Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kathmandu Karma

A sunrise view taken from Kopan Monastery overlooking one of the many villages along the edge of Kathmandu.

The famous Monkey Temple, Swayambhunath... although I didn't see many monkeys upon my visit.

A colorful fruit stand on the streets of Bhaktapur.

 I kept noticing only the driver wearing a helmet. Apparently its the law, but passengers aren't required. Interesting...

Mother and child sitting under a Bodhi tree

View from Kopan looking over at another Monastery. I couldn't find anyone to share the story or name of the neighboring monastery. Apparently they're not affiliated with each other.

One of my sneaky street photography moments with my new little Sony NEX 5 mirrorless camera. 

 David Marks, the amazing meditation guide and Kathmandu tour guide, shares a moment with a turtle seeking shade in 90*F heat.

 David rented a rickshaw for Choyni as we ventured around Thamel visiting some of Kathmandu's most hidden Buddhist and Hindu sites. 

Culture shock on my first morning in Kathmandu. I was completely overwhelmed just walking from my guest house to Bodhnath Stupa.

 Bodhnath Stupa at night. The place is so peacefully sleepy, minus the barking dogs. 


Kathmandu is a city planners worst nightmare. The streets are a labyrinth of narrow passage ways winding without any obvious reason into neighborhoods of cement shops and backyard rice patties. There are no streets signs, speed limits or traffic lights. Motorcycles and taxis weave erratically through mobs of people and stray dogs, and only the tourists seem to be bothered by what looks like a near miss around every corner. Power lines hang just above head height in a tangled web of cords. The city's strategy to conserve power is an eight hour daily power outage. Despite what appears to be complete madness, Kathmandu is actually quite peaceful.

My first day in Kathmandu I arrived at Kopan Monastery for a Buddhist retreat. I was completely jet lagged and fell asleep only to wake up just before dinner. I ran into my teacher, Choyni Taylor, in the bathroom. She had just arrived from Australia with her 16 year old granddaughter, Grace. I was immediately struck by Choyni's honestly and wit as she described in detail her first experience with a squat toilet overflowing with 'shit.' I remember thinking Wow! Buddhist nun's say shit. I think I'm going to like this place. At breakfast the following morning one of the monks drew me a map from Kopan to Bodhnath (Buddhist Stupa) and then to Pashuptinath (Hindu temple.) Our course didn't start until 5pm, so I asked Choyni, pronounced "journey" if it was okay to take Grace along with me. We only got lost four or five times before we realized it was better to ask the locals rather than rely on the accuracy of the squiggly lines. What we discovered was how friendly and eager everyone was to help.

Kopan Gompa(as the locals call it) is located up on a hill overlooking the massive smoggy city. It was built in the 1970's by two Tibetan Lama's, Lama Thubeten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Over the years Kopan has grown into a large Monastery/Nunnary with close to 700 monks and nuns. Throughout the year they offer retreats to westerners as a way to support the school and to help share their wisdom of love and compassion to foreigners.

My two weeks at Kopan were absolutely magical. How often do complete strangers from all over the world sit down in one place to meditate on compassion towards themselves and others? Some of us were there for our first time at a Buddhist retreat, others had been studying for 20 + years. Many of us were there to specifically address our negative emotions and to focus on addictive behaviors or traumatic events. Choyni with her background as a psychologist was able to explain complex Buddhist philosophy and relate it to western psychology in a way that resonated with everyone. Our discussions ranged from looking at the root causes of our own personal suffering to learning how to practice equanimity in life's many challenging circumstances. Equanimity is the ability to be aware of a negative emotion as it arises and not let that emotion take control. The key is self awareness and the challenge is to apply love and compassion to those who annoy the hell out of us.

Although I did not achieve enlightenment, I did have one major attitude realization; to view all problems as an opportunity to learn about myself rather than to blame the problem on someone else. I find this to be common for me, especially at work. I often get caught up in my ideals, battling my way through what I perceive to be poor communication/company vision. The result: anger, frustration and disappointment. What I realized is... if I just get upset, the problem doesn't improve, it only gets worse. And that's how Karma works. Just like a bad habit, Karma has a way of slapping us in the face to wake us up to our own negative energy.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Peaceful Valley

Now and Then

Peaceful Valley is more than just a quaint little neighborhood tucked below downtown Spokane, it is a place I cherish and a reflection of who I am today. Its exotic mixture of urban culture, folk lore and natural wonder are directly responsible for my ambition towards adventure. The opportunity to create almost an exact photo of me standing below a mural my father painted of me almost 30 years ago is such a rare thing. What a blessing to be able to visit a place that meant the world to me as a child and to still feel the same way as an adult. I realize now that my life in Alaska is a result of such trusting parents and a unique time period. It only makes sense that because of those experiences I am completely humbled by the world around me. 

Peaceful Valley then was a magical land of nature tucked into an urban culture of post 70's artists, musicians, and activists. The threat of child abductions didn't exist and parents trusted their kids to make good decisions... at least my parents did. They enforced only three rules: Don't pick up/play with needles, Don't go into a stranger's house; and Don't play near the river. The first two were easy.  In the mid 80's the punk-rock junkie scene was growing in popularity in Spokane and it was easy to know who to avoid. I had friends who's parents were, for lack of a better word, sketchy. The few times I did get invited into some of their homes I found an excuse to leave quickly. The site of broken dishes and heaps of clothing piled over furniture mixed with a moldy smell of patchouli incense was disgusting. It didn't take much exposure for me to abide.  

The river was a little different; I created my own rules and boundaries. I found it harmless to be along the banks, to throw stones, and look for artifacts. I knew the areas to avoid - the steep cut banks with swift water - and I knew not to go swimming. Other than that the river was just one of many settings my pack of boy friends and their tag-along brother's chose to explore.  Our imaginary Samurai battles against Shredder (for those who remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) had many venues of wild spaces. The apple and plum orchard behind our house was a great hiding spot to build tree forts and included a quick escape route to Main Street. The cement foundation under the Maple Street Bridge provided perfect protection during chestnut wars and stick fights. We all new the community center was neutral ground and Glover Field was just next door to pick up where we left off. 

Peaceful Valley is where my first survival instincts really kicked in. As a 7 year old the stories of the big 1970's flood translated into: The Spokane Falls Damn might explode at any moment! And guess who's prepared? I remember blowing up a K-Mart raft with my neighbor Jason and stocking it with snacks, blankets, and flashlights practicing for the next big flood. I wonder if this is where my obsession with packrafting originated?

Back then I was a tomboy with a taste for pretty things. I was that girl who wore dresses while skateboarding and forced my pet rabbits into doll clothes and commenced bunny marriages. Ironically not much has changed. Peaceful Valley is still full of aging hippies and I still play with nun chucks. There remains a community garden and free food program, and I still find myself as one of the only girls in mostly male dominated career (Ski Patrol.) Fortunately Peaceful Valley has cleaned up its drug problem and I now photograph human weddings rather than marry bunny rabbits.  In a few days I leave for a new adventure: to explore a foreign culture, to immerse myself within it's faith, and to just let myself be a child within a new play ground - the Himalaya!!! Today this post is a celebration of my heritage, of where it all started, in a neighborhood with a sacred name, Peaceful Valley.

The Spokane River flows through Peaceful Valley just below the Spokane Falls. This lower section has become a favorite put -in for several rafting companies. Hundreds of years ago this same location was a favorite fishing camp for Native Americans. 

One of a dozen mural's my dad was commissioned to paint in the early 1980's as part of community arts grant. This is one of my sister Amy rollerskating. It's pretty neat that 30 years later these paintings are still intact, although some badly faded, its still a fun piece of Peaceful Valley history. 

Main Street with the sunsetting behind one of the more plentiful chestnut trees in the area. 

Mamma and Papa Thamm in their back yard with their pup Riley. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kate and Tory

On August 4th I had the honor of photographing Kate and Tory's wedding in Thompson Pass near Valdez, AK. High in the tundra friends and family gathered from all over the country to witness a truly unique event. Surrounded by the majestic landscape of the Chugach mountains' most impressive roadside peaks, Tory and Kate couldn't have asked for a more perfect day.

We started the morning with a light hike along a ridge near Point Odyssey. Friends from out of town and family members chatted as they made their way through patches of old snow. In the afternoon I joined Tory and Kate again as they prepped at 19 mile -Tory at their cabin and Kate down the road at a neighbors log home. On the Richardson Highway every location is know by it's mile post. The ceremony, mile 29, was set just off a short dirt road that overlooked the Lowe River towards Keystone Canyon. Guests decorated in Patagonia, Carhearts, old fashioned dresses and nickers patiently waited with children and dogs. The scene was rich with color, style and creativity. It couldn't have been anymore perfect as Kate's father walked her along rocky tundra to an alder woven arch. The reception picked up about twenty miles north at the Rendezvous. At times Tory accompanied the old time band with his fiddle while everyone danced and ate and celebrated such a memorable day.

There's nothing I enjoy more than photographing friends in love in Alaska. For some reason the connection between Tory and Kate and the gigantic ice covered mountains is so incredible to me. To know how much they value the wildness of their home and the diversity of their community makes me so happy to share these photos with them. I wouldn't be surprised if they've stood upon some of the surrounding ridges wondering, hmmm... where might our two feet take us next?  I'm not sure I can even fathom the significance, but I can imagine that they will look back on this day and remember how lucky they are to have found each other.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Friends, Fish, and Big Smiles!


Several weeks ago a friend invited me to go dipnetting on the Kenai. I've never been much of fisherman and the few times I've tried to go sport fishing I've always come back empty handed. Dip netting though... to hold a large net in the water and wait for salmon to swim in. No rod, no reel, no bait, or hook. Sure. Sounds like my kind of fishing.

At one point I had 3 fish in my net and Nathaniel 4. We were tossing back the females and the small ones and within a few hours we'd both caught our personal limit, 15 each.  And then the work began- cleaning and filleting.

It had been a long time since I'd gone on an adventure with with another photographer. Most people would have opted for home to deal with the vacuum sealing or smoking, but when the light is good and there's interesting things to take pictures of - no way. We both disappeared into the abyss of nets, families, and fish - cameras in hand to fish for images of this unique Alaskan culture. Hours later we drove away from the Kenai with giant smiles on our faces replaying some of the highlights from the day. I couldn't believe I had been missing this in my life.

The following week Betsy and Emily, two longtime friends from college, invited me for for round two. The Copper River. Nathaniel had warned me of how different the Copper River is compared to the Kenai; steep dangerous cliffs, less people, a long hike in, and a long haul out. But then admitted that the Copper is his favorite. Again - how could I say no?

There's only so much fish one can eat and I already had my share for the season. I was more interested in helping Betsy and Emily get their harvest for the winter. We arrived late, 7pm, and starting hiking from O'Brien creek out of Chitna. About 3.5 miles in on the old railroad route two guys on a 4 wheeler stopped and pointed out their spot and said the fishing was good. By 9pm Betsy had her first fish and immediately started bossing me around. God - I love her! The excitement of more fish was thick in her tone as I scrambled to grab her fish and string it onto a rope. I knew there was only an hour of good light left, so much to Betsy's disappointment I pulled the photographer card for the first 5 or 6 fish. Soon I found myself gutting and filleting under my headlamp as Betsy and Emily handed me one fish after the next. At 26 Sockeyes we opted to set up the tent and get a few hours of sleep. By 6am Betsy and Emily were back at it again. We made it back to the car by noon and in less then one day we had managed to catch 37 fish and pack it out. They said it was a new record. I'm calling it beginners luck.

Alaska always ceases to amaze me in its raw beauty and abundance. Its these kinds unique opportunities combined with wonderful people that make me proud to call Alaska home. I'm so grateful to have such quality friends who value this lifestyle. Thank you Alaska and all those salmon we'll be feeding us this winter.