Memorial Day 2014

Memorial Day 2014

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Summer is here, and after what turned out to be one of the longest and coldest winters of my life, I was anxious to get some outside time. I was able to pack kayaking, quad-riding, off-roading, and frisbee all in to a weekend. After being on the road for the past three weekends, I was in need of some unscheduled time outside.

On Saturday, we had some high hopes of going off-roading with the trucks but it didn’t quite pan out like I hoped it would. We got all of our gear loaded in case of an impromptu overnighter, and drove up in to the Laurel Highlands. But after we got some off-roading time in, we had let too much of the daylight slip away to find an unimproved camping spot. Every developed campground was as undesirable as they were full due to the Memorial Day rush, so we packed it in and turned the evening in to another backyard Skvarla Party.

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On Sunday, Rachel and I went kayaking in North Park. For living so close to the area, it was my first time up there, and I was surprised at the scope and openness of the 3,000 acre park. We rented single kayaks through Venture Outdoor’s Kayak Pittsburgh, and spent several hours just cruising around the lake shore. We were able to get pretty close to some wildlife, including the gorgeous Blue Heron pictured above. We spent about 3 hours on the water and finished the night at Patrón, the new Mexican restaurant the opened near the apartment.

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Sunday, after playing some more frisbee, Rachel embarked back towards Rochester, and the Kurt, Jake, and I got some good quad riding in. We invented a new sport to play (though name is pending, leave a comment at the bottom with a good suggestion please). The goal of the game is to have one player (the pitcher) to throw a frisbee down a long, descending field, while the catcher races on the ATV to catch-up and grab the disc. We’re still deciding on rules and teams. Kurt is the current reining champion.

20140526-02My new (old) Honda Rancher, destined for a muddy future with me.

If you want to go out quad riding with us some weekend, just drop me a note and we’ll go get muddy. Happy Memorial Day!

Little Cabin in the Woods

Little Cabin in the Woods

You have to make time to get away every once in a while.

We go to the Lone Pine at least once a summer for a weekend every year, and it’s a good opportunity to get the camera out.

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Typically a cabin trip consists of a wild party on Saturday evening, and a refreshing dip in Blue Hole on the following morning. We did all of that, but since we had nothing but big pickup trucks with us, we did a little exploring through Forbes State Forest afterwards. We explored a few waterfalls and back roads.

This was Tom’s first weekend at the cabin, so me made sure to do it proper – plenty of guns and ammo to make some Sunday morning noise. After our woods exploration, we enjoyed some quality fried food and chicken wings at Normalville’s famous See-Mor’s All-Star Grill.

The Eastern Hill

The Eastern Hill

My eyes close, bathed in the pallid orange glow of sodium-vapor street lamps outside of my apartment. Strings of thought dissolve in to threads of memories, like nerves that can be plucked and awakened by my transient state as I begin to pass through the chasm in time between here and those nights.

I remember the cool blue light that the moon cast on us that evening. The pale, glowing orb hung in the sky and gave our world the softest of glows, frosting the tall grass in the middle of a hot summer night. We piloted across the top of the Eastern hill, navigating trails by strong instinct and weak headlights. Climbing the hill, testing our balance, we finally came to a rest at the highest peak.

We turned off our lights and plunged into darkness. The dull, muted echos of late night zydeco filled the valley’s humid air in waves. Those dulcet tones and the crackling of campfires permeated the valley below; ripples of energy tore through every person, chaotic and swirling, but where we stood, it was still.

For a moment, we absorbed it, harnessing the pulses from below, capturing them as we dissolved ourselves into the night.

There were others there, souls along for the same journey that you were, but their breaths did not penetrate our universe. Their voices echoed out in to the night, perhaps in search of their own gravity and meaning, or perhaps, in search of nothing at all as they traveled in waves out towards space.

I did not touch you that night, nor ever really, except the soft pressure of your shoulder that penetrated my blood, confident and icy. I enjoyed the boundary, it gave us context.

A spark; you lit your cigarette slowly, and were cast in an orange, smokey glow. The anonymity of the night was pierced by the flame for a moment, bright light and dark shadows cascaded on your face. You closed your eyes and inhaled, the smoke filling you from the inside as you became one with it. The flame inhabited you, it gave you life as it slowly killed you.

I pulled out my last cigarette and held it affectionately. I held it as any other sin, and it rolled around my fingers in a dance of pleasure and irreverence.

I was filled with energy that evening, it eddied inside of me like sparks of electricity. I was possessed with spirit, channeling parts of myself I haven’t felt in a long while. I could feel the souls in the valley below us. I felt their vibrations, unattached yet bonded, like the fireflies that danced around the field before us.

We traversed the land that evening, from its highest point to its deepest valley. We drove the cart recklessly, traveling through pockets of warm and cold air that splashed in our faces.

The same monochrome moon that blanketed the field in light was reduced to short rays of illumination through the trees by the bog. Cacophonous choirs of bullfrogs filled the humid summer air, singing a song, a thousand strong. To them, it was a violent conversation; a competition among brothers for the title of the strongest, but to us it was tumultuous serenity.

The rest of the festival waited for us, their cries and wails still echoing through the evergreens. But we took our time, connecting to the earth by feeling the moss with our hands as we sat by the water. Again, you challenged the spaced between us, always existing close enough to my center to hold the connection, but far enough away to drive me mad. You and I were magnetic poles, repelling each other while thriving on the flux between us.

You drove your fingers deep in the moss as if you were tapping in to the earth, your hands like roots gathering energy and life from the soil. You pulled vitality out of the ground like it was a nutrient, enriching your core. I witnessed your interface, passing information to the earth and freeing up space on your precious, troubled mind. You eased up. You breathed deep. You evaporated, right there in front me.

We have done this for so many years. You would materialize to me right after every summer solstice, and fade away just as quickly. Each time, we danced our words around one another like rapiers; never with intent to harm but with full intent to duel. And maybe it was serendipity playing her cruel games on us simply by our introduction, or maybe I was blindly falling in to traps placed by you alone. But the memories smell like incense and campfire and petrichor, and however beleaguered I became, I was always standing there at the side of the trail, waiting after every solstice.

Heron 2013

Heron 2013

20130705-05 Another great festival year came and went, and consistent with every prior year, it just keeps getting better and better. As usual, Nathan and I committed the entire week leading up to the festival to helping prepare for the flood of thousands of people. Our main projects were mostly lighting-focused, and included adding illumination to Dragon Run. Work commenced on Sunday before the festival, as we accomplished a variety of tasks. Weather was a problem all week for the lighting guys, as you might expect. We made some very cool looking lanterns for the entrance of Dragon Run that melted in Thursday’s rain, and we had to quickly assemble the tapestry fixture to hang in its place. It looked decent, but it will be an area of focus for us next year. Rain and humidity also ruined our plaster layer on the Dragon sculpture, so time and finances permitting, Nate and I will have to overhaul it for next year. We brought our own work truck up for the pre-week, so we didn’t have to use any golf carts until festival time, which was a great relief. I bought the red Chevy (affectionately named Roxanne), and she was a real savior all week. I kept her so we can use her next year.

The best part of Heron is getting to see everyone every year, and we had a blast skipping between our campsite and all of the others after the work days were over. We’ve developed quite a family up there, and each year, the whole event seems more like a family reunion than a music festival for us.

The big art project this year was a shadow wall. Using photoluminescent paint and a digitally controlled strobe-light, we created an interactive exhibit where users could stand in front of a wall and have their shadow ‘imprinted’ in the paint for a several minutes. This was my first time playing with micro-controllers, so it was a great learning experience. Our Shadow Wall seemed to be a huge success. We installed a digital counter on the system and counted almost 1000 uses throughout the festival. Next year, we will need to repaint the glow surface (you can tell from the looks of it that we had to paint this year in less-than-ideal conditions), but as long as it remains a semi-permanent fixture on the property, we will install our strobe system for people to play with each year! 20130705-07 By the end of the festival, we were ready to relax a bit and unwind. Though we had quite a compressed schedule that weekend – we actually had to drive home for Skip’s wedding during the day on Saturday. This made for a taxing day, but it was truly one of the most-perfect days of my life. Within a single day, I was able to spend quality time with my best friends, my family, and my Heron homies.

We finished the festival off proper with a good jam session. It started with my keys and some friends outside my camper, but by 6am, we were playing “Tequila Sunrise’ on the Cafe stage while literally passing a bottle of tequila around at sunrise. Now that, my friends, is unforgettable.

20130708-12 What an experience! It’s better every year, because we make new friend, strengthen old friendships, and have new adventures. It’s a big part of my life, and I’m happy to get to share it! mayday13-3

May Day 2013: Candles and Campfires

May Day 2013: Candles and Campfires

I always look forward to the May Day celebrations at the Heron. It’s a great waypoint on the way to summer, as the snow thaws and the land turns green again. This year was a special year, as we celebrated the life of Alicia Passamonte, a past Heron volunteer coordinator. Though I never got to meet her, the impact that her life had on all of the Heron elders was monumental. Just as Alicia had requested, the Heron family held a candlelight vigil to light up the hill on Saturday night.

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It was a very solemn and peaceful evening, and Nathan and I were happy to be a part of it. I bought a few Chinese lanterns for the event, and successfully launched one during the memorial, though before it barely cleared the trees, I was worried that we might have a situation on our hands. I like to think that Alicia lifted the lantern in to the sky before it caught the forest on fire.

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After a fire at the drum circle, most of the elders retired to bed, so me, Alison and Nathan stayed up and played with my camera. I always forget just how clear and starry the skies are up in Western New York, without all of Pittsburgh’s light pollution. So we played for hours with some long exposure photography. As another nice bit of serendipity, the night was free from all clouds and happened to be the peak of the Eta Aquariids meteor shower, the trail of asteroid left behind by Hailey’s Comet hundreds of years ago. (If you click to enlarge the photo below, you can see a few of the meteors I caught in my camera’s gate).

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When we were a little farther away from the tree line, we made an attempt to create the photo below. I probably should have shot it from where the wind was blowing so I could have gotten a longer trail, but it still came out pretty cool.

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We played for a few more hours with light trails. By the way, the orange ‘sunset’ in the back is actually the light pollution from Clymer, as these photos were taken after midnight. It’s amazing what you can see with a 3o” second shutter.

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As usual, the next day was filled with the normal May Day festivities. The Bogarts played a great set of bluesy-bluegrass, there was a huge spread of potluck food, and we did our annual may pole wrapping. The photo below of the May Pole is full of some HDR love.

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Nathan and I scramble every time for what to bring to a potluck. Usually, we’re overnighters, and want to impress on a budget, so this time we went for bruschetta sandwiches – Ciabatta bread, olive tapenade, brie cheese, and basil leaves. Nathan threw them on the grill and they were awesome. Try it out sometime.

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The day ended with the may pole wrapping, manned by Steve as always. We didn’t count, but it seemed like a bigger turnout than usual, with perfect weather too. Great weekend with great friends taking lots of photos – no better way to kick off my two-week break between jobs! If you haven’t made it to Heron May Day, you should really try next year to fix that! It’s a mini-Heron, with music, friends, food, and lots of fun!

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Here is some video of the day:

Pyrotechnics Certification Class

Pyrotechnics Certification Class

Programmable controller for electric firing.

Programmable controller for electric firing.

Go ahead, feel free to accuse me of collecting too many odd hobbies… But in my defense, it’s pretty fun to (safely) blow things up.

Last weekend, I participated in a training course provided by hometown pyro-gurus, Pyrotecnico of New Castle, PA. They offer this free-of-charge class to aspiring pyrotechnicians to train them on the operation and safety skills needed to handle high-explosives.

Demonstration on indoor pyro effects

Demonstration on indoor pyro effects

After a long morning in the class room (learning mostly the relevant information for the transportation of explosives), we took a few tests and moved on to the hands-on portion of the day.

The controller for the DragonFire

The controller for the DragonFire

The purpose of the class is mostly to educate Pyrotecnico affiliates on the standard safety practices of the company, but it’s also a requirement of the ATF to take a class like this in order to obtain an ATF Federal Explosives license. I’m sure that I ended up on a few government watch-lists after participating in the class anyways, so I’m considering completing the application process. Maybe I’ll be able to use the certification to help organize a fireworks display at some place like Heron, but even if it doesn’t come to fruition, I still learned some valuable safety skills about handling hazardous materials.

The firing console for the electric firing system

The firing console for the electric firing system

The class was very comprehensive. We had an indoor demonstration of some of the stage effects the company practices (cyro, propane pyro, etc.), and I got to see a product I’ve been interested in for a long time, the Prism Colored Flame Units. We also got to see some large-scale propane flame effects and tour the Pyrotecnico warehouse.

Our hand-fire lineup, all shot with hand torches.

Our hand-fire lineup, all shot with hand torches.

We moved outside to get a lesson in firework firing. I participated in both an electrically-fired display and a hand-fired display. Two different strategies for a firework display, the electronic system takes much more setup (using electronic matches and a firing console). But it’s much easier (and safer) to fire electronically. The hand-firing demonstration was more ‘in the trenches’, and requires a lot of discipline to ensure safety. (But it’s a little more thrilling).

My first electric firing rig, all controlled from a distance.

\ My first electric firing rig, all controlled from a distance.

Special thanks to Pyrotecnico for letting me participate in the class. I’m not so sure an engineer from Pittsburgh was their target audience, but they treated me kindly from the beginning. One thing I noticed about the shooters; they all come from different places, but treat each other like family. It’s a blue-collar kind of culture, where hard work and many years are respected. It was a pleasure to participate and learn from these veterans, and I don’t think I’ll ever see a fireworks display the same way again.

Here are some random videos from the day:

St. Patricks Day at the Heron

St. Patricks Day at the Heron

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Back when we were still assembling the yearly Great Blue Heron flyers by hand, we always threw a yearly party between winter and spring to get together and produce the mailer. Even though we now started outsourcing the mailer, we still get together around the same period for some social time, and what better holiday to do it then St. Patty’s Day?

Even better, why not for St. Patty’s Day when our favorite Celtic fusion band, the Town Pants, are in town?

So Nate and I packed up the Mini and headed North.

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We stopped at Julie’s parents’ house for a potluck and stuffed our faces with lots of food and beer before heading to the venue. The ‘Pants played two sets, and listening to Irish drinking songs was a perfect way to spend St. Patrick’s eve.

After the show, we wandered around Jamestown a little bit before heading back to the Heron. We had full spirit to start a bonfire, but it was 16 degrees out and we were running low on sleep, so we had an early night on Julie’s floor.

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I just got a new GoPro, so I’m going to try to make more recap videos like this:

The Sean Slayer Showdown

The Sean Slayer Showdown

I got the invite to go hang out with my Blue Heron friends up in Canandaigua, and dropped in on their snowboarding event, the Sean Slayer Showdown. I really never tried a snowboard before, and it gave me some motivation to learn next year, but in the mean time, I shot some footage of the stunts they were doing, and was blown away by their dexterity and skill:

Even besides the spectacle, it was cool getting to catch up with my friends again. I usually only get to see the Rockcastle boys and the rest of the crowd at the festival, so I always get stoked when they plan a weekend. It’s always worth the drive up to the Finger Lakes; besides the great people, the area is full of scenery and history.

I was also surprised by a very clear night we had, so I took the chance to shoot some LTE photos and grabbed a few traces of the Milky Way in the process:

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I also got to make a short little timelapse of the sky:

Holidays 2012

Holidays 2012

I always look forward to the holidays, but this year was especially anticipated because it was my first Christmas to come ‘home’ to after moving down to Pittsburgh.

Keeping up with our annual family traditions, our family had our usual Christmas Eve pilgrimage to the Strip District to buy steaks and crab legs for our traditional Christmas Eve surf’n’turf. This year Bober and DPM tagged along and we had a fun morning exploring some of the shops in the Strip. We had a spur-of-the-moment lunch at Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grille and savored some awesome lobster bisque.

Our dinner was delicious as usual. We probably bought too much food (8lb of crab legs), but this is our once-a-year meal of extravagance, so no shame. #YOLO. I snapped a great photo of my grandmother saying grace:

The God-Grandmother

After all of the family holiday events were wrapped-up, we had our annual Poor Man’s Pretentious dinner party, however truthfully, this year was a little less than organized. We had too many people to sit around the table and discuss the price of oil, so the party quickly became a sweatpants party, and we ended up watching a movie instead. No regrets.

I made Bourbon Sweet Potatoes, however my last-minute decision to quadruple the whiskey amount in the recipe left the potatoes pretty stiff. Also, our house had no Bourbon (odd circumstances), so Iused Scotch instead. So in the end, only the manliest of contenders could put the mashers away, but I was amongst them and loved the concoction.

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We have a yearly secret-Santa exchange (which we typically do during the dinner party), and this year I had Adam. So given my fortunate position as their wedding photographer, I made him and Krista a 12×12″ wedding album for their coffee table out of the photos I took at their wedding in Long Island.

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Kurt was my secret Santa, and he got me an awesome cashmere scarf and a bottle of Crown Royal for Christmas; what can I say? The man has excellent taste, and knows me well.

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For New Years Eve, Doug happened to somehow get reservations for Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Downtown, Pittsburgh. We’re not sure how; the place is usually booked up weeks in advance. Doug just went on OpenTable to get the reservation last-minute, so someone must have just cancelled before we called. Either way, there aren’t many better ways to celebrate the new year like a Knob Creek Manhattan, a perfect filet, and family.

After dinner, we took a stroll around Highmark’s First Night, a big downtown celebration with lots of music, performances, a parade, and vendors. Highmark did a great job with the free event (props), and Doug, Mom, my grandmother, and I had a blast.

The midnight plan was going to be a trip to Greensburg to visit my friends from that side of town, but the weather was less than perfect and I realized that I didn’t have many opportunities to count down with my family, so I stayed in for the night. I had little pockets of friends all over the place, and didn’t want to choose a single group to count down with, so spending the holiday with my family was a great choice.

The following day, I got a surprise text from Skivvy that he was having breakfast with some old high school friends Keri and Gina (along with Gina’s fiancee Doug and her friend Katya; not sure if I spelled that correctly). It was a great treat to reunite with some old cronies.

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Thanks to a mix of social networking, cell phones, and good old fashioned commitment, I’m happy that I’m able to keep in touch with old comrades. One of the best things about the holidays is getting to reconnect with people you don’t get to see very often, and I definitely packed a lot in to a short break.

Happy New Year, everyone!

2012 in the Rear View

2012 in the Rear View

Two thousand and twelve was a very dynamic year. Perhaps, this biggest year I’ve ever lived. I guess its only prudent to reflect on the mountains and valleys that the year brought and hopefully pick up a little wisdom.

I cannot remember a year in my adult life that brought more change than this year.

I got to travel a lot in the first part of the year, before the grapples of grad school sunk their claws in me, and I was fortunate enough to visit New York City with my friend Brenna, visit the Ozarks with the Skvarlas, and go to Bonnaroo with Maranie and the gang. I went to Long Island to attend/photograph the wedding of Adam and Krista, which was sweetened by our epic wedding proposal.

Another year of Blue Heron came and went, deepening my love for the festival family, and I enjoyed a great May Day, an even greater festival, and built a giant sculpture with one of my oldest and best friends. Then, to celebrate, we took Grandma’s House on the road to Nelson Ledges.

In May, I didn’t even consider applying to grad school. But when I found out Kurt was applying to Tepper, I managed to cram for the GMAT’s, write all of my application essays, and finish my application paperwork in a short window before the deadline. The stars aligned and Kurt and I got in to the same program at the same time, and now, I’m a part-time grad student, attending class twice a week while I work towards an MBA. Hopefully by spring 2015, I’ll have another piece of paper on the wall and a whole new set of decisions to make about my life. Oddly enough, I’m remarkably comforted by knowing my vector for a little while – it’s freed up some brain-space that used to be devoted to planning my next adventure in life.

In August, while traveling to one of the orientation meetings for grad school, I wrecked my old, faithful Toyota Matrix. I was very sad to see Trinity’s departure from my life, but I replaced it with a (yet-to-be-named) Mini Clubman. Little upgrade in performance and style. Little downgrade in legroom.

In October, Kurt and I moved to our new apartment in Pittsburgh. Our apartment is directly at the intersection of the Friendship, East Liberty, and Shadyside neighborhoods, or as we affectionately call it, East Friendshlibertyside. The new proximity to all Pittsburgh has to offer has been quite a lifestyle-changing benefit. The move required a lot of adjustments to routine and recreation, but was surely one of the best decisions of my life. I miss my family a lot, and still make it a point to see them several times a month. But, this is the first time that I’ve had a friend as a roommate, one of my best friends in fact, so perhaps the universe is paying me back the karma that I gave up during the early years of undergrad.

So what did I learn?

I learned how to build in flexibility to my plans. So much of this year was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect my car to be totaled, but a week later, I was flying through all six gears of my new Mini. Grad school was not even on my radar 3 months before my first class, but soon there I was, sitting there taking notes next to Kurt in a class of 72 other people whom I’d quickly develop strong friendships with. So many good things in my life seem to be the result of a change in plans. Great Blue Heron, as a matter of fact, only came in to my life because of a last-minute departure from my plans.

The wisdom that 2012 has taught me was to be dynamic and not to put too much emphasis is adhering to a ‘plan’. It was a hard-learned lesson; my friends and family will attest that I treat my calendar with reverence, my process with sanctity, and my expectations with unwavering adhesion, but the universe doesn’t follow the same protocols.

In 2013, I’ll be focusing on adjusting to the new bachelor lifestyle and making small improvements to myself. I’ll be focusing on being more diligent about health and exercise, I’ll spend more time with my family, I’ll spend less time at the apartment, and I’ll take a leap in my career through any means necessary. I’ll talk a little less, listen a little more, give more to others and a little less to myself.

And I’m hoping that all of my friends and family will help me be accountable to my goals.

Being 25 is weird. It’s a very transitory time in life. The habits and routines I set up for myself now will ones that propagate through the rest of my life, so I might as well make sure they are damn good ones. God bless you all in the New Year, and I hope you’ll follow my lead in chasing your goals with conviction and trying to tune in to the wisdom life broadcasts once in a while.

Happy New Year, friends.