2020 is a year that had a nice ring to it, conjuring up images of “20/20 vision” and whatnot, but it turned out to be a bit misleading… And for some of us it has been much harder. Much has been said and much will continue to be written about this year, but despite circumstances we have tried to pull through.

For me, this year was a year of finally moving the last of my things out of California, and new beginnings: starting a new job working remotely from a new apartment in North Carolina, a place I have been interested in living in for a while.

Apart from that, I was able to travel a bit in February, when I booked a short trip to New York City to see the Stanley Kubruck 2001 exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. It was at the very beginning of the pandemic before things became serious, and I remember seeing only one person wearing a protective mask at a train station. Turns out that person knew best, and little did we know a few weeks later everything would be inverted, with most of us wearing masks.

Classic Manhattan Skyline at dusk, taken from the Staten Island Ferry

I still had stuff in storage in California, the state where I was born, grew up, and worked in for the past 10 years or so. My family and my things had now settled into the east coast, so life seemed to be pulling in that direction. My philosophy is that I'm open to living most anywhere for a year, in order to get to know a place better. So here goes nothing…

To move my things out of the state, in June I took a chance and booked a flight to San Jose, where I rented a Penske truck, drove it over the Santa Cruz mountains (a little scary in the truck I was still getting used to), to where the last of my things were stored in a town aptly named Freedom, California. I loaded up my things and soon after was finally free of California. I even aimed to make sure I made it to Nevada that first day of driving, just to mentally leave the state behind and focus on the road ahead.

The prior year I drove two cross-country trips: once to help my parents move to the east coast, and again to drive my own car from LA to the east coast. Both times I took the southern route - mostly the I-40, full of deserty things full of a dry heat that eventually morphed into a humid heat. This time I resolved to take a more scenic northerly route, full of beautiful mountains. And a chance to revisit Yellowstone, which I hadn't seen since I was a kid!

I knew the northern route would already be a much longer route, and that I'd be taking the long way home. I might as well try to stop at scenic vista and turnouts, which I did plenty of! My favorite photo from the trip was even taken from a scenic turnout in Yellowstone:

Sleeping Giant Mountain, Wyoming. Seen from the east side of Yellowstone National Park.

In Yellowstone, folks were ok about wearing masks inside, but people seemed to think they were “safe” outside, despite really crowded areas with narrow boardwalks. While walking around the crowds at Old Faithful, I was one of the few with a mask. I received such an exaggerated stinkeye from a mother of some young children, one of which she yanked closer to her after she saw me with a mask. In hindsight, though it was so comical and theatrical, she did in fact create a little more social distancing for us.

The blasé attitude towards mask-wearing was all around this region. I remember also chatting with the owner of a Wyoming motel, whose perception of California was of a “state with a lot of rules”. There are definitely deep underlying philosophical disagreements between states regarding how much control they have over people's lives. Most of the time it annoys me, but sometimes I have to stop and realize that people are different, and have different philosophies about how to do things. Like driving: people will always drive slower or faster than me. Sometimes people will do things more dangerously or less dangerously than I myself am comfortable with.

Mather Peak East, Wyoming

A lot of this region was beautiful, and I would not mind trying to live there for a year. But I am not sure I could ever feel comfortable there among these folks, who seemed so resistant to what I thought was common sense about mask-wearing. Sure, I get that folks don't like to be told what to do, but they seem resistant for the sake of being resistant, even when it would prevent harm to others. I think a lot of folks with this sort of thinking flock to these country areas. Complete freedom and individualism to the point of literal harm to others.

Then I have to remember that a lot of these folks are descendents of personalities that migrated here in the frontier days, highly independent individuals who came out to these regions to look after and fend for themselves, in ways they worked out for themselves.

Maybe more liberal-minded folks are more open to collectivism and rule-following? A lot of these “rule-followers” flock to the cities, which tend to skew more liberal.

In any case, these are attitudes which linger in the air long after any one president leaves office, and persist. Unfortunately the situation in the US really feels like a power struggle between these two extremes, like two polar opposites in a marriage gone wrong, where the parties have physically separated in order to distance themselves. Irreconcilable differences and all.

George Washington's profile at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Steens Mountain, Oregon

Life back east

Growing up in California, I had the impression that majestic tall mountains were all throughout the US. But I've found there are no giants back east like the Sierra Nevada or the Rockies. That's not to say there are no beautiful places to escape to. The Great Smoky Mountains are about 5-6 hours away from me, roughly the same amount of time it used to take me to get to Yosemite. These Appalachian mountains are some of the oldest in the world, and consequently some of the most worn-down, rising down to only 6,643 feet at the highest point in Clingman's Dome. Which incidentally is possibly the “Old Smoky” from the old folk song On Top of Old Smoky.

Bare winter trees with misty mountains in the background. Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there's often wildlife alongside the road, especially in the Cades Cove loop, which causes long traffic jams. Along this stretch many cars were stopped to check out the elk, mostly the impressive buck with giant antlers. People were mostly ignoring these less impressive female elk, who were grazing away from the commotion arond the buck. I parked my car a respectful distance, but the female elk gradually made their way towards me, grazing all the way. I didn't realize how close they would actually get to me, and actually had to calmly back up my tripod! They got quite close for this photo, which I grabbed before retreating behind my car.

Female elk in Great Smoky Mountains. I initially parked respectfully very far away, but this vegetating group inched closer and closer towards me. This shot is the closest they got to me before I carefully backed away.

I also spotted a flock of robins by the road, and waited patiently. I could see these guys tilting their heads towards the ground and then pecking the ground for worms. Apparently they can hear the noises the worms make!

American Robin at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Back home in the Carolinas

Mischievous squirrel in a wheelbarrow, at my parents' house in South Carolina.
Comet Neowise seen from Bay Creek Park in Edisto Island, South Carolina
Angel Oak is a Southern live oak located in Angel Oak Park on Johns Island near Charleston, South Carolina. The tree is estimated to be 400–500 years old.
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Charleston, South Carolina

That's it for this year! Hoping to be able to travel and get some new photos in 2021!