Alabama- day 28

All things are in motion, all is in process, nothing abides, nothing will ever change in this eternal moment. I'll be back before I'm fairly out of sight. Time to go.

When I return will it be the same? Will I be the same? Will anything ever be quite the same again? If I return.

- E. Abbey


Alabama- day 22

I biked around the entire Mobile Bay today. 110 miles: from downtown chaos and old homes, to chemical plants and rushing 18-wheelers, to pre-island sprawl and ugly billboards, to rich island homes and chill haughtiness, to protected wildlife and glowing greenery, to hooded-eyed strangers in gas stations, to terrifying two-lane traffic with no shoulder, to a star-strewn sky moonlit road and just me and my bike.


Alabama- day 20

After flag-dancing this morning, I lie on the cool post-rain cement, staring up at an unforgiving cloudy gray sky, the apartment buildings glaring down at me.
The sky and buildings give no answer. Just a steely silence. A bird twitters in the distance, reminding me of my strongly-held, but not wholly believed answer to these devouring yet unanswerable questions: no answer. Just live.
…as the world collapses beneath my torn feet and I scream to the uncaring sky
Love me!
I feel so alone.
Love me…


Alabama- day 18

I swam in the rain, floated around in a jacuzzi (rain still pouring onto me), did some yoga, then sprinted half naked through the pouring streets back to my pad.

Today I explored areas I normally take for granted, ie the newsroom and my immediate living area, discovering, respectively, the incredible printing press in the hidden central belly of the newsroom, and a new jogging route to an as-of-yet unvisited pier through a marshy swamp. Impromptu jog through the swamp and across the pier, right next to my pad:

Overlooking Mobile Bay, from near my pad:

One week until I become American "legal," namely, turn 21.


Alabama- day 17

Today felt like this (photo from Jan. 14). I drove to work at 7 AM, biked to my shoot, photographed flowers and chowed free breakfast, biked to a sunny spot to read, write, draw, and chill, biked to my self defense class, biked a new route back to work, quickly edited my photos, drove an hour to a 10-minute plane-shoot, went back to work to edit, drew some loveliness for friends, drove to downtown to photograph a concert (excuse to get in for free, really), mooch with rich people and free food during intermission, mooch backstage with orchestra after concert, wandered around bars afterwards, drove back to my pad at 11 PM, partied it up with fellow journalists saying "goodbye" to a writer at my place. The best part of my day was biking in the morning (so free!), but I'm disappointed that I didn't climb any trees (am gallery-hopping and tree-climbing with a new buddy, but apparently not today) or paint the sky (I'm painting a water scene, and that was today's goal) today, and feel disconnected from everything, and lonely. And, exhausted.


Alabama- day 16

This is a photo from yesterday: biking home at sunset, along Mobile Bay.


Alabama- day 14

Random encounters are the best. I was biking down scenic route 98, planning to bike around Mobile Bay during my day off, but stop because I see a sign for the "Bay Rivers Art Guild." (BRAG) "Art Guild"? I laugh in my mind, for I haven't been impressed by Alabama art thus far, and questioned the existence of any sort of art community in southern Alabama. Nonetheless, I'm intrigued, and turn down the path towards the Guild. I end up unofficially joining the Guild and am now painting a large canvas as part of a group effort to beautify the local library.

Alabama-day 14


Alabama- day 9

My new Alabama pad, at Dave's place, on the Eastern shore "across the Bay" in Daphne.


Alabama- day 8

I ask the first person I meet, a resident hammering nails into his front porch, "What's up with the wood sticking out of the water?" He gives me a haunted look, then replies, "Well, last year, there was this hurricane named Katrina that came by..."

(photo 1 shows destruction; photo 2 shows rebuilding; photo 3 shows completion with destruction in background)



New Orleans- Common Ground Relief

gutting houses in the Ninth Ward

the School of St Mary's, where over 400 volunteers lived, worked, and played

New Year's eve and the posh French Quarter side of town (over the bridge)

CA-to-AL day 12: Austin, Houston, and onwards

CA-to-AL day 7-11: Big Bend, TX

Castolon area

Around me, there is silence. I am often alone, but never lonely. Silence, filled with mountain music: the hum of flies busily whizzing about in their mischief-making, birds airborne in the cool morning breeze, the wind wafting its way through the desert tundra--- all is alive, and I am afloat and at peace in a mental oasis on this Shangri-la of mountain-desert-river paradise. So, this is Zen.

Chisos Basin area

I ascended Emory Peak today, the highest point in the park (9 miles roundtrip, 2400 feet gain for 7832 feet elevation). My favorite part was definitely the third-class scrambling near the end. Killer views all around--- Big Bend National Park takes up forty marvellous square miles, and is right on the border. From the peak, I can look into Mexico... and it looks exactly like the USA (sort of like the border of New Mexico looks exactly like Texas)--- borders, I've decided, are so stupid. Country delineations, I'm convinced, are even more stupid. Why can't we all just get along, and live happily together in this giant country of Earth?

Rio Grande Village and Persimmon Gap areas

warm sun rising
over snow-covered mountains
happy forest

CA-to-AL day 6: Guadalupe Peak, TX

12.23.06, 3:20 PM- we enter Texas. Sudden odd feeling of heady elation, being "back" in my birth-state.

12.24.06, 10:30 AM- we summit Guadalupe Peak, Texas highpoint! It's extremely windy (50 mph winds) and cold (35 F, not counting chill factor, which would make it 18 F!)--- we sign the summit register, and then immediately get off the top, where I feel like I'll get blown away any second.

12.24.06, 12:30 PM- back on level ground, Adrian and I exchange our goodbyes. "I'm sure we'll meet again," he says, smiling, "thanks for letting me travel for a few days with you on your 'happy forest' path. It's beautiful. May you continue walking that path!"

CA-to-AL day 5: Carlsbad Caverns, TX

Upon entering the Caves, my first reaction was a deep-rooted, "Wow." I haven't felt such true "wow"-ness since lovemaking with Jeff, standing upon Waucoba Peak, biking downhill in the rain, etc--- I literally feel my heart jump in my chest then constrict with tension, leaving me breathless and ecstatic. So basically, seeing Carlsbad Caverns was like having sex, except I was fully clothed.

The caves are at least 75 feet below ground... and utterly amazing. Incredible rock formations: stalactites, stalagmites, and other steleothons, a huge cavern that extends for miles and miles in every direction, with spiky stalactites hanging from the ceiling, dripping minerals down onto the cave floor, forming more of this giant army of ancient rock.

CA-to-AL day 4: White Sands, NM

CA-to-AL day 1-3: Saguaro NP, AZ

I drive non-stop, pausing only for gas, from Glendora, CA to Saguaro NP, AZ. Having said goodbye to Jeff and spending only a day back in my hometown, I was now reluctant to leave. I figured if I didn't get out of California in one push, then I just might never leave, turning back mid-path. I land in Saguaro NP at 9 PM, exhausted. I park on the side of the road, too tired to search for a campground, and immediately fall asleep.

I wake to the smiling visage of Adrian offering me oranges and macamadian nuts. "Breakfast?" We'd only "met" each other online, introduced by Mitch, a dude I met while hiking Waucoba a few months back. We hit it off immediately, and arrange to travel together for a few days, as we are going in roughly the same direction. We spend the rest of the day exploring Saguaro: we hike up Wasson Peak, the highest point in the park, hug some Saguaros, sample random plants, bike around, then land ourselves on the other side of the park for the evening, bedding down in a dry wash for the night, the sky a sea of jewels.

CA-to-AL day 0: Joshua tree, CA

Jeff picks me up at the Greyhound station "It's so great to see you again!" I gush. He grins, "Ready to go to the desert?" I'm confused. His smile widens, "Let's go to Joshua Tree." We take off the next morning for some of the coldest climbing I've yet done, a night summit of Ryan Mountain, a campfire shared with random fellow adventurers, then fall asleep together in a warm nook sheltered by rocks, stars, and love.


On December 19, 2006, after returning to California from volunteering with the Buffalo Field Campaign, I immediately leave again, most likely for good. I am finally in flight, freer than ever before, hands healed and heart strong... for the world. But first, Alabama. The next ____ phog posts document this ecstatic journey from Los Angeles, CA to Mobile, AL.


5 months later

I never expected to test the laws of gravity in such a fashion, plummeting over 30 feet in less than a second from near the summit of Giraud Peak. Mere moments ago, scrambling up third class rock through a scree field, my climbing partner Ron had reminded me to “don’t even touch a rock above you that looks loose.” After I touch more iffy rocks, he reprimands me again. So I try to follow his every move, and just avoid touching any rocks above me at all. Precariously clinging to the mountain and balanced on my fingers and toes, now on exposed fourth class rock, I carefully watch Ron, and shift my body upwards to grasp a hold that Ron used a few seconds ago. I put all of my weight on the hold… then hear a crack. A huge chunk of rock, my hold, comes loose in my hands. Unbalanced, I scrabble futilely at the mountain itself, in search of holds. But, no. I fall.

My comrades run over, stricken with fear. They heard a scream from Ron, climbing above me. They saw a body, mine, falling from the mountain, then tumbling “like a rag doll” across hundreds of feet of snow and rock. They were certain I was dead. Falling, I didn’t even make a sound. I just fell, too quickly to even think, barely registering the earth rising beneath my ungrounded feet, then a fleeting, almost bemused voice in my head, “No way.”

I don’t remember the rest.

I wake to fuzzily see people hovering above me. “What happened?” I ask, confused as to why I am on the ground, thinking only that I should be climbing up, not lying down. They answer, “You fell.” “I fell?” I am incredulous, almost disbelieving… then a memory flash: pawing at unyielding rock, cold snow and jagged rock mawing below me, Ron screaming overhead. Flight.
“Are you okay?” ask my mysterious benefactors, men I’d just met at the beginning of the hike, now saving my life. “My hand hurts,” I answer. The rest of my body just feels numb. As I lie on the ground, waiting for the helicopter, my mind flits over the past few hours of the hike: the beauty, the pain, the happiness, the Zen. I close my eyes, wanting to fall asleep in the warm sun, but my fellow Challengers don’t let me. They keep asking me questions while trying to keep me comfortable. Their minimal conversation floats around me; I zone out in a cloud of sleepy wakefulness.

After four hours, the helicopter arrives, though unable to land where we are, because it’s too dangerously steep. Search and Rescue (SAR) loads me into a C-collar, a conforming body splint, and I’m belayed down to the helicopter, which is a terrifying and painful experience, since I can neither move nor see, and can feel myself sliding down rocks. I’m afraid that I will slide off the mountain again, and am relieved when I come to a stop, then loaded onto the helicopter. We take off. After a few minutes, unaccustomed to being constrained, I try wiggling around in my body bag, to no avail. The SAR folks ask if I’m okay. “I feel claustrophobic,” I gasp out, a slow panic rising in my stomach, “can you loosen the bag, or let me out? Are we almost there?”

I don’t realize the accident’s severity until I visit the toilet. I see an inhuman-looking creature and pause, recoiling, then realize that I am looking into a mirror. “Is that me?” I ask the nurse, knowing the answer, but not wanting to believe it. She nods in silence. I return to my hospital bed and am reattached to my IV tubes. I spend the next few minutes agonizing over how I will operate in civilization: will I scare small children? How will people react to me? How will I work as a photographer, since I can no longer blend in? The questions are endless. I return to the mirror a second time, to more closely examine my face, or lack of it, rather. The left side of my face is almost totally scraped off, but sewn back together in a crisscrossing of blue lines over the fleshy redness of my raw facial meat. “The most difficult part,” my doctor later shares, “was removing all of the rocks and debris that had lodged itself in your face, all over your body actually, but mostly the head.” I visualize my body bloody and rocky, a mountain unto itself. “We think you landed on your head, thus cracking your skull,” explained my doctor, “then somehow tried to stop yourself from rolling down by extending your arms, breaking them.”

With two broken arms, I was quite helpless. I could no longer do things that I used to take for granted, such as taking a shower, eating food, even drawing and writing. What hurt worst was perhaps my inability to make photos, since I’d lost my glasses during the Fall, and my main camera was too heavy to use with my weak hands. My right arm was hurt more than the left arm, so I had to learn to function with my left, flipping the camera upside down to photograph, since the shutter release is on the right side. After surgery, I could barely twist my hands halfway, actions that people usually take with nary a second thought. Physical therapy mostly involved hand exercises that sought to push my hands back to “normal” strength and flexibility.
I reanalyzed my life after the Fall. I just graduated from UCLA in June, and was planning on moving to Utah to work with a wilderness therapy program, pushing my potential photo career to the wayside for a brief respite as I explored an alternate mode of existence. The Fall made me realize that life is short, and can be wrested away at any moment. If you have any goals, dreams, desires, then go all out. Do it. Most importantly, do it now.

So, instead of Utah, I decide to seriously pursue my passion, photography. I find a photo internship with a newspaper in southern Alabama, and go about filling my time until it starts, in January. The next few months fly by in a glittering diversity of excitement, boredom, adventure, stasis, love, depression, deep thoughts, and healing. I live with Jeff, my best friend and lover, in Westwood (UCLA college town), where I feel odd being back at college though finished with school. I visit my physical therapist for weekly check-ups that keep me rooted to southern California. Gripped by wanderlust, I leave often, but stay close: I volunteer at a peach farm in the Los Angeles National Forest, go out on a vision quest in the local Santa Monica mountains, hike Waucoba Peak with a Sierra club outing, volunteer at a date farm, go on a midnight hike up Cactus-to-Clouds (Mt San Jacinto), visit Joshua tree for navigation practice, and more. Three months pass… then it’s all over. No more waiting. I am released of my ties. I visit my physical therapist and surgeon for the final time, and they officially discharge me of their care, amazed at my quick recovery. No more hospitals. I’m free. I can’t believe it.

I kiss Jeff goodbye in the front of the co-op, my backpack loaded with necessities, my mind wrought with complex and dueling thoughts and emotions. “I love you,” Jeff raises his fist to the heavens, our characteristic morning greeting to the sun and new day, “be strong!” With that, I walk off towards new lands, new adventures, and a new horizon, while massaging the long gash on my right arm, the most noticeable scar leftover from the Fall. It will stay with me forever, reminding me of all my post-Fall discoveries, new unanswerable questions and deep-rooted distance-defying love, as I journey out on my life quest for life itself.

my first summation of the Fall
Daily photos of facial healing
X-rays of my hands, post-surgery


Buffalo Field Campaign

location: West Yellowstone, Montana in early December.

[thank you, protectors of the buffalo and defenders of the land, ye strong incredible men and women of the Buffalo Field Campaign, for changing my life and giving me my first taste into truly living outside of the box, and in the snow, even]