Mike is talented. He's not just talented, though, he's gifted. In photography. In so many other things. When I began to question how he was able to take something that many people would take for granted or overlook as mundane and transform it into an awe-inspiring image, he started with the basics. He introduced me (painstakingly, for him, I'm sure) to digital photography and explained how cameras work, how lenses work, how editing works. He told me the nuances of ISO and aperture and saturation and contrast. He showed me how to take better pictures with my own point-and-shoot and then handed over to me his old Canon digital Rebel SLR. It was huge and it felt clunky and I was terrified of it. But it became something to me that I could never imagine... it became an almost living connection to my family - to Mike. I learned so much with that camera. I captured my baby girls' first year of life with that camera. I photographed our lives. I watched us all grow through its eyepiece and I feel an affection for that great gray beast that I have never felt for another inanimate object.
How do you thank someone for that?
Mike taught me to look at the world differently. He always has, and I never appreciated that for the gift it is until I tried to replicate it. I doubt I could ever imitate something like that. But the desire to attempt it pushes me to be a better photographer. To try new things. To learn more.
In addition to his stunning photography, and perhaps as a compliment to it, he is an incredible climber - ice, rock, mountains... He has nearly killed himself in more ways than any other human I can fathom. Avalanches, getting lost at dusk on a 14,000+ foot mountain, racing down a trail on a mountain bike, flipping over rocks and through trees on a motorcycle... He's either got no fear or he's got that much confidence in his own ability to overcome the harshest of God's creations. Maybe it's both.
Regardless, I admire him so much for it. I, who have always stumbled over doubt and hesitated with the "what-if"'s staring me in the face, cannot fathom climbing Mt. Rainer and photographing not just the gorgeous vista, but the actual razor-sharp feeling of the overwhelming cold. I will never know the exhilaration of achieving the impossible the way Mike does on so regular a basis. The strength and perseverance necessary to conquer the absurd challenges he finds (or creates) leave me speechless and in awe.
Moments in my life have seemed like insurmountable obstacles. And I have been tempted to quit - to take the easy route. But a few people in my life have inspired me to push through... My Mom, my Papa, and my brother. I have, in different instances, taken my courage from the knowledge that they would not falter... that they would find within themselves the resolve to carry onward. For that, in addition to so much else, I will be forever grateful. Mike has emerged from darkness with his enduring sense of humor and ever-increasing drive to help other people, and his continuing ability to overcome challenges blows my mind.
There are few people on this planet who have such a wide range as Mike has in his life. He has seen some of the most devastating, ugly, and painful aspects of the human condition. He has been knee-deep in the engulfing sorrow we are capable of feeling. And he has seen some of the most stunningly beautiful vistas we are given the honor of living amongst - many of which he has captured as incredible photographs.
When Mike isn't climbing stuff or taking pictures of stuff, he's saving lives. He has unselfishly turned one of his greatest passions into a productive, incredible endeavor. He is part of the Search and Rescue squad in our area of Colorado - tirelessly risking his life to save others'. Many others'. Many times. He has plans to pursue further education to become a paramedic, and he is driven enough to get there.
Every time I pick up my camera and frame a shot, I think of him. I wonder, "Is this what Mike would have done? Would he compose it like this? Would his ISO be this high? Do I have enough saturation or are my blacks as velvety as his?" When I need strength, I catalog his achievements. When I need to laugh, I remember his antics.
Mike is a hero. He is tragic, and flawed in some respects, yes, but a true hero nonetheless. Without the darkness he has endured and continues to endure, he wouldn't shine as brightly.
I miss him. I miss laughing at his absurdity and his goofy faces. I miss his sarcastic wit and hilarious voices. Living far away from family has been necessary for us to develop and support our family, but it has not been easy. I would love to call him and grab our cameras and head out to take pictures of "stuff and junk" or to have him work with Justin to build some ridiculous mechanical device in my garage out of various random parts and pieces. I would love to hear his commentary on my life with 3 kids and the idiocy that ensues. I would love to show him that I'm trying, every day, maybe not with words, but in the way I live my life, to be a good big sister. I'm trying to make him proud the way I am of him.
I cherish each of these photographs. I love that they are not only an embodiment of the beauty around him, but also a reflection of the beauty within him. And, I love him. I will always love him. He will always be my little brother, no matter how much he teaches me - no matter how much I look up to him.
Mike.. my brother, my inspiration.