Growing up in Montana, New York City seemed a world away. It kind of was. September 11 hit hard even in our little corner of the world; I remember riding to school through little downtown Kalispell and listening to the radio, not really understanding what I was hearing. Two days later found me at a class retreat in Glacier National Park, forgoing my classmates in favor of joining a group of wildland firefighters at their trucks as we listened to then-President Bush address the nation. (I got written up for leaving the group, but it was damn worth it.) The Moose Fire had roared that summer—tearing through over 71,000 acres in Glacier—and the black char surrounding us, the heavy smoke in the air, the ashes covering the buildings, made what was happening on the other side of the country eerily surreal. The somber, soot-streaked faces of the wildland crews spoke to the gravity of the situation far more eloquently than my hovering schoolteacher ever could.
History was changed. We’ve all had friends go to war. Friends not come back. I’ve been honored to work alongside our military on a couple projects and can honestly say our men and women in uniform—military, police, firefighters—are some of the best people I’ve ever met. I’ll forever leap at the chance to work with them, and forever stand in awe of their service.
This past summer I found myself in NYC for a personal photography project, and wove my way to the site of 9/11. Overwhelmed by the city, the crush of people and the strange concrete land, I just sat for a while. Realized that now, for more than half my life, we’ve been a nation at war due to the events that happened in that place. The thought was kind of staggering.
Eventually I picked up the camera and started working. The people surrounding me were a strange mix of quiet respect, unknowing tourist chatter, and New York natives who buzzed by silently. Eventually a friendly policeman stopped by and asked about my camera; I eventually produced my press card and explained while I was working press, I wasn’t “working.” We chatted idly for a while—he enjoyed photography as a hobby—and then he went on his way, moving seamlessly into the crowd. I took a few more shots and then sat crosslegged on a bench… time for more thinking. Eventually I made my way down to Battery Park and the water. Somehow water is a perpetual panacea, be it the Gallatin back home in Montana, or the dark waters of New York Harbor.
Sometimes that’s the best way… think through it all and hope, at the end, something makes sense.
Take a quiet moment today and give thanks for the men and women out there fighting on the front lines, be it in your own small town or on the other side of the world.