Orange Juice, ETC

The blog of Elias & Theresa Carlson

Category: Adventures

There is Grace in the Dead of Silence


This Valentine’s Day is a bit different than most. Theresa and I had anticipated spending it on a beach somewhere in Southern California, where even in February it will likely be sunny and 65 degrees. Instead we are holed up in North Idaho watching the little creek out back swell with freshly melted snow. We’ve traded sunshine, savory tacos, and a group of the finest friends one could hope for, for snow, shepherd’s pie, and the warmth of a tight-knit family.

We live here now. Here being Priest River, Idaho, population 1,700-ish. Probably for good. We knew we’d end up in North Idaho someday, we just didn’t know exactly when “someday” would come. Whenever the topic would arise the conclusion was always that the timing didn’t feel quite right, and in fact we often prayed together that we’d know clearly when to make the move. When we got the news about Dan, as odd as it sounds, it was an answer to prayer. What better reason to move now, with no hesitation, than this? It’s certainly not the way we’d have chosen for things to work out. But there is deep blessing in even the most terrible situations if you are willing to look for it.

And that brings me to the point of this post. It is Valentine’s Day after all. And in the Miller household that means crafting things with your hands to bless the ones you love. The Miller house is filled with these little mementos, bowls filled with hand-carved wooden hearts, intricate quilts on the walls. The places Theresa and I have called home have slowly filled with similar relics that we’ve made (or occasionally bought) for each other. Most days we don’t give them a second thought. But sometimes I’ll catch myself admiring something Theresa made for me and a little smile will spread across my face.

This year, I’m crafting this post for Theresa. So that someday as she sifts through old posts on our blog, as she sometimes does, she’ll see this post and remember how much I love her.

Theresa, you can’t imagine how deeply and constantly blessed I am to have you as my wife. You have made my wildest dreams come true simply by loving me so well, and as a result, enabling me to become the person I was created to be. Our marriage has been, and continues to be, a most incredible adventure. How could we have known what a whirlwind of joy, uncertainty, excitement, trepidation, pain, and beauty would unfold in our lives over the last three years?

In the midst of it all, your love has been the rock on which I’ve steadied myself in moments of doubt. It has changed me, bit by bit, for the better, chipping away at the selfishness and aimlessness I so often struggle with. It underpins all of the best parts of me, strengthening and feeding them. It is an incredible thing to wake up each morning and know that, try as I might, I may never be able to love you as well as you love me. This knowledge overwhelms me, and humbles me. It transforms me.

You are my blessing in this difficult time. Without you I would not be a part of this beautiful family. I wouldn’t have the privilege of walking alongside you and your family as your father deals with the realities of cancer. And believe me, it is a privilege. I have so loved watching you serve your mom and dad these last few weeks as we transition into this unexpected new phase in our life. Your heart to love and serve was tailor made for times like these, and it is incredible to watch you love so well. You are an incredible wife, sister, and daughter, and you make the lives of those around you immeasurably richer. I know you don’t always feel that way, but I can see it and so do the fortunate few who can say they know you well.

I love you more than words can say, but hopefully these few words can give you some idea.

Happy Valentines Day.

Joshua Tree, California: A Most Excellent Getaway Spot


We found it odd. The way the chipmunk staggered woozily from the brush like the town drunk in a bad Western. Perhaps he’d nibbled his way into some camper’s stash of peyote. Maybe he was just a little dehydrated. But then we noticed the leg. It dragged lifeless behind him as he crossed the pathway and collapsed, tiny rib cage heaving, at the base of a small boulder.

I looked at Joseph, “Oh man, that’s sad. I wonder what happened to him. I hope some jerk camper didn’t slingshot him for fun.”

We took a few steps closer.

“I think maybe that’s a bite mark,” Joseph said, observing a small gash in the chipmunk’s left hindquarter. We watched as a crimson stain seeped through brown fur.

As the light in the little eyes grew dimmer, the ragged gasps for breath shallower, we looked at each other and knew:

“It has to be a rattlesnake.”





Everyone needs a Most Excellent Getaway Spot Preferably Not More Than Three Hours Away (MEGS-PNMTTHA). Henceforth referred to as MEGS for the sake of brevity.

For most of my life my MEGS of choice was “The Place” – a rustic cabin on the Eastern side of Washington’s North Cascades, nestled amongst the pines just off a dusty gravel road within earshot of Lost River. It’s the kind of place where you wake to songbirds and pine squirrels to find bucks with velvet antlers off the back porch. For years this patch of forest and river bank has been my escape. A place of rest and restoration, and a vital point of connection to the natural world. Everyone needs a Most Excellent Getaway Spot.

Now, an ideal MEGS carefully blends several attributes into one location. The first of these is accessibility. Your place should be no more than four hours distance by car from your current residence. This is far enough to remove you from the distractions of normal life and makes it the perfect choice for long weekends, or mid-Friday getaways. Second, it must provide access to an outstanding natural area. It doesn’t have to be Yosemite, but it must bring you joy. It can be a lake, a river, an ocean, or a desert. The most important thing is that it be a little wilder, a little freer, and that it inspire you to be the same. It must also be peaceful. You should find yourself slowing down, unwinding, and breathing more deeply in the comfort of your MEGS. And finally, it should accommodate a group of 2-5 comfortably. The reason for this is simple: adventures are often best when shared.





My first experience with Joshua Tree was at the age of 13 on a month-long road trip from Seattle to San Antonio and back. My parents piled enough camping gear, granola bars, and fruit snacks to supply a family of seven into our big black GMC van and we hit the road. It was the kind of youth-defining All-American road trip that sticks with you for the rest of your life, and while I have several vivid memories from it – shitting furiously, puking, shitting furiously again, then dry-heaving repeatedly over a decrepit toilet somewhere near the edge of the Grand Canyon being a particular gem – one of my favorites occurred in Joshua Tree.

Like most red-blooded American boys I was (am) obsessed with all things scaly. The capture and close examination of any fish, lizard, or snake representing the zenith of my youthful aspirations (an obsession I’m proud to say I’ve not entirely outgrown). I had in my possession at the time a copy of Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians which I pored over with the a religious fervor as the family van rumbled its way South. With each passing state – Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico – I noted the various reptiles that might be found and formulated grandiose plans for their capture.

Of all the reptiles in my book, none captured my imagination like the rattlesnake. Beautiful, deadly, bordering on mythical, there are few creatures an adventurous boy would rather encounter (from a safe distance at least).

On the return trip to Seattle, my parents took us West through New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Our stop in Joshua Tree was brief. More of a drive-through on our way to bigger better things (Disneyland! Yosemite!) than a proper visit. But I’ll never forget the rattlesnake.

It was my brother Joseph who spotted it first, coiled and sleek, in a deep cleft between two large boulders. We marveled wide-eyed from our perch atop the rocks, hearts thrilling with our proximity to coiled death. The snake was unconcerned, brow furrowed in a perpetual scowl, tongue gently flicking the desert air.

Our encounter lasted no more than 5 minutes. But the memory lingers still. For 21 years whenever someone mentions Joshua Tree, the image of that little rattlesnake pops into my head, as clear as the blue sky.




Which brings us back to the demise of our drunken chipmunk.

“If it’s a rattlesnake, that means he was JUST bitten. Which means it must be nearby.”

Joseph and I glanced at each other and immediately began searching the surrounding rocks and desert shrubs for signs of the cold-blooded assassin. To no avail. After ten minutes we were ready to admit defeat, turning to head back to the main pathway, when I saw it.

It was a small Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake. No more than 2 or 3 feet in length. It emerged from the brush and probed its way methodically up and over a small boulder, delicately tasting the air for the scent of its fallen prey. As we watched in awe, I was struck by the sophistication of the snake’s design; perfectly equipped for its deadly task.


For more Rattlesnake info visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Joseph and I quickly realized that it was going to take the snake at least another 15 minutes to sniff its way to the chipmunk, which had fallen alongside the main footpath. In the name of safety – both the snake’s and future hiker’s – we decided to intervene. Joseph scooped up the lifeless rodent with a pair of sticks and gently plopped it down a few feet from the snake which quickly located it and began the gruesome yet fascinating process of consuming it.

For the next twenty minutes I was 11 again. We watched with rapt attention as the rattlesnake sniffed the length of the chipmunk, located the head, unhinged its jaw and slowly, inch by inch, swallowed it whole. I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed anything weirder, or more fascinating in nature.





This remarkable encounter solidified what had become increasingly clear to me over three brilliant days in the high desert: I may have temporarily lost my Northwest MEGS, but until fate or good fortune finds me back amongst the pines Joshua Tree will make for a fine substitute.

If you live within driving distance, or if you’re road-tripping through Southern California, a night or two under the innumerable Joshua Tree stars will be well worth your time. Just make sure you come prepared.

A few quick tips on that note:

  1. Bring lots of water. This is the desert, there is no running water in the campgrounds. I’d recommend 1 gallon per person per day. That will probably be more than you need, but that’s OK.
  2. Bring portable shade. Joshua Tree is incredible during the first few hours of the day, and the last few. But during the high heat of midday it can be witheringly hot. We pack a large tarp which we string up wherever we can. Or you can look for shady slot canyons where you can get in a bit of bouldering in the cool shadows provided by the rocks.
  3. Bring lightweight breathable desert attire during the day, and a few warmer layers for the night. You’ll want as few clothes on as possible between 11-3 and you’ll probably want long pants and a warm jacket once the sun goes down.
  4. Bring appropriate footwear. Cacti, sharp rocks, and rattlesnakes abound in JT. This is not flip-flip country. Good sturdy tennis shoes or an appropriate outdoor shoe of some kind are a must.
  5. Bring firewood. There’s nothing better than roasting marshmallows or drinking beers by the fire beneath the starry night sky.
  6. Bring a camera. Desert sunsets are unforgettable. The harsh flat colors of the daytime retreat with the sun and a world awash in pastels – oranges, minty greens, purples, and blues – emerges from the dust.

Whatever city, state, or country you find yourself in, I encourage you to discover your own MEGS. Find yourself a little patch of forest, a favorite stream, or perhaps an entire mountain range, and make it yours. To quote the poet of The Sierra, John Muir,

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.







Seven Years to Celebrate


This year we were lucky enough to find ourselves in Big Sur for our Anniversary weekend. We discussed several destinations within driving distance before taking a look at VRBO in the Big Sur area. With less than a month until our anniversary I am not sure how we found anything at all, let alone something so perfect. All we really wanted was a cabin in the woods (not so easy to come by in Southern California) and that is exactly what we got. We spent three days in a little cabin nestled in a redwood grove just up from Bixby Creek Bridge, whose only toilet/shower was on the back deck.

This stretch of Highway 1 holds a beauty that is hard to surpass. On one side of the road rocky cliffs drop to the ocean where humpback whales leap and play in the surf. On the other, hills dappled with reds, yellows, greens, and pinks reach to the sky as cows graze, oblivious to their charmed life. If you time your trip right, you may be passing through this stretch of paradise at sunrise or sunset, in which case you may not get very far as each pull out holds a view that will take your breath away.

We spent our days driving up and down the coast, hiking the cliffs, enjoying the cooler air during the day and a fire in our cabin at night. We saw seals, sea otters, deer, and so many whales. Seven years is something to celebrate and Big Sur is one of the better places to do so.

On our way home I finished a roll of film in my little Rollei. This one had some good stuff on it, I am sure. It had been down Highway 1, to Joshua Tree, and now back to Big Sur. I wasn’t sure exactly what would come out of it but I was excited. I rewound the film, and rewound the film, and rewound the film… It never stopped. Turns out it was never loaded. On to the next.

Without Further ado, please enjoy our (mostly Elias’) photos of Big Sur!


























Joshua Tree: A Quick Guide


A few weeks ago we went for our first camping trip since moving to California. Coming from the Pacific Northwest it was a bit odd to go camping at the beginning of May and spend our afternoon seeking shelter in a carved out rock for a break from the hot desert sun. What a strange and beautiful place.

We left Long Beach on Friday afternoon and got to Joshua Tree around 6pm, just in time to find a spot at Jumbo Rocks and set up camp as the sun slipped down behind the rocky horizon. Saturday morning brought the sun and we quickly discovered that our usual routine of a morning campfire and hot coffee was not going to work here. We drank our coffee at the table, avoiding the heat of the fire as we shed the sweatshirts we had layered on.

We headed out for a day of hiking and exploration. We climbed Ryan Mountain, walked the Hidden Canyon, and visited the Cholla Cactus Garden. Massive rock formations, cactuses, and dry dessert earth surrounded us as far as the eye could see as we soaked up the desert sun.

As the sun set on our second night, we jumped from rock to golden rock and shot ninety percent of our film in those beautiful dusk hours. A bit sunburnt and tired, we went to bed early as a breeze started to blow.

We got a couple of hours of sleep before we were woken up to a tent that was folding and bending in the wind. We drifted in and out of sleep as our tent rattled around us until finally the fly was torn out of the ground and folded over upon itself. After weighing our options, we jumped out of our sleeping bags, broke down camp as quickly as possible and started the two and a half hour drive home.

Even though it was cut short, we enjoyed our time in the high desert and look forward to our next visit.


Jumbo Rocks Campground: We drove through a couple of campsites before we settled on Jumbo Rocks. Being the largest campground in Joshua tree, there were plenty of people sharing the grounds but we saw several open sites which was a bit surprising for a Friday evening. We did not get one of the cool sites right next to the rocks but we did get one that was set back of the road with no close neighbors which was a good trade.


Skull Rock: This hike takes off right in the Jumbo Rocks campground. An easy hike, suitable for all levels. We started this hike just before sunset hoping to find a spot to sit and watch the sun go down. We ended up moving the whole time, stopping to take pictures every few feet. This time of day in Joshua tree cant be beat. Most of the photos in this post are from along the Skull Rock trail.


Ryan Mountain: This three mile hike (round trip) leads you to the summit of Ryan Mountain where you can take in the 360 degree view from 5,458 feet. Brown, rocky desert as far as the eye can see is much more beautiful than it sounds. Described as moderately strenuous, the average hiker should not have trouble, just bring plenty of water!


Hidden Valley: Hidden Valley is the first campsite you come to as you make your way through the West Entrance to the park. This one mile loop trail will be enjoyable for anyone. It is short, with little to zero elevation gain, but the sights are spectacular as you wind your way through a maze of giant boulders.


Cholla Cactus Garden: This is a little pocket in the dessert that harbors a mass of Cholla Cactuses. The path weaves in and out of chollas, sort of like a path through a corn field. Be sure to stay on the path as these tend to “jump” and find their way right into your skin. We would love to go back and see this unusual place at sundown.


Wildlife Sightings: Before we entered the park we stopped at the information center and grabbed a couple of pamphlets, one of which listed some of the local wildlife residents. As we perused the pamphlet we noted some of the wildlife we would like to see. By the end of the weekend we were able to check everything off or list except for the desert tortoise (who happens to be a “Threatened Species”, just a notch below “Endangered”). We were lucky enough to see the following creatures on our visit:

• Various lizards: Chuckwalla, Horned Lizard, Desert Spiny Lizard, and Western Whiptail
• Greater Roadrunner
• Black Tailed Jackrabbit
• Coyotes
• Rattlesnake (Possibly a Red Western Diamondback)














Photo nerds: All photos shot using 6×7 medium format film, with the exception of Hidden Valley, and Rattelsnake photos (iPhone).

California So Far


We have now lived in California for a little over three months. I think it is safe to say that we love it here!

So far: It has rained about four times – We have felt one earthquake – We have gone camping in Joshua tree (post coming up, when we get photos back from the lab!) – We have taken up skateboarding – We live in shorts and tank tops – We are tan, and its only May – We have a favorite taco stand, and we eat there at least once a week – We have friends that we can call up to hang out – We have seen five whales and numerous dolphins – We have developed a particular fondness for Bougainvillea and Jacaranda – The temperature has reached 100 degrees – We have gone to the beach most afternoons.

These photos are all the product of Elias’ various film cameras, no digital. He is so good at grabbing his camera whenever we go out, something I would often rather save for particularly epic adventures. I am so grateful that we have these snapshots of every-day life. I would recommend that you check out his personal tumblr where he shares big, beautiful photos on a regular basis. All photography is his own, minus one or two that I have taken of him.


























The Scenery’s Changing and it Warms My Soul


After years of talk about taking a road trip down Highway 1 along the coast of California, it took relocating to finally make it happen. Maybe that’s the real reason we chose Southern California as our final destination…

We headed out on a Tuesday morning just as it started to snow on the outskirts of Seattle. I had created a playlist for our drive that I saved for this very morning. With a soundtrack of anticipation, excitement, and melancholy, we drove through the snow in Seattle and Portland, the rain in San Francisco, the fog in Big Sur, to the sunshine in Long Beach.

Here is a glimpse of the sights and sounds along the way. After reading this post, we recommend that you  hop in your car, turn on this playlist and find your way to Highway 1. You can thank us when you get here.

*All photos were taken by Elias and myself on a Mamiya 645 and Minolta Autocord, respectively.






























Saying Goodbye


A week ago today we loaded up the last of our belongings into our car, and said goodbye to our home of six and a half years. The sun was just rising as we stood in the empty space, had one last kiss, and closed the door on these walls that hold so many memories of our life together.

When we first started looking for an apartment together, we found a beautiful place on Queen Anne hill. We went together to view the space and put in our application. A few days later, the landlord called to say that she had selected someone else but she may have another apartment that would better fit our lifestyle.

It was love at first sight. The old brick building, hardwood floors, metal kitchen cabinets, and a beautiful set of windows that looked out from the third floor onto a happy intersection with a glimpse of Greenlake. We created a space for ourselves that was a haven after a long day at work. We filled the space with music, friends, food, and coffee. We imagined how hard it would be to someday leave this place that had become so much of who we were and how we lived.

Its hard to place your key in the refrigerator and make the long walk to the door for the last time. The lights are off and your footsteps sound twice their size as they creak and echo across the floor. In reality you feel quite small stepping through the door, never to return again as you point your sights towards the unknown.

A week later, here we are in California. The sun is shining and we have shed our wool coats in favor of tshirts and sunglasses. We have traded brick for orange stucco. The floors are still wood, the walls are still white. The beautiful window at the front of our space lacks the view we had in Seattle, but we will settle for walks to the beach. We have traded the lake for the ocean, evergreens for palm trees. It feels like we are living on vacation but I know the afternoon will arrive when I look out the window at the golden light and wish for the gray cloud cover, a bowl of warm soup, and the familiar pale faces of those dear Seattle friends we left in winter.

Come see us soon.














Los Angeles Bound

Los Angeles, CA

“Never say never”. That’s what they say.

If you’d have asked me one year, six months, and twelve days ago – seated comfortably in my Eames chair, the freshest of organic coffees in hand, reflection glinting in the glossy corner of my 27″ iMac, the morning sun just beginning to peer through the gaps in the buildings lining Stone Way – if I’d like to live in LA someday, I’d have laughed in your face, choked on my coffee, probably both. After 5 years as a senior designer at a small firm in the city of my dreams (Seattle), confident in my role as a key member in a crack squad of savvy Powerpoint wizards, and thinking seriously about a house in Wallingford, Los Angeles seemed like the last place in the world I’d want to be.

“LA you made me think, too much gold and you sink. I don’t want to live there, buy there, or die there. Just give me miles of tall evergreens, the smell of the ocean, and the cool mountain breeze, won’t you please.”

That was my motto. I’ll NEVER live in LA.

By 11am on that fateful July day, I was out of a job. Cast adrift like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream.

But that’s a story for another day. One to be told with the warm glow of a Manhattan in the belly, accompanied by laughter and regret, nostalgia and sighs of relief. To make a long story short, I was set free, and my life has been a non-stop adventure ever since. And it has led me, strangely enough, to LA.

Well, not just me. Theresa too. You see it’s all because of her that my life is so wonderful. She’s the one who held down a steady, if unfulfilling job while I took the time to pursue my crazy dream job as a freelance hybrid designer-photographer-videographer. It was she who patiently encouraged me each and every time I felt like giving up and looking for a “real” job. And now I’m hoping to return the favor. Because this last year and a half has been the greatest gift I’ve ever received. And it wouldn’t exist without Theresa.

We don’t have any adult reasons for the move. No once-in-a-lifetime job offers we just couldn’t turn down. Just a fuzzy feeling deep in our guts that it’s where we’re supposed to be right now. It helps that both our best friends live there. My brother Joseph in Pasadena. And Andrea, Theresa’s amazing sister, and our future roommate in Long Beach. We may look back on this move in 5 years and realize we were out of our minds. More likely we will look back and see a chain of blessings, and it will all start to make sense. Either way it’s going to be an adventure.

I guess “they” know a thing or two after all.

Upland Bird Hunting in Eastern Washington for Filson


A few weeks ago Seattle based clothing company Filson commissioned me to do an editorial photo essay on upland bird hunting. Filson is pretty high on my list of favorite brands. They make the kind of clothing that lasts a lifetime. And that’s not hyperbole. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement.

I accompanied my brother-in-law Josh and his dad Tom, who are avid bird hunters for a day in the field. I’ve shared a few of my favorite photos here, but I’d recommend checking out the full post on the Filson Life blog.

For you photo nerds: all photos were shot on Kodak Portra 400 medium format film using a Bronica GS-1 6×7 camera.










Roads End


This spring my Dad completed a year of cancer treatment. I will probably never truly know what that year was like for my parents but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that it was one of the hardest years they have yet endured. The amazing thing is that looking back on the year, there are glimmers of joy, bright spots in times where it was hard to be optimistic.

With the year behind us, we had a reason to celebrate and what better place than Lincoln City, Oregon. After my parents house in Idaho, this is the place where I feel the most at home. Years of visits to the cabin at Road’s End have made the familiarity of the beach a haven for my family.

We spent the week walking on the beach, making meals together, playing games, reading books, drinking coffee, simply enjoying each others company.

At dinner with a few close friends the other night, we were discussing what makes a place comforting. There are a handful of places in our lives where we arrive and immediately feel at peace and filled with deep joy. A part of this is being detached from technologies in some way, whether that means no cell service, or a personal choice to set our phones aside. I think that for myself, even more than being removed from a daily routine is feeling like I am in that place for the sole reason of being present with people I love. The sweetest memories I have come from those blessed places.

**The photos are a mixture of film photography by Elias and I, and iPhone photos by Andrea, Elias, and I.













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