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Our National Parks Odyssey: Renaissance, Part Two

Image © Andrew Slaton

by Andrew Slaton—

Part Two of Two.

02/18/22. Our National Parks odyssey has shifted into a different kind of journey. Nearly six years ago we set off on an adventure to travel the country and see/ document all the national parks. Since then, three new parks have been created, two presidential changes, a two-year (and still counting, in some states, at least), raging pandemic. Yet in the midst of all this, we found a new direction. We abandoned the goal of all the parks, though it is absolutely something we plan to revisit… someday.

What the pandemic allowed us to realize in a very sobering way was that we were financially living on the edge. No money in savings, a fairly substantial pile of debt, living job to job, stressed constantly about how we were going to pay for this or that, and worst of all, no plan. It was exhausting. Ellen and I don’t care about being rich, we simply wanted to remove the burden of limited choices. So we made a decision together a little over one year ago to take control of our life. Take responsibility for our spending habits. Quit being victims of circumstance. And, as Ellen says, “to work our li’l hineys off” and pay off every penny of debt we have.

Image © Andrew Slaton

Deep in Big Cypress preserve I found a gator hole that has become a favorite spot for me to fish and enjoy some much needed solitude, away from the crowds of south Florida. What I have observed over the years of visiting the Everglades ecosystem during the dry season is that the fish often get funneled into ever shrinking pools of water. If they are resourceful or lucky, they make it to a gator hole.

These small ponds stay deep year round and provide a perfect little habitat for fish, as well as a myriad of other creatures. But for those who enjoy the freedom of roaming the vast waterways and floodplains of the Glades in the bounty of the rainy season, eventually they will slowly get choked out of existence, as the water subsides day by day, hour by hour this time of year. It must be excruciating. The world begins to close in on them. Death does too. Eventually they are literally sucking air, baking on their sides in the hot Florida sun.

Image © Andrew Slaton

When Covid hit, we realized we were swimming in the freedom of the road. We had found our own little gator hole in a vast wilderness, during the driest of seasons. We could stay here through the worst of it, enjoying the apparitions of light,– fleeting pastels and hues with delicate gradations of blue and pink. Sometimes orange. Clouds of immensity passing, revealing cracks, rays. Illuminating the beauty that surrounds us always, but always overwhelming the lens, and the witness behind it.

Endless possibilities. But no plan. It was magic, for a time. But what I’ve found again and again, allowing myself to lose my way is sometimes the only way to find it.

Image © Andrew Slaton

03/24/22 I’m not backpacking… I wish I were. I’m sitting at the airport in Orlando waiting for a Southwest flight to Tucson to pick up our new (to us) truck. Hoss 2.0. Nothing super fancy, but we saved up and are paying cash. It feels momentous. I’ve always had car loans. Like an annoying pet.

Last year we managed to get scrappy and pay off a huge chunk of the debt that was weighing us down. This year, we are still on track to change the trajectory of our lives within the next few years. Debt free, homeowners, continuing to live the life we love, on the road, this time with options.

Image © Andrew Slaton

Approaching the six-year mark is exciting for us. Mostly to look back and reflect on the beautiful memories, to see how far we’ve come, and to renew our resolve. The road ahead is still long. And we plan to stay nomadic for several more years. But we now have a plan. We’re not wandering aimlessly. And it’s working, at least for now. Good jobs continue rolling in and keep us busy, focused. And beauty is always at our doorstep (literally).

I’ve just recently started shooting pictures for fun again. But I mix it in with time for fishing. Both have the ability to fill up my soul. Fly fishing is a lot like photography. It takes immense practice, patience, and perseverance, to present a fly just so; to entice the gliding ghosts beneath the surface with an irresistible meal they cannot refuse.

Image © Andrew Slaton

The payoff is never guaranteed. No matter how much preparation, planning and knowledge you employ, the angler, just like the photographer is at the mercy of nature. Sometimes the light just doesn’t show up for the photographer, and sometimes the fish just won’t bite. But when either do, it’s all the magic you can hope to witness. Pure joy.

I’m looking forward to being back in Wyoming in only a few weeks, roaming the mountains again in search of the most spectacular nooks and crannies rarely seen or photographed… and, of course, stalking those illusive, prized trout.

About Andrew Slaton

Andrew Slaton is an award-winning photographer who has done assignments for more than 50 clients and specializes in lifestyle and outdoor images.

He is a Red River Pro who outputs his National Parks prints in limited editions of ten each, printed on archival Red River Papers with fade-resistant pigment inks.

Contact Information

Visit Andrew’s web site, view his work, order prints and learn about his upcoming workshops.

Catch Andrew and Ellen’s videos at their blog.

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Original Publication Date: April 29, 2022

Article Last updated: October 13, 2023

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