The entire forest seemed to be clinging to summer. The trees kept their vibrant green, and the thick, spongy moss climbed over rocks and tree trunks. But evidence of Fall crept in, chilling the boulders as the sun set. Despite the beauty of Maine’s mountain sunsets, I felt betrayed by the fleeting sun, resenting the champaign pinks in the sky that exploded in it’s wake.
In a moment of fear driven autoscopy, I found myself in one of the most notoriously treacherous regions of Maine’s wilderness wearing a thin, cotton sweatshirt, and sports shorts, with bulky camera equipment strapped to my increasingly aching back. My companions were three people I had met thirty hours ago, and my empty stomach seemed to rumble in sync with the hollow clink of my nearly empty water bottle. The ominous sounds of rustling leaves infiltrated any peace of mind I was trying to maintain. Between paranoid over-the-shoulder bear checks and map reviews, the question surfaced: How did I get myself into this?
Answering that question starts across the country in sunny Laguna Beach, California circa 1990. My father, an uncommonly kind, Japanese, technology-sales-guy and my mother, a creative free spirit, blue-eyed, blonde-haired bombshell had me. My older sister, younger brother, and I grew up in a creative home. We didn’t have cable (the best morning cartoon I had was Arthur), and instead did lots of camping, family field trips, and art projects. My dad was the source of the corniest jokes, morphing sales-guy idioms and dad teasing, which I slowly started noticing only make sense one fourth of the time. I saw my dad last Christmas and he offered his wit and wisdom over morning coffee, saying, “Yeah well, when the snake is in garden shed, don’t piss in the pot, ya know?!” I think he may have morphed a few things there, but he said it with such confidence that we all nodded in agreement and laughed, my dad laughing the hardest.
I was the middle child, and my mother encouraged creativity through the way she lived: fearless of social “norms.” I think fear tends to suppress creativity, so she, being the fearless wonder she is, had a very creative and authentic energy to her. Her mentality would manifest itself when she would do things like prank call my high school teachers, soccer coaches, and my friend’s moms who were in our carpool. I must say her characters were well executed, but I wasn’t always so proud. I laugh at her audacity now, but brace-faced,16-year-old me found this mortifying. Without my knowing, my mother’s utter disregard for what’s normal influenced me.
My father had much different talents: his mastery of storytelling. If he wanted, he could captivate an audience with a story about licking envelopes, which was thankfully rarely his topic of choice. He transformed the everyday mundane into awe-inspiring tales. I loved the way he looked at life. I cherished these two attributes that my parents organically handed to me, and carried them with me into adulthood.
Post-college, I started my big kid life in Chicago. It took a few jobs for me to realize that what I really wanted to do was be a storyteller. Like most people, I am drawn to great stories. I believe truly knowing the story of a person, a family, a place, a culture makes the world a better place. And the mediums for stories that I love were books and films. I inherited my father’s love for telling and hearing a good story and followed my heart with my mother’s disregard for convention. So at age 23, I started Higuchi Productions, a freelance videography business.
I wanted to be involved with people and sincere stories. This vague criteria led me to bike shops, weddings, jewelry stores, cancer fighters, photographers, musicians, and last but not least, to three crazy people trying to break the speed record for the Appalachian Trail.
I was hired as the videographer. On the very first night of the trip, we miscalculated a 10-mile hike up a mountain. Five miles of the hike were above tree line, consisting of boulder scrambling with treacherous windspeed, which significantly slows anyone’s pace.
When we finally got below tree line, the full moon had risen, casting slabs of silver light through the pine tree trunks. I grew paranoid that 5-inch, adorable toads were man-eating bears, and I took one step at a time, telling myself over and over again, at least this is going to be a good story. One step more. My lantern started to flicker. Added suspense. I looked at my phone and tapped it, willing it to magically turn on, despite dying hours ago. Of course that didn’t work, and what would I do with a cell phone out here anyway?
Finally, as I heard the river that indicated we were minutes from the safety of the campsite, I felt the fear evaporate. With the newly found relief, I tried to soak up every last detail of the past few hours. How would I tell friends back home that THIS is what happened the first night? What makes this a good story? What makes any story a good story?
I think what makes a good story will always be a question that I contemplate. And my answer will continue to grow, but one crucial component is that a good story should have something that every human can relate to.
I certainly learned my lesson about nature. The excitement of the first day blinded us to the humility and precaution aboslutely necessary whenever in the wilderness. But this night contains something that I think most people have gone through at some point: feeling vulnerable. Despite precautions and preparations, I was in a situation where I felt emotionally and physically vulnerable. I wanted to feel safe, but I had willingly signed up for a project that I knew would take me out of my comfort zone. That was the essence of this story. When I tell people about the first night in Maine, they understand the vulnerability. Whenever there is something people care about, there is inherent novelty. People want to know how it ended because the impulse or the memory of being vulnerable in some way is relatable. This connection allows people to know one another and themselves better. Sometimes I hear someone’s story and I feel like I come away knowing myself a little bit better too.
I look for the sincere stories that surround us, embracing all the humanness that comes with sharing stories. This passion of storytelling through film and writing has taught me that if I open my mind, there is beauty everywhere, and knowing a story opens up more channels to grow and to love. This notion is the essence of both my business and me.
Thanks for reading about me. I would love to hear about you.
– Ashley Higuchi