Tree Teachings

Tree Teachings

When I look back through my catalog of images, most of my favorites have one theme in common; they were shot from up in the trees. The vantage from within the trees is something that I almost always envision when I set out to a location. It helps frame the trails, actions, and landscapes in ways that we might not always get to experience, and often times reveals features that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. From climbing (and subsequently falling out of) pine trees as a youth, to years spent as a carpenter working with wood, trees have played a very central and formative role in nearly every aspect of my life.

A lot can be learned from our forests and how they persevere through adversity, whether it be fire, snow, wind, or drought. The trees tend to be able to rebound, adapt, and cling on to life, even in the harshest of environments. They can grow on inhospitable rock faces, and even a few sustain life in desert environments. They tell the stories of the years hardship with the bows in their trunks, and crooks in their branches. They gift us with the ability to build shelter and to warm ourselves as they pass into their afterlife. When you take lumber and begin to work it into a home, or a piece of furniture, you become intimately familiar with the grain formed over the years of growth and adversity. It affects the blade as it cuts, binds the motor of the saw as wind loaded grain springs together after a cut. As the sandpaper cuts and wears down the rough and rugged exterior, beautiful patterns emerge in the grains that were hidden just out of sight.

Of all the things I’ve learned from trees over the years, a few stand out as a mantra for living a healthy and fulfilled life. These are the teachings of the trees, and are the things that I have taken away from a life of admiring forests in all of their states of being. Stand tall, drink lots of water, enjoy the view, and remember your roots.

Tim Koerber can be found buying one-way plane tickets to countries he didn’t know existed the day before. For more of his work, check out http://www.timkoerber.com/.

Unplugged

In a day and age where time in front of a screen consumes our lives, we are in more need than ever to unplug from technology. How and where each of us do that will be unique and different every time.

It could be a trail (my preferred version), a river or a lake, a thicket of azaleas, the magnolia tree in your front yard, or the forest behind your fence. Your version of unplugging could be anything. No matter where you live, nature is all around you and it’s literally busting at the seams, or through the sidewalk cracks, to get your attention.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good Instagram post, perusing Facebook, or a clever Tweet. Too much, in fact. Posting and perusing are woven into the fabric of my life and they’re not going anywhere.

I was at a talk recently where the speaker said, “Noise keeps us focused on things that are unimportant.” I’ve been mulling that over for some time now. And in some ways, I disagree. It’s important for me to stay connected to my friends or get updates on my relatives, and social media helps with that.

But in other ways, he’s spot on. It’s important for me to stay connected to myself, and the best way for me to do that is to take a hike. What about you? How do you connect with yourself? If you find it hard, these first weeks of spring could be the perfect opportunity for you to unplug for an hour or two. Just sit in the stillness of nature. Instead of tweeting, listen to the birds. Instead of settling for the mountain sunset on your screensaver, head outside and catch a glimpse of the real thing. You can always upload photos of it when you get home.

Large Format: The Himalaya

In 1972, I first visited the enchanted kingdom of Nepal and began photographing the Himalayas. In 2012, I travelled to the 22,000′ advanced base camp north in Tibet and made photographs with the 8×10″ camera of the North Col of Everest(Qomolungma) which represent the highest photos ever made with the large format view camera.

Early on, I became aware that the Tibetans have called the mountain Qomolungma, Goddess Mother of the Universe, since the 12th century and the Nepali’s call the mountain Sagarmatha, The Stick that Churns the Ocean of Existence. During their Survey of India in the 1840’s, the British determined the mountain to be the tallest in the world and realizing the geographic significance, named the mountain after George Everest, the Second Surveyor General of India.

Although the British may have imposed the name which is most commonly accepted today, this mountain is regarded by its cultures and people with the utmost reverence and regard. It is imperative to recognize the historical and spiritual meanings of names originally given to natural wonders and landmarks by those who live in their shadows.

To see more of Jeff Botz’s work, visit jeffbotz.org.

Taking Responsibility

The river is a sage teacher.

Her lessons are revealed patiently by the current, but almost always resonate to life in the real world as well. One of the most profound things that the river has taught me is the notion of responsibility. Responsibility comes in many forms.

I am responsible for my paddling partners. When we slide into the river together, we are subconsciously looking each other in the eyes and saying, “I’ve got your back, and I know you’ve got mine.” While paddling, we are acutely aware of both our own well-being and that of our partners, because the stakes can be high. Over the years, I have felt the power of this relationship from both sides. My life has been saved by a friend, and I have paid that gift forward to others in their times of crisis. Both experiences are equally as powerful, and they somehow pave the way for deeper and more rewarding relationships off the river.

I am responsible for my own decisions and actions. When I decide to run a rapid, that is my decision, and mine alone. Once I paddle out of the eddy and commit, I am on my own, and must deal with what comes…the river (like life) is a one-way street. This actually makes us stronger people, because we learn to keep a level head in chaotic situations. In my experience, the most successful people are those who take responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings, and don’t pass blame to other people. When I make a mistake on the river, I must acknowledge that I have made that mistake and scramble for plan B. I cannot blame that mistake on anyone else, because I alone am responsible for the decision to be in the rapid, and for my own paddling. The river does not accept excuses.

Winston Churchill said “the price of greatness is responsibility.” On the river and in life, we show what we’re truly made of in how we look out for one another, and how we deal with the chaotic times.

Origins of Exploration

It is human nature to take a chance. To step away from the comfortable, from the familiar, and seek an unknown. To ask a question. Often, we don’t know why we are asking these questions, or what we are looking for by asking them. But we ask. Once the question is asked, once the familiar is left behind, an exploration begins.

The word explore is defined by the action of traveling through the unfamiliar in order to learn. We typically associate exploration with the great adventurers, thinkers and philosophers of human history. With an unparalleled, modern access to knowledge and information, it is easy to assume there is little left in the world to explore. Little left that is unknown to humanity, (without a genius’ mind, a large amount of wealth to fund such an exploration, or an extraordinary amount of courage). To think like this, however, would be to forget that by our very nature we need to explore.

As humans, we are constantly exploring our world, communities, history, natural environment, or even ourselves as individuals. Our personal explorations of what it means to be alive makes us the individuals we are taught to embrace as truly unique people. Because no two people are alike, we each explore something different in every moment or experience. Some seek more, some seek less. Some far and wide, some close and in-depth.

The world is full of beauty, wonder and inspiration. No matter what you’re interested in, where you live, how old you are or what you do for a living, allow a passion within to initiate your own chapter to explore.

Contrasts

To be surrounded by people and places that inspire is the essence of what everyone’s looking for in their lives. To live creatively through this true inspiration is what everyone strives for within their lives, jobs, and ultimately their careers. As an artist and photographer, I constantly find myself surrounded by people and places that inspire not only me personally, but my work as well. Adventure and the outdoors collectively drive my creative philosophy, which is energized and inspired through landscapes and being able to show the contrast between humans and nature.

There is a striking contradiction in a simple scene from nature versus the emotion and feeling you get with the imposition of the human association. To be in a place that makes you feel small and see what tiny place you hold in the world really leaves a humble and grateful feeling for every moment spent outdoors.

We are all visitors here. This earth will be here long after we are gone. With so little time we must experience all that it has to offer, whether it’s a hike, a simple walk in your local park, a day trip to the beach, or a grand expedition. There’s something about sitting in nature and enjoying every moment. There is a simple beauty that can be found in the connection between people and nature that is so obvious and is often taken for granted. For it’s never enough to just observe through a phone or computer, we must get out there, be involved, and fulfill that inspiration with memories with the people and places that matter the most.

Stephen Krawiec is a New Jersey-based adventure photographer. For more of his work, visit www.stephenkrawiec.com

 

Consistency

Ma Moehl insisted consistency was the biggest lesson to teach her two daughters, and the message carries through in many aspects of my life. I feel physically my best when I go to sleep around 10pm and wake up around 6-7am. I feel connected to friends when I interact with them on a regular basis. I feel well fed when I cook in my kitchen, three meals and two snacks a day… often dessert too. I feel the most grounded as a person when I cover a few or many miles, human powered, preferably on my own two feet and on dirt. There are so many pulls and distractions that infiltrate our day that I find having consistency in as many aspects of life as I can is the thread that keeps me centered through it all.

When travel, work, social engagements, emails, have to’s, to do’s, and other obligations challenge my ability to maintain my l routine, it seems running is the mainstay, the core of the list, the one thing I will always do. I can and do run anywhere and everywhere. The simplicity of shoes and a sports bra enables a dependable interaction with wherever life takes me. It is a way to connect with the land, the people, and the community. It is a way to understand where I am physically – I love a morning run in a new town to find the coffee shop and grocery store – and a way to understand and process the thoughts in my head. “There are not many issues in life that a long run cannot solve. Sometimes the run has to be a bit longer.” Running is one thing I have and will count on for years to come. Running, my parents’ consistent presence, and Ma’s helpful life lesson.

Social Adventures

Living on the road full time brings up grand visions in most people’s minds—open desert roads, unlimited free time, illuminated tent photos plastered with trending hashtags, and adventures on demand. I’d be amiss to say there haven’t been periods of all of that through my nomadic lifestyle, but the road life more commonly presents crunched timeframes with adventure buddies all over the world; a quick stop between photo shoots is the typical stage that my adventures are set upon.

Contrary to the perception built by sponsored expeditions to countries nobody has heard of, its unexpected flexibility is where the outdoor lifestyle truly shines. At first glance, the outdoor life seems committing, time consuming, and unapproachable. Outdoor adventures don’t need to be multi-week long summit attempts, first descents of unnamed creeks, or a statewide mountain bike traverse. Instead, they can be 30-minute cruises on a mountain bike around urban trails, a quick trail run in the park, or a quick playboat session. There are zero rules stating adventures have to be time consuming.

Cruising into town, calling an old friend and saying, “hey let’s grab coffee” is the standard, easy route of brief and rushed social interaction. Of course, it has its place with those who don’t recreate outside. But making meaningful connections in the outdoors always wins. I’ve had my share of memorable coffees with friends as I swing through a town, but they are far more forgotten than mini-adventures.  It’s no mistake that some of our best companions in life are folks we meet through our outdoor pursuits. The threads that create the mesh of relationships, outdoors or not, is built off the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures.

So next time you only have an evening to catch up with a friend or a few hours, go hit up your local trails, rivers, or anything else you can get your hands on.

Tommy Penick is a commercial photographer and filmmaker who lives out of his van. For more of Tommy’s work, check out www.tommypenickphoto.com

Snapshots

First light fluttered from darkness, glowing on the horizon like baseline fires across the curve of the earth. We barely spoke. I racked the gear, checked my knot. Nearly a vertical mile of climbing towered overhead.

Deep breath.

It was my first trip to the storied Chaltén Massif of southern Patagonia, where spires jut into space like parallel rows of sharpened teeth. For decades, climbing legends have risen and fallen here with the ferocious winds. For sixty-five million years, these granite spires have reached toward the sky like temples of the gods.

Our trip had started like so many others: long on ambition, short on action. Cloudbanks of fury obscured the mountains and the wind so scoured the earth that on some days even approaching the glacier was unthinkable. We’d retreat to the forest and pass time with our friends.

Just before our flights home, the skies cleared. A perfect window.

It’s funny how time passes. Two days can go slowly, without recollection. Passing normally, placidly, mundane days like any other.

So often, I recall only fleeting moments. Sometimes, when standing in line at the bank or sipping coffee or driving to the store, the molecules in my brain that hold the memories of my mind flash before me, transporting me to a dreamlike world that I know is real. On Cerro Torre I remember my heartbeat pounding in my ears as we raced up thin ice that would disappear the very next day, melted by the fierce southern sun when we were higher on the route. I remember shivering away the night without sleeping bags in a snow cave three pitches below the top, drifting between sleep and hypothermia. Waking and climbing through rime-ice mushrooms, gargoyles, and house-sized sculptures jutting outward in gravity-defying forms like images pulled from a fantasyland. And, of course, tunnels. Tunnels? Yes, tunnels. Treasure-hunt tunnels carved by the wind, allowing passage through the impossible seeming mushrooms, until we sat on the summit under perfect skies, almost unbelievingly, knowing we’d been lucky.

Exactly two days after we left, we staggered back to our tent as silhouettes of giants towered overhead. Before crawling inside and collapsing into a dreamless sleep, I remember staring once more at the stars while the wind calmed to a whisper, as if the gods themselves were pausing between breaths.

Kelly Cordes is author of The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre. For more on Kelly and his work, visit www.kellycordes.com

Competition

We supplant the word with terms like doing work, the hustle, max effort, the grind, making moves, and so forth. However we dress it up, the essence boils down to momentum—mass and velocity. When we dream of undertakings that seem impossible and decide to overcome mountains, real or imagined, we give life to it. We make plans, prepare ourselves, and gather equipment as needed. In doing so, we give the dream mass. However, without the added component of motivation, our internal compass has no direction of travel. By focusing this accumulated mass, and applying a bit of motivation, we gain velocity to propel us forward.

The 30th Marathon des Sables, a 156-mile footrace through the Saharan Desert region of Morocco, was an opportunity to be exposed to a multitude of intangible lessons learned in between the points of accomplishment: diligence to small tasks, persistence in the face of adversity, and the ability to learn and move beyond failures. In my childhood, competition used to relate to my personal performance with respect to others. It has grown far beyond that view to encompass others, myself, and the gifts of Mother Nature. Regardless of how we perform with respect to ourselves and each other, Mother Nature has always been the biggest facilitator of adversity in our paths. Through the struggle, we realize undiscovered weaknesses and levels of untapped strength in reserves.

Mosi D. Smith is a former Marine Captain who is also known as The Running Smith after finishing races such as the Boston Marathon, Virginia Triple Ironman, Western States 100, Badwater Ultramarathon and the Marathon des Sables. For more Mosi, check out runningsmith.com.