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As the New Year approached, I searched through my music to find a song that I could post a YouTube video from the Artist, to reflect my motivational or inspirational sense for the new year.

The search took me a little over 30 minutes; the song was exactly what I felt needed to be said…not just for me, but for everyone.  “How You Live [Turn Up The Music]” by Point of Grace.  The lyrics and message really hit home.  As I listen to the song again and again, I began to think about what inspires and motivates me to create images.

The answers to the question of what inspires & motivates me could take thousands of pages, as it ultimately is the culmination of the experiences and choices made throughout my life.  Breaking it down to something a bit more manageable is the aim of this blog post.

From a very early age, I recall my parents taking us on drives after church on Sunday, just to explore.  These excursions were the primer for my absolute love and fascination of raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons & owls).  Sometimes, we would just pick a direction and start driving.  As we drove along, we would look with great intensity for “big birds.”  Dad often brought along his camera gear and if we saw a big bird, we would stop so dad could attempt to get some pictures.

We also did a fair amount of travel & camping during the Summer months.  Growing up in Colorado (well, mostly Colorado, but a host of other locations around the USA too), Dad always took time off from work, so the family could get out for family vacation.  Sometimes it would be a travel adventure somewhere in Colorado (or maybe a few “somewhere’s” in Colorado.  LOL), sometimes it would be up to Jackson, WY for some time in the Grand Teton’s and Yellowstone.

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My Dad, Sister, Mom and I in Yellowstone (Lower Yellowstone Falls in the background).

Early in my life, Dad was doing work north of Flagstaff, so we would camp out at MNA (Museum of Northern Arizona) where my Mom’s Dad (more on Grandpa Schaefer later) was often doing research.

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Our camp, set up near MNA in Flagstaff (circa 1968’ish)

Those times, while distant memories now, are cherished memories.

During my high school years, we would travel over to Flathead Lake in Montana, where relatives had a cabin.  We would take our tent camper and spend a week or two just having an absolute blast.  One of my favorite memories from Flathead Lake days was walking our golden retriever (Belle) down the path to the lake.  As we approached the beach, Belle took off running down the dock, leaped into the water and starting swimming north towards Kalispell.  Despite calling numerous times, to which she would turn her head slightly, she just kept on swimming.

I quickly realized I would have to grab one of the canoes and start paddling out to get her.  Belle was a strong swimmer (go figure, right!?!) so it took me quite a bit to get out to her.  Eventually I did.  Pulling Belling into the canoe…well, that was whole ‘nuther story!  Who would have thought pulling my dog into the canoe would be so dang difficult.  First try…nope.  Second try…missed it by that much!  Third try…worse than the first.  Finally on the fourth try, I managed to wrangle the dog into the canoe.  I’ll admit, there was probably a fair amount of swear words being said, but as soon as Belle was in the canoe, she did what all dogs do.  She shook every ounce of water off of her, leaving me soaked and probably 1/2” of water in the canoe.  The paddle back to shore was work, but I was laughing the whole way back.

The draw I have to the mountains, lakes, streams and basically the great outdoors stems from all of these experiences, plus the stories from my Grandpa Schaefer during visits to the cabin grandma & grandpa Schaefer have in the Adirondacks.  Another vivid memory I have is walking into the cabin the very first time, probably around age six or seven, and the amazing aroma of a fireplace wafted through my nostrils.  The aroma is one that I re-experienced for the first time in many years this past October, while on a fall foliage and waterfalls road trip.  I spent a couple of nights at my Aunt Sue’s cabin just up the hill from Grandma & grandpa’s (now owned by my Uncle Jim).  When I first opened the door to her cabin, I was greeted with that awesome aroma.  Heaven, pure heaven!

Grandpa Schaefer was an amazing man.  His story is something I could write volumes of words about, but I’ll keep the summary brief.  He quit high school to help support the family.  Worked at General Electric Labs, first as an apprentice and later a research assistant to Dr. Irving Langmuir.  While he never went to college, he holds multiple patients, discovered a process to capture snowflakes on microscope slides using Formvar, which would eventually lead to his inventing the process of cloud seeding.  At one point, he quit GE Labs because he felt he wasn’t making any headway.  He worked as an Arborist for a short while, but would eventually return to GE Labs.  After 20+ years at GE Labs, he left GE to become Research Director at the Munitalp Foundation (Munitalp is platinum spelled backwards).  Eventually, Munitalp Foundation went a direction Grandpa Schaefer was not interested in, so he formed the Atmosphere Science Research Center at State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany.

Early in Grandpa Schaefer’s career at GE Labs, Grandpa being a huge outdoor enthusiast envisioned a hiking path from New York City to the Adirondacks.  This led to the creation of “The Long Path.”  This was just one of many examples and influences of my life that led me to my immense passion for the outdoors.

Getting back to family vacations, I recall a summer where we spent some time in Lake City, CO…one of my most favorite places in all of Colorado.  Dad drove our Suburban with all of our luggage, our two dogs, my Mom, sister and I to these amazing cabins on the south end of town.  The cabins were very quaint and maybe 30 feet away from Henson Creek.  One day, we decided we would drive over Cinnamon Pass (one half of the famous “Alpine Loop”) to Silverton, then back by way of the Million Dollar Highway, Wolf Creek Pass, Spring Creek Pass and Slumgullion Pass.  Climbing up out of Lake City was fairly easy.  The higher we got, the narrower the road become.  Right around the summit (vague recollection), there was a point where dad literally had to squeeze the Suburban through two huge rocks with perhaps a couple of inches on either side, at best.  Heading down, there were some switchbacks where multi-point turns were required due to the length of the vehicle.  All the while, we were all marveling at the magnificent scenery and keeping dad’s eyes on the road.

More and more, I found myself longing to be outdoors whenever possible.  Perhaps this was the result of growing up in the mountains and having lots and lots of hiking at my disposal for those very impressionable childhood years.

After high school, I spent the next 10 years of my life in the world’s greatest canoe club.  Possibly one of the best decisions I made as a teenager, as I needed something to steer me in a direction.  During those years, the many adventures that would come about were a direct reflection of my upbringing; little did I realize just how much of my parents had really rubbed off.  I found it important to learn as much as I could with my available time, to learn local culture and customs.   These adventures are where my photographic journey really started in ernest.  Yes, I had monkeyed around with cameras a bit as a very young boy

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Toe-headed Blonde Pete, with one of Dad’s camera’s in Flagstaff, AZ (circa 1968’ish)

Sadly, the vast majority of pictures I took during those years were lost during a move.  Over the course of another 10 years, I sort of lost myself.  Had no real direction though I was working.  Was I satisfied, not really.  In late 2003, I was laid off from a company in Kalamazoo, MI and knew I had to return to my ‘home.”  Colorado was calling and I had to answer.

Though the next two or three years were a bit of a re-model of myself, I soon rediscovered the outdoors and photography.  Every time I was out driving or hiking, I would see a scene in front of me and knew I had to capture the vision to share with others.  While I cannot say that this part of my photographic journey was anything substantial or worthwhile, I did get a fair amount of feedback from friends and family that I had a very good eye for photography.  Add to that an inner sense of satisfaction and personal peace whenever I was outdoors and you have the making of a great recipe for my “happy place.”

As my journey progresses, I am still excited every time I am outdoors, even when conditions may not be as suitable for photography.  Challenging myself to find a composition that works is around every corner or beyond the summit of the next hill.  Serendipity should play a bigger part of my photography (or perhaps it really does, but I am not seeing it as serendipity).  I will admit I do like to plan out my photography adventures to a certain degree, knowing that the conditions will have to be “just right” to create the images as I have planned out.  Knowing that, I still take each trip with a bit of “I’ll get what I can given the conditions that are presented.”  Lately, I have found myself listening to my gut and just heading out to create images when I sense the conditions for a particular image may just happen.  An example of this is my “Twilight Approaches” image from Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The gut feeling I had earlier in the week led to one of my favorite images from 2014 (and seeing a print on metallic paper where the colors really just pop made it all the more worthwhile!!).

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Listening to my gut, I arose very early to get up to Rocky Mountain National Park, to capture a magnificent twilight (and later sunrise).

Suffice to say that anytime I am outdoors, the likelihood is fairly high, that I will see a scene where I absolutely must create images.  To ensure that can happen, I always have my camera & tripod in the car.  If I do not have my full gear complement, I challenge myself to compose the image using the gear I have available.  Perhaps to add another degree of challenge, I will force myself to compose in black + white, so that I must see the scene tonally, using the patterns & shapes available to create an image.

Another area where I get inspiration and motivation comes from an ever-growing network of photographers and people I have made connections with via Twitter, Google+ and Instagram.  Seeing the adventures of others, the work they do gives me ideas using a certain technique or compositional style for a location I have in my mind.

Some day, I hope to meet up with all of these great inspirations.  For now, I will leave this blog post as my initial “thank you” for being part of what inspires & motivates me to seek the next magical location where I can create images.  Remember that it is “how you live,” taking chances, etc. that makes your life great!

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