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Thoughts & Images

I have never considered myself a creative person.  I am a numbers guy - analytical, and somewhat of a linear thinker.  My grandfather was an accomplished amateur photographer, and a self taught (and licensed) engineer who could speak four languages.  My mom, also an accomplished amateur photographer, was a CPA and County Auditor in the local government.  Photography has always come naturally.  I have been told I have a good eye - I'll leave that up to you to decide.  I love photography, but there is another form of expression that I have also learned to love over my lifetime, and that is writing.  

I just completed Ansel Adams Autobiography and I was struck by his amazing ability to write - how his writing complemented his photography.  His writing was not a description of his images, nor were his images a description of his prose.  He wrote what was in his heart, influenced by the beauty of the natural world around him.

My hope is that this blog in some way imitates that form of expression, working in unison to illuminate the world that I see around me and love so much.  I hope you enjoy.

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Adventure is for Everyone

June 12, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

What images does the word "Adventure" conjure up in your mind?  Is it a Hollywood-inspired trip down the Amazon, an African Safari, climbing Mount Rainier?  Or, does the word leave you with a sense of sadness, thinking that those days are behind you - thinking that only millennial Instagrammers are capable of true adventure these days?  I have experienced a lot of adventure in my days, climbing and hiking all over Yellowstone and the Tetons, moving to Alabama for college, and hunting, fishing or camping in some of North America's most beautiful settings.  When I really think back about it though, adventure has been more about relationships and mindset.  You don't have to go on some wild expensive trip to adventure!  As I start out the next 50 years of my life I am realizing my adventures were all about the experiences I shared with my friends and the thirst we had for trying something new.  Sure, the mountains and lakes around Yellowstone or going to an Alabama / LSU game in Baton Rouge are amazing, but it was the friends and the spirit of discovery that I hold onto. College road trip to New Orleans - College Football National Championship game 1993Alabama pounded Miami!!

Top of the Middle Teton 1986

I continue to experience some amazing places but have learned that discovery can happen within minutes of where you are sitting right now - hidden gems in your own backyard.  Within a 90 minute drive of my home in Bozeman are dozens of small museums and antique shops.  Yes, I said antique shops!!  My wife and I discovered recently that we love browsing through these hotbeds of local history.  We took a trip to Mount Rushmore a few weeks ago and stopped at every antique shop we could find.  Adventure doesn't have to be about exotic places, nature or high dollar trips.  Adventure is doing whatever it is that fills your tank, makes your blood flow, stimulates your inner self and reveals the authenticity of who you are as a person. 

Alaskan King Salmon caught near Juneau, AK - June 1993

What makes you burn deep down inside?  Forget about age, what you think you're capable of, or even your economic status.  Whether your adventure is a train ride through the European Alps or a quiet afternoon visiting the Pioneer Museum in downtown Bozeman, just get out there.  Decide to go learn something you didn't know when you woke up this morning.  Go meet your new neighbor and listen to their story.  Keep your earbuds in your hands and introduce yourself to that weird person sitting next to you on the airplane.  Invite an old friend you haven't seen in awhile for a few laughs at that coffee shop all of the young folks hang out at.  The opportunity for adventure is endless if you seek it out.

My beautiful wife an I at the trailhead - June 2018

Adventure is simply having the curious mindset of discovery and occasionally stepping outside of your comfort zone.  Build it into your everyday life. You'll have some fun stories to tell.  ADVENTURE ON!!

Wow, I didn't see that!

May 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The day I met my wife it was a rainy afternoon at a coffee shop in Bozeman where we had agreed to have a business meeting.  As Type A Drivers neither of us are chit chatty when it comes to business meetings.  We have agendas and talking points, an in the case of my wife, Powerpoint Decks and Excel Spreadsheets.  But on this day, things were different.  Somewhere in our first few minutes we lost track of the agendas and got lost in learning how much we have in common.  There are kids, country dancing, Montanans at heart... and then there is photography.  We both love to take pictures - but that's where our parallel lines crash into each other.  At that time, she was a Nikon girl and I was a Canon guy (We're now a Nikon couple). She is a Macro girl and I'm a Telephoto guy, and that's where we begin to diverge.  Steph notices the hidden gems and "little" things that highlight the beauty of our world around us.  Not only do I not notice her subjects, often times, it takes me a while to understand them.  She is detail oriented and it is reflected in the images she captures.

WaitingWaitingPhoto by Steph Hartsog

Personally, I am a big picture kind of guy.  My focus is on the landscape and the wildlife.  Mountains, rivers, cloud structure and animals capture my attention.  I'm a big picture type, my eye always gravitating to the scenery.

Spring Time on the YellowstoneSpring Time on the YellowstonePhoto by Michael Hartsog

That's what I love about photography.  Composition, light, depth of field and color saturation all meet the photographer's eye wherever they are focused - capturing an image that touches their spirit in a way only they can truly understand.  There have been so many times, at the end of a day, looking at the images we captured on our adventure, that we said, "Wow!  I didn't see that."  Whether it's a budding flower secretly popping out of the ground that I didn't see, or the reflection of a mountain in a glassy hot springs that she didn't see, our individual styles and "photographer's eye," in a sense, complete the picture of our experience together.  Our photography gives us a deeper understanding of who we are as individuals and affords us the opportunity to expand ourselves as we learn to see the world through each other's eyes.  

It may have been on our second date, a hike up a local trail, cameras in hand, that Steph came up with the idea to list 20 "subjects" and each capture an image that represents what we see.  It's Spring in Montana and we can't wait to get outside and discover ourselves, each other and the beautiful world around us.  We'll be sure to share with you what we find...

Rocky Mountain High

April 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

One of the earliest memories of my life, nearly 45 years ago, is of my mom and I singing along with The Carpenters, Peter, Paul and Mary, and John Denver.  To this day, I love to listen to them and even my kids learned to love John Denver when they were young.  The song Rocky Mountain High has always been a favorite of mine, connecting with a part of me that belongs to the mountains I've called home most of my life.  But it wasn't until the Summer of 2016 that song became a revival for me.

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams

Seeking grace in every step he takes

His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand

The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

I was in my kayak in the middle of Hyalite lake having just gone through a major life event that made me re-evaluate who I have been for the previous 18 years of my life.  I'll spare you the details but somewhere along the way I had traded in Me for someone others wanted me to be.  I was no longer authentic and I had forgotten who I really was.  So, I'm on the lake, floating along listening to John Denver on my portable speaker.  As the sun fell below the mountains to the West the sky turned shades of orange and violet unlike I have ever seen - the water, reflecting the sky, became a deep blue sheet of glass.  Those words resonated within me and I realized that, along with being a child of the God who created this amazing place, I am a man who was born to be in the mountains.  

There is something about being raised in the Rockies that has created an identity deep within my soul.  The mountains, forests, streams, clear blue lakes and the wildlife the inhabit them are a reminder to me of the goodness that can be.  Every chance I can get to spend time in them delivers me to a place of peace.  I love the quote by John Muir, "Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life."  Getting into the mountains, or into whatever natural space you have available to you, affords the opportunity to experience a personal renaissance from the daily grind of life.  For me, that evening on Hyalite Lake was a reawakening for me. 

A couple of songs later, it was Zach Brown's turn to have an impact on my spirit.  Life is Good Today completed my renewal so I decided to get my first tattoo - a mountain scene with Life Is Good Today written at their base.  


Clear Blue Mountain Lake Hyalite Lake at Sunset

Pebble Creek Pillows

March 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Pebble Creek PillowsPebble Creek Canyon, Yellowstone National Park


Two and a half hours South and East of Bozeman, Montana, just inside the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park is a small campground area where Pebble Creek sneaks its way out of the rugged and pristine Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.  Compared to the bigger, more elaborate campgrounds in Yellowstone, Pebble Creek Campground is quaint and tucked away.  Despite one of its trailheads named Warm Creek, Pebble Creek's waters are crystal clear and ice cold, fed from year-round snowpack and ice fields.  Just before it enters the campground the creek winds itself through an absolutely spectacular canyon, lined with jagged cliffs and strewn with large round boulders formed over 600,000 years ago when the Yellowstone Caldera last blew its lid.  It's a canyon that many visitors in the Summer don't have the opportunity to see because the frigid water flows down the canyon at a rate not easily crossed.  For those of us lucky enough to visit Yellowstone in the Winter, it is a wonderful little snowshoe or cross country ski trail to explore. 

The campground is closed at its entrance with a small parking lot plowed out to keep cars off the main road.  The trail exits the parking lot wherever the first person decided to break out into the fresh snowpack and spiders off in a variety of directions, all leading back to the canyon.  As the trail and creek intersect, the deep snow creates dozens of small "snow bridges" back and forth across and up the winding sides of Pebble Creek.  Be careful if you attempt a crossing.  Some of those "bridges" have soft edges and very deceptive heights, dropping up to 10 feet between boulders and into the creek.  Should you make your way up the canyon and around the bend, keep a lookout on the cliff face to your right where there's a shallow cave you can climb up into and get away from the elements and have a quiet lunch or cup of hot chocolate.  Finally, at the end of the canyon trail, before it starts to climb up into the Douglas Fir forest and onto the plateau above, you will find pillows of snow covered boulders.  

Last year my wife and I snowshoed in and spent an amazing day up in the canyon, cameras in hand, exploring the cave and admiring the Yellowstone scenery very few get to see.  We only saw one other couple the entire day and had a bast playing in the snow.  Yellowstone National Park can be one of the most inhospitable locations in the lower 48 to photograph in the Winter, but it never fails to reveal its beautiful nature underneath all of that snow.  The Pebble Creek Pillows are a sight I won't soon forget.