It looked like a bomb had gone off.
The clouds bubbled over the top of themselves like boiling water in a way-too-small pot, signifying the intensity of what was really happening within them. Below the boiling clouds, the structure ebbed and flowed like a river, and even below that, it spun and rotated like a spinning top which was curling toward the ground like a tentacle.
It was a supercell, the most powerful type of thunderstorm on Earth, and it was alive.
The storm itself was massive, sprawling across the entire horizon, its updraft shooting some 60,000 feet straight above my head. Somewhere underneath the base of it, ravaging winds were producing widespread damage; very large hail stones were falling and pounding the ground, powerful wind gusts were ripping siding off homes, and somewhere within the mass of clouds a tornado was tearing up the dirt.
A few miles away, I stood on a lonely and quiet road in the middle of the Great Plains and watched. No words, no phone calls, no photographs. No social media, no live video, no distraction. I was alone with one of the most powerful storms and earth, and I could feel it.
The gravity of the moment itself was immeasurable, not only for its electricity and instability which literally existed in the atmosphere, but for the overwhelming feeling of contentment and belonging that seemed to be floating around me. My mind wandered off only once, and only for a moment: “How can I bring this feeling to other people?”
If you were to stand at the top floor of the Oculus in New York City (a beautiful display of art and architecture) and look down, you would see what appeared to be ants. Tens of thousands of tiny human beings, filtering in and out of trains and toward office buildings, into overpriced retail stores and expensive bakeries. It is a daily stream, oscillating mostly during the morning and evening rush hours and settling down during the middle of the day.
I have been one of those ants before, and I can’t help but describe exactly what it felt like to me after all of this time:
I can’t speak for everybody who walks in and out of New York City. I’m sure many are impassioned by the ebbs and flows of the day. For myself, though, it can quickly become a lifeless routine. When I walk in and out of those buildings, offices, trains and stores I often find myself feeling like a robot. My thoughts, in their deepest rooted form, can sometimes become baseless. It isn’t that I don’t love what I do – I just don’t feel like I am reaching all I am capable of.
If I am going to be brutally honest, I still can’t put a finger on exactly when my mind told me that I wanted to reach further, or that the auto-pilot lifestyle wasn’t for me. Perhaps it is still in the process of happening. I suppose time will tell me the answer to that. What I can put a finger on, however, is the gratification that comes from expanding and focusing my attention on exploration and creativity. It is unlikely any other feeling; no success in my life thus far has emulated it.
In the past several months, I have decided to embrace these things. It hasn’t happened quickly. I am still living the same lifestyle – I am just no longer an ant or a robot. Exploration and creativity, more often than not, offer no clear path or instant gratification. There are no handouts or easy roads. It is up to the explorer and the creator to build their own road, find their own happiness and joy, and deliver it to others. And so I (we) will begin a journey and attempt to do just that – bring as many experiences and emotions as possible to other people. That’s where Gravel & Grace comes in.
Here’s a thing I have been thinking: What is your life truly worth if you aren’t making a positive impact on those around you? The answer will be different for every person who reads this, there is no clear cut answer. I like to think that we are all better off trying to answer this question for ourselves. For me, the easy answer is “nothing”. My legacy will ultimately be mitigated, in my own mind, if I don’t make an effort each day to positively impact people around me.
Through exploration and creativity, I am convinced I can effectively do that – and I know I can find my own peace that way, too. There’s comfort in the thought of having the ability to take the emotion from the Great Plains, watching the world’s most powerful storms, and bring it to others through photographs, videos, and stories. We are capable of effectively capturing these emotions, and that is an amazing thing. Capturing and expressing these emotions is special, and it’s an opportunity that I don’t intend to take for granted.
I still don’t know what will come of all of this – and that’s okay. What I do know is that I will be chasing the world’s most powerful storms beginning in late May, and I will be lucky enough to have a wonderful camera and wonderful people with me (let’s be honest, I am going to need it). I’m not an expert photographer by any means, but i’ll be learning both leading up to and during my trip. Each moment I spend on the Great Plains I will enjoy, not only for the experience, but for the opportunity to create something that brings the very same experience to others.
I’m also grateful to have the ability to work with a team of meteorologists, photographers, and storm chasers that will help me make this project come to life (don’t worry, you’ll be introduced to them soon). The relationships and friendships I have been lucky enough to develop in our field throughout the years are something I feel thankful for every day.
So I invite you to stick around. Gravel & Grace was born from these precise experiences and thoughts. Hopefully the ambition to build toward something special – to take the beauty of the world we live in and bring it to everyone – continues to take this project to great places.