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Points on a map

23 May

Sometimes I feel like everything bad happens to you right before something good does, or on the other side, that it is quietest right before the storm.  That’s just how balance exists.  I’m going to use that as an excuse as to why the blog has been slow lately during this lull right before the project quickly picks up.

Image taken at a dacha while setting up a shot for the series Christine's currently working on.


What really has been happening is I have been working on a series of short documentary films in Moscow, while Tree is traversing across the US. Come that first day of June, however, it’s going to be madness until August and then longer for post-production.  So I guess my theory still holds true.


Right before we left, we underwent the insane process of finding every town we had heard of, writing them in on maps, and then pinning out the 450+ towns we could find.  There are over 1,500 in existence.  Just looking at the map is overwhelming, and it’s only 1/3 of what’s out there.  I can’t imagine what it would look like with the rest of the towns on there.

Only a small part of Russia, filled with pins of monogorods.


Tree mapping out towns and marking them on our giant map of Russia for upcoming promotional video.


We picked our top seventeen and now are starting the daunting task of figuring out how to get from one to the next as many do not have highways or trains connecting.  In the meantime, because one project is never enough, we’re also putting together a short promotional video for the project.  So be looking forward to that in the near future.



Featured on


On a different note, we got our first little piece of publicity on an Eastern European blog “Why So Red?“.  Taylor Merkley talks about this project and talks about research she did in Lütte, Germany and how the two stories parallel.  Interesting stories like this can be found throughout the world, of communities who have seen hard times and are now figuring out what can now be done.  So while you’re waiting for us to hit the ground running, go check it out and read the nice little article on our project.



Salt Lake to San Antone

7 May

Written Thursday May 5, 2011

Just 60 miles outside of San Antonio, Christine and I are nearing the close of our third day of travel. Tuesday saw us an appropriately awkward farewell from Provo. We were delayed by unforeseen bureaucracy from Christine’s university, which elongated our goodbyes. Goodbyes, in my opinion, are typically unpleasant by nature and therefore not something I care endure any longer than necessary. Prior to that my alarm came, of course, too soon into a morning after a night of expected anxious restlessness. Though intellectually I knew that I needed a good night’s rest over packing and re-packing my bag, preoccupation is a complex issue. And so I spent the night debating the vitality of each item to make its way into my bag of treasures again and again. Every time the size and weight seemed too much and the contents too few.


Equipment: 1 Video Camera, 1 Shotgun mic, 1 Lavalier mic, 1 Audio recorder, 1 Digital SLR with a 16-35mm lens, 1 35mm Film SLR with 2 lenses, 1 tripod, 1 home-built steady-cam, 25+ various batteries,  Too many chargers and cables, but each with a frustratingly unique purpose, A tiny photo/video editing computer, 2 portable hard drives, and a bundle of memory cards.

Personal Items: 1 bag of toiletries, 1 pair of shorts, 5 pairs of underwear, 7 pairs of socks, 4 shirts, 1 swimsuit, 1 small towel snatched from a ubiquitous cheap motel swimming pool, a sleeping bag, 3 books (one, a dictionary), and 1 map of Russia

On top of that I have the pair of pants, underwear, shirt, hoodie, and flip-flops I wore out the door.


Calling it a bag at this point seems to undermine the true function of this particular bag at this particular time. After all, given the full scope of contents and role, it feels more correct to call it my home; The only consistency until I step, timidly I imagine, back to the familiar soil, grass, carpet, and embraces of what I’ve left behind. My shelter. My space. My hope. All contained in this bag of a home…and I love it.

Wednesday was spent in the collage-cities of the Phoenix valley. It was encouraging to see that many of the half-built shopping centers, apartment buildings, and houses of 2007 are now newly finished or at least nearly so. Not so encouraging was the unusually high number of houses for sale, foreclosed, or abandoned per block just in driving around. In parallel, as one might expect, nearby shopping centers were similarly barren.

I was shocked to find that the very shopping center mentioned as the “usual collection” where the northern intersection of the Loop-101 and the I-17 occurs to be one of these stricken former shop locals. The movie theater and a pair of restaurants made up the majority of still open businesses where once at least two dozen had been.


By recommendation, we also ventured out to some of the outskirt towns that had been hit particularly hard. One particularly bad vantage point contained an unobstructed view of at least 5 abandoned homes within a 360 degree view. Video of that later.




One shopping center we found was entirely devoid of businesses. It was in a good location right across the street from a reasonably sized neighborhood on the east side, some gas stations and a Lockheed aircraft facility of some sort across from the Goodyear Airport to the south. I’m curious about it’s utterly vacant state.



Anyhow. I am finishing this post a day and a half late for which I apologize. It is also late at night now and we have an early start tomorrow to procure a few last-minute items (such as a pair of shoes and a compression sack for my sleeping back because I ripped the last one). So I bid you all good night.



What Stays and What Goes

3 May

Today we leave Provo for nearly four months.  Beginning in Provo, down to San Antonio where we will split, Tree working from Seattle to New York and I straight to Moscow where I will find him at an airport at the end of the month.

Just a few days ago, I was informed that due to a lack of business, the leaser of my new house was not getting a paycheck.  Therefore upcoming rent would have to be paid through acquiring debt and if the next paycheck didn’t come either, she would have to move.  In the meantime I would have to move out just incase she couldn’t make it while I was gone.  In the meantime as in the five days before I left, three of which I would be in Seattle.  Just the story we set off to document, now quickly crashing into my own life as I took one car load to the dumpster, another to a donation center, and the last bit into boxes to store until I return to Utah to deal with them.  My life dream of being able to fit everything I own in my car becoming a reality as I take what I can grab and run.

I have lived 2 ½ months out of a backpack and about to stretch that personal record to 4.  Why cannot I just make that bag my only bag of belongings?  I came out to Utah with three suitcases.  It baffles me to see that those three suitcases has turned into three car loads full of materials I can’t seem to throw away.

It’s interesting how when you get to a point where you have to walk away what becomes important and what gets left by the wayside. Those trinkets and necklaces that have been saved since I was a child are now too heavy or compiled together just take up one more box full of stuff that cannot fit in my allotted car space.  A new meaning has been realized for the term “economy car”.  Years of safekeeping things and they end up in the donation pile.  A single earring from a set that once was my grandmothers, a necklace purchased in Croatia, the last slip of paper a best friend wrote on before we stopped talking nearly two years ago.  Sometimes I think of those things and wonder if there really wasn’t enough space or if I could have squeezed one more small ring into a box.  Do you pack the things you absolutely cannot live without first and throw away the rest without looking?  Or do you painfully sort through everything and pick out the bad parts and try to take the rest?  It’s the choice to make between if there is a fire or if you were moving back home after college.  But what about when you are walking away from your home?  There was never an assembly about that in school.  We never had eviction drills.

I sit here in self-pity then realize, this is exactly what I am going to document.  Apparently it is not enough for me to just read about it, but I get to experience it first hand.  Naturally, not as bad as those we will be talking to as I’ve only been out of the house for five years and haven’t acquired that much.  Nor do I have a family.  Nor has my career been shattered.  I have simply had some plans fall through a few days before I take off and now get to move into a friend’s garage, in hopes that something will turn up in the next four months so I am not a permanent fixture in that garage.  At least I have that as an option, and that’s better than nothing.



Remembering the Beginning

26 Apr

Late 2007 I remember making an isolated drive from Utah’s Salt Lake valley to the rapidly creeping mega-suburbia of the Phoenix-conglomerate in Arizona. My mother had moved to Glendale during the housing and job boom of just a few years earlier and every time I had returned to the collage cities of Glendale, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Peoria, Mesa, Tempe, and more it had expanded impossibly.

When I first visited Arizona family in the early 1990’s I witnessed orange orchards across the street from their 55th and Cactus house. A decade later they were gone. The line I recalled from my later teenage years as where the houses and shopping centers came to a halt and the free desert opened was so quickly being shoved away from the city center that I doubted my memories.

It used to be that when my friends and I would make the journey to our secluded retreats out past Lake Pleasant park grounds, riding north on the I-17 was a definitive escape from the city. Where the northernmost intersection of the Loop-101 and I-17 happens there was the usual collection of a movie theater, some restaurants, shops and a few nearby neighborhoods. At night, the thick light density would steadily taper off into an easy unending black broken only by the slow but constant trickle of cars heading back south into the city. After a time, a lonely convenience plaza was reached right when a departure from the interstate was made for the west bound Carefree Highway. From there you could access what was, for us, the closest expanse of empty wilderness we had; No lights save for the few wandering late night travelers if you stuck to the highway and the lonesome regional park something or other light if you struck out for the marina.

Since then, every time I re-entered the Phoenix valley from the high and winding path out of Flagstaff the scenery had changed. The marching line of lights had surged onward from ending somewhere near Deer Valley Rd to pressing so desperately up against the mountains at Anthem that I wondered sometimes if the rocky barrier between there and Flagstaff stood a chance.

2007 was different. That oceanic force of a booming economy had crashed and receded. Making the spectator drive of American progress, this time I saw not bustling construction sites with ceaseless movement of machines and men. Nor did I see shopping centers replete with “NOW OPEN” signs so new they smelt of drying paint and freshly laid asphalt from the invading roads. I saw nearly finished apartment buildings, neighborhoods, and centers abandoned mid-project by construction workers and investors alike with “LOT FOR SALE” signs hanging from the partial structures and “FOR RENT” where “NOW OPEN” had just hung. What had happened?

Economists and fifth grade teachers alike had lied. Infinite growth is not possible, and yet somehow we defied our own logic and believed. I write this from the sobering perspective that last Friday, April 15, 2011 my own dear mother walked away from her foreclosed home. Like so many thousands of other mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and grown children, she walked away from her house and all the dreams that were represented by its solid foundation, warm walls, and protective roof. Крыша (Kreesha), the Russians say. Shelter. Hope. Protection.


The closed factory next to resulting houses

Nine months previous I was standing in a patch of dusty balding grass, slowly turning to absorb the absurd panorama surrounding me. The absurdity came in the form of a large, closed factory standing so shamelessly proud against the contrast of dis-guarded-hodgepodge homes. Small shelters of collected wood, wire, and sheet metal huddling not a thousand feet from a nostalgic, Soviet-era concrete apartment building. At one point this town had been new. The buildings had been livable shelters before it had been necessary to scavenge for junk material that could be used to build a safer home in the form of a shanty. This was Шакша (Shaksha). How many mothers and fathers there had watched the only factory in town close its gates decisively on their hopes? Around 10,000.

And these towns are everywhere.


Tree Gore

Originally written and posted April 22, 2011