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Ever miss the bliss of summer adventures, the memories, the freedom, exhilaration and joy that come from being totally absorbed in life? Photographer Kelsey McMillan takes us on a journey to remind us all that this way of life is still possible, summer will come again. And those memories can reflect a life purpose.

Kelsey McMillan

The November air was crisp and cool as I strode down the front steps with my ecstatic border collie in tow.

I could hear the distant sound of a school bus echo off of the cookie cutter houses around me. The cul-de-sac was empty, as usual. I had only lived in the suburbs for a short time, and it was nothing like I had expected. There were no kids playing outside, no cheerful waving neighbors mowing the front lawn or raking leaves. The feeling I usually got from my neighborhood was that of lethargy, of indifference. Suburbia was neutral in almost every sense of the word: drab colored houses, near identical lots, vague traffic sounds muffled by white fences and closed garage doors.

Ode to summer - Merrymen Article by Kelsey McMillan

I walked down the street, my dog pulling at the leash. We were headed to the same place we always went, a service road in between our neighborhood and the highway that was surrounded by a small field and patches of trees. It was the closest thing to nature that we could really get, a small remnant of wilderness in the middle of suburbia.

Having lived in the country most of my life, I craved that open space, longed to get out from between the grey and beige houses which sometimes made me feel claustrophobic. The dog seemed to crave it too. Even though she was getting old, I could tell that the transition from farm watchdog to indoor house pet made her a bit stir-crazy.

As we got closer to the field, her ears perked up more and more, until we finally made it and I let her off the leash so she could bound down the path like a puppy. We made our way down a hill to a pond surrounded by bobbing cattails and a few straggler geese that had yet to fly south.

The sound of their quiet honks and splashing feet partially eased the stifled feeling I sometimes carried these days.

Ode to Summer article for Merrymen Magazine Vol. 2 - Dog relaxed in summer

I heard a rustle of dry grass as the dog half-heartedly chased a rabbit through the trees. The sun started to set as coyotes yipped in the bushes, and the time came for us to both reluctantly return to the sleepy domesticated world.

We walked home slowly, meandering, not in any real rush to get back. We eventually made it to our street. As I got closer to the house, I noticed something shiny and black on the ground. I stopped to pick it up, brushing the dirt off. It was a roll of film, already shot and wound back up into the canister. I wondered whose it was, and how long it had been there.

Although I was pretty sure the film would be damaged from the cold, I decided it would be neat to get it developed and see what was on it. I daydreamed that they were edgy photos from a street photographer, or maybe photos documenting incriminating evidence of some kind. Getting film processed was always exciting, like a little surprise just waiting to be revealed. I slipped it into my pocket and headed into the house.

I dropped off the film at the drugstore the next day on my way to school, and returned after class to pick it up. I had been looking forward to it all day, my curiosity nagging at me. It was just starting to get dark as I parked my car and went inside to pay for the prints.

The teller handed me the paper bag, and I went back outside into the nippy air, unlocking my car and unsealing the bag all at the same time. I sat behind the wheel and took the photos out.  I turned the first one over, and my heart skipped a beat; it was a photo of the field behind the house I grew up in.

I flipped through the rest, faster and faster, recognizing every image. The lilac bushes that I used to look at from my bedroom window. My horse grazing under a shady tree. The sun shining through impossibly green leaves. This was, somehow, my roll of film that I had shot as a teenager, years ago. Maybe it had fallen out of a box when I was moving in, I had no idea.

My head spun. I reached the end of the stack and set them on my lap, stunned. The memories hit me like waves. I picked up the stack and shuffled through them again, slowly.

The photos were almost painfully vivid. I was ripped back in time against my will; back to the summer that I whimsically wandered through fields taking photos of the things I loved most.

Ode to summer horse in open field - Merrymen photo & essay by Kelsey Mcmillan

I felt like I was actually there again, a shy teenager who was enthralled by the world around her, no matter how familiar it was. The photos were all taken in one day, and I could remember carefully framing up each one. I remember how I walked outside that afternoon, seeing the sun filtering through the lilac bushes. I remember going out to the horse pasture, propping my camera up on one of the mare’s backs to focus on the shadows dappling her coat. I remember lying in the grass with my little orange dog, looking up at her through the lens as she panted in the shade. Most of all I remembered being elated, for no reason at all, feeling free.

I snapped back to reality, back to being alone in my cold car in the middle of the empty parking lot. The nostalgia washed over me, and before I knew it I was crying. I was so grateful to my younger self for capturing these moments, for giving me this gift of time travel. I wasn’t crying because I was sad, but because it had been so long since I had really felt something.

I had allowed the city to numb me down, and I had let my emotions become just as nonchalant as the beige house I now lived in. I missed the country, the open space and the green grass and the sunshine, but most of all, I missed being able to feel something. I missed the exhilarating bliss of summer adventures, the joy that came from being totally absorbed in life, of getting caught up in the moment. But these photos were a reminder that feeling that way was still possible, that it could happen again. I could have it again. And that gave me hope.

It also gave me something else, something more tangible. I heard a little voice in my head, like a kid tugging on my sleeve, trying to tell me something. I realized that I wanted to capture feelings like this over and over, and to be able to give other people the joy of seeing emotion make itself visible.

I felt re-inspired to seek out that bliss that I had once upon a time. I had experienced the power of telepathy, of time travel. And knew in that moment that I wanted to help other people experience it too.

Ever miss the bliss of summer adventures, the memories, the freedom, exhilaration and joy that come from being totally absorbed in life? Photographer Kelsey McMillan takes us on a journey to remind us all that this way of life is still possible, summer will come again. And those memories can reflect a life purpose.

The November air was crisp and cool as I strode down the front steps with my ecstatic border collie in tow.

Arts & Culture | Vol.2

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