One Year Later

A Photo from Last May Prior to my First Pandemic Haircut [Photo: Courtesy B. Maschal Private Collection]

A year ago, this week, we packed up a couple of suitcases and headed for the hills (literally), to spend what Britt and I both assumed would be a week or so. These were the beginnings of the weirdest 12 months of my life, so far. I wrote some of my initial impressions about my new isolationist life over here. During the first several months, I felt every shade of survivor’s guilt. There is definitely a lot of ire directed at people who chose to leave NYC when all of this hit the fan (This terrible attempt at satire sums it up pretty well). Knowing that was the case did not help my own mental/emotional process. Some time last autumn, I think that I finally settled in and decided to embrace my situation.

A few months from now, I will most likely be sitting back at a desk in midtown beginning the awkward transition to the new post-pandemic normal life, whatever that looks like. Until then, I will continue to enjoy my “gap year” (stealing that term from Britt) and attempt to maximize the unique opportunities that it presents.

The New Deck, Shortly After Completion Last September

The House-

Britt and I had been searching for a fixer upper in the Catskill mountains since the first year we were together. January of 2020, we finally found something with great potential for the right price. The dumb luck we were afforded on the timing of the transaction is uncanny. Our initial plan was to complete the renovation last summer after spending every other weekend working on it. A year later as I type this sitting 10 feet from a bathroom that still dawns its original 1985 glory, I can confidently say that we grossly underestimated the amount of time and work that it takes for a crew of two people to DIY renovate a house.

I struggle with anxiety about certain things over which I have zero control. The past twelve months has afforded many, many opportunities to confront this self imposed psychological taxation. Working on this house was no exception. Almost nothing has happened on “our” timeline. We couldn’t really even officially get started on the work when we wanted to because the NY State shut down made it impossible to record a deed in this county for several weeks. Once officially underway, it has been an endless battle of securing permits, shortage of materials, non-compliant weather, and the fact that we seem to unearth 3+ additional problems each time we start a project.

Despite all of that, it has been an awesome experience. Britt and I have learned a lot together (about home renovation, and about each other). Plus, we kind of expected setbacks. It would have been foolish to think that everything was going to go exactly as planned and that every job would be as straightforward as it seemed. I will say though, the times when things did go well it was insanely satisfying. One such example was after I hooked up all of the new plumbing under the kitchen sink and found that everything worked perfectly as it was meant to upon reopening the water valves. As banal as it sounds (and probably is), to me personally it felt like a massive win.

Even though we still have an entire bathroom to redo, I know it will be our best work. With each progressive project, Britt and I have become a better team. We have also jointly become better at tiling, drywall, plumbing, painting, etc.. We will be installing a larger window, and adding an externally venting fan (two things that I definitely would have been nervous to attempt 12 months ago). I look forward to it.

Returning From a Run on a Six Degree February Morning [Photo: Courtesy B. Maschal Private Collection]

Running-

When we first moved to the Catskills, I was still in the early stages of rehabbing from a pretty major surgery. I had attempted a few short runs (at the track) prior to the onset of this pandemic pandemonium, but had not attempted any real road running since July of 2019 when the injury in question had forced me to stop. Mind you that running in NYC is mostly flat. Sure, you can mix in a bridge here and there for elevation. But mostly just flat. Where I currently live, my run starts out climbing 200+ feet in .3 miles. In 5 miles, depending on which route I take, I can get as much as an 800 foot elevation gain. That is more elevation that I was getting in an entire week at home, even when I was doing a full loop of Central Park 3x per week (all of the hills combined are only 200 feet and change). So, it was a bit of an adjustment, all of this hill running. I’m still nowhere near my pre-injury pace, nor do I have the range. I may never get back to those stats. But I’m crushing those hills like I never thought I would be able to. I’m actually kind of excited to see how I do on a flat course, once we transition back to NYC.

Social-

Missing seeing my family and my NYC friends in person has probably been the most difficult part of all of this for me. We have stayed in pretty close contact via digital mediums, but it’s just not the same (for obvious reasons that I do not need to explain to anyone who has lived through this past 12 months). That being said, there is a nice little bubble up here, where we have made some new friends. It has been awesome to get to know our neighbors and do neighborly things like lend/borrow tools, etc.. Our neighbor even came to the rescue when the truck got stuck in the snow. Another time, a different neighbor made us some awesome banana bread. These guys have also been kind enough to have us in their homes to break bread. Something that is a luxury when your own kitchen doesn’t really work, and and you don’t own a proper table at which to sit and eat. I’m sure that we will remain friends with these neighbors beyond the gap year, and I’m truly grateful to have befriended such interesting and kind individuals.

I think that staying super busy has been key to my personal sanity through all of this. I thank the stars that B and I have had the fortune of staying employed through all of this. Not only employed, but incredibly busy with our respective professions. Between that, and filling almost all of our off-hours and weekends with renovation work, our hands have scantly been idle. The reason that I posted the top photo (of my crazy hair) is because I currently have the same coif. The last time I have been able to venture to the barber was prior to Thanksgiving– so, coming up on five months worth of mane. I’ll be taking a vacation day from work this week so that I can trek into Kingston to have my locks trimmed and tamed. What better way to commemorate a year in isolation? I think, none.

Autumnal Views

Being in nature during these crazy times has really been a game changer. B and I are entering the third consecutive season living in the Catskills (not counting March as part of winter, even though it was still snowing a lot). Fall can be a tricky time emotionally. It is a signal that winter and cold are around the corner. But there are plenty of trade offs: wearing sweaters, enjoying a fire in the evening, all of the fall spices, football (even though my team may not play this year), and last but not least, the autumnal foliage. The changing leaves are so beautiful, even from the windows of our house. By nothing other than dumb luck, we bought a place that is literally steps from one of the best views (my very biased opinion) in the Catskills. Even though Britt and I have been insanely busy with work and are spending all of our free time working on the house, Britt convinced me to do a golden hour walk to the lookout. It was generously rewarded. Thank you, mother nature for all of your dramatic autumn glory.

This timer shot might be one my favorites of us in recent history

Labor Day Weekend 2020

Hiking with our neighbors at Kelly Hollow

Britt and I have spent the lions share of our free time over the past several months working on our house. As a result, there has been very little downtime and (for all of the other painfully obvious pandemic related reasons as well) socializing has been almost nonexistent. We are lucky enough to have met a few of our neighbors (more than we ever knew living in NYC), and they are all cool. We took a break from the work around the house on Labor Day and went for a hike at nearby Kelly Hollow with our backyard neighbors and brought our respective dogs along to socialize.

When I say “backyard” I mean, we literally own properties that abut each other at the rear property lines. During this hike, we hatched a plan to make a trail between our two houses. This is awesome for me, because as a kid my best friend lived in the house right behind mine. During the summers I had perpetual splinters in my knees from climbing over the cedar fence in our backyard to go hangout at my friend’s house.

It is a little bit of a different scenario here. But the novelty of it is not lost on me. In the week since Labor Day, Britt has been busy raking a trail up through the woods. On Sunday, she met our neighbors at the half way mark, where they had also been clearing a trail from their end. Pretty awesome, in my opinion. Like a mini version of the golden spike!

Here are a couple more snaps from our Labor Day weekend in the Catskills:

Britt building some planters from scrap wood.

Hanging out at the fire pit.

Some of the leaves were already changing on Labor Day weekend.

One more from the Kelly Hollow Loop.

AM Fawg

I decided to take a week off from running because I was having some ankle issues. I have replaced the runs with walks in the evenings and mornings. This particular morning, our mountain was socked in with fog. It felt like I was in Narnia or something. The dew was so thick in the grass that Lola was totally soaked afterward, as were my shoes. I toted my camera along with us to grab a couple shots of the nebulous hillside. Oh yeah, and a family of wild turkeys.

Blue Hour in the Catskills (Part 3)

I’ve been doing some evening rides. Not always staying out until blue hour, but I did on Tuesday. Blue hour rides can be kind of sketchy because of all the deer that are out that time of night. But I can take it easy on the throttle around here since the traffic situation is basically non-existent. I usually do on backroads anyway, since I’m still learning all of the routes up here. Saw plenty of deer Tuesday night, but no close calls.

I like this set a lot because even though I put a super warm wash on them, the blue hour vibe still comes through pretty strong (in my opinion anyway). These were all shot on my Fujifilm X100S. It is a nice lightweight piece with good glass and a long enough strap that I can sling it cross body and shoot from the saddle. Since I have to use my right hand for the shutter, I usually just pull the clutch and snap a couple of quick ones while the throttle is closed. Anyway, here is some stuff I saw Thursday evening.

Catskills Moths

Every morning there is a residual selection of moths grouped around the porch light that is left burning all night. I have been cataloguing them in crappy cell phone photos for several weeks. The other morning I finally got out a real camera and snapped these. There are a couple of shots in this set that appear to be duplicate species. But I liked each of these images for different reasons. Perhaps others will as well.

Blue Hour in the Catskills (Part 2)

Continuing with installment No. 2 of this series, here are some photos from Friday night. I’m pretty sure this is the last set I will post of images shot around the yard (don’t hold me to that). The top two photos in this post are my favorite from this set. In the top photo, I really like the contrast of the warm bokeh from the pathway lights next to the ethereal cool tones of the dandelion seeds.

I like the photo below for the super shallow depth of field. Normally I think it would be overkill on an image where the subject is so close. But when shooting after nightfall, there aren’t a lot of options other than to have the aperture wide open. It this case, it almost creates the sensation of being submerged in water. Further, I shot all of these at a much higher ISO that I would normally ever use. The resulting effect is a grainy look (often referred to as “noise”). Aside from photos shot on film, I’m generally not a fan of noise in my images. In this case, I feel like the texture actually adds something to the overall vibe of these images.

Blue Hour in the Catskills (Part 1)

People rave about photos taken during golden hour (also called “magic hour”) and for a good reason. They are beautiful. It is almost impossible to take a bad photo in golden hour light. And when you see a really good one, you can feel the warmth from it pouring straight into your soul.  The time of day that seems to take a back seat to golden hour in terms of photog popularity, is that of blue hour. I think that part of what makes both of these types of photos special (as is true with any really good photo) is the emotional reaction that they evoke in the viewer. Seeing a golden hour photo that has been done right, is like being wrapped in a fleece blanket that just came out of the dryer. For blue hour photos, the sensation is typically much different. Similar to the project I gave myself in April, I’m going to spend the month of June practicing blue light photography here in the Catskills. I won’t be posting every day, but hopefully a couple of times per week, depending on if I get anything worth sharing.

The shots in this post are a few that I took the other night. None of them are amazing, but I feel like they set the tone nicely. Here goes!

Isolationist Vibes (Cont’d [Cont’d])

The weather turned from snow and bare trees to mid-80s and full greenery in the span of about 10 days. I’m welcoming the warmer temps, even though it would have been nice to have a bit more gradual of a transition. Despite keeping very busy, there has been plenty of time for introspection. I’m starting to wonder if I don’t miss being around other people as much as I thought I did. One thing is for certain– I have a profound amount of gratitude for the good fortune I have encountered from the outset of these uncertain times. That’s not to say that I don’t still find things to complain about (I do). But I also realize that those banal annoyances are inconsequential compared to what they could be. For this, I am truly grateful.

I have also been lucky enough to get back on two wheels. I spent the majority of Memorial Day weekend exploring country roads. There isn’t really anything else that I find quite as satisfying this time of year. Here are a couple of snaps I took along the way:

Britt and Lola

The Subjects of this Post Hiking Through the Snow.

This is the final entry for my series about stuff that I brought with me into isolation. I saved the best for last. Even though Britt and Lola are not gear, they have certainly been the factor during all of this craziness that have made things bearable. Britt and I joked at the outset of this adventure that it would either make or break our relationship. I’m happy to report that she hasn’t dumped me yet. Transitioning from the inflatable mattress to a real one certainly aided the cause. In all seriousness, this has been an experience in team building like we have never had with each other. I don’t often publicly share many details about our personal life, but I would be remiss to finish this series without nodding to Britt as the amazing partner that she is.