2021 in Ten Significant Photos

How is it already the end of December? Christmas is this weekend! In some ways, it feels like the year was ten years long, yet in others, it feels like a blip. I blame the pandemic. My perception of time has gotten funny since it started.

This is the post wherein I reflect on my last year through ten photos that marked significant places in time. It’s become a tradition here. After last year, I thought (hoped?) this would be easy, but like 2021 itself, it was an odd experience full of highs and lows. That said, as always, I found that there was more to my year than I expected and 2021 was surprising.

The rules. Pick ten photos from my past year that are the most significant to me: positive or negative—significance can be found in either. But it can’t be more; it can’t be less. Some moments will have to fall by the wayside—that’s intentional—culling is a part of this process. It helps create a more realistic and personal picture of your year. Some years will be more complicated than others, and sometimes you’ll need to discover significance in the smaller, quieter moments. This is the way.

So, I could keep rambling, but instead, let’s take a look at my 2021 distilled into ten significant photos.


My favorite photo of Willa in our garden (Photo by Kari-Lise)

Willamina, our big English Lop, passed away early in the year. We buried her under her favorite bush. She was old for a large rabbit, but her death snuck up on us. I haven’t ever met a rabbit like Willa. She was fearless, curious, friendly, loved attention and people. It was typical for her to follow us around the yard and explore as we worked nearby. Our garden isn’t the same without her.


New bathroom (Left) and remodeled kitchen (Right)

Last year I mentioned that we had declared 2020 as “The Year of the House,” and in many ways, it was. But that labor spilled over into the first few months of 2021 as well. But in the end, we got a fancy new bathroom—removing the original bathroom from the 1940s—and an upgraded kitchen. We’ve been in our house for over a decade now, and many of these updates were long overdue. I’m delighted with the result and the outcome was worth the awkwardness that came with remodels during a pandemic.


Gleam Upon the Waves and its swag set

I launched a new book! It’s true! It happened! Gleam Upon the Waves, the next chapter of Waldo Bell’s adventures, arrived at the end of March and was released to the world. You can buy it right now! When you get deeper into writing a series, things get more complicated, and this story was a long time coming. I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Thanks to everyone who picked up a copy. Double thanks to those of you who left reviews. Your excitement is what keeps me going. I couldn’t be more appreciative of my readers.


While waiting my 15 minutes, I took a selfie

The vaccine arrived! Kari-Lise and I got jabbed as soon as possible, and we got our second shot a few weeks later at a lovely little spot right by Lake Washington. It was a huge relief, and I am grateful that my city has embraced it. It’s a pretty incredible feat of medicine. I cannot think of how many lives it’s saved, and I am grateful to the medical community for pouring so much effort into its development, rollout, and distribution. Seattle is over 75% vaccinated, still vigilant, and we’ve been near the bottom in cases per capita in Washington. It makes a fella proud to call this place home.


Kari-Lise in a monochromatic space within the House of Eternal Return

We escaped! Freshly vaccinated, we took a short trip away from home to Santa Fe, New Mexico. After more than fifteen months of staying home and social distancing, it was a welcome respite and a nice change of pace. We ate incredible food. We saw cool art, and we got lost in Meow Wolf’s stunning House of Eternal Return. Santa Fe is rad, and New Mexico is spectacular. Should you like to know more, I documented the whole trip in this post.


Tyrant hanging out with me earlier in the year

After fifteen years, one of my best buddies in the world passed away. Tyrant had become an essential fixture in our lives, and it was hard to let him go. I’m grateful the pandemic allowed me to spend so much time with him during his last years. Months later, here I am, tearing up while writing this. Shortly after his death, I wrote a tribute that encapsulates him better than this tiny blurb ever could. I still miss him. Tyrant never lived up to his name. He was a good boy.


Ferry to Bainbridge Island looking back toward Seattle

We explored our home. We started doing this in 2020, and it continued into 2021. One of the best things about living in the Puget Sound area is the hundreds of islands, peninsulas, straights, bays, coves, ports, beaches, and bluffs there are to explore. We returned to favorites like Vashon Island, explored Whidbey, and went to the Peninsula a few times. I’ve often said that to experience Seattle, you have to leave Seattle it’s a city defined by the landscape around it, and these trips cemented why living here is so wonderful.


Vera with Uncle Michael (Left) and Reghan (Right)

The streak continues! This year, I have two new nieces, which brings my nibling count up to seven! Vera on the left was born in the spring to Kari-Lise’s brother Andrew and his wife, Kim. (I can assure you we have a better rapport than what you see in that photo.) Reghan, on the right, was born on my birthday (more on that later) to my sister Meghan and her husband, Tyler. Both are adorable and growing way too quickly.


For whatever reason, I found myself reconnecting with baseball. I’ve always been a fan of the Seattle Mariners, mostly thanks to being the perfect age when Ken Griffey Jr. played (the man is still my first sports hero), but the game took a backseat over the last few decades. This year was different. I found myself drawn back to the ball game and the ballpark. While the Mariners still didn’t make the playoffs, (there’s always next year) I’m finding myself looking forward to the 2022 season.


Me hiking along the Harry’s Ridge trail at Mt. Saint Helens (Photo by Kari-Lise)

I turned forty. I don’t usually care much for my birthday. I find the whole thing superfluous. But, this one is supposed to be a milestone. It’s interesting to look back on my life after forty years. The moments that stand out. While this post focuses on the events this year, hitting a “birthday milestone” like this had me reflecting on life in macro. I’ve had a good life. I’m happy. I’m healthy. I am married to the best person in the world. I have amazing friends and a loving family. I’m lucky. Forty ain’t so bad.


There’s my ten! As I said earlier, it was a year of highs and lows. I’m not alone in that. This was a mixed year for many people, and it was a mixed year for me as well. The pandemic is still present in our lives, and normal still isn’t so normal anymore. We’re still masking up, being careful, and social distancing when we can. Thankfully many of our friends are vaccinated, so hangouts were easy, and that personal reconnection was good.

There’s so much to 2021 this post didn’t cover. Trips with friends to celebrate the New Year. Paneling at TBRCon was terrific, and it set up much of my reading for the year. (I’m coming back in 2022!) Cabining. Writing retreats. A visit from my sister. Our garden. A trip to Portland for the wake of a dear friend. Beaches and tide pools. Backyard BBQs. Family and close friends both moving back to the Seattle area. Summer soccer games. Seattle’s record-breaking heatwave in June and its record rain in November. Then there’s Moth & Myth’s incredible growth. As with every year, this list could be so much longer.

So, how about you? What did you experience in 2021? What are your ten photos? Assemble them and leave a comment with a link! Let us all know about the significant events in your year.


I’ve been doing this since 2014, and even in challenging years, I’ve found it beneficial. Interested in revisiting my photos of past years? Just click on any link below and check out my selection from that specific year.

2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 
• 2018 • 20192020


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Trip Report – Santa Fe

The decision was made immediately after Kari-Lise and I got our first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine back in May. TRAVEL. Travel was calling. Call it a spontaneous trip or revenge travel, we were hungry for the world. Like everyone else, we’d spent last year social distancing and sticking close to home, doing our part to stop the spread. Now, on our way to being fully inoculated and assured we wouldn’t unknowingly spread the virus to others, we craved a change of scenery—something opposite from the verdant mountains of Western Washington. We plotted our vaccine schedule, figured out the timeline, and booked a trip.

It’s been a decade since we visited Santa Fe, and it’s no surprise the city called to us once again. It’s an easy trip in non-pandemic times and was a place we both wanted to revisit. In May we weren’t sure how everything would play out, but we decided to roll the dice and plan for a trip of a few days exploring the town and the surrounding landscape. It was well worth it. Like any instance of travel, I came away feeling invigorated and creatively inspired. After a year at home, it was good to get away, breathe the thin desert air, and visit a place so unlike my daily experience. As the pandemic recedes in here America, everyone is still feeling out public behavior. But even with the mild awkwardness, the results were a trip comprised of fantastic food, incredible art, and surprising exploration.


The Food

It’s not going to be possible to share this trip without hitting on the copious amounts of delicious food we devoured. New Mexico is the land of the chile, and red and green varieties show up in every menu across the state, no matter what cuisine. When ordering, one is often asked if you want red or green chile—you can also opt for both by ordering your meal “Christmas.” (Yeah, it sounded corny the first time I said it as well. But the place is called Santa Fe. *rimshot*) Neither are particularly spicy despite the many warnings for tourists, but both are complex and flavorful. Trying different combos is worth the effort there’s no wrong choice here. Choose what works for you and enjoy.

Standout meals include the tacos from El Chile Toreado (arguably some of the best tacos I’ve ever had). The Short Rib Birria from Paloma, probably the fanciest dining we experienced on the trip. Solid enchiladas from The Shed (a return visit). And a strange little chile dog from the Taos Ale House; a mess to eat but incredibly delicious.


The Art

The third-largest art market in the United States is an artery running through the heart of Santa Fe along a street known as Canyon Road. (At this point it has spread well beyond Canyon Road, but posterity likes a metaphor.) The narrow lane is lined with over a hundred art galleries and studio spaces full of a variety of art. Everything from contemporary to traditional art, sculpture to jewelry, couture clothing to leather goods is offered somewhere along the route, and it’s easy to lose yourself for half a day or more.


These wind sculptures were quite relaxing.

Much had changed in the decade since our last visit, as one would suspect. Couple that with a receding pandemic and Canyon Road felt like a place awakening from a long slumber. In some spots, masks were optional for the fully vaccinated. Others were still being cautious and requiring masks and social distancing for all guests. We were happy to oblige and spent many hours wandering through the galleries discussing art and finding new favorites.

The standout for me was discovering the work of Grant Hayunga at his own recently opened gallery. His work varies but what stood out were his mixed media pieces that sat somewhere between paintings and relief sculpture. Made of various materials, calcium carbonate, crushed marble, beeswax, Hayunga creates fascinating pieces that explore humanity and our relationship with nature. My favorite from this series is fur trapper a recent piece from this year. He also creates these stunning neo-traditional landscapes, one of which—2016’s Asleep—enthralled both Kari-Lise and me. It’s all beautiful work, easily my favorite of the whole Canyon Road experience. You all need to buy more books from me so I can get one of his pieces.

“fur trapper” 2021, hanging in the Grant Hayunga Gallery

Meow Wolf

Canyon Road wasn’t the only artistic experience of the trip. When we last visited Santa Fe, the art collective known as Meow Wolf was still in its infancy. In the decade since our visit, they have experienced significant growth. Their permanent home in Santa Fe is a former-bowling alley funded by some local guy named George R. R. Martin. It sits near the southwestern edge of the city as is home to their first large-scale interactive art experience House of Eternal Return. It’s amazing. The whole thing plays out like an interactive X-Files episode.

I can write a thousand words on what is inside, but it’ll never do it justice. Even photos don’t really capture the magic. You begin outside a modest home oddly enclosed in a warehouse (the reason why is eventually explained). After you pass through the front door (it’s open), you’ll soon discover a rich story told through journals, newspaper articles, videos, and photo albums, pictures on the wall, toys in the bedroom, and much much more. It all ties the family that resided there and their experiences to the surreal worlds you’ll interact with as you move beyond the House itself. I don’t want to go into too much detail on the experience since the House gives back what you bring, and spoilers remove that sense of wonder. (I even consider not sharing pics.)

I came away feeling inspired by the whole thing and thought it’d be great to someday recreate a corner of Lovat for readers to explore in person. Will it ever happen? I don’t know. My “Old Haunts” project is a small attempt at capturing some of that, and while I love them, being able to do it in person would be so rich and satisfying. Imagine standing outside Russel & Sons with rain dropping down around you, muffled jazz blaring from somewhere above, and the smell of spicy noodles cooking from a push cart down the street. Rad idea, right?

House of Eternal Return isn’t Meow Wolf’s only project. They have another installation that went live this year, and more experiences are planned for the future (Denver and eventually Washington D.C.). We’re already looking at a trip to Las Vegas for one reason: visit Omega Mart. Think cosmic horror as a grocery store chain, and you’d be on track. (Check out some of their ads.) It all sounds as creepy and weird and wonderful as I’d hope. I am excited to explore its aisles in the future.


New Mexico Highlands

On a whim, we decided to leave Santa Fe behind and head out into the country. We did this a decade ago, heading northwest toward Abiquiú and the Ghost Ranch. This time we headed northeast toward Taos. Early-summer storms were sweeping across the land, and you could watch enormous dark clouds trailing tails of rain and shadow for miles. For some reason, I expected more of the high desert environment like what I saw ten years previous. But the land toward the northeast was very different to that of the west, it rose suddenly. As we left the desert behind, we found ourselves in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Southern Rocky Mountains. I’ve grown up among the Rocky’s most of my life. But driving north along highway 68 and looking across the vast Taos plateau and seeing the gorge carved by the Rio Grande was utterly breathtaking. I’ve seen deep valleys before, but never one carved in such flat and open land and from such a height. I still find myself reflecting on that view. Seeing the ground opened up that way was like staring into the vastness of time.

The Río Grande Gorge from the Taos Overlook, off State Road 68 near the “horseshoe.” Photo from the Taos News.

Instead of continuing East across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, we decided to loop up into the mountains. We found ourselves in Carson National Forest, taking the High Road to Taos scenic byway back to Santa Fe. This is proper mountain country, think tall trees, deep valleys, tiny communities tucked away into hollows, and vast untouched stretches of forest for miles and miles. It all felt closer to home. Beautiful, but not at all what I anticipated.

So Much More

Santa Fe and the surrounding land can be a bit surreal at times. Modern art and interactive art experiences exist alongside deep history. The Palace of the Governors, erected in 1610, is the oldest public building in continuous use in America. Just down the street is the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States. Outside of Taos is the Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, originating sometime between 1000–1450 A.D. and not discovered by Europeans until the sixteenth century. And that only scratches the surface of what you can find in this small section of the state. This doesn’t even begin to cover other places in New Mexico we were unable to visit, locations like White Sands, Roswell, Carlsbad Caverns, Shiprock, Trinity, the burning of Zozobra, Los Alamos, and so much more. There is a density of wonder here and New Mexico doesn’t hold back and is very much worth your attention.


Advice & Tips

  • You’re going to want to rent a car, this is big country. That said when in town, be willing to walk. There’s so much to see in Santa Fe, and unexpected places are often found on foot.
  • Eat everything. Try new dishes. Explore New Mexican cuisine. Fear no chile. Don’t be put off by location. Sometimes the smallest trucks tucked into the quietest corners can have the best tacos.
  • Scenic byways are your friend in Western States and New Mexico is full of them (High Road to Taos, Turquoise Trail, Santa Fe Trail, among many many others). While slower than major freeways, these routes will give travelers glimpses into a New Mexico easily missed by tourists. The extra time is worth it.

This was my fourth trip into New Mexico, my second to Santa Fe, and easily my favorite of the bunch. Each time I visit, the trips get a little longer, and each time I return I wish I had stayed a few more days. The name “Land of Enchantment” is a fitting one. The terrain there is haunting, rich in history and legend, and it calls to the traveler to take time and explore its wonders.

I’m not going to lie, it’s weird to travel right now, even fully vaccinated. People are rightly nervous, business hours are funky, and what we thought of as “normal” has changed significantly. Traveling at the end of a pandemic requires a lot of patience and copious amounts of kindness and empathy. We’re in a transitional period, and those can be both interesting and weird to navigate. However, it’s still worth it to get away for a time, and allow oneself to experience the world again. It was good to return to New Mexico, and a shame to have waited so long to return. Here’s hoping our next visit comes sooner rather than later.