When I moved away from Vermont permanently toward the end of 2019, I let go of a place that is as much a part of me as my own consciousness. I wouldn’t define what I’ve experienced since I left as homesickness. Then again, having lived all but a few years of my life there, perhaps I’m no expert on what homesickness really is. As much as I hold space in my mind for the morning walks through misty neighboring orchards, the hikes and winding drives tightly canopied by trees of every kind, the constant sense that one is cradled by the soft mountains - I do not exactly yearn to go back, at least not any time soon.
I first made it out to Montana in the spring of 2018, tried my hand at farming and ranching for a season. I spent every waking hour of those eight months outside, sweeping each acre of the land around me on foot, tractor, truck, or horseback. I lived with a man who grew up on the same land he now cultivates himself, with his wife who was born and raised in the next town over; they were as much a part of the place as the coulees and streams and breaks which surrounded us. I felt tremendously creatively inspired then, and at the time suspected it was merely in the novelty of a new physical and cultural landscape.
I came back to Montana, this time to live in Bozeman, a city nearly 200 miles south of that ranch. I expected a renewed sense of novelty in moving here would reawaken that same inspiration I had felt, but it never did. I’ve spent the last year desperately grasping for some sense of the creativity that fuels my photographic work, wondering what it is I now seem to be missing. I’ve often wondered if Vermont was just too integral a part of me to leave behind, if somehow to lose that landscape was to lose something crucial within me.
In fits of subsequent restlessness, I’d find myself exploring, driving anywhere I could. I’d often end up in one place, a 45-minute drive west of Bozeman. In many ways it is nowhere special, just one of over 300 fishing accesses statewide. But I kept coming back, for leisure, for mindfulness, for rest, for no good reason. It is in coming back to this place and the surrounding area countless times, often with a now close friend, that I began to find my inspiration again, to find myself again.
It was never in losing Vermont that I lost my creativity, my inspiration; it was in losing that intrinsic familiarity with the physical and cultural landscape around me that I lost familiarity with my own self.
I’m thinking of this, an excerpt by Silas House, read in the 2018 documentary Hillbilly:
“…But you cannot know a place without loving it, hating it, and feeling everything in between. You cannot understand the complex people by only looking at the way they have been portrayed on the television and movie screens. One must go to the mountains to drive these winding roads. One must sit and jaw for a while with folks on their front porches, must attend weddings and high school graduations. One must study the history of the place and come to understand it, must sit at a wake and look at the lines on the faces of the people and the callouses on their hands and understand the gestational and generational complexities of poverty and pride and culture. Something inside you has to crack and let in the light so your eyes and brain and heart can adjust properly.”
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