I don’t usually get all reflecty at the end of the year, but 2014 has been more of a year than most, I guess. It reminded me in a way of 2004, a year in which I received a second degree, got engaged, moved to a new state, got a new job (which I still have!), traveled internationally for the first time, and got married. Those last four things were in the same month! Likewise, 2014 saw me doing a lot of different things and fulfilling dreams.
The year began inauspiciously enough: shortly after we returned from Christmas spent in Charleston, SC with Mark’s family, Mark’s uncle was diagnosed with colon cancer. This has been the worst thing about 2014 and in fact whenever I think about how great 2014 was to me, I think about how hard it’s been for Mark’s aunt and uncle and the rest of their family. And in Virginia, the beginning of 2014 was so cold they had to invent new words to describe it, like polar vortex. I shoveled so much snow I felt like an honorary Canadian, although unlike some parts of Canada, the temperatures of the Mid-Atlantic fluctuate enough that even a foot or two of snow usually melts within a few days, so although I occasionally drove Mark’s Jeep instead of my snow-hating Miata, I did keep from going cabin-crazy and I never once missed any of my weekend volunteer work.
Right around the beginning of the year my volunteer work officially expanded to include raptors as well as raccoons. In addition to cleaning cages and exercising and feeding the raptors on a weekly basis, I help out with the programs to which we take our education birds on weekday evenings. I attended WAY more Cub Scout meetings in 2014 than I EVER thought I would!
The frigid bite of winter was offset a bit when I made the down payment for our trip to Tanzania in February. From that moment forward, I had warm, sunny Africa on my mind a good 70% of the time. I spent HOURS preparing. I pre-ordered a special lens for the trip and when it finally arrived, took every chance I could to practice with it on the wildlife I could find around here. Probably the highlight was the magical day I found these foxes play-fighting:
In February, I took my car – a 1995 Miata with 150k miles – into the shop for repeated alignments when it began pulling to the right and wouldn’t stop despite their efforts to diagnose the problem. My mechanic lent me his personal car – a 2004 Miata turbo with racing upgrades – one of the days he had my car as he was determined to solve the problem even though it doesn’t actually prevent it from being safely driven, and long story short, Mark bought the 2004 for me a couple of days later! As I was (and still am) extremely attached to my ’95, I never expected to get a “new” car, and especially not two weeks after buying a trip to Africa! And after years of poking fun at people like my brother, father, Fortinbras, and Mark for owning more than one car, I now own two cars. (I joke a lot about the luxury of having two Miatas – seriously, it IS rather convenient at times! – and the combined blue book value of the two cars is probably a third or less of the cost of most of the cars in my neighborhood, but I feel REALLY spoiled.) AND ONE IS A RACE CAR.
Spring finally arrived and was so welcome I spent every possible moment outdoors. I bolted out of the office every afternoon and headed immediately for a park. I luxuriated in fields of bluebells! I discovered tons of parks I had never had the chance to visit or never even knew about. I realized that as built-up as Northern Virginia is, we have an amazing combination of regional, state, and national parks and trails that kept me busy exploring night after night.
Spring never actually ended…the hot and humid summers this area is notorious for never arrived this year. Instead we pretty much had spring from April to September. I may not have loved it as much if we still had a pool, but as far as my nightly hikes were concerned, summer ’14 was AMAZING. It was like my reward for suffering through the brutal winter. I was in seventh heaven: every single afternoon saw me headed to a different park, hiking for miles and taking pictures, driving home with the top down as the sun set. We didn’t even go on a proper summer vacation and yet it was the happiest summer I’ve had for a while.
Mark and I discovered a mutual love of kayaking early on in the season and every weekend after I’d finished up with the raptors or raccoons, we’d rent a couple of kayaks and paddle for a few hours. Spending time on the water in that way only deepened my appreciation for the area we live in. I loved spending time IN the Potomac in addition to gazing down UPON it. Mark and I plan to buy our own kayaks for next season. Meanwhile, we introduced my brother to kayaking and he’d come down every few weekends throughout the summer to accompany us. I took Fortinbras kayaking for his birthday. We dragged Smucky out with us during his annual summer visit:
I started running, which is TOTALLY weird. I HATE running. Really hate it. But in an effort to get treadmill workouts over with faster, I started running for part of them. Eventually I gained enough confidence to do easy trail runs, which of course I prefer to being inside and as I mentioned, this summer was AWESOME for running outside, even if I couldn’t quite believe I was willing to risk people SEEING me attempt to run. I ran my first 5k this fall – by which I mean I ran 5k without stopping to walk any of it – and that feat was actually part of a 5-mile total run (it was not a race event; just me on the treadmill) I did in an hour. Honestly, out of all the stuff that happened in 2014, the fact that I RAN is to me by far the oddest. I’m not sure I’d have believed you if you had told me on January 1, 2014 that I’d be (mostly) running 4 to 5 miles at a time.
Possibly related, I lost weight. I don’t own a scale so I don’t know how much or what I started out at – I was never overweight but definitely weighed more than I did in college – but several people have TOLD me I’ve lost weight so I guess I must have. Well, that and the fact that I had to buy new pants, some of which are size 2 and still require a belt.
I switched from Linux to Mac which is another thing I’d have told you on 1/1/14 that I would NEVER do. It wasn’t due to frustration with Linux (which has gotten MUCH easier to use for personal computing over the years) but because I wanted to try Adobe Lightroom (so I guess it WAS therefore frustration that Lightroom hasn’t been ported to Linux), and also because I wanted the smallest, lightest, but still usable – including with Lightroom – laptop I could get to take to Africa and I just couldn’t find something that beat the 13″ Macbook Air or its outstanding battery life. As it turns out, I LOVE the Air. I thought I’d use it only for travel but as it turns out I haven’t even opened my Ubuntu Thinkpad or my work laptop since I got the Mac. I also LOVE Lightroom, although I remain deathly afraid of Photoshop. I’m slowly trying to improve my photo processing skills, which is an ongoing battle.
Then I WENT TO AFRICA, which was my favorite thing I’ve ever done, but my thoughts about that are too much for this post, so see the several previous and upcoming posts about that. I’ll just say it was phenomenally awesome. While there Mark and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary, which means we’ve been married for a DECADE, which is CRAZY.
I came home from Africa and found that winter had pretty much begun again in Virginia and I felt a little like the glory of the year was ending. The days are far too short – and often too cold and/or wet – for me to go to parks after work. And I had difficulty accepting the fact that when I DID make it to a park there weren’t any lions there. So I started a Photo365 project to try to inspire me to enjoy photography other than wildllife photography on the days I can’t get to any wildlife. I broadened the project theme to any portraiture (instead of my original theme of just self-portraits) to give me a break from taking pictures of myself if I happen to find a willing
victim model some days, but 95% of the time it’s still going to be pictures of me, which is a bit hard to swallow because I almost universally look terrible in photographs. I didn’t have high expectations for my commitment to this project because I thought it was going to be pretty difficult to think of 365 ways of hiding behind a cat for a photograph ;). But then Mother Nature graced me with two consecutive weekends of very nice hiking weather and I managed to go for a hike every day of the last two weekends, which provided me the opportunity to take a few self-portraits outside, where I’m happiest, though there are no cats to hide my face behind. (Why, oh, why are there no lions in Virginia parks??) And I learned that I CAN actually take a picture of myself that I don’t hate, and I don’t even have to turn my back to the camera (although I liked this one and used it as this Saturday’s photo):
In fact, this weekend I ended up with way more photos than I needed for the project and I don’t really know what to DO with them. I don’t actually have a USE for a bunch of photos of myself. I guess if Mark and I ever get a divorce, I’ve got an arsenal of photos I can put on dating sites that might not make people gag, haha. The one above and the one below were taken Saturday in my favorite-place-that’s-not-Africa: Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which probably explains my easy smile.
Sunday I went to Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck NWR, which is just across the bay from and part of the same complex as Occoquan Bay. I don’t got there nearly as often because there just aren’t the same opportunities for wildlife viewing (although there are a LOT of migrating tundra swans there right now), but I’m so glad I went on Sunday afternoon because the lighting in the forest was GORGEOUS. This was the photo I selected for the project for that day:
… but I took several others that I don’t hate.
So I’m actually rather surprised by the “success” of this Photo365 project as I’ve gotten more comfortable in front of the camera – I read some articles on how to pose for portraits so I don’t always look like I have a double chin – and I’m being forced to get better at photo editing. Now that I’ve gotten a bunch of pictures of “Renae in nature”, I’m going to have to start coming up with more creative ideas for the daily pics, which is really hard because although I’m a LITTLE more at ease in front of the camera, I’ve learned that I look positively DREADFUL if I don’t smile in photos. Basically I can deal with the results if I’m flashing the camera my winning smile (haha), but other than that, I’m at a loss.
But enough about me. Those pictures of me don’t make me want to puke, which is nice, but look how BEAUTIFUL my walk was Sunday:
I feel like I’ve just spent a bunch of time gloating about how great my life is, and in a way I guess I have. But know how grateful I am for that, and how much I treasure and appreciate it. And to be fair, maybe some or even a lot of it is just having the right attitude. Maybe I could have found 14 paragraphs of negative things to say about the last year…though for this year in particular that probably would be hard – I WENT TO AFRICA! – but I’ve learned over the years how to concentrate on the good and the beautiful and not dwell on the bad and the ugly. I do feel like a particularly lucky person, though. A lot of this year has been characterized by my wishes coming true – some of them for material things (lenses! laptops! cars!) and some of them for more esoteric things. As a small example, last weekend I went to Prince William Forest Park and I saw but could not photograph a pileated woodpecker before he flew off into the deep forest. I only have one very blurry photo of a pileated woodpecker taken a couple of years ago. I mentioned to my father that I missed getting a picture of that bird and how BADLY I wanted to take one. Then this weekend at Occoquan, what does the universe deliver to me?
And did the universe stop there? No, the universe thought I might also like to see a fox since it can’t give me lions right now.
These were taken with a 50mm lens, which I mention to tell you how close he was to me. If you aren’t into photography, that means he was very close to me.
And maybe this post has been an explanation of why I so rarely updated this blog this year and when I do I usually don’t have recipes. GEEZ, I’m busy. Busy, but grateful. Happy holidays and a very happy new year to all of you.