography for some reason. I know plenty of people, photographers and otherwise, who scoff at the idea of editing an image. They claim it's "cheating." This is a purist idea. Some of the people who fall into this category are also the ones who refuse to use anything but film cameras. That method is fine and dandy and it has its merits, but if you think camera-to-print is a pure form of photography, you're wrong. Even film prints can be post-processed in the darkroom. Besides, it's impossible to capture an image exactly as it was. Our cameras, whether set to automatic or to manual, play with numerous settings that change the scene. Post-processing, in any capacity, is just another step in the creative process of photography as an art form. 

          I personally don't do a lot of editing after I take the picture. It's not for any desire for "purity," but because I hate editing. It's tedious to me. I'll adjust lights and darks, maybe tweak saturation, and clone out an undesirable blemish, but I don't have the patience to do much more. (I'd be happy to make a blog post or video on my editing process if it's desired.) Even though I don't spend much time editing photos, I absolutely refuse to play into the idea that it's "cheating." Part of what makes many photographs so amazing is the dedicated editing the photographer does.

          All of this makes photography a complex field, not in the way of something like brain surgery or biochemical engineering, but in the way that any good art is. Art, by definition, is a subjective expression and even though you don't use a brush or clay to create the image, photography is no exception to this rule. I've always been fascinated with what images people are attracted to because it's usually very different from what I'm drawn to.

          I love browsing through other photographer's work because there is always one image that captures my attention for no specific reason and sticks with me forever. It's rarely the photographer's favorite or best work, but there is just something about it that sits with me. I call this the "wow" factor. It's not something that can be defined or transferred to other images, but something unique to one particular photo. 

          Above is a photo I captured by accident. I was photographing the falls alone and didn't notice the dog come in to admire the view a good ten minutes before his owner showed up. I am so very fond of this picture because it makes me laugh every time I see it. It's definitely not a masterpiece, but as far as my own photography is concerned, this is one of my personal favorites. 

          Below are four images from some amazing photographers that have that "wow" factor for me. I highly encourage you to click the links below them to check out their websites; they have some truly phenomenal work. 

 

"Platinum Skies" - Nate Zeman Photography

This image is obviously stunning, but if you look through Zeman's galleries you'll quickly see how that is not an unusual quality in his photography. I first saw this image several years ago and I think about it all the time. Its beauty is not hard to pinpoint, but it's knowing how excited he must have been to be there at the time gives me second-hand joy.

"Sea Wolves" - Paul Nicklen Photography

Paul Nicklen is probably my all time favorite photographer. His work is unrivaled and he supports many great conservation causes. His ability to capture elusive animals in their rugged environment is legendary. This image is of a Coastal Wolf, otherwise known as rain wolves or sea wolves, on a remote island off of British Columbia. These wolves are being considered for a distinct taxonomic status due to their entirely unique lifestyles adapted for coastal living and their numbers are few. Nicklen spent weeks camping out in a blind trying to capture these beautiful animals. His dedication and humility bleed through in his work and make them all the more magical.

"Strike the Lake" - Five Aces Media

Not only are lightning pictures hard to capture, but to be able to frame it like this is an amazing feat. This picture is an astounding combination of luck, dedication, and skill. My brother took this picture several years ago now in Upper Michigan and though his main focus is on cinematography, his still photography style is inspiring. (I highly encourage you to check out his documentary, A Sense of Direction, about his 1,200-mile thru-hike on the Northwest Pacific Trail.)

"Sunset Slumber" - Jess Findlay Photography

This coyote is completely wild and this image completely blows me away. I wouldn't be able to compose a more perfect photograph if I could direct the coyote where to go! His ability to capture not only an animal but its environment in a unique way is beautiful. Findlay is just a few years older than me and I admire his rapidly developing ability and skill.  


Top Photo: Lower Proxy Falls, Willamette National Forest, Oregon, United States - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/22 @ 10 mm, 0.5s, ISO 100, No Flash


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(Lauren Maier) adventure photography tips https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/11/the-wow-factor Thu, 24 Nov 2016 03:07:25 GMT
Christmas, Dogs, and Water Bottles, Oh My! https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/11/climate-change-dogs-and-water-bottles-oh-my


          Just like everyone else in the world, I have a lot of opinions. I think that winter is superior to summer, road trips are always a good idea, and salads taste better at restaurants. Despite all of the opinions I have, I only consider a few of them personal facts. I believe that Christmas is the most magical holiday, if you don't like dogs you're wrong, human-induced climate change is real and a problem, wolves are a keystone species that should be left alone, and Hydro Flask makes the best insulated bottles.

          That's it. That's my list of personal facts that I will defend until my last breath (though I do understand that while they are facts to me, they are nonetheless opinions). Today I'm going to focus on just one of these; Hydro Flask.

          For those of you who aren't familiar with the brand, I'll give a little overview. Hydro Flask is a company founded in 2009 and based in Bend, Oregon. They originally made just insulated bottles but have since expanded to include four main lines; hydration, coffee, beer, and food. Their motto can pretty much be summed up in this quote from their website, "We don’t hold back when at work or at play, and we don’t accept "lukewarm" - in our attitude toward life...or in the temperature of whatever we happen to be drinking." Their products are designed to keep icy things icy and hot thing hot, for longer than any other comparable product. In my experience, they've more than succeeded. 

          In addition to their amazing products, Hydro Flask has recently founded a program called "Parks for All" that will award cash grants to various groups dedicated to building, restoring, and maintaining parks of all kinds. "Why parks? Because for us, parks represent a place we can all go to recreate, relax or be inspired. From urban park excursions with our family to national park adventures in the backcountry, parks of all sizes help make us healthier, happier and more fulfilled. Parks For All is our way of sharing the love we have for green spaces, and ensuring these special places get the attention and protection they deserve." (www.hydroflask.com)

          I'm most familiar with the hydration line, so that's what I'll be reviewing. I have put my Hydro Flask to the test. A full day spent kayaking under the unrelenting Wisconsin sun (and humidity) is no match for the Hydro Flask! I frequently have to leave the lid off near the end of the day so the ice will finally melt and give me something to drink, otherwise the ice will last well into the next day. On the other extreme, I've spent many nights in the snow, watching those spectacular winter stars, waiting for my tea to cool off enough so that I can drink it. A hot beverage prepared in the wee hours of the morning will last through miles of snowshoeing and even an accidental bath in a freezing stream. 

          It may seem like a rather inconsequential piece of gear compared to other things, but there is so much comfort in having an ice cold drink at the end of a long summer hike or a steaming cup of tea while on a snow covered summit. Not to mention that it can be used in everyday life as well. Why not have a hot cup of home-brewed coffee in your eight a.m. class or ice-cold lemonade at the neighborhood picnic?

          I have used numerous different thermoses and none of them stand up to Hydro Flask. These things are unstoppable and they will always be a part of my kit, so if you're looking for a thermos that'll get the job done, look no further. 


Above Photo: Upper Nashotah Lake, Wisconsin, United States - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6 @ 18 mm, 1/1250, ISO 100, No Flash


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(Lauren Maier) life is good product review wisconsin https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/11/climate-change-dogs-and-water-bottles-oh-my Tue, 15 Nov 2016 22:40:51 GMT
The Reward https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/11/the-reward


          Social media paints a very romantic picture of adventure; one that starts and ends with grand accomplishments, interesting people, and amazing views. Those who have partaken in an adventure of their own know that this image is cropped from a much larger and vastly more complicated picture. Adventure is blistered feet, unexpected weather, hiker-hunger, and chaffed shoulders. Nights spent sleeping on the cold, lumpy ground, meal after meal after meal of ramen, aching muscles in places you didn't know had muscles, and perpetually fleeting motivation all prelude that romanticized image. No matter your adventure of choice, be it on land, water, or air, discomfort is inevitable. So what makes so many people seek adventure time after time, again and again, knowing this? The long answer is this:

          After hours of hiking, your feet red and raw, your throat dry and itching, your back breaking and your whole body aching, you reach the goal; the summit, the waterfall, the valley, the ocean, the lake, the cave, the checkpoint. No better feeling exists than that of the grand accomplishment. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't work out like that. Sometimes the weather pushes you back before the goal, or perhaps your body is at fault, other times the culprit is your mind. You suffer all those pains without the reward and yet you still come back for more because the mere tease of that reward is enough to make it all worth it. 

          Tourist hotspots exist for a reason. Filled with gorgeous views and widely accessible, people flock them, but it doesn't stop you from wishing you could have it all to yourself. Fortunately, this offers you the opportunity to connect with people in a genuine way that never happens on the street or on empty trails. You strike up a conversation while you wait in line to get a picture of that waterfall, that landmark, that waterscape, and you learn the beautiful history of the local who has visited that site twice a year for the past six decades. You absorb the carefree lifestyle of that guy with the dreads that makes you yearn for a similar life. Your hearts warms when a stranger prays for your continued happiness and safety after learning of your journey. These people overpower the loud and disrespectful visitors that will not move out of the way that we've all encountered in these spaces. 

          Every time I stuff my backpack, load up my car, and drive off for hours it's to get somewhere beautiful so I can immortalize it in an image, but those amazing views aren't exclusively enjoyed by photographers. We all like to surround ourselves in beauty and adventure is a pretty clear way to get there. The grand views at the end of a long day filled with aches and pains make it all worthwhile, even when that conclusion isn't guaranteed. Sometimes fog obscures the view, sometimes you find out that the Instagram account lied and the picture doesn't match reality, sometimes you just can't find it. Through frustrating and sometimes painful experience, you quickly learn the lesson taught by this; the real view surrounds you. The wooded trail and open field boast tremendous beauty as do the tiny streams and surrounding mountains. Appreciate every step you take because each one carries you further into that beauty.

          In the end, adventure doesn't start and stop with grand accomplishments, interesting people, or amazing views, but the reasons for it are these very things; hard earned and triumphantly treasured. This all leads to the short answer which oddly enough ends up being nothing but basic economics; the cost/benefit relationship, or more appropriately for adventurers, risk and reward. The risks can be tremendous, they tease injury and illness, sacrifice and death, but in turn, the rewards are endless and invaluable.


Above Photo: Johnston Canyon Cave, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (June 27, 2016) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/22 @ 10 mm, 0.6s, ISO 100, No Flash


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(Lauren Maier) adventure camping explore hiking life life is good photography https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/11/the-reward Thu, 10 Nov 2016 01:37:39 GMT
The One I Let Go https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/11/the-one-i-let-go


          Iceland; well known for its alien-like landscape and lesser known for its cultural belief that elves inhabit its wild spaces. It boasts a population of only 330,000 which makes it very easy to feel like you're the only one on the entire island nation. I spent a month last spring backpacking around and basking in this solitude. Just a week into my meandering journey around Iceland, I saw the one thing I had hoped to see above all else. 

         After an uncomfortable night spent as target practice for unrelenting wind, rain, and sleet, I woke to find the weather largely unchanged. An average of ten degrees (F) cooler than normal for that time of year, I had to don every piece of clothing I brought with to keep from freezing at night. It certainly made starting each day a chore. I laid in my almost-warm sleeping bag trying to convince myself to get up and pack up before the rain got any harder. It took me almost five minutes to sit up. Before even unzipping myself from my cocoon, I peeked up through the only opening in my rainfly to gage what the weather would bring. Predictably, I saw a dark horizon outlining freshly snow-capped mountains, but the landscape didn't keep my attention for long. A little poof of white, not eight feet from my tent and barely visible through the tiny rain-soaked and wildly flapping window in my rain-fly, was an arctic fox. 

         Remarkably unbothered by both the weather and my noisy tent, he shuffled around the creek, half-heartedly digging through the sand. His coat, still thick and white from the dying winter, stood out in stark contrast to the black soil and mossy lava fields surrounding him. He was beautiful. 

         The photographer in me wanted nothing more than to sneak open my tent and snap at least one picture of him. He couldn't have been in a better spot. If I could get low enough, the bank of the creek would frame him and the Snæfellsnes mountain range would tower behind him like guardian giants. His fur, so bright and pure, glistened in the meager light like a beacon in a storm. After a moment, he turned toward me as if showing off his best side, just daring me to take that picture. It would no doubt turn into one of the best from the trip, but I knew the second I moved, he would scatter to the lava fields and the moment was worth far more to me than any image could be. I watched him toil around for several more minutes before he moved out of my line of sight and the spell broke. Somehow, packing up camp after that didn't seem so cumbersome. 

        I went to Iceland to take pictures. As it turned out, the most magical and memorable moment of the trip happened when I left the camera behind and enjoyed it in real time. This has become one of the greatest lessons I've ever learned as a photographer and a traveler and it now defines how I approach the world; both behind a lens and not.


Top photo: Þjóðgarðurinn Snæfellsjökull, Iceland (May 27, 2015) Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6 @ 18 mm1/500ISO 100No Flash


 

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(Lauren Maier) adventure iceland life is good photography https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/11/the-one-i-let-go Tue, 01 Nov 2016 21:02:38 GMT
Dr. Seuss Said it Best https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/10/dr-seuss-said-it-best


          The world is a big place with lots of little unknown nooks and crannies that can contain no limit of surprises; good and bad. We live in the most globally connected time in history and every day we are able to see more, know more, and do more. But all this awareness seems to only bring fear and distrust. Fear of the unknown is not a new concept, not even close, but it has recently been taken to new levels. Individuals suspect everything and everyone of ulterior motives and in response, they are shutting their doors to anything new. Familiarity is comfortable and it's forcing people into their own little corners of the globe and into their head. But this comfort is a lie. 

         There is plenty to fear in the world today. There are scary places ruled by scary governments filled with scary people whose very existence seems to threaten your comfort. There are diseases, wars, and hatred that claim lives every day. There are things outside of your control like the economy, the job market, and the housing crisis that determine such large portions of your life that some days it feels like all of it. There are all the smaller, personal things that rule your day to day lives like how you stubbed your toe yesterday and it still hurts or how somebody must have banged your car with their door because that dent was definitely not there last week. It's so easy to get caught up in all of these things that you forgot how absolutely, irrevocably, beautiful life is. 

         Dr. Seuss said it best, "because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing."

         The greatest lesson of all is to remove yourself from your own head. The world exists outside of your, or anyone else's, life and just being able to take part in it is a treat that should be treasured. There are plenty of scary things and personal hang-ups that make us afraid to step outside, but there are also amazing people and beautiful places that make the risk oh, so worth it. There are sunsets and sunrises, kind souls and genuine people, endless spaces and vast cultures just waiting to be explored. And I'll tell you a little secret that so many people seem to have forgotten; the good vastly outweighs the bad.

         The good is every smile shared with a stranger, every tail wag of a happy dog, every morning that you wake up and get out of bed. It's your morning bowl of bran flakes, because that means you have something to eat, it's your hour long commute to work, because you have a job and a car to get you there, it's the furthest parking space in the lot, because it means you have legs capable of walking. Because it is only when you have recognized the good fortune in your everyday life, that you are truly free to pursue the rest of life's brilliance. 


Above photo: Consolation Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (June 28, 2016) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/5 @ 10 mm1/1000ISO 100No Flash


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(Lauren Maier) adventure Canada life is good https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/10/dr-seuss-said-it-best Tue, 25 Oct 2016 20:42:24 GMT
Spontaneity https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/10/spo

          I know people who are the epitome of spontaneity, you can never guess what they'll do next, and I know people who would sooner follow through with a plan to cut their own leg off for no particular reason than they would spontaneously run to the store to buy a gallon of ice cream. I personally don't think either mindset is healthy. Spontaneity is a fact of travel, adventure, and exploration; you don't get a choice. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go in without a plan.

         Ask anybody who grew up with me; I'm not a planner. I'm a 'go with the flow' kind of person and my motto is 'It'll work itself out.' Thus far that mindset has gotten me to 20, happy, healthy, and alive. But I've also missed out on things that I could have had if I had acted sooner and have caused unnecessary stress on myself when all of a sudden the deadline, real or imaginary, is upon me and I have to scramble for the outcome I want all because I'm a hardcore procrastinator. Once you get into the serious stuff like traveling around the world or knowingly putting yourself in dangerous situations, a well thought out and organized plan can mean the difference between life and death (or less dramatically things like missing your plane or spending way too much on a bus ticket).

         I've wasted enough opportunities that I now force myself to sit down and meticulously research and plan whatever it is that catches my fancy for the week (or month, or year, or lifetime). I make plans and backup plans because I don't want to miss anything simply because I was too lazy to figure out the details of where I'm going and what I'm doing. And better yet, the more I do this the more fun I have with it and the more excited I am to eventually act on my endless hours of research. 

         But just as important is the opposite end of this; spontaneity. Don't stop yourself from just jumping in the car and just driving until you see something fun. Don't flounder when your hard earned plans (and backup plans) turn belly up (because that will happen sometimes), pull out your smartphone and find something new to do. It's all about balance. 

         In the photo above I was driving back to school on a Sunday night after a bust day of photographing waterfalls. It had been rainy and foggy and cold and miserable and I didn't have one good image to show for it even though I had spent weeks planning the trip. I was tired, wet, and hungry and I just wanted to go back and sleep. I almost passed the turnoff for Crater Lake when I decided at the last minute to make the detour. I parked in the deserted parking lot, pulled out my snowshoes and walked along the rim. I didn't even have to go a mile before I found the perfect spot. The fog cleared, the wind died, and I got to witness one of the most magical sunsets of my life in a National Park that I had to myself.

Everyone Loves A SunsetEveryone Loves A SunsetCrater Lake National Park, Oregon, United States.

The park is getting ready for spring and they're beginning to clear the roads that have been frozen in all winter, but this doesn't stop the weather from doing what it wants! Crater Lake got another eighteen inches this past week and I figured I would get in my winter sunset picture while I still could.

I lucked out in more ways than I could have ever asked for. There wasn't a breath of wind in the air and the entire lake was like glass. I had my shooting location all to myself and the temperature never dropped below thirty-eight. The park was silent and I just set my camera up to take a photo every thirty seconds while I sat back and enjoyed the beautiful and free show put on by Mother Nature.


Photo: Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, United States (2016) - Photo taken with Canon EOS 60D, f/4.5 @ 10 mm, 1/160, ISO 100, No Flash


 

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(Lauren Maier) adventure oregon photography planning spontaneity https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/10/spo Fri, 14 Oct 2016 00:49:11 GMT
Take Your Pleasure Seriously https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/10/take-your-pleasure-seriously


       As somebody looking to make a career in nature photography I've heard it all before; 

"That's not a career, it's a hobby."

"Why don't you just get a real job and do that on the weekends?"

"You won't make enough money to support yourself."

"I wanted to do that too, but then I grew up."

        These comments come from many places. Some are simply mean-spirited. They are spoken out of envy and bitterness bred by the speaker's own failed and unachieved dreams. They are meant to put me down so that they will not be alone in their regret. But most are well-meaning. The people speaking them want the best for me and want to 'open my eyes' to the reality of life and the apparent improbability of 'making it' as a photographer. The words themselves have ceased to bother me because I have confidence in myself and I don't need the outside validation from anyone who isn't offering me an honest critique on my work and/or offering me a job. People will always have opinions about your decisions, it's your job to choose which ones to take seriously. But what does bother me is the lack of regard our culture has for seeking pleasure. 

       At some point, a career became almost synonymous with something you have to do so that you can have fun later. It's working the 9-to-5 so that you can maybe one day get that two-week long paid vacation to Florida where you end up getting more stressed than when you're at home because it's your one chance out of the year to relax. You don't even question the absurdity of working yourself to the bone in a job you dislike more often than you like because it's 'normal.' The notion is summed up perfectly by Ellen Goodman, "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it."

       Now, this whole summary is obviously summed up in an overly simplified and generalized way that doesn't apply to everyone. I believe that the norm is also in the beginning of a very big change for the better. Unfortunately, the matter still stands that people don't think it's possible or even responsible to pursue a career in what most consider a 'hobby.' I will argue that until I turn blue. I absolutely think the goal should be to seek a job or a career you don't want to escape from.

       I believe in pursuing your passions, but I also know that there are many exceptions to this notion. It's easier for me because of where I stand in life. I don't have any children or a spouse depending on me, I have no major physical or mental disabilities, I grew up in a home and a social class that granted me opportunities that others may not have, and I am perfectly content to live the kind of life a travel photographer leads. I am aware and acknowledge these advantages that I have the same way I know what disadvantages I have. The thing is, the pursuit of a passion isn't about comparing yourself to those that have or have not succeeded, it's about working with what you have and overcoming the challenges you face. Everyone is willing to give a certain amount of effort to achieve what they desire, you just have to give more than everyone else; so leave the excuses at home and take it upon yourself to try.

       Now this whole time I've been talking about pursuing your passion as a career, but that isn't the only way you can achieve. Some people don't have a passion that they would want to make a career or one that could become a career, some don't have the ability or the means to do so, but that doesn't mean you can't gain happiness by seeking out your pleasure. Whether you seek pleasure as a career or as a hobby it should be encouraged and celebrated not scorned and mocked. 

       Above all don't act like your pleasure is optional or a waste of time. It's not. It should be treated like a staple in your life because that is exactly what it is. It's something, that if pursued in any regard, can improve your quality of life in the way things like money and possessions simply cannot do. So whether it's stubbornly chasing a career in something that will never make you much money but will make you happy beyond measure, or finally moving out west like you've always wanted to do, or spending ten minutes in the morning before work reading the book you promised yourself you would finish a year ago, do it, because if you don't you'll grow old and bitter wishing you had just taken that step back when you had the time, energy, and motivation to do so. (But remember, it's never too late to begin a new pursuit!)


Systrafoss, Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Iceland. (June 3, 2015)


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(Lauren Maier) career life life is good passion photography pleasure pursuit https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/10/take-your-pleasure-seriously Wed, 05 Oct 2016 14:00:00 GMT
An Opening Discourse https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/10/an-opening-discourse


         So who exactly am I behind the lens? There are the obvious; I'm 20 years old, I'm from Wisconsin, I'm a junior at Southern Oregon University studying Cultural Anthropology and Outdoor Adventure Leadership, and I love dogs, all things anyone could find out if they spent two minutes looking into it. But that doesn't explain what compels me to walk on foreign lands and breathe in fresh air and witness the sun set in new places as often as possible. Those are the things that can't be quantified and I'll admit I don't entirely understand them myself. But I certainly try. 

         I love beautiful things, and for me, those beautiful things are fewer trinkets, knick-knacks, and possessions and more places, creatures, and cultures. I strive to see both the well-known places and the undiscovered spaces with my own two eyes and my own perspective. It's never been enough to simply know that they exist; I need to experience them. I need to taste the air of that space and hear the sounds that envelope it. A photograph is one-dimensional and for me, it's just an invitation into the real thing. 

         Over time that is what photography has become to me; an invitation. An excuse. I started out when I was about ten, with a little point-and-shoot. I photographed dandelions and leaves and I had a blast doing it. As time wore on and I got more powerful cameras and my world expanded I was able to capture ducks and deer and rivers and lakes. Occasional trips to Florida and Upper Michigan mixed with zoo outings and an awesome Wisconsin to South Carolina road trip were able to sustain me for a while but at some point the bug bit. I needed more. The world was becoming more and more visible through extremely talented photographers online and I began to see exactly how much I wasn't seeing. And so my grand plans began to form. Somewhere during this time, I realized that though  I adore photography, I would give it up in a second if it somehow meant I could travel for the rest of my life. But luckily for me, the two aren't mutually exclusive; quite the opposite in fact. I can not only travel and take pictures, but I could thrive doing it. 

         All of a sudden I have an excuse when I tell my parents that I want to backpack around Iceland for a month by myself before I'm even twenty and before I've ever even traveled alone within the States; "I have to build my portfolio, Mom." "I have to gain experience traveling solo, why not start now?" "I promise I won't die, Dad."

         Iceland happened almost immediately after I finished my freshman year of college in Wisconsin. It would start off the most exciting year of my life. Iceland itself was amazing and went off without a hitch. I'm already plotting my next trip there. I returned to Wisconsin for the rest of the summer, working and catching up with childhood friends but come August I was going to school in Colorado. I was able to do so through an awesome program called the National Student Exchange (NSE). I spent a semester in Colorado adding thousands of miles to my car and hundreds to my feet (while taking a full load of classes). And then all of a sudden it was January and I was headed to Oregon for my second semester of NSE. Before I even attended either school I knew I'd be transferring permanently to one of them. The only question was which one?

         Obviously, I ended up choosing Oregon. I picked it because it was simply a smarter place to graduate from. There are somewhat few job opportunities in the middle of the Rockies for a fresh graduate. I also have extremely tentative plans to move up to the Seattle area after I graduate because the playground up there is a great mix of Colorado mountains and Oregon greenery. I don't know exactly what I'll be doing, but I'm certain it will be in some place beautiful.

         So to loop back around to the beginning and to what drives me to pursue all of these experiences? The answer really ends up being very simple. It makes me happy. Living life in the way that I believe it was meant to be lived, to be experienced, makes me happy. I have a lot of favorite things. I like rainy days, early mornings, and crackling fires. Apple picking, coffee shops, and passionate people. Walking barefoot through the grass and getting muddy on long trails. I adore dappled sunlit, particularly when it comes from swaying trees and sudden blizzards that disguise the landscape in an innocent white blanket. I like winter, autumn, summer, and spring. I like oceans, forest, mountains, and deserts. I don't have just one favorite thing, but I do have a favorite thing that encompasses all of these and more and that is to travel. So if I can travel for a career and along the way experience every single one of my other favorite things, why wouldn't I pursue it with a relentless abandon?


Above Photo: Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (June 28, 2016).


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(Lauren Maier) about me college colorado iceland introduction life is good oregon university https://www.laurenmaier.com/blog/2016/10/an-opening-discourse Sun, 02 Oct 2016 23:03:29 GMT