Taylor Raine is a wanderer, reader, and photographer. In her words, she uses "photos as footsteps for storytelling." Visit her on Instagram at @isleofspring, or read more of her words at aninklingofwater.com.
To build a bit of a context and get to know the wanderer behind the photos, I'd love to hear about your childhood.
My childhood was amazing. I was actually homeschooled for my whole school-life until I started attending college, and wouldn’t change a second of it. Without the need to go to a structured school for 8+ hours a day, we were able to get our daily schoolwork done pretty early in the afternoon, and then be off to play outside until dark (after chores, of course).
I’m the oldest of 3 girls, and my sisters are both pretty close to me in age. They’ve always been and still are my best friends. We did pretty much everything together, even as teenagers in high school and after. If I wasn’t playing with my sisters, I was reading. Reading, reading, reading. I devoured books as a kid, and while that’s slowed down a bit now as an adult, I haven’t lost that love of mythical places and strange journeys on paper.
My dad is a firefighter, and my mom is a homemaker and was our teacher all our homeschool years. My home was one of peace and comfort, and was a safe haven for me through all the tumult of growing up. My parents are wise, kind, hilarious, and the best teachers one could have for either school or life. I am very close to my family even though I’m in a different state now, and I am so fortunate to have had the active, imaginative, wonder-filled childhood that I did. I only hope that my home can be as inviting and restful as my mom is always able to make hers!
Do you remember the first trip you ever took? The first photograph you ever shot? Were they interlinked? What inspired you to begin taking photos? To begin traveling?
When we were younger, we used to take photos with those little disposable film cameras, just for fun, and there was definitely nothing from those rolls to indicate that I had any kind of eye for photography. Ha! I actually began my Instagram account right before my very first trip to England and Wales in the spring of 2013. I went with one of my sisters and a very good friend, and it was our first time to travel overseas without our families. That trip is when I started to think more about the pictures I took, and actually tried taking artful pictures to better capture what that amazing place made me feel. They were by no means the greatest of shots (I had an early gen camera phone with me and that was it), but ever since then I’ve started trying to cultivate through photography my habit of seeing things with an eye for a story.
Most of my photos come because I have words or a caption that I’ve saved and want to share, but it waits for just the right image that can visually portray what the words make/made me feel.
Regarding travelling, I have always wanted to travel. I think because of the books I read, I had this aching desire to see places. To hike mountains and journey like the characters in Middle-earth, Narnia, Fairyland, even over the moors like Jane Eyre, etc. When I was in early high school for some reason I thought that you had to be fabulously wealthy to travel overseas, but then we sat down and started planning a trip and suddenly I saw it’s not impossible – it’s incredibly easy if you save a bit and if you don’t require a lavish trip. Backpacking, hostels, trains – they are some of the best travel memories I have, and will cherish always.
You talk about living more slowly, and what I assume means, too, intentionally, versus wasting time on things that don't matter. How did you come to form this philosophy of life, if you will?
I’ve always kind of been a “get to the point” type person. I have a deep desire for depth, for getting to the roots and clinging to what matters. I tend to feel certain things strongly, sometimes too strongly, and that can get overwhelming when the people around you and the world in general is so full of communication and information nowadays.
I am learning every day to let go of the things that aren’t going to matter in a few years, weeks, days. There is too much that is good and beautiful that needs time and attention, that needs to be properly felt, to fill up my head, heart, house with the little things that don’t last. I’m not perfect at it – I get heated at work over things that I shouldn’t, and I often have to step back and remind myself that they’ll pass - that getting offended, taking things personally, brooding over wrongs, doesn’t do the world any good. If I want to make a difference in what I touch, to leave things better than I found them, then having a cloud of frustration hanging over my head all day probably isn’t a conducive atmosphere for that! But like I said, it’s a daily battle to do better, but one that I’ve found is necessary for me to avoid falling into very dark places.
Have you encountered any nay-sayers that don't understand/appreciate the slow/non-mainstream life you've decided to create for yourself? If so, how do you deal with that? How would you recommend others cultivate the life of their unique dreams?
I don’t know that I would call them nay-sayers necessarily. I have encountered people that may act more negatively towards some of the things that I stand for and believe in. My faith and relationship with God is the most important thing in my life, and unfortunately that is often ridiculed and touted as naïve. I’ve also always wanted to be a wife and mother, and to be able to homeschool my some-day kids the same way I was homeschooled. I have definitely received “flack” for that, especially during my days in college. For some reason it’s perceived as simpleminded to want to be a stay at home mom – I’ve been told that to do so is to allow yourself as a woman to go stagnant, to waste your potential. I think maybe some of the people who feel that way don’t know just how amazing a home can and should be. There’s a quote from Chesterton that sums it up for me pretty well:
*“Of all modern notions, the worst is this: that domesticity is dull. Inside the home, they say, is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. But the truth is that the home is the only place of liberty, the only spot on earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. The home is not the one tame place in a world of adventure; it is the one wild place in a world of rules and set tasks.” *
That concept is what I was raised with, and what I hope to show others and to raise my own family in. Man or woman - we need to slow down so badly in this overwhelmingly fast-paced day and age, but more and more we are finding ourselves looking for fulfillment in these fast-paced arenas and ignoring the foundations that will make us better, stronger, more able and caring, compassionate people. I hope I can show people that the simple things are worth fighting for. It’s so easy to get swept up in the perfection of Instagram models, these grand adventures, and feel like we need to be out there doing those things as well. But I strongly recommend finding the “adventures” near you first, in your own backyard or park. Because once you can see the good in the small things and in the ones around you, what is there that can’t be overcome, can’t be made to be lovely and whole? My only recommendation is to notice the details, and daily chase the little things that fill you with joy.
I notice you have a huge fondness for JRR Tolkien. So, tell us, when did that start and what does he/ his work/ his writing mean to you?
Fondness may be an understatement! I actually first read The Hobbit when I was 9 years old. My parents bought it for me to read on a road trip, but I ended up finishing it in 1 day, so while we were travelling they bought me The Lord of the Rings trilogy to read next. It was the spring of 2001, and The Fellowship of the Ring film would be released that December, so the books had shots from the films on their covers. It took me a little longer to finish the trilogy than it had The Hobbit, but I loved them immediately, and the movies were my favourite films growing up (still are on the top of my list). I’ve read the books more times than I can count (the first set I received at 9 has long disintegrated). They’re a mandatory annual re-read for me still, and sometimes when I’m feeling heavy or weary of the world, I’ll open them up for refreshment and encouragement.
I’ve read almost all of Tolkien’s writings that are published now, and he has had a major influence on who I am as a person. He was a pretty spectacular person, and a passionate one. You can tell how much he loved language, our own, as well as the ancient ones he studied, and the ones he made up himself. But you can see also his heart for good, for fighting the long fight, losing battles in a war that will be ultimately won by the Light, even if we ourselves aren’t around to see the victory. That is something I feel very strongly about – doing what is right, and what we have in us to do, even if we don’t end up winning the day right now.
In all of his writing, too, there is a keen attention to the small things. To the taste of bread, the changing of the seasons, the light of the sun on the leaves of trees. There is a slowness and a love for growing things in his works, and I can’t tell anymore if I love Tolkien because he writes about those things that I already loved, or if I notice and love those things now because Tolkien first showed me how to see them. I think probably it’s the first, because I grew up in a slow-loving household to begin with, but Tolkien’s writings have been and continue to be an influence in my life for the good, an encouragement to continue fighting for what matters most.
You and your husband seem to have such a beautiful, aligned relationship. I'm sure there are difficult times—we're all human—but still, there is a beauty between you two that's made clear through the way you write about him. Given this, what do you advise someone who is looking to find a life partner that really feeds their soul and lives in alignment with them? In essence, what advice do you have when it comes to finding and nurturing a healthy relationship?
First and foremost – I got lucky and married one of the most selfless, thoughtful people you will ever meet in your whole life. But in all honesty, “aligned” is a very good word for our relationship and one of the biggest reasons for that is because we both want the very same things out of life. I know it’s been said before, but it is so important – having goals that align is absolutely necessary for a healthy relationship.
I’ve only been married 2 and a half years, so I don’t know that I’m extremely qualified to give advice, but from watching the relationships of those close to me (for example, my parents going on almost 30 years of marriage), I think some good advice is to wait for the one whose heart and desires resonate with yours. And that doesn’t mean interests. James and I don’t always like the same movies; he’s not nearly as avid a reader as I am, and my brain can’t process the verbal ideas he throws at me for new projects and creative products he’s working on (I always tell him to just show me the final product because a description doesn’t tell my brain anything, poor guy). You can like different things while still being on the same page about the stuff that matters most to you both.
Another thing I think is of extreme importance is that marriage is about putting each other first, putting that relationship with your spouse above the relationship with anyone else, above your career, your friends, your “individuality.” It seems to me that a healthy relationship should be a place where you can feel most yourself anyways, most able to share what moves you, and even if the other person doesn’t fully feel the same way about whatever it is, they understand and take joy in seeing you on fire about what you love, and vice versa. Patience, waiting for that right person is absolutely worth the frustrations of being single or lonely for a time. It ain’t easy, but the end is worth the struggle.
As a book lover, which do you recommend we check out? Any that really formed you or just fed you in a deep way, aside from Tolkien?
I love books, I love reading, and can’t imagine living without being able to read books. Aside from Tolkien, I have a fascination with the British navy during the Napoleonic wars: Patrick O’Brian’s “Master and Commander” series are some of the best written books I’ve ever read. They are moving, painstakingly historically accurate, engaging, and the humour is brilliant.
James and I are both big fans of the Redwall book series by Brian Jacques. Think: medieval mice, badgers and hedgehogs battling evil rats and weasels, all set in beautiful, deadly Mossflower Wood; one of the best parts is all of the food he describes for the feasts at Redwall Abbey – it makes me hungry just thinking about it!
For poetry, Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry are 2 of my favourite modern poets (fuel to the fire for slow, intentional living – noticing the small things and championing them). Though I also love the classics, like Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson, etc.
I read a lot of non-fiction, too, mostly about archaeology, ancient warfare/weapons or history in general, with a bit of exploration and nature writings thrown in (like Thoreau, Muir, etc.). I’m more than happy to talk books or answer questions about any that I post!
For those who feel disconnected from their raw, wild side—maybe they think they're "too mature" to prance in the grass or swim in bodies of water—what do you recommend them to do in order to tap back into it?
I say try it for yourself and see if “maturity” has anything to do with it! Ha! I think putting ourselves in those wild spaces is an invaluable lesson we all need reminding of, no matter our age, job, etc. We need to remember how to live with the same stillness found in “the peace of wild things”, as Wendell Berry said; to jump into the lake; or lay down in the forest and listen to the voices of the trees over our heads telling us things eternal that we’ve forgotten how to listen to with all of the noise and rush of our modern daily.
We’re all so concerned about climate change and destroying the earth, but how often do any of us sit quietly and listen to the breeze? It doesn’t have to be in the middle of the silent mountains! It can’t always be for most of us. We need to find the spaces right next to us to sit and be quiet in. Picnics at a local park, watching the wind in the grass. Listening is a way of learning, a way to teach ourselves what it is that we need to do. I think by slowing down, by letting go of “more,” and in being reminded of what is small and good and natural, we will better understand what it is that we can do to make a difference, and to leave things better than we find them.
How do you unwind? How do you recommend others do?
I read and write as much as I can. I pray, or write prayers on paper, and when I do that it truly feels like it’s pouring out of my heart so that I feel lighter afterwards. I’ve also found that yoga is something that really relaxes me when I’m feeling wound up from all the heaviness of work or the world. I love to sit outside on our tiny back porch when the weather is nice, or take walks in the park near our house (when the mosquitoes aren’t plaguing!).
Less often, we try to go camping, to sleep outside and wade in the creek. And a few times a year we’ll take larger trips to go explore and hike. I have found though, that turning off the noise of phones/emails/music apps/video games, etc., is something desperately needed to come to a place of stillness.
I get tired after work and all I want to do is sit down and watch something on tv, play a video game, or scroll through Instagram, but lately we’ve really been trying to be more conscious of the amount of time that we spend on screens. As kids in the 90’s/early 2000’s we didn’t have the abundance of screens like kids do now, and I really want to raise my kids to play outside and use their own imagination – I think it’s vital for healthy growing up. But if we as parents are spending hours a day on screens, how can we teach our kids not to?? Something that we are working on daily is what I would recommend to others as well – spend as little time with screens as you possibly can. Inevitably that additional time gets filled with more active or creative pursuits. When you aren’t refreshing apps every 5 minutes, it becomes easier to focus on a book or keep the pen in your hand for a few more sentences. When you aren’t worried about keeping up with the latest series on Netflix, it’s easier to get off the couch and take the doggo for a walk around the block, maybe even catch the sunset.
I don’t say any of that to be patronizing – these are all things that I am working on in my own life. Some days we fail, but habits aren’t formed overnight, thankfully. We also observe Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, on Saturdays. It begins Friday evening at sundown and lasts until Saturday evening. We welcome it every Friday night with candle lighting and blessings and prayer, and then for that period of time we don’t buy or sell, we don’t go out to eat, we don’t do any work. It’s a time of rest, a time to let go of money, work, fear for the future, and a time to trust. It’s a deep breath taken at the end of the week before the start of a new one, where when the sun goes down we can exhale and lay down all the things we think we need to hold onto, knowing that we don’t always have to pick them ALL back up again come Saturday night.
Some burdens can be left there at candle lighting as we remind ourselves that we are not in control, and don’t have to pretend to be.
It’s incredibly freeing. Whether you're religious or not, a good book on the subject of “Sabbaths” as moments of rest and mindfulness in the day to day, is called “Sabbath” by Wayne Muller.
What makes, for you, a fulfilling life?
I like Tennyson’s lines: “Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King - Else wherefore born?” Ultimately, I think fulfillment is in living every day better than the one before, no matter how small the difference. Every day we’re given is a chance to do better than we did yesterday.
I fail, I let small things make me angry for too long, I slip into days where I don’t want to feel anything or speak to anyone because it’s all just too much. What’s most important is that we never stop trying. Every day is an opportunity to do good and make better choices, to create habits of life, and not of death. Doing what we can to bring healing and wholeness to the world now is what each of us are made for, whether we ever realize that potential or (tragically) not.
Beautifully put. Okay, so how can we read more of your words, see more of your photos, and/or get in touch with you?
I post most of my photos and writings on my Instagram account (@isleofspring), and that’s really the only platform I use regularly. I made a Wordpress blog years ago, called “aninklingofwater” (a phrase from a letter that Tolkien wrote to his son, Christopher), but I haven’t posted very much on there. I find Instagram a much easier ‘mini’ blog. I don’t want to spend too much time online, so keeping things confined to Instagram is a bit of an easy out for me there.
However, if I do have something longer that I’ve written that I want to share, I will usually end up posting it on the blog. The articles currently there are a pretty good way to get to know me if you have the time to read through them! I like chatting on Instagram though; so, direct messages or comments are a good way to reach out. I try to respond to all of them as long as Instagram lets me see them in time. And of course, if anyone has anything more they’d like to discuss, I’m more than happy to give out my email address!