Ever since I was a little girl, I have been lucky enough to explore new places. My grandparents were generous in their love for travel, and took my sister and I on most of their adventures throughout the United States. My favorite place was, and still is, Kernville, California. It’s a small and beautiful town seated on the Kern River, where it meets Lake Isabella, in the Sierra Nevadas, about two hours from where I grew up and now reside.
In a steep valley in between two rocky peaks, a rafting town welcomes outsiders with open arms in the warm months, where the river and good times flow. Home to warm summer (and sometimes crazy) nights, cool fall days, and the perfect spring showers. You may have heard of the Kernville native Kern River Brewing Company which brews award winning craft beers, which I now enjoy as an adult.
Growing up, we would camp with our grandparents and their friends who became a second family to us, about 4-5 times a year for a week or two at a time, including every single Thanksgiving, at a campground called Camp James. Although Camp James has gotten a facelift in recent years, it is still the place that I remember as a child. In the spring, it’s the sounds of the animals, especially the birds and squirrels. In the summer, it’s the shedding of the cottonwood trees. The fall is filled with the smell of campfire. All of these things ignite my senses and send me back to my youth when I go to visit now as an adult.
My grandparents taught us to love the mountains, the river and lake. The art of patience and fishing did not come easy, but the memories where I learned both, they are my most cherished. The early mornings before the sun came up, and the late evenings when the sun had set, holding a fishing pole standing next to my grandfather, talking about everything and nothing, those memories are forever seared into my heart.
There is one thing that has remained a constant through the years, and that is the stars. They may not be Iceland, Alaska, or Hawaii stars, but they are mine. They are my childhood. They are my early adulthood. They are my present when I am there. All of the nights I spent sleeping outside staring at these stars until I fell asleep, or the countless hours I sat around a campfire listening to the stories of my elders as I gazed upon them. Those are the memories that stick out to me the most.
I never thought that I would become a photographer, and do it full time as a profession, a passion, and my source of income. As I travel, photographing where I go is my little slice of the place that I visited, and who I was at that time. I have thousands upon thousands of pictures of Kernville, but some of the most recent ones are the most important ones.
The best thing about traveling to a place that is familiar is that no experience is ever the same. My junior year of high school, I met my best friend Georgette and she just so happened to have a lake house about 4 miles from Kernville, and worked as a whitewater raft guide every summer since we were 16. So more of memories in the last 10 years involved a few alcohol induced fuzzy nights, with people I will never forget. Finding natural water slides, natural hot springs, and developing lifelong friendships is something I would have never gotten had it not been for continuing to explore a place I was already so familiar with.
The heart to hearts, the laughing until we cried, the actual crying, I wouldn’t trade a single experience here for the world. This place I love so much, the first place I ever longed for, the first place that wasn’t “home” but taught me that home is where the heart is, will forever be my favorite place.
And last Thanksgiving, 2015, while we were camping in his and my favorite place, my grandfather passed away quietly in his sleep after a day full of family, friends and food. I thought that it would taint Kernville forever for me, but honestly, I think it brought me closer to it. Now, it also holds a special place in my heart as the last place I was with the man who helped raise me, and shaped me into the woman I am today, and who taught me to love the beautiful place so much.
You see, as much as I love exploring new places, the ones that feel like they’re welcoming you home, those will always be my favorite.
In memory of Grandpa Bob – Our last Thanksgiving in Kernville. I miss you every single day.