The Art of Marking the Moment

Words & Photos by Liz Bell Young

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Sun shining through windshield of car

We dropped from 3,000 to just two. For this, we said, let’s celebrate. Because after years of creating camp events for thousands of others, my husband and I realized we’d never done the same for ourselves. Never gone out just the two of us—to explore some remote land, to sleep under notorious stars. So when friends offered us use of their jeep, we dusted off our daily routine, hugged the daylights out of our kids, and ran for the hills.

It’s in our blood to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, babymoons, and wonderfully big moments like these. Stopping to honor the more unaccustomed milestones can fall by the wayside, and we’ve been wanting to change that. Sometimes it’s champagne on Tuesday. Sometimes it’s a long, never-before adventure. No matter, they all take investment. Carving out some hard-won space. Leaving behind a few loose ends. But if you’re of the mind that nothing worth doing is easy, then you know part of experiencing something meaningful is stepping into the challenge and cost. So when you’re standing next to your favorite person in the whole world and holding your breath at the heights of creation, you exhale gratitude. You mark the moment and celebrate the end of something—and the next, fragile and beautiful beginning.

Liz Young standing next to Jeep

A few days before we hit the hills running, I chose to do one more thing. I’m a scavenger to a fault, so I knew I’d find bits and pieces off the road that I’d put in my pockets. Rocks, cow bones, tangible pieces of the trip that I could pick up and hold again on the days thereafter. But I also wanted photographs to hold onto — really wonderful photographs — that would memorialize what was about to happen. So I wrote down a few simple pieces of advice (and added them to my pockets) to remind myself what would actually matter:

Tip 01

Heart Before Head

man in outdoors staring up at camera

It’s not meant to be a game of show and tell. In the end, the photos I think we’ll treasure, year after year, are the ones that make us break into a smile, fall into laughter, tear up, and feel everything from that moment all over again. It’s tempting these days to take photos with a crowd-pleasing hat—capturing what we think we’re supposed to or what showcases perfect aesthetic—instead of simply what lights up our hearts. But when you let your heart lead your photo choices, you’ll actually take more beautiful photos. You’ll end up with a collection that has a visceral, emotive quality, because it comes from an authentic place: You.

Liz young with husband by Cinnamon Pass sign

Tip 02

Particulars Tell the Best Story

Jeep in mountain with car roof tent

Sometimes when we’re on grand adventures or pulling out camera phones for parties, we wind up shooting the big scene or the big moment. We forget that the tiny things are a huge part of conveying the story we’ll want to remember. The items you stuffed into your bags. The gas station grocery list. The book you read instead of cleaning up. The type of apples you ate at sunrise. The dry shampoo that turned your hair white. The morning sun streaking through the mud-splashed window before you happened upon the family of cowboys—and the littlest boy who slowly tipped his hat when you passed and you thought how impossible this kind of life still exists.

Capture the minutiae. The particulars. The bits of details that open to the full story.

Liz Young in Jeep

Tip 03

Take Notes Before You Come Back Home

Open journal in campsite with notes written

We were sitting at our final campsite, drinking our last cup of instant coffee, and I knew that in a few weeks I’d be home with only a fogged remembrance of what we’d just shared. You think you’ll remember it all, right? You tell yourself you’ll print a gorgeous photo book and give it to him for your next anniversary. But what I’m learning is doing those extra little steps now is what brings me future contentment. So there at the campsite, I pulled out a notebook and we talked through the whole week, naming the mountain passes, the highs and lows, even the things we ate and jeep parts we fixed. Then we made a shared album on our phones and tallied up our favorite photos. So when we got home, I had what actually mattered—all my treasures, from prints to cow bones.

Photos, rocks, and fossil

About the Author

Liz Bell Young

Liz Bell Young is a writer and experience designer who wandered a half-globe before finding home. Now in Cincinnati, she's the author of "In the Wide Country of Love," publisher of Haven Magazine, and a contributor to Magnolia. Follow her life at @lizbellyoung.

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