The Battle of Beachburg

One family's quest to live better

Peter and Kathy Holcombe Peter and Kathy Holcombe  |  09.21.2015

Just over a year ago, we traded in our brick and mortar home for one with wheels in a decisive effort to slow everything down and simplify our lives.  We sold, gave or threw away everything but the basic necessities and a few precious heirlooms that either went into the RV or a small storage unit, and hit the road with the intention of eliminating all the chaos and clutter that seemed to consume us, and really hone in on the essence of what we value most – to live the idea that it’s not what you have, but the things that you do and the people you surround yourself with that mean the most.

002Taking in the sunset in a moment of solitude during one of the weddings we photographed this June.

We did a really great job living that lifestyle for almost an entire year.  However, we are not independently wealthy, and in fact work full time as artists who make a living with a camera and pen in hand as professional photographers and writers.  We spend half of our professional lives with our lenses focused on others:  brides and grooms on their wedding day, and creating fine art photographs as home decor for families in dramatic and wild landscapes.  The other half of our work time is spent with our lenses pointed inward, photographing and writing about our personal family adventures.  We are beyond blessed to be able to create emotion filled memories for both our clients and ourselves that illustrate and preserve the very best moments in life.

003A portrait created for one of our favorite families this June that will hang over their mantle, reminding them of a beautiful summer day when their babies were still young.

Because we love what we do so much, it is easy, way too easy in fact, to over commit. If you asked my closest friends and family about my character, I would venture to guess that they would reply that I am a get it done kind of girl who is ready to take on anything – and more often than not, take on way more than any one person should.  Thankfully, I have an incredible family, and together, it seems that we regularly pull off the impossible.  This summer was no exception.  In three short months we managed to photograph a years worth of weddings and family portraits, went on an incredible series of family adventures and drove almost 10,000 miles to make it all happen.  To say that we were busy would be the understatement of the century.

Rush SturgesOne of Peter’s favorite shoots this summer was a project called the Faces of freestyle, where he photographed the best freestyle kayakers in the world just as they stepped out of the river.

Here is a behind the scenes video of the Faces of Freestyle Project.

Entropy is a stealthy, relentless foe, silently consuming all order until complete chaos takes over.  The lifestyle we had so carefully sculpted was under siege and we were completely unaware our daily life was the battlefield.  We found ourselves back in the vortex of 12 hour workdays, seemingly impossible deadlines, short tempers and not enough time to focus on the things we love.  In short, we had obliviously retreated back into the middle of the lifestyle we so boldly stepped away from just over a year ago.

Fortunately, every once in a while, a series of experiences come together in just the right way that create a truly transformational moment.  We had just raced across the continent for a magazine assignment to photograph the World Kayak Freestyle Championships in Beachburg, Ontario, and were spending a quiet evening with friends we hadn’t seen for months.  Our RVs were parked side by side along the banks of the Ottawa river.  The kids were laughing and splashing in the river, the aroma of meat sizzling on the grill filled the air, a guitar played softly in the background and the conversation ebbed and flowed as we all shared stories of the happenings since our last visit together.  After dinner, as darkness enveloped us, we settled into the grass, stretched out on our backs with our gaze turned upward to take in the brilliant night sky.  The stars were abundant and very quickly we were rewarded with one shooting star after another.  A soft fog-like haze appeared on the horizon, quickly brightening into green and purple beams illuminating the night sky – the aurora borealis.

006World champion kayaker, Eric Jackson, paddling out into the Ottawa River for the best view of the Northern Lights, Beachburg, Ontario.

As we watched the spectacular night time display, it occurred to me that this was the first evening in months that were were outside together as a family, relaxing and enjoying the wilderness, surrounded by great friends.  Just 12 weeks ago, this was the norm, and it was shocking to me just how quickly bad habits can creep back in and take over.  I realized that the “normal” chaos that consumes most of America is likely self-inflicted, and my family was no exception.  As I laid there in the grass, in the middle of nowhere, I made a silent promise to myself, to my family, to do better – to live better, because you only get one shot.  I vowed to think through the repercussions of what I commit to, and make sure that each of our obligations align with our mission in life.  This is my strategy to ward off the entropy that is waiting, lurking in the shadows, looking for the next opportunity to launch an attack against happiness and peace.

In the two weeks since that magical night under a breathtaking sky, we have certainly lived better.  We have diligently whittled down our urgent obligations to a more reasonable workload and have even managed to carve out a couple of hours each day to do the things we love most together as a family.  I would like to say that I’ve been out stargazing every night since my revelation, alas cloudy skies and work obligations have dictated a different story.  What  I can say is that we are all working our way toward a better path, trying each day to live our best story, and are once again headed down the road into the unknown, chasing that soft, persistent whisper of adventure that steadily calls to us just over the horizon.

007Abby and Peter plunging into the Garburator rapid on the Ottawa River during an action packed Daddy-Daughter date – Famagogo style.


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