Life

A Galaxy…far, far away

As I usually try to do while up in the mountains, I set the alarm for 3am the other night and got up to do some hand-numbing astrophotography at 9,000 feet. I captured something I have never captured before in what was one of the clearest of clear night skies I have ever witnessed. The “cloudy” vertical band going through the center of this photo is our Milky Way Galaxy (which we are swirling about as we speak). Every bright dot you see is a star in our galaxy, stars similar to our sun (and there are hundreds of billions just in our galaxy alone, and trillions of planets among them). But if you look inside of the red square, you will see a bright object with a slight blur (or halo) around it. That is not a star. This is the Andromeda Galaxy. It is our closest neighboring spiral galaxy, about 2.5 million light years away (1 light year = nearly 6 trillion miles, so you can do the math – hardly “close” at all, only relatively so). It has taken 2.5 million years for this light captured in this image to reach Earth, so what we are actually seeing in that square is the light that left Andromeda 2.5 million years ago…seeing back through cosmic time.

This is the first time I was able to photograph Andromeda. Think about what we are looking at here. Contained inside of that tiny little pinpoint of blurry light there is a gathering of over a trillion stars (suns), and an uncountable number of planets (and that’s just ONE galaxy among hundreds and hundreds of BILLIONS out there in the observable universe). Fascinating! Would you agree? (Now your minds are probably as numb as my hands were while fumbling around with the camera settings in the piercing cold of mountain night.)

Andromeda is on a collision course with the Milky Way. We know this by observing and measuring the wavelengths of blue light shift. Two galaxies, heading straight towards one another at astronomical speeds (a cosmic pun I just dropped there). Due to the unfathomable distance, it’ll take about 4 billion years before our galaxy collides with Andromeda and begins a long, swirling cosmic tango which will restructure both galaxies as they merge into one. The really amazing thing about it is that, due to the unimaginably vast distances between all the individual stars, it is unlikely that any of the trillions of stars will even come into contact with one another during this collision. 

Before this cosmic event happens in an estimated 4 billion years, our Earth will have long been swallowed by our own expanding sun, before the sun finally explodes into a white dwarf. Either way you slice it, it’s a temporary existence we have here. But for now, we have an amazing opportunity to enjoy our planet and appreciate all that we know and have learned about the universe, and our place in it, all because we became aware of our selves and of our ignorance long ago and began to ask the questions that would lead to the expanding of our minds. Let’s be sure to take care of Earth while we have her (or while she still has us) and be grateful each time we look up into the night sky, knowing that each one of us belongs to the one lucky species among millions that beat inconceivable odds to even be here in the first place…and be grateful that our ancestors decided to look up at the night sky one day and ask the age-old question that still keeps us staring up in awe and infinite wonder: “What else is out there among the stars?” 

#GringoWithAGreenBag

 

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Categories: Inspiration, Life, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy NEW Year 2016!!

New Year 2016

I’d just like to take a minute to wish everyone a really great year ahead. I always tend to get a little introspective with the beginning of each new year. It’s a great time for that. This is a good year for me to reflect on many things. 2016 marks 20 years since I first stepped foot outside of my country, thus being 20 years since I first got bit by the travel bug and began my life’s journey. Travel has been the most continuously rewarding thing in my life. It’s been my education, my growth, my inspiration and the architect of all the perspective that I have obtained. It’s shaped my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I’m so grateful for the experiences and opportunities that I’ve been very fortunate to have had over the past 20 years. I’ve learned so much, and it always fills me with joy to reflect on it all. I just wanted to say “thank you” to anyone who has ever paid attention to, read, liked, shared or commented on any story, photo, video or blog that I have ever posted (even if you were searching for the “dislike” button, lol). One of the very best parts of seeing the world is the excitement I get upon sharing its story with you all. I really do. Our world is a fascinating novel that we can all benefit greatly from by taking the opportunity to read a few pages from time to time. I can never wait to see what the next chapter will bring.

I’m not sure if this year will be “better” or “bigger” than any other, and to be honest, it doesn’t have to be. I just want it to be new. New experiences, new friendships, new inspiration…a new story to be told. Perhaps just something different that I haven’t done before. I think it will seem bigger and better just by trying new things, pursuing new goals, going new places and interacting with new people…all which result in new experiences and fresh ink in the diary of life. We all have a story to tell, and it is unique to each and every one of us. It’s our experiences that make up the content of each page of our life. Those last forever. At the end of the day, that’s all you can take with you when you’re gone…not your social status, your possessions, your money, your “followers” or “popularity” on some social media website. None of that matters because anybody can have that. Not everybody can have the unique life experiences that you create for yourself…and no one can tell the same story as you can.

So, this year my goal is to reflect on the past 20 years and to share some of the most inspiring things, people, places and life lessons, etc. that I’ve been able to experience on my personal journey. I hope to continue to have opportunities to tell the World’s story, one which will continue to shape my own. I hope to connect with people in a way that will inspire them to go out and create wonderful new experiences and stories of their own.

Cheers to new experiences and many great new stories for all of us in 2016!

Damian

#GringoWithAGreenBag20

 

Categories: Inspiration, Life, New Year, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final thoughts of 2014…

So, as the clock tics its final tocs to closeout another year, I always find myself getting a bit reflective (and I’m not talking about my pasty Wisconsin-bred winter skin tone.) Like most people, I like to reflect on the year that was, and imagine the year ahead that might be. It’s an inspiring time of year for many of us. Time to remember the good, leave the bad behind and embrace a fresh start. For me, I’ve gained the most inspiration in life from the people I’ve met around the world, listening to their stories and hearing about their dreams. I’d like to share an experience that I had a few years back, one that continues to inspire me daily.

A few years ago I was hiking in the Canadian Rockies, up in Yoho National Park. I had just completed the most challenging hike of my life and I was sitting in my wilderness hostel one night, all alone, just nursing a few blisters. It was a shared room with 4 beds. Several hours went by and no one else had checked into the room, so I assumed I would have the room to myself. Later that night, while I was preparing to go to bed, an old man walks into the room wearing a headlamp and heavy winter gear and kindly introduces himself. He was layered from head to toe with backpacking attire, a bit out of breath and had an adrenaline high on his face as if he had just escaped the jaws of a grizzly bear. At first I thought he was the owner of the hotel coming to greet me, as his guest. Turns out he was a 77-year-old backpacker who had just completed the full Iceline Trail, the one I had just completed a shortcut version of a few hours earlier. This is a serious hike (at serious altitude). My shins and knees were still throbbing like teenage girls’ hearts in the presence of The Beatles in the 60’s. My first thought was to ask the man if he could spare some BenGay. It was probably the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. A straight-up joint killer. This old man had hiked about 7 miles further than I did, the full loop, and he looked fresher then I had when I limped back off the trail several hours earlier (though he was 40 years older). As roommates for the night, we ended up chatting for quite a while. He was a very interesting person, one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He’s the type of guy who had done everything, been everywhere, and had interesting and adventurous story after story recounting memories that spanned every decade that I had been alive. He said he originally came from Hungary. As a child (from a Hungarian-Jewish family), he lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation during WWII. Lost some family members to the war and concentration camps. As a young adult, he joined the military and was involved in the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviets in 1956. He said he had traveled to over 80 countries in his lifetime. I figured he had been a nomad all of his life, getting an early start on his travels through immigration and the military, but he told me he didn’t start traveling until he was well into his 40’s, after a divorce and a fresh start in life after decades living under Soviet communist rule (and a dictator for a wife). He said he felt like he hadn’t lived until he started seeing the world and began carving out a new path in life. He told me that on his 75th birthday he made the biggest checkmark on his lifetime bucketlist, spending a week hiking through the Peruvian Andes and climbing up to Machu Picchu. He did this at 75. Two years later, as I would sit and speak with him, it was obvious that he was still going strong and chasing his next goal in life.

There’s no excuse why we all can’t have a fresh start in life. Health factors aside, time and age impose no limit to what we can achieve and when we decide to do it. The only obstacle is in our mind. Only our minds can create that illusion of expiration. I can only hope to have such fervor for life at the age of 75. To wake up and still feel that motivation, that drive, to do something you’ve always wanted to do…but just never did it. Why do we give up on our goals and dreams? When we ask ourselves why, the most common reason is fear…fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of an expiration date, fear of what people might think. Those are all just petty excuses for putting something off and avoiding change. If you think your “time has expired” to live a life that makes you happy or to pursue your next goal in life, you’re wrong. Some goals and dreams may not be attainable due to the timing of things, understandably, but if you’ve dreamed once in your life you can dream a million times more. Set new goals. Have something to get motivated for. (Like James Brown said: “You gotta have mooo-tivation!”) Who said we are only allowed to enjoy dreams while we’re asleep? We have every liberty and opportunity to enjoy and live out our dreams while we’re wide awake. And don’t let your mind conjure up an excuse for why you can’t start living the life you want today. Make a change if you’re unhappy. You owe it to the rest of your life. As the 77-year-old man with the backpack proved to me, any day is a great day for a fresh start.

Cheers to a fresh start…and Happy New Year!

D. James

Iceline Trail - Canada (Iceline Trail – Yoho National Park, Canada)

Categories: Inspiration, Life, New Year, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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