Machu Picchu. 10 years ago

Ten years ago my three sisters (along with several friends) and I took a trip to Peru. Expertly planned, the trip started in Cusco and then had us hiking into Machu Picchu over the mountaintops, taking the ancient Inca Trail into one of the world’s most exquisite spots. It was speechlessly beautiful, mysterious and powerful. It was also a memorable hike with sisters who have known each other for a lifetime.

Nicholas Nixon, neighbor and photographer extraordinare, immortalized the passage of time for sisters in his legendary project, The Brown Sisters. Every year his wife Bebe would get together with her three sisters, and every year Nick would photograph them standing together in the same order. The latest book of Brown Sisters photographs that Nick published covered a period of 33 years. Watching those beautiful Brown sisters live out their lives in time—especially dramatic when the photographs are mounted on one wall and can be seen all at once—is quite moving and unforgettable.


The first Brown Sisters photo, 1975, by Nicholas Nixon

My sisters and I have never been as disciplined in our time together as the Browns have been, but we know every line in each other’s faces, remembering well the young women who used our names and had no idea what life would bring. With a little imagination, the Brown sisters portraits become the march of time for the Barlow sisters—relentlessly different from each other and yet inextricably linked.

Tomorrow we are traveling together again but this time it is just the four of us, par nous-mêmes. We are going into the Canadian Rockies for 10 days, doing splendid isolation and the “alone together” that is my experience of high mountain hiking. It feels emblematic, this journey: It is our first trip together since our mother died nearly three years ago.

I will be outside the cyber and cell zone but back online July 15.

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