Monday, December 25, 2017

2017: The year of becoming.

When I sit down to write this post every December, it always takes me some time to collect myself and my memories of the year. When I write, I try to say what I mean, and mean what I say. Some things are often hard to put into words—and to write from a place of authenticity requires pause. Space. Days to mull over exactly what to say. This post usually takes a few days, if not weeks to come together. This year, I had the title for this post long before I knew what I would say. I just knew that this year was about becoming.

I look back and allow memories to come to the fore. I think of the ones that seem to recycle themselves time and time again; the ones that seem particularly glittery and, in turn, the not-so-glittery moments. The memories that stand out for me the most when I think of 2017, are those of the times I spent outdoors. The way I can so clearly remember my heart swelling being in these high and wild places, and how it was almost as if my very cells were carrying euphoria around my body, despite the strenuous effort it took to ascend in the first place. Not just the physical effort of climbing uphill, but the effort of intending to go, planning, packing a bag, preparing food, waking up, driving there—week in, week out. This year I may have worked and earned very little, but what I gained in physical strength and received in emotional remuneration are worth more than what money could ever buy—for these memories are what will stick in my mind when I reach the end of my days. I work just enough to be able to afford to hike, climb, shoot and live, but not so much that I don't have time to enjoy the entire reason I am here in the first place. So often I'd just find myself saying out loud, “we live here”.

Seven years ago I would never have known that this would be the life I would come to love so deeply. I was so goal-driven, fixated on a linear timeline of events and terrified of things potentially not going to plan. I rarely allowed myself to make time for things like going outside or exercising, let alone taking an entire day off to wander around the woods with friends. I miss my people, my friends and my family in Australia—but I do not miss my old life. I do not miss concrete jungles, unrelenting heat, shopping malls, city noise, city life. Living in this town feels like we are close enough to the wilderness that Martin and I have always touched on in our conversations about the future. I feel more myself; more at home within myself; embodying values & priorities I previously never made time for—albeit at the cost of putting my professional goals on hold—and most of all, growing more fully into the person I wish to become, working on shaping a life I did not realise was what I wanted until I got here. It will be hard to choose between staying or returning home.

Perhaps that is the most exciting thing about this year—being aware that this is a real, productive & progressive step towards a vision of my future, and that I have become what I did not realise I was on my way to becoming. It is also confusing and messy, because I really don't have all the answers (do any of us ever?). It's strange to be aware that I am shedding past skins whilst also being unaware of where this evolution will lead; it's scary to surrender and to simply trust that I will be guided to the answers when the time comes. It is hard to explain “becoming”—but therein lies the point. There's no clear way to define transitions of the self, and of life.

This year was also, predictably and a little surprisingly, the hardest year of me & Martin's relationship. That's not something I often write about on this space, as I still like to keep some things to myself, but in charging forward with authenticity, this is a truth that must also come to light. We expected some stress points around finances, logistics, and missing home. We were not, however, expecting to have a huge fight just weeks before our flight, making both of us question our relationship as a whole; our feelings and loyalty towards each other; and whether this partnership of 5—now 6—years would survive an overseas move. The first half of the year for us was hard, sad & bitter. We would go from being cold & civil; to resentful & demeaning; to warm & loving & trying, and on it would go. I was relieved that we could have some distance from each other when I went overseas in the middle of the year. We are doing better, but it was hard work to get back to a place of warmth, security, and affection. To remind each other and ourselves of how and why we chose each other in the first place. There is a long road ahead still. These rifts are true of all partnerships—there is work to maintain & to fortify love. To be mindful of one another as we each evolve, and as life evolves around us. Falling in love is always easy. Staying in spite of our differences and shortcomings is not.

So now, here's a recap: in mid-January, upon arriving in Canada, we first spent a month in Vancouver. We did all our “big city” things there, organising our bank accounts, phone numbers, and visiting my relatives. The plan had always been to stay a month in Vancouver before doing a little road-trip over to the Rockies, where a house was waiting for us. The week we were to leave, Vancouver had an unprecedented February snowstorm that lasted 6 days—the first time Vancouver received a February snowfall in around 30 years, we were told by some locals. The highways shut down and the roads were like skating rinks. Our journey east was delayed, and a drive that should've only taken 12 hours took 17 instead.

When we finally arrived in Canmore we moved into a house of 8 people. After living with only Martin since 2012, it was certainly an unusual living situation for us, but our housemates quickly became our family. Many of our housemates came and went, as they were all travellers just like us.

It was at the end of March I went on my first hike in Canada: a sunrise hike up Ha Ling Peak. It was the first time I would start a hike in the dark at 4:30am, let alone in the snow, wearing micro-spikes, a headlamp, armed with bear spray. My ankle injury from October 2016 was still in the process of healing, and having done so little physical activity since the surgery, hiking up a mountain with about 720m of elevation gain felt like I had never exercised in my life. But I made it to the top and I was proud, elated, ready for anything. I slowly got back into climbing, and it seemed like my body had forgotten how to hold itself on the wall. It was frustrating to fall off problems that I knew I would've finished quickly in the past; demoralising to almost be starting from scratch. I had to remind myself to be patient. To do the work and the rest would come. Between climbing, I continued with my yoga practice and went swimming a couple of times a week in an effort to help my ankle recover. Three months later I did my first outdoor rope climb and was so happy to realise I was becoming stronger than I was pre-surgery.

In April, I made two new friends—Brittany & Sam, also photographers. I am so grateful for our friendship and the adventures it's led to. At the cafĂ© in which we met, there was a “Help Wanted” sign. As someone who has always been interested in coffee and gourmet food, my interest was piqued, so I applied for a job, unsure of where it would lead. It's been an interesting and somewhat refreshing deviation from years of working as a professional creative. To go from sitting down all day, 5 days a week exercising my creativity to the point of frustration, to being in a physically demanding, fast-paced hospitality environment where there's always something to do. It's not a job I will do forever, but it's a job I enjoy, and for now, it's the right fit—as are the friends I've made there.

The shoulder season in May & June brought about more changes than just the weather. Many of our friends left for their summer adventures. Martin and I moved out of our house of 8 and into our current residence, higher up in the mountains. In that same week his sister visited Canada, and then I left for 5 weeks of travelling in the Maldives, Mauritius & Reunion Island to run my photography workshops there. It was my first time travelling completely solo as well as to that part of the world. At times I felt unsettled and even guilty for being there; they were places I would not ordinarily have been able to afford and it hardly felt right to have received the opportunity—on the back of my work running my workshops in Australia, yes, but the guilt remained regardless.

It is only in recent years that I have gotten better at being content on my own. For often, time spent with only my thoughts for company would lead me to dark places. Being completely independent on this trip reminded me how perfectly capable I am, and how happy I can be, on my own—if I choose it. I'd never been good at lounging, but on tropical island resorts where every corner is filled with inviting & elaborate lounging set-ups, I tried to exercise this particular mental muscle, trying to get settled with a book and a meal by the beach without feeling guilty for not doing anything more “productive”. I think it will take years of work to undo this mental conditioning. There were nights I yearned for the company of others, going to bed feeling lonely and thinking of my loved ones all around the world. When I wasn't teaching, I filled my time with experiences I'd never had before: from swimming with dolphins at sunrise to snorkelling with turtles & tropical fish; horse-riding for the first time in 7 years; remembering how to cycle on sand; kayaking on crystal clear water; listening to a woman sing and play guitar, mulled wine in hand, leaning into a bean bag, as the setting sun cast an orange glow across us.

On the way home from the Indian Ocean I stopped by Paris for two days of catching up with one of my dear friends from Brisbane, Ashleigh, who now lives in Amsterdam. We caught up against the backdrop of market strolls, Parisian architecture, fashionable people and art. The spontaneity of the trip and the thrill of spending time in a city I had heard and read so much about made for a fulfilling end to 5 weeks of being away.

I returned to Canada in mid-July, wasting no time soaking up the short season of sunshine and hiking. My trip to the Indian Ocean now seems to pale in comparison to that of my first summer in the Rockies. We had almost 18 hours of daylight at the height of the season; plenty of time to have a lot of fun in the wilderness, with no reception and no noise but the sound of your own breath and the voices of you and your friends. 5:00am drives to get to the trailhead early, starting just as the sun showed itself behind the mountains, were and always will be worth it—especially to beat the tour buses.

The summer began the season for visitors. My friend Annie visited us from Brisbane for two weeks in early August. We camped, canoed, hiked. We woke up early to watch the alpenglow hit the mountains; had heart-to-hearts by turquoise waters and enjoyed the serenity of a lakeside breakfast, broken only by the babble of a few intrusive tourists who caught onto our pristine meal spot and decided that they needed to spend 30 minutes taking photos there, too.

Shortly thereafter Martin's mother, uncle and brother arrived. I took them on my favourite trails. By this time, the snow had arrived in all the high places, leading to one particularly hilarious, icy and slippery hike. Together we all drove up to Jasper for a few days at the end of their trip and stopped at spots we never got to see on our drive to Canmore at the start of the year. After living in Canmore, Martin and I were wondering what more we thought Jasper had to offer; we were a little underwhelmed by the town, but grateful to spend time with his family. We also visited Mt. Robson Provincial Park for the first time, and it was as if it was still summer up there. On the Kinney Lake Trail, we saw giant toadstools and beautiful fall colours like no other.

Mid-October arrived, and my siblings were here. I had no idea they were both arriving, thinking only my sister was visiting. I was happy beyond words. We spent time in Vancouver, Canmore & Banff. It felt good to be a big sister again. We may all be adults with our own incomes, living in different cities and living separate lives, but after years of living apart, having 2 weeks to spend with them filled me up. To be able to ask them what they wanted to eat; where they wanted to go; if they wanted coffee or tea; buying them presents ”because I wouldn't be there for their birthdays or Christmas”; lingering at the dinner table well after the meal was over, talking together, just as we would with our parents; watching movies in the same bed; looking out for each other.

Then there were the times I needed them to be there for me, and they would be, as they have been their whole life; the times my brain would be fog-like and heavy, or the times I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the thought of them leaving, despite trying very hard not to think of it. Those moments where it would be impossible for me to function or make simple decisions, a state of vulnerability very few have seen—but they've seen it all. It very nearly broke my heart to see them go, triggering a wave of homesickness I had, up until then, been good at avoiding. With Christmas and my birthday right around the corner, it made it harder not to wish for them to be here, with my parents too.

That month began a trend of farewells; saying goodbye to more friends we had gotten to know for most of the year. Friends we had bonded with so well that it seems hard to imagine only having been friends for months, not years. Tentatively I would ask if I could take their photographs, and in doing so, spend meaningful time with them before they would depart. Photos of friends are just as much for them as it is for me—capturing them the way I want to remember them and trying to do their humanity and personality justice through the lens simply, casually, honestly. How can I ever hope to capture the essence of an ever-evolving, complex being in a photograph or two? Not even 20,000 photographs could do it.

The sudden, heavy pain of being away from my family hitting me for the first time since leaving held open a gate in my mind to a place where I try not to linger; to where the shadows will always be. The shadows I try to keep away with gratitude, with filling my days with things and people I love, with mindfulness and using my time intentionally. They took over when I was vulnerable, leading to a breakdown which no one but Martin and my siblings knew about, but also bringing forth the courage to see a counsellor for the first time in 12 years. It seemed as if the act of making the appointment alone shifted some past holding; mental & emotional blockages I'd had finally moving. I started feeling lighter before I even met with her. Our first session was a good one, laying all that led me there on the table. Now the real work can begin.

It's Christmas Day now. Martin & I struggled with ideas for what to do on our first Christmas with just the two of us; our first Orphan's Christmas. In the end we decided on a simple dinner at home with just a few friends. For weeks since mid-November the town was bare and brown, with all the early-season snow on the ground thawing out. Strange for this time of year. Perhaps this is why it just didn't feel like Christmas—almost as if it was still fall and we all had plenty of time before December truly arrived. That, and not being around our family homes, dropping off presents, watching Christmas movies with my siblings, getting Czech Christmas cookies from Martin's mother, end-of-year lunches and beach picnics with friends. Earlier in the week we finally got snow, and I am elated that we did indeed get our first white Christmas.

2018 knocks on our doorstep, and all I know for certain is that more time in the mountains awaits, as well as preparing for the inevitable journey home (if that is indeed what is to happen). When I wrote my year-in-review last year, I said that we were moving with the aim to have an experience—that much is definitely true. This year we have made our priority living, and in being detached from the outcomes of our goals—in learning to go with the flow of life—we are learning how to live it wholly, fully, contentedly; a skill I hope we will not forget about if we choose to move back to the city. I thank you for reading down this far and I hope that somewhere deep in your heart, I've ignited a fire that will lead you here one day. See you in the New Year, and here's to more adventure in your life, whatever that means for you.


  1. I love seeing the change in seasons as you gradually scroll down through the photos. I've been enjoying all the beautiful nature and mountain view images throughout the year, it makes me want to visit Canada :P.

    I also admire your honesty about the some of the tougher times of this year. It takes courage to sometimes shares these thoughts with others :)

    1. Yes, do come and visit—even if we aren't here, Canada is so worth anybody's hard-earned dollars and precious minutes of life. Thank you for your sweet message Tash, hope you had a lovely 2017, a great Christmas and there's lots of good in store for you in 2018!

  2. You make me want to visit Canada :)

    What a lovely written post, Camille. It does take a lot of courage to share intimate parts of life and I admire you for that. Have a wonderful 2018!