Catherine, Ryan and I were friends before I became their photographer. We moved to Big Sky, Montana at similar time periods. Ryan started a business. I started a business. Catherine was the mastermind behind another’s start up. Big Sky was still in the throes of the downturn. The number of young professionals in the community was few and far between. I’m not sure the first time I met Catherine but we spent many an evening together surrounded by other women drinking wine and eating yummy things. It was an unofficial girls club. We were a mishmash thrown together by circumstance and the scarcity of others like us in a fairly transient ski town. We skied but never enough to be even close to ski royalty. We were unwed and without children too. Gradually, that girls group led to deeper lifelong friendships for each of us. I spent one particular NYE hot tubbing with Catherine and a lot of Prosecco. That’s the first time she told me the story of Ryan and Catherine and how she felt they were meant to be. We were abuzz with so much youthful hope that night. She told me that if they get married–when they get married–she wanted me to photograph them.

A few years later all of this came to be. Catherine and Ryan bought a piece of land in their native New Hampshire and moved home. They decided to celebrate their marriage there in a magical spot on Squam Lake. We ate, drank and were merry to the sound of loons and the light of fireflies. It was a beautiful beginning or an extension of the beautiful life they had already built together.

Two years later I find myself yet again in New Hampshire and Vermont (too this time) photographing the nuptials of another couple. Two years later I find that my friendship with these two has deepened. Being their wedding photographer cemented our relationship and connection, and fortunately this is my third summer in a row visiting them as my work continues to draw me to this neck of the world. Every year we get to reconnect and talk about our own growth, our own joys, and have more wine filled moments together in what they call the ‘old country’ on the best coast, a point on which me might have to agree to disagree.

This week I was able to photograph them at their new home which has been a three year labor of love that has both tested them and tied them further together. They’ve done so much themselves. On Sunday Catherine was painting the garage doors and planting clover on their land. When I arrived for photos Ryan was in the chimney and came out covered in soot. Even as we took photos he’d glance at the house and notice something else he wants to change or admire and point out a detail he’s proud of.

We have spent the past week together, mostly in the kitchen or around the table early in the morning and well past dark. They go to sleep late and wake when the birds first start their songs. Sleep calls to them, but it’s in little supply. They’re both building careers here and they’re building their house in every spare moment that remains. As we took photos we talked about deep things and small things. Ryan loves to chop firewood, like really loves it. Who knew? What I love about the time we spent together–all of it–from photos, to dinners, to a late night drink, to a moonlit drive in the bed of Ryan’s truck, to cinnamon raisin toast in the morning, is that it has been very real and so very much the middle. So much of my job is about celebrating the great big shiny beginnings, when everything is ahead of us. I love those bits, don’t get me wrong. But I also love the middle. I love the daily beautiful slog of life. I love when we’re so tired that we fall asleep the moment our head hits the pillow. I love that we fall in love with our partners again and again through the years as we go through the tough stuff and the brilliant stuff. I love that Catherine, Ryan and I took a walk around their property, took a pause from climbing in chimneys, and painting, and planting, just to be for a minute and marvel at what they’re doing, what they have, and what this home will soon be to them. It represents a lot of work right now. Work they love and work that has worn them a little to the bone. Isn’t that so much of life? I remember my first wedding season, I pretty much wanted to give up. My last wedding was NYE and when I finally went to sleep that night I slept until well past noon. It was the sleep I had been planning for almost six months, because it felt like for six months there was no end in sight even though I was doing the very thing I most wanted to be doing. The middle. It’s not really celebrated. But it’s where we spend most of our time.

Thank you Catherine and Ryan for letting me cohabitate with you for a week. For sharing your kitchen, your lives and your hearts with me. I can’t wait until our time together next. And thanks for saving one of those new bedrooms for me.