#Cemetery overnight

Yes, I slept in a cemetery last night. Technically, I was not actually IN the cemetery. I was camped well outside the fence. (That is why the ghosts could not get to me.) hahaha

I was driving into Missouri from Western Kentucky. I was completely unfamiliar with the area I was entering; just following my GPS to the free campsite. I came upon a sign pointed right> toward the recreation area, but my GPS pointed me straight ahead^ toward the camp. I obeyed my GPS. I reasoned to myself, “Maybe the paid camping is over there, and the free camping is over here.” It was totally plausible.

When the familiar female maps voice lilted, “You’ve arrived,” I crept to a stop, looked around and furrowed my brow. “Are you sure?” I responded. Number one, I was sitting in the middle of the dirt road I was following. Number two, I was in a cemetery. There were at least three distinct plot areas I could see from where I sat: one large, fenced-in plot stretching out on my left, and two open, smaller plots falling behind me. A small white church sat on the grounds as well. Where exactly have I arrived?

I scanned the area for any No Trespassing! signs. There were none. There was, however, a sign on the front of the little white church that read, “YE WHO TAKE SHELTER HERE REMEMBER THIS IS GOD’S HOUSE”. Well, they aren’t discouraging visitors, I thought.

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I contemplated what to do next. I figured that the actual campsite must be further down the way. I continued following the dirt road until it dead-ended (pardon the pun) just above Lake Ouachita in a wide, pebbled, circular clearing that looked like any other secluded campsite I had visited in my travels. There was even the charred remnants of a campfire. The lake flung itself out gracefully from east to west, and the sun was beginning its decent. A few careful steps down the dirt and rock and embankment, and I would be standing on the beach. It seemed a very fine campsite indeed, save for the cemetery.

I have become accustomed to cemeteries, especially in my travels. I have toured and photographed a number of grave sites recently. I didn’t feel a sense of creepiness at all. On the contrary, I have developed a deep reverence for these grounds, the love and memories they hold, and the holy voids they contain.

I decided to stay. I really liked the place. The birds were singing and the squirrels were playing. The water was gently lapping the shore below. The sky was being painted by the setting sun. It was peaceful and serene, and I was sure to have it all to myself. This was a gift.

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The evening progressed steadily and surely toward dusk. I took some photographs, just for fun. I fed Justice and then myself. There was no internet here, but I had cell service, and I enjoyed my usual evening chat with my fiance. After, it was silent.

As the dark of night settled over us, the first uneasy stirrings began. My mind got edgy and disturbed. I kept feeling the urge to look over my shoulder, back toward the cemetery. I told myself I was being silly. But my mind kept trying to project images from that movie, The Sixth Sense. I see dead people. It reminded me how the ghosts wanted to interact with the living boy. They wanted something from him. I shuddered. Then I gently but firmly pushed the images out of my mind. I refused to entertain them, no matter how my psyche complained.

Suddenly my mind gripped me and insisted I turn the car around to face the exit, right now do it now, just in case we needed to make a quick getaway. I actually laughed out loud at this suggestion. Oh how the mind can play games with you, if you let it. I took a deep breath. I declined. I wanted the car facing east, so I could watch the sunrise in the morning.

All night long, my mind tried to get me quaking with thoughts and feelings related to the cemetery nearby. Over and over I pushed them gently and firmly aside. I remember being plagued by many such nights as a little girl, when I cowered under the covers, eyes wide, fearing the monster under my bed or the demon in my closet. Only I am older and stronger now. Fear is not my master. Should something extra-sensory actually occur, I trusted myself to know what to do in that moment. Worry is not a welcome bedfellow. This I have learned with great gratitude.

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In the morning, I decided to explore and honor the cemetery and the church before moving on. I found out these grounds are all that remain of the original location of the town of Buckville. The residents once built their lives in the area now covered by Lake Ouachita. The church itself had been moved from the valley floor in 1951 to prevent it from being covered by water. It is now listed on the registry of historic places.

I had spent the night on hallowed grounds. I had wrestled with my fear. Now I was walking away with my blessing. You can do the same. It doesn’t take a cemetery to confront the fears in your mind. Grace and peace belong to any who do likewise.

#Sunriser

The little voice in my head woke me up this morning. “C’mon! C’mon! C’mon! The sun is going to come up – right over there! Right over the lake!”

How did the little voice know where the sun was going to come up? And how is she so full of energy?

Groggy, I don’t even bother to open my eyes. I replied to the little voice in my head, “That would be very lovely to see, if the sun were coming up over the lake… and if I could move.” It had been a rough night. Edward and I had words. I went to sleep late. It rained all night. The pelting rain fell loudly on my car top, and I tossed and turned fitfully beneath it.

“C’mon! C’mon!” The little voice was so insistent. She reminded me that the boat ramp was right off the water, and that I could pull the car right up to it. The words just tumbled out of her, “We could watch the sunrise from the car, and you wouldn’t even have to be cold!”

How did she know all of this?!? I am still sleep-disoriented, and I can barely remember where exactly we made camp last night.

However…

Photographing a beautiful sunrise from my vehicle, sipping camp coffee with the heat blowing… it did sound lovely. Much more lovely than the two previous sunrise shoots, where my hands went numb and my teeth went chattering. The little voice obviously was not going to let me go back to sleep anyway.

“Okay, okay. I’m moving.” I actually spoke this out loud – to the little voice in my head. I start working my way through my morning routine. I stuff my pillow into the feet of my sleeping bag. I put Justice on her leash and let her outside.

“Hurry up! Hurry up!” she squeals. “We are going to miss it!”

I look around me while I wait for Justice to do her business. The dark is giving way to the light. I am starting to make out the shape of the trees, the picnic table, the fire pit. I agree, the sun will be coming up very soon. I decide I can brew my coffee from the boat ramp, just in case the little voice is right.

I warm up the car and return the driver’s seat to the drive position. My slipper nudges the gas pedal, and we move forward onto the dirt embankment, then up onto the gravel road. It’s less than a mile to the clearing I found at the end of this road yesterday, and the boat ramp is at the far end of that.

I survey the lake and the tree line and choose what I hope will be a good vantage point, maneuvering the car to point due east with room for me to jump in and out for photographs.

I light up my camp stove and wait for the water to boil. It’s a nippy 45 degrees, and a cup of hot coffee will do as much as the sun to brighten my day.

Meanwhile, the little girl inside me is practically bouncing with anticipation.

Sure enough, the clouds begin to tinge pink just over the treeline, and the water below picks up a pink hue as well. I smile in spite of myself. This is lovely indeed. The sun inched her way up, serene and subtle, winking through the clouds at the little girl inside me.

I am sipping my rocket-brewed coffee at Cordell Hull Lake, somewhere between Nashville and Knoxville. There is not another soul in sight. The birds are singing, and I can distinguish at least three different calls. They are each saying, “Good Morning!” in their own tongue.

I am now delighted that the little voice woke me up with such insistence. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this. What a glorious scene, and I am the only actor in it. Save for the sun. Oh and Justice. Oh and the birds. And the trees and the lake. Okay, we are a symphony, each playing our own special part. I feel so fortunate and grateful to be here. Yesterday has passed. Today has dawned anew.

The *softer* side of New Orleans?

I came to New Orleans thinking this would be a fun place to log the Louisiana leg of our #1000Miles1Year challenge. I first visited New Orleans when I was in my 20’s, a young professional attending a convention with a few dozen colleagues over Halloween. I remembered the city as being sultry, electric, and pulsing with daring enthusiasm.

Twenty years later, now a solo female traveler with a pup in tow, I felt uneasy as I entered the city. New Orleans has a reputation for debauchery; as though the dark and the dirty make their home here. Where will I run? Will it be safe? What if it isn’t? What was I thinking???

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New Orleans can be seriously intimidating to a first-time visitor. The French Quarter streets feel incredibly narrow as you creep along in thick traffic. The sky above is squeezed between second-level balconies protruding from many of the buildings. Cars are parallel parked, mish-mash style along the street-sides, sometimes impossible for two vehicles to pass each other in between. Crowds of revelers roam the iron jungle with plastic frothing cups. A shop front displays Mardi Gras masks with creepy pointed noses and a sign that winks “Deurty Boys.” You get the sense that everything existing here is intent on invading your space.

I almost drive right back out. The little voice in my head was screaming, “Absolutely nothing in me wants to be here right now!” But I knew that was really just fear trying to take the wheel, and the something that kept me was the mantra that *fear is not my master*. I was intent on pushing beyond my discomfort and taking in the sights and sounds of this city.

A little sleuthing eventually uncovered a hidden gem called the Bywater District.

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I wouldn’t exactly call it soft, but The Big Easy has a more sophisticated side. Just beyond the French Quarter is the Bywater District. I first discovered Crescent Park, a 1.4 mile manicured masterpiece that hugs the mighty Mississippi River. With ample free parking and gates open at sunrise, Justice and I safely logged in our miles here every day. The park is popular with runners and dog walkers, but never really crowded at any hour of the day. There are water fountains, port-o-lets and a fenced dog run too. We stretched out our runs just east of the park to the Poland Street Port, where massive ships dwarf the dock as they gently come to rest.

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The neighborhood streets have names like Piety, Louisa, Dauphine and Desire, a bold and soulful stroll with houses dressed in royal blue, pastel pink, lime green, purple punch and every other imagining. White lights and gold beads and red tinsel adorn the otherwise staunch, ornamental wrought iron fences, balconies and doorposts. A sign reads, “No Air BnB! Save our neighborhood.” The locals voice concern that their treasured, quiescent lifestyle will be impugned by the more typical NOLA party animals. There are a couple of Bed and Breakfast Inns that welcome guests to the Bywater District, and they exhibit a debonair grace and sophistication. The Maison de Macarty is an 1860s Victorian home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It features six guest rooms in the main house, two private cottages, ensuite bath facilities and a mineral water swimming pool.

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The Bywater District also has its own share of amazing eateries with convenient, meter-free street parking. The Satsuma Café is a great place to start the day, featuring fresh juices, breakfast and lunch dishes using local and organic ingredients. On the patio, a decorated seamstress bust stands next to a guest in a top hat, the sight of it just quirky enough to satisfy your appetite for the unusual. A few blocks down, The Joint offers true wood-smoked meat, landing it on top ten BBQ lists in publications from Bon Appétit to Zagat. In 2008, The Joint was featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” and folks still line up to dig in, with middle-aged professionals in button down oxfords seated at the bar next to free spirits sporting dreadlocks and nose piercings. Next to the shabby Bargain Mart is the classy Oxalis, a whiskey-focused gastropub where you can enjoy Happy Hour specials on small plates and drinks like the Sazerac, a local New Orleans variation of a cognac cocktail in a glass spritzed with absinthe.

I was delighted to spend three days exploring the heart of New Orleans without the debaucherous crowds and tawdry commercialism. Pets are welcome at all of the establishments mentioned above. As day three drew to a close, I concluded my visit at Piety Wharf. With iron pillars and concrete benches, Piety Wharf inspires with inscriptions that evoke the true spirit of New Orleans, like “Freedom: To move at will, to strive with confidence, to dream with a real expectation of achievement, and to be regarded with respect.”

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Lesson learned from making #fire

I’m getting really fired up with ideas for this project. I would never have come this far had it not been for what I learned making fire during my first solo camp at Douglas Falls.

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First things first, I need to pick up a few supplies, like a more suitable tent for sleeping out in warmer weather and a headlamp for pre-dawn hikes to watch the glory of a sunrise. I need a hand-held audio recorder for the interviews I intend to do, and a couple of devices to improve the quality of my videos. My laptop and cell phone are dated, and that slows my progress on producing and uploading my work. Time is always of the essence when you are on the road.

The problem is all of these things cost money. I had three months of savings left after my walkabout. That was before I purchased my new camera two weeks ago. I also had to replace the brakes in my car before I left North Carolina. That depleted an entire month of my travel expenses, with a list of additional investments that would be wise to make. It’s enough to make my head spin and my stomach churn.

My instinct has always been to conserve my resources and only spend frugally when necessary.

Growing up poor
Fear has controlled the spending of my money for the better part of my life. Growing up poor, I knew what it was like to not have enough and how that makes you feel different from the people that have plenty. I longed for beautiful things I could not have, and I clung to the few precious little things I did own. Like the charming stationary I got for my tenth birthday, with the pretty yellow flowers and the pastel orange butterflies. I only wrote one letter on that stationary, and it was to my grandmother to thank her for her special gift. I thought it oh so lovely, and if I used it all up I would not have it anymore.

This mindset followed me into adulthood. I did not become a hoarder of things; I became a hoarder of money. I could not spend it, afraid that if something happened I would not have enough. I did not allow myself to indulge in beautiful things very often. I shopped in thrift stores to try to satisfy my urges at bargain prices. I clipped coupons and haggled over expiration dates. I scoured the clearance racks and markdown isles. People have all kinds of derogatory terms for what I did, but I thought it very wise.

In my tenuous financial situation, my gut instinct would normally be to conserve my resources, to buy myself as much time as possible. I would not have purchased that camera. I would not have decided to embark on another road trip. I would have counted my pennies until I had another reliable income established.

But making fire taught me something.

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What I learned from making fire
We had a fire pit at the winery in Walla Walla and at the tasting room in Woodinville. I loved to spend the evenings in front of the fire. I had seen others make fire plenty of times, and it never struck me as all that difficult.

August found me on my first solo camp. I was in crisis, and I had come here to clear my head. It was late summer, very warm still, and making fire was not something I had really thought about. However, when I discovered stacks of wood and newspapers at my campsite, I was tickled and decided it would be a nice thing to have. I purchased a barbecue lighter from the grocery market in the closest town the next morning, along with a can of soup and some brown mushrooms I thought I would cook.

I surveyed my materials. I wasn’t sure how long I would be staying, so I wanted to use them sparingly. I wadded a little newspaper into the center of the ring, piled on a few small twigs and three small logs to get me started. I babied that little fire. I scooped pine needles and twigs from around the camp and lobbed them in to coax it along. I had to keep adding this kindling and poking around the fire every several minutes, but it kept me occupied and I enjoyed the mysterious action of the flames.

One afternoon, as I walked past the DAY USE ONLY area near the river, I saw a young family preparing to picnic. The children were dancing around and splashing in the water. A dog was running between the children and a woman I figured was mom, and she was busy dressing the table. Dad was sitting in his camp chair having a drink. The fire before him in his ring was RAGING. Oh my stars! How did he do that?!? He was just sitting there, enjoying himself. And the fire burned on.

I wanted to make fire like that!

That night I puzzled over my options. Instead of a little newspaper, I used A LOT. Instead of a little kindling, I used A LOT. I piled a teepee of wood over the top and lit the whole thing in several places. As the fire began, I fed it rapidly with MORE and MORE quick burning materials. I was anything but conservative. The flame grew hotter and higher as the large logs ate it all up. I added more logs and more kindling, stacking everything up and up, carefully, allowing plenty of air flow. BOOYAH! My very own raging fire. I felt proud and accomplished.

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The lesson learned
I sat for a long while and watched this masterpiece I had created.  I ruminated over what I had learned. I had been so concerned about saving my resources – the logs, the newspaper, the kindling wood. I was able to make a fire, but it was a lot of work, and it didn’t actually provide much heat or light. To make a raging, useful fire, I needed to subdue my instinct to conserve and give it all I had.

I thought about all of the times in my life when I gimped along with very little, unwilling to spend my resources, in fear of what might happen if I did. Was I really helping or hurting myself in the process? I came to realize that there is wisdom in both. There is a time to conserve and a time to spend, a time to lay up your treasure and a time to put it to good and proper use. There is also great wisdom in knowing which to choose. Sometimes, if you really want to grow a thing – like a fire, like an opportunity – you have to give it all you’ve got.

The universe taught me a valuable lesson that day. I needed to learn this lesson to make the most of my current situation. I could conserve my resources and gimp along for another couple of months. Maybe some of my work would sell. Or, I could believe in myself, give it all I’ve got, stoke that fire, and go for broke. Both are risky. Which risk was right for this moment?

Only time will tell. But I am choosing to give it all I’ve got. I believe when you set forth your intentions, with power and passion, that synchronicity meets you, and remarkable things start to happen. Fear diminishes while faith enlarges. My mantra: No fear, I am full of faith.

Atlanta #cityscape from Piedmont Park

My friend, James Loving turned me on to city runs when I stayed with him and his wife, Pamela a week ago. The hook: the run from his house in Richmond to the Virginia State Capital was a six mile round trip, and he claimed the route was rated one of the prettiest streets in America.

I thought I would hate it. Let me clarify. I thought I would hate the distractions but maybe enjoy the scenery. I have to get into *the zone* when I am running, otherwise it is just all guts and no glory. All I could think about was all of those people and crosswalks and traffic. I pictured myself having to yank Justice out of the headlights, maneuvering around the suits hogging the sidewalk, and having to stop dead at every red intersection.

There was nothing at all in those imaginations that appealed to me. But having never done a city run before, I was intrigued. State capitals are usually designed to impress the dignitaries and tourists alike, and there is so much history alive in Richmond. With a name like Monument Avenue… how could I NOT run it? So what if it was distressing! It would be a unique experience.

I LOVED IT. And Justice was great!

The people and vehicles were actually quite courteous. I think it helps to have a cute pup in tow. Justice garners attention and adoration everywhere she goes. I’m just along for the ride, really.

I decided I MUST include city runs in my #1000Miles1Year challenge (run/walk/crawl via ilovetorun.org). Coming to Georgia in week four of my project, Atlanta was my number one pick. My fiance, Edward and I used to rendezvous there from time to time when he lived in Virgina and I in Florida. Some of our favorite memories are in that city.

Still, I was chicken to take to the streets alone. I Googled “safe places to run in Atlanta” and Piedmont Park topped the list. I chided myself for not having the guts to run the streets, but I chided gently, as I am a recovering perfectionist. “This is not exactly a city run,” I told myself as I sat cross-legged on the floor and scrolled through the Google hits. But the reviews touted beautiful scenes of the cityscape, a lake, sculptures and other objects of interest. I decided it was a good compromise. The address *was* in the city after all.

The trail maps showed three distinct loops – the active loop, the lake loop and the meadow – together totaling 2.5 miles. I figured we could run it twice. Or, if it was really pretty, we could run it once, collect the camera, and walk it a second time to play with some photos.

Turns out dogs are not permitted on the active loop, which is like a dirt track oval. I had to get creative to reach even 2.3 miles on our run. But it was indeed beautiful, and I could hardly wait to get my hands on my new camera.

Justice and I did another two miles walking, taking in the sights and having fun with digital film. It was a gorgeous day. It was everything I hoped for. I even got sun-kissed.

Coddiwomple

verb
To travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination. (English Slang)

I completed my #walkabout #roadtrip just before the first of the year. I had traveled ten weeks and 10,641 miles. The urge to find myself had been fulfilled, I had found a suitable locale for my next adventure, and I was ready to unleash my creativity. My intent was to settle in the Asheville area, find a job and start writing my memoir. I was still dedicated to camping and boondocking, and there were plenty of outdoor options to satisfy me here.

My fiance, Edward and I planned to be reunited for the New Year’s holiday. Curious about my experiences and wanting to share in the spirit of my new lifestyle, Edward booked a treehouse for us on Black Mountain. The private, covered deck with a port-o-let, cell connection and intermittent 3G service was his way of easing himself in. I was proud of him. After all, it was December in the mountains and we would be sleeping outdoors. I was anxious to introduce him to Asheville. I toured him around the city and the country. We sampled the local public houses, took in a little of the art and music scene, and explored the land of waterfalls. I was in love with this region, and I hoped he would fall in love too. After six long years of long distance dating, we would soon be planning a new life together. I was certain this was the right place for us.

Then my heart took a left turn on me. Not a turning away from anything, but a turning toward something. This happens more often than I’d like to admit.

A new challenge came knocking, issued through ilovetorun.org, found random on my Facebook feed. It was the shiny gold medal that caught my attention, with the words “2017 – 1000 Miles” emblazoned on it. Ooooooh, what’s *that* all about? One click took me to the challenge, which was to run/walk/crawl one thousand miles in one year. I did the math. That’s about twenty miles per week. I am already putting in close to that. Joined!

Sometimes my fitness gets relegated to the back burner, when a time crunch forces me to re-prioritize my priorities. I felt this challenge would help me stay focused on my physical goals as well as my creative ones. A healthy body makes for a healthy mind.

The following day, Justice and I explored around Dismal Falls and put in a run along the forestry road. The new challenge was still fresh in my mind, and I was invigorated by it. Justice looked so cute, with her muddy little paws trotting alongside me. Justice! Justice is putting in her miles too! I had created a Runkeeper account for her months before, as she nearly always accompanies me. She deserves a shiny gold medal just as much as I do! I giggled at the thought of that bright, beautiful medal around her neck and decided then and there that we would complete this challenge together. I smiled so satisfied as our feet turned over and over, side by side.

I thought about how rich my life had become since I had taken up running. I thought about all of the beautiful places I had churned my feet through. In fact, since the first of this year, I had run in Alabama, North Carolina, and now Virginia.

Cue the epic music score. My next hair brained idea is rising…

What if we ran those one thousand miles through all fifty states? I did the math. That’s about one state per week. It’s only the second week of January. I am already doing this. OMG I am already doing this! I only needed to decide to keep doing it. A flood of elation surged through me. It was as though every step I had taken had led me to this one. I knew in an instant that this was the perfect project for me. Images of my #walkabout flashed through my head. My heart soared. It wasn’t over after all. It was just beginning.

Coddiwomple
verb
To travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination. (English Slang)

Suddenly my future is unknown again.

 

#Sunrise surprise – a visitor on Stone Mountain

I thought I had the mountain to myself. I had arrived an hour and a half before sunrise, unsure how long the steep, one mile climb would take me in the dark. I was blasted by the wind at the summit. So much for a warm welcome! The mighty wind was savage and relentless.I squeezed my hands under my armpits when I wasn’t swiping the hair from my eyes. Still, I felt pretty mighty too. Like the Wise Warrior. Like the Goddess of the Mountain.

I surveyed the peak to ascertain the best view of the coming sun. I hugged myself from under my armpits and scrunched my shoulders round against the wind. Why didn’t I bring a hat, for goodness sakes?! Why didn’t I tie my hair back? I longed for the gloves laying next to empty coffee mug in my console. “You got in a hurry again, Sonya.” I scolded myself… but gently, as I am a recovering perfectionist.

Then I heard a voice, and I saw a shadow figure ambling toward me. It was a woman. A black hoodie obscured her head, but I heard the female of her voice. She was trembling as she reached me, holding two flashlights out in front of her. Neither was capable of lighting her way. She had been there all night.

Kim had hiked up alone the evening before to enjoy the sunset. “It was so beautiful,” she tells me. She was lured into that beauty, and it was dark before she realized it. She stood up for the hike down, but she could go no further. She had carried two flashlights, but neither had the juice for the precarious trip back down the mountain. So she huddled beneath a tree to wait out the black sky.

What are the odds of my meeting this woman in this situation? I decided to hop onto her roller coaster. I crossed the distance between us. “Thank God I saw you!” She said. “I don’t know what I would have done.” I would not walk her down right away though. I was not leaving without seeing the sunrise. So we spent the hour together.

She led me around the back of the mountain, to where she had spent the night. The wind was not so brutal here. We sat on a large, flat stone, and she scooched right up next to me. As we sat together waiting for daybreak, she laid her head on my shoulder and curled her small body into mine. “I wish you would have brought a blanket.” I wished for at least that much.

Turns out Kim’s little nook had the best view of the rising sun. The cloud cover was thick along the horizon, so the colors were muted and we had to wait longer for her glory to make her appearance. The longer I sat on that frigid, hard stone the more the cruel cold seeped into my skin. I couldn’t imagine how she must have gotten through the night like this.

The sun rose and presented but few worthy faces for the film, and I struggled to hold the camera steady in my numb, stinging hands. Oh how my body wanted to make a run for it, but I held on. If she could make it all night… I refused to let the physical discomfort keep me from what I came here to do.