Amber & Raymond
7 – 9 – 2016
I had no idea what to expect as I drove The Big Yellow Van up the endlessly washboarded Wineglass Hill Road, just outside of Livingston, Montana. Headed here to photograph the wedding of a couple I had never met before, Amber & Raymond. As the road slowly wound on, I took the time to catch my breath, to set my intentions for the weekend, to talk a little bit of confidence into myself as I headed into a situation unknown.
As I crossed the cattleguard, I was greeted by vibrant green aspens and Amber Jean’s incredible studio. The road split into three forks where I intuitively turned left. A short dirt road led me to what I can only describe as my absolute dream cabin! Built with log, a spacious deck overlooking Livingston and the mountain ranges beyond, deliberately decorated with art acquired over years of travel. An immediate sense of warm enthusiasm and homey comfort washed over me. A sense of relief. A sense that I was exactly where I belonged in that moment.
I lightly made my way inside, where I began to meet a wave of friends and family that would take me in over the next few days. Although I was excitedly bursting inside, my exterior remained quiet as I wished to be a diligent observer of this celebrated occasion of union. The next three days assured me though, that as much as I was an observer of this moment I was equally a part of it all. Stories told through many perspectives made their way to me, so that I wasn’t just an outsider taking photos of people I didn’t know, but a part of this group of intimate and complicated relationship.
My first impression of Amber was – wow! Her presence and her light are impossible to ignore. Her laugh is childlike and yes, infectious – as any good laugh tends to be. Realizing her artistic standards was a bit intimidating, but I felt up to the challenge to improve. I received endless positive energy through her, learned genuine grace from her, and gathered so much inspiration seeing just how she had made her life into a work of art.
Her man of choice is Raymond, a charismatic bull fighter, who was absolutely bursting with generosity. He maintained a smile throughout the whole weekend, one that only grew brighter when gazing at Amber.
Wynn was one of my first acquaintances, a gentle & beautiful woman who showed me where I’d be staying for the weekend: a truck-topper camper in a wildflower meadow, surrounded by trees just a brief jaunt up the center dirt road. This camper belonged to Cliff, whose story I will get to next. Wynn and I opened the windows, made the bed, tidied up a bit while getting to know each other through light conversation. We each have a tattoo that looks nearly identical – a hamsa hand – an amulet worn for protection, health and strength. She is one of Amber’s best friends, for obvious reasons. One of which being that she traveled to Montana from Tennessee and spent her week playing the part of care-taker for so many people.
In college, Amber and Wynn met in one of their few classes together – a dance class. Their final was a choreographed dance they performed in perfect sync. That night, after some celebration of the completion of their semester, they were motivated to perform their dance in the middle of the street! Bear in mind, it was winter so the road was a bit icy. The finale came and the last gesture threw Amber off her feet and onto her rear! Without missing a beat, Wynn kicked up her feet and landed on the ground too, making it appear to be a part of the skit. That was the moment Amber fell in love and decided she would be life-long friends with Wynn!
I said before, the story of Cliff comes next. Not only was he Amber’s neighbor and close friend, he was enough of a father figure to her that he was to be the one to walk her down the aisle, as her own father had previously passed away from cancer. But a couple months ago, Cliff suddenly died in his home. His absence was an obvious void. He was spoken highly of, cheersed to, and commemorated with words on cloth that friends tied to a special tree. A reminder that we all someday go, in hopes that our spirit lives on through the hearts of those we love, those who we have inspired, those whose lives would have never been the same without our presence in them.
Another relationship which left a profound impact on me was that of Amber and her mother, who is slowly fading into a heart-breaking battle with Alzheimer’s. To be there was undoubtedly overwhelming for her mom, but the moment her face lit up when Amber exclaimed to her, “Mom… I got married today!” brought me to tears, and I am not one to cry often. The bond between a mother and daughter is such sacred a union that I have too often overlooked.
Saturday began slowly with coffee in the meadow. The final touches were gradually coming together and everyone stayed busy with last minute preparations. The cake was touched up. The tables were set with care. The flowery altar, crafted by Cliff, was watered. The amount of work that takes place for one event always amazes me! I quietly hung around Amber and Wynn most of the afternoon as Wynn dolled Amber up, making her feel at ease and sharing laughs.
The ceremony happened in a quick blur, my mind totally focused on capturing the little moments throughout it. Wynn spoke of friendship and Raymond’s mother gave a lovely speech too. I cried again when a special poem, one I had read aloud to myself that very morning, was shared during the ceremony:
“Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master?
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of heaven dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
Guests laughed & hugged & ate & drank gaily in the open Montana air. Rain clouds came and went as they pleased, generous enough to clear the sky for the whole ceremony. Amber, Raymond & friends happily flew down the zipline like children. After a gorgeous feast of tri-tip crostini, pulled pork & cornbread bites, red potato & green bean salad, quinoa & spinach & berry salad, fruits & veggies and the largest assortment of cupcakes I have ever seen, the crowd made their way down the mountain following the wedding party in a horse-drawn carriage to the reception at The Buckhorn Bar.
The dance floor was packed all night! Swing dancing is one reason I love living in the West. The carriage driver was generous enough to ask me for a dance – a welcomed break from my camera. Amber and Raymond shared their first dance with endless smiles, and not until the song wrapped up did they let the band know they had actually played the wrong first song! Amber maintained a grace through all of the day’s little mishaps like that which impressed me.
All night a small fire blazed out back for warmth and marshmallow roasting purposes. The stars were lit up in bright contrast to the dim Big Sky. Family & friends gathered, mingled, laughed, cried, drank to health & honored one of the most humble human aims – love. This was a celebration right on target.
Sunday morning was slower than Saturday, gratefully so. After packing up I headed down the dirt road to the cabin. I spent the damp & rainy morning laying in bed trying to sleep off my dreams & made my way into the afternoon enjoying coffee and brunch with Amber, Raymond and their closest friends. The night was re-lived as stories were told with vigor. The dramas of the night were now easy to laugh off. The things that didn’t “work out” perfectly, taking place in our memories as those stand-out moments in time. Those trying moments always have a way of leaving an impression on us greater than the events that sail by as effortlessly as a kid on zipline.
As I drove down Wineglass Road, over the washboards and cattle guards, back to the quiet town of Livingston, thoughts breezed through my mind like mountain air. Hopeful that I had accomplished what I was sent there to. Hopeful that I had allowed myself to take everything in and perceive this beautiful experience I was so grateful to be a part of. And giving thanks to all the people who took me in & made my two-night home in Montana a treasure to keep.
Congratulations Amber & Raymond!
Blessings of Light & Love
I Want Both of Us
I want both of us
To start talking about this great love
As if you, I, and the Sun were all married
And living in a tiny room
Helping each other to cook,
do the wash,
weave & sew,
care for our beautiful
We all leave each morning
To labor in the earth’s field
No one does not lift a great pack.
I want both of us to start
singing like two
About this extraordinary existence we share,
You, I, and God were all married
And living in