Mike, where are you from?
I was born…in Pasadena. Grew up in Arcadia and lived in Temple City. I went to school in Arcadia so all my friend lived in the area. Temple City is a suburb of LA. Total su…total suburbia. Kind of Cool. Thats why I like this neighborhood so much.
There was a lot of young families so they all knew each others. Did things together. The kids, you know, played and fought and…all that together.
We grew up down the street from a park. It was kind of an extension of our yar, going down there an playing.
It’s interesting that you say that’s "where I was born". When we ask the questions "where you’re from?" and "where you were born?", they don't always align.
Oh. Yeah. So I am still very close to my home. My dad still lives in the house. Well, largely the house I was raised in. When I was three, we moved to this house. This is where my….brothers and I were raised. I have three younger brothers. It is a little house. Two brothers per room. I don’t know how my parents did it, really.
My dad still lives in that house. My brothers still in the area. South Pas, Claremont, you know. I still think of it as home. Although, we are trying to get him to move. My mom passed away when I was 23. Which is a long time ago now. So, he’s been alone in the house for a long time. He has neighbors he is close to. Kind of an extended family. But, the neighborhood has changed quite a bit. He’s less able…he doesn't really need a big house. That kind of thing. So we are trying to… well we aren’t trying to. He’s kind of interested in moving.
How do you feel about him moving out of the house?
I think… I…I feel good about it. I really want it to happen. I love seeing him. It’s good to go home and…and…visit and, you know there’s a lot of memories there. But I also think there’s a lot of things locked up there that’s keeping him from moving forward. Maybe even that's true with the family. It feels claustrophobic when you go there.
This is the front door of that house (stretches out forearm). It’s a window that he made. Well, actually, he made stained glass for a while. It’s a double door. This is kind of a section of it. And…it’s…it’s very…yeah. It’s a great thing. There’s something real special about it. I’m one of those people that lucked out. I had parents that were extremely loving and extremely invested, you know.
"...It’s different. Everything evolves, everything changes so I feel less connected to the area now…"
How do you feel about that place now, whats your relationship to it now? Maybe not the house, more so the place. Or even the idea of it?
I feel really good about… I have great feelings…memories of growing up there. Though, going back there it feels sterilized. All the big tree’s that used to shade the streets are gone. It’s a different culture there. Largely…Chinese owned. Which is great I think. But’s theres not a lot of interaction between neighbors. The park now seems so sterile to me. They’ve changed it entirely. Its all very… nice… coming to that neighborhood. It used to be a lot more… crunchy and good. We used to skateboard there, and get in trouble and we knew all the recreational leaders growing up.
It’s different. Everything evolves, everything changes so I feel less connected to the area now.
What do you think has changed? Is it the idea of what this placed meant to you in the past or has the placed changed…
Oh, the place has physically changed. But I have changed of course. I have changed a ton. Especially in the last few years. In reference to home, its been a gradual change. Many people I knew on that street are gone. Either they have passed, or moved…
"...I think it's a natural evolution. Everything changes. You can’t hold onto it. You have to really work on being present..."
If you grew up there today, do you think you would have had the same type of experience?
No..no..definitely not. I think there’s less… I don't know this for a fact but I think there’s less community. It’s kind of busier. There’s still a lot of sports and soccer going on at the park. People are still coming and going all the time, but, I don’t have the same feeling that the neighbors know each other. Or do things together. We used to have the 4th of July. We used to block of the entire portion of a street. Families from probably three blocks around would get together there and practically light of fire crackers and… you know we were kids and the parents would bring food. You know, it was a block party.
Is it a natural evolution for moments like that to flourish and then it go away, or is it just an unfortunate thing that happens?
I think it's a natural evolution. Everything changes. You can’t hold onto it. You have to really work on being present. I think I have a lot of really good memories that allows me to…for that to be important and… nostalgic time.
The other part of it for me was that my grandparents on my moms side had a home in San Marino. Really nice. It was kind of an island up on a hill. Swimming pool. A gathering place for holidays. You know, for christmas and everything like that. It was our kind of…and boy we were spoiled as kids in that house. The love and warmth there. The house was in the family for many, many years but eventually she passed…my grand father died and then she passed in 2002 and my uncle kept the house for a while and kept the traditions going. But he had to move to a different place. While we attempt to continue that, there was just something really special about that place. Sometimes you can’t move it.
But people change. People come and go. I have friends that I love but I have very little in common with. So I don't see them as often.
But you don’t replace that. It’s like a water shed. The stuff that came through you keeps going and you pass it on. Like, Rex is only three. My grandparents never knew him. And my mom obviously. But he is still getting them through me. Through my family and the various things we hold important, and hold high…I guess. So now, I think it’s in transition.
One of my brothers bought a home. A very nice home in Claremont. It has been serving as a gathering place. Maybe for Rex, when he goes to see his cousins that will be something he’s talking about when he was young that everyone got together, and that was his …something like…along those lines of…it’s changing but you carry the whats important with you. So it’s not so much the structure. It’s the people.
"…I don’t have a full on solid feeling that you do when you're growing up or the family you're born into..."
Do you think you took these moments for granted while growing up? And if so, aren't you supposed to?
Oh yeah. I mean to a certain degree. And yeah, you don’t know any better. You know, I mean there’s the uncle that you make fun of for the portion of your youth and you think he’s just awful. And then you realize later, how much he gave to you. How much he cared you. How consistent he was with you. How special he was. But at the time you were pretty harsh on your relatives and then they’re gone and you're like “damn, I never let him know”, you know.
Do you feel like your sense of home has changed, what is home to you today compared to what it was growing up?
I think it’s still formative. Rex joining us is essentially we are establishing a sense of home and a sense of family. I think it’s still…I don’t have a full on solid feeling that you do when you're growing up or the family you're born into. It’s still a little bit…
Do you need it?
If I need it? I think it's grounding. Home is many different things. I supposed very aspects of it I can go without for a while…
Home seemed deeply rooted and very defined when you grew up. What do you do today to create that feeling?
Yeah it was. But it hasn't been ever since my mom died. I was in College at the time.
Maybe I listen to some Neil Diamond and the songs that were on in the summer time… (laughter) No not really.
I don't know. I’d have to think about that. I’m still very close to, and always will be very connected to my brothers and my dad. They are united a lot more frequently than we are just because of the distance. Whenever we can, we are together and it’s…that’s still my home. I would say my family is my home no matter where we are. That’s kind of one of those un..unknowable…not unknowable but maybe indescribable connections, the family.
The brothers and I and my dad, we are kind of a unit. Maybe because we were in such a tight space growing up. It really is…like the sun is greater than its parts kind of a situation. It’s very unique in good ways and bad I’m sure. We have our own way of communicating, sometimes we go crazy. That’s still the core of it.
"...to be honest, we were all like that me and my brothers. We really defined ourselves by her loss. Not like anyone else lost a parent, ever. Or, defined ourselves after she died. We are 'the guys who lost their mom'..."
What makes you feel grounded these days? It sounds like your family provided that feeling when you were younger?
I think I get amazing amount of strength from Paige, my partner. Like a total confidant. I think family provides a sense of foundation and stability that you are not alone. There’s something there for you. I get a great deal from that.
I can relate to the feeling of being more vulnerable. Becoming subject to the insanity of society in a way. I think where I get stuck now is looking for some kind of grounded place in society. But its just not there. It’s pretty much insanity (laughter). The harder you look at it you can really get spun out.
Do you feel like you had that growing up?
A grounded space? Yeah. My mom particularly. My dad doesn't give himself enough credit. It’s because my mom was like a super hero of sorts. Taking care of four boys and working full-time too. We really were over dependent on her. I mean, you don’r realize it until she was gone. It was kind of a shock. It was a major shock that she passed. We didn't even think it was a possibility. We never had any major losses in our life. She just covered everything. Which a lot of mothers do. To a great…good degree I had that sense of stability. That sense of… no real danger. No real…worry.
To be honest, we were all like that me and my brothers. We really defined ourselves by her loss. Not like anyone else lost a parent, ever. Or, defined ourselves after she died. We are “the guys who lost their mom”. That was maybe because she was… we were a bunch of mama’s boys and we were over-dependent on her. But certainly now, I’m past that. She taught me a lot about compassion and caring for people. What's important. I think that plays out in my life now.
"...family is someone you meet and you feel like you’ve always known them..."
What are the things you felt like you had growing up, that you’d like to pass on?
That’s a good question. I don't know exactly. The things I cared about when I was young, I’m still passionate about. Music, nature, wildlife, being outside, the ocean, those kinds of things. So I still do those things. My parents were really supportive and interested in those things too so I don’t know which came first. I’m sure I just grew out of what they were liking or something, or what they presented. Maybe, I don't know! They encouraged anything I was interested in. So I'm still heavily involved in certain aspects of that. My wife’s an entomologist. I love it when Rex show’s any interest in creatures of any kind, going to the beach, being in the ocean, or wanting to watch a video about a whale. I keep thinking, I keep expecting him to “enough with the nature and animals man!”. Which I’m sure will happen at some point, but were not pushing anything on him.
What used to be the center of your world?
In many ways I was spoiled with that kind of... family. While I probably didn't always recognize it at the time that was what I loved most about my youth. And probably most important. Until I started liking girls, and started chasing girls. That kind of things distract you, but coming back to the family was the core of it. We did everything together.
If you could change anything about your home, would you?
No, no way. Certainly I’d love to get around all the lessons you have to learn growing up. The changes and confusing phases of your life. I was a really little kid. I had a stigma…maybe not stigma. Insecurity. I was a late bloomer. I mean I’m not a tall guy now or anything but I was exceptionally small. I could have done without that. Other than that, I wouldn't change anything.
What was it like to be a kid growing up in that time period?
It was very free. It seems now that kids are not allowed out of your sight. Everyone is very suspicious of everyone else, and is afraid. Not for any good reasons. But we’ve been made to be afraid.
Are you afraid?
A little bit. I’m trying to… Rex is not quite at quite the point to be free-ranging. I really want to be able to do that for him. I was a free-range kid. I mean, we walked to school, we had the park down the street. We just knew we had to be home by dinner time. My parents didn't know what we were doing by the park. We were playing “ditch-em”, skating, and what-not. We’d get in trouble sometimes for not being home on time, but there was a lot of freedom in that. Summer seemed like they were so long. You’d be in school and then June would come. And until late August, early September you had to go back and summers seemed paradise goal. Freezing of time and you really had a rich, full, and sunny experience.
If you could go back to one time, a moment...
Prob…eh, I dont. I have a lot of cherished times where I was fishing with my grandfather, riding waves with my dad for the first time. That’d be cool. I never really thought about that. It would probably be some summer time thing. I was really waiting for the sunshine, the heat, the beach, the long days. I probably had a vitamin D deficiency where I needed the sunshine. I used to watch the clouds. I’d be upset if I knew it was going to be cloudy. I’d watch them to the horizon of the tree and see which way they were going, and I’d base my outlook of the day on that. Paige isn't a fan of the constant sunshine here, she’s from Kansan. I grew up fairly local and I lived in Monterey for a while, a beautiful part of the state. Near Big Sur, but it socked in. Its too depressing, too grey. I don't think I could handle some of the places I like to visit like Seattle or Oregon.
So you still walk outside in the morning to look at the tree line?
Not so much anymore. In fact, Im enjoying the cloudy mornings to be honest. So it doesn't stay forever. But that's how it was at the time for sure. We won't be here forever but I don't know what will be next. I used to feel like “theres no way I am going to live anywhere thats not next to the coast”. But I need to be a little more open. Because I’ve done that. I don't need to do the same thing my entire life.
Would you feel ok with going far away from your family and home?
Ehm…I wouldnt. I don’t think so. But sometimes I wonder. At the frequency I am seeing them now, if I wouldn't see them just as often if I lived in Colorado or Texas. Paige’s family is in Texas, that's why I say that. I like to be close. Especially right now. My dad has been in and out of the hospital dealing with more heart situations. So it's been nice to be able to jam up there and spend the weekend up there until he’s ok.
We’re trying to get Paiges folks to move out here. But we do lack that sense of home. We have great friends that we’ve made. But we don’t really have any family. Any of us. And so, there’s not the grandmother or the grandfather that can come over and watch your kid. We don’t have a lot of family around us here and I think we both would love it if we could.
Would you say home is more of a physical place, or an emotional place for you?
Now it’s more of an emotional place. It’s about the people. Family has evolved to over time, who you consider family is definitely friends I consider family. Either they've been in my life for a long time or they've just become so… family is someone you meet and you feel like you’ve always known them. Maybe by necessity and it works out that way. I think a lot of people in my family would agree. When we have gatherings now it includes people that are not blood related, but they are family. Probably because of the value of that intimate connection with other people.
Mike is a father, husband, and a nature photographer based in San Diego, California. He partners with several National and State Parks where he creates wildlife photo exhibitions focused on conservation, science, and Natural History. Mike is also an Associate Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and a founding board member of Science Team 6.