I had no idea, when I wrote about becoming a nomad for a year, how such a risky decision would turn out. In the modern world, we are conditioned to play it safe, work a real job, buy a house, save our money, and travel the world when we retire. Living in such an environment makes the fear of taking risk, especially during midlife, a catastrophic roadblock. This is when it is vital to realize thousands of people jumped off the path of normalcy, and they have not ended up broke, living on the streets, with people passing by, spattering in disgust, that they should have kept their good paying job.
When I returned to the US, from East Africa, in early March, I found both of my parent’s health in serious decline. With all hands on deck, we had only six weeks to find a good assisted living environment and move them out of their home of 50 years. During these weeks, my father landed in the hospital again, my brother had ankle surgery, which put him out of commission for weeks, I fell and broke a rib hours before a speaking engagement, and the tidal waves seemed just to keep on coming. It took every moment of each day to sort through five decades of memories and handle all their affairs. Outside of my editorial deadlines, my business and life would have to be on hold, until the waters were calm.
Just when I thought I could catch my breath, two days after the big move, I received an unexpected call from my doctor notifying me there were abnormal asymmetrical findings on my mammogram, and I would need to come in for immediate testing. During the ultrasound, I could clearly see the masses at which they were looking. The fear that gripped me over those next seven days was debilitating, and gave me a holistic perspective of what fear really was. When I received the news they were only cysts I thought I would bounce right back, but the last two months had taken a huge emotional and physical toll; my spirits remained low. Four days later, I boarded a plane to Kenya, took my seat, and slept almost every moment during the back-to-back 10-hour flights.
Instinctively, as I was stepping onto the rich red soil of Kenya, a huge smile crept across my face. In that moment, I realized that when I am in Africa, I smile a little more and a little brighter. There is a bounce to my step and a burning passion in my spirit. I engage in sillier conversations with the friendly local people, and I live fully in the moment.
A few days after my return to Kenya, while I was in Samburu leading a safari, I received a text that my parent’s house had sold, and escrow would close by mid-July. My risky choice to live an alternative life without an address, flying by the seat of my pants, had just become a wise decision. My plan had been to stay at my parents for a few weeks in July/August and during November, but it was easy to change directions when I only had a few bags of stuff and my gear to worry about. I simply searched through Airbnb Nairobi and found many great options. At the end of my safari season, instead of returning to the US for a month, I will take off in the Landy on an adventurous scouting trip. I will argue that we need much less than we think we do in order to be happy.
During our safari, while standing amongst fourteen tribes, at the Turkana festival in Northern Kenya, I thought about the phrase, “living the dream”. Too many people believe that phrase represents a life without stress and financial worries, where you have the freedom to experience whatever it is you desire. This allows people to believe if they stay working in a soulless job long enough, they will finally put themselves in a position to, “Live the Dream.” However, this philosophy does not seem to work if most of your thoughts are dreaming about the life you wish to be living, instead of fully living the short life you were given.
These past few months have given new meaning to the term, “life is flying by.” I spent many hours out on the patio of our family home, reflecting on how fast one of the biggest chapters of my life had come to a close and what I wanted the rest of the book to look. I do not understand how life will turn out or where I will settle in 2017, as I have learned this alternative lifestyle is completely possible and seems to suit my gypsy spirit. What I know is that when I am behind my camera, out in the wildlife reserves or tribal areas of Africa, I am alive; I am living the dream. It is not a dream of financial freedom, without stress, hard work, or without continuous risk, but it is a life of experiencing what I once dreamed about for years. I have come to believe more in the philosophy that dreams do not work unless you do.
These are just the thoughts of a passionate, nomadic photographer, which you can easily dismiss, but let me ask you this –
Where do you want to see the footsteps of your life, when looking back through the images you have captured?
Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.
Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.
She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.
Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.
Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.