In 2008, when I was quite active on Flickr (I no longer am very much, sadly: I liked Flickr, but Google wrecked it—or maybe my interest just drifted elsewhere . . . oh, hello, Facebook), I joined a group called 100 Strangers. The goal was to take photos of strangers, engage them in conversation, and learn something about them.
I don't take pictures of people very often. And when it comes to taking pictures of strangers, I'm quite shy. Probably because I hate having my own picture taken. I figure everyone feels the same way! (They don't, as it turns out.)
But I liked the idea of the project, and so I took it on, as a challenge to myself, both photographically and as a human being. Thus far, in those almost nine years, I've taken thirteen pictures of strangers! And each time I was so glad I did. There are some wonderful, generous, funny, nice people out there.
Anyway, here's my twelfth subject. I was very moved by his story.
This is Steven Jacques. We met him on a steep trail in Garland Ranch Regional Park in Monterey County, California. As we arrived at a switchback where he was taking a breather, he joked, "Don't worry, you're almost at the top. It's just around the corner." We assured him we knew full well we were nowhere near the top—but at least it was getting closer. What a card.As it turns out, we never did hike up to the bench to hang out and snack on melon. And now the bench is probably a pile of ashes thanks to this summer's Soberanes Fire. But I wonder if Steven made that trek on the Camino, and how it went. I bet he made tons of new friends. He's that kind of guy. And, I'm thinking maybe I should spend a little less time on FB and get back to posting on Flickr again. There's some awesome photography, and still a few friends, there.
As we all continued on, he explained that he hikes that trail three times a week, and another coastal trail every Tuesday—in the latter case, with a 17-pound watermelon in his pack to share with a group of people who gather up the hill at "the bench" around 5. The reason: he's preparing to hike the Camino de Compostela. (His pack will weigh 17 pounds: hence the watermelon. It's a potluck donation and practice.) He plans to be in Santiago for his 60th birthday. Steven is an usher at the Carmel Mission, and he has introductions from the head priest, Father John, allowing him to stay in monasteries all along the Camino, rather than the usual hostels and dormitories. Lucky guy. At the moment, he's living in the Carmelite monastery south of Carmel, where he does maintenance and small jobs for the nuns. (He moved there to do asbestos abatement, and although that job's done, they won't let him leave. He doesn't mind at all.)
When we reached Snively's Ridge, I asked if I could take his photo. He seemed intrigued by my project and said, "Ask me anything." I said, "Oh, I think I've got a nice little story to go with this photo." But no: he wanted to tell us more. He was third generation in the area; his father and grandfather had both been carpenters, and his grandfather actually made some of the doors for the restored mission. "They still call me Johnny's boy," he said. He'd been married, he said, with a daughter, but he lost them both in a car crash on I-580 in the Bay Area seven years ago. "I don't think I'll marry again," he said. Sometime after, he started going to the mission, even though he's not Catholic, and a man sitting next to him one day suggested he become an usher. His life changed at that point, became grounded again.
He seemed a joyful man; spoke of looking forward to his late sixties, when he feels like everything will come together. He said now, he's trying new things: learning trombone, going to the ballet. He said he used to think of the ballet as girly—"And of course I'm a guy," he said, flexing his muscles—but when he went to see Don Quixote recently in San Francisco, he was captivated, not just by the dancing and music, but by the costumes and sets, and even the set changes.
Me, I keep coming back to his loss, wondering how one gets over something like that. I'm sure he's not "over" it. But he's continuing to live—and not just that, but he's living large. He's adventuring and exploring. Maybe, in a way, his loss taught him that ongoing lesson that, really, too few of us learn well: you only live once—and you might as well live with as much gusto as possible.
He invited us to come on out one Tuesday afternoon for the hike to the bench. He'll have watermelon to quench our thirst. Or maybe a couple of canteloupes and a honeydew, just to shake things up.