Here at Saint Ignatius, there is a widely believed misconception that the teachers do not have lives outside of school. While it may be hard to believe, teachers do not actually live at school, and their lives outside of the walls of Saint Ignatius may even surprise students.
Mr. Matthew Sparapani, a Latin teacher and soccer coach at Ignatius, is one of those teachers who occasionally ventures outside of 1076 W Roosevelt Rd. These adventures take Sparapani around the world. He is a proficient hiker and backpacker and also has a love for nature photography. While he has been seriously into hiking photography for the last fifteen years or so, his love for the outdoors began as a teen.
“I was in Boy Scouts and I grew up in Wisconsin, and we would camp eleven months out of the year. That’s where I had my first real contact with hiking and camping…the photography came along a little after college,” Sparapani explained. He has prioritized travel throughout his life, utilizing spring, summer, winter, and Thanksgiving breaks to find hidden pockets of the world to enjoy and then share through his photography and writing.
As Sparapani and his wife began to hike and blog together, their work began to be noticed. A publisher eventually reached out to them, and they published their first book: Plan and Go: Wonderland Trail. This hiking guide to a 93 mile trail on Mt. Rainier in Washington married hiking and photography, something no one else had done before.
Their travels continued, and finally they published a second book. This “labor of love,” as Sparapani calls it, is entitled Hiking Photography, and gives insight to readers on how to take the best pictures on any trail they may encounter. Both books are authored by Mr. Sparapani and his wife and are available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Sparapani carries a Canon 7D Mark II, which is a crop sensor DSLR camera. He uses a variety of lenses depending on his subject. He went on to say that despite his training with a full body camera, he has also been shooting with his iPhone.
“Especially with backpacking I’ve been doing more and more with my iPhone. It really depends on what you’re going to do with the photos. If I’m going to share them on Instagram or on our blog, the iPhone is perfectly fine,” Sparapani revealed. He went to explain that he is, “the President of Riverwoods Nature Photographic Society, and there we actually compete…in a judged environment. For that I have to be using a full body camera to be getting high quality, high resolution images.”
Last summer, Sparapani took a 41 day adventure out West to hike the 500 mile Colorado Trail, which stretches from Denver to Durango, Colorado. He said that “when you spend that amount of time just walking in the woods you let your mind wander and you set your soul free. Walking has become a form of prayer, and ties into my sense of Ignatian Spirituality. I feel like I am in communion with God.”
The time Sparapani has spent out in the world has had a profound effect on him. “It literally broadened my horizons,” he told me. “I was endlessly fascinated, and it has made me so much more appreciative for what I have.” “It has also made it more possible for me to be a teacher, and enjoy every year of meeting a brand new crop of students, and I get to know their stories as well.” Finding beauty in nature has changed his outlook on life, and his trips to Nepal, Africa, Cambodia, Bolivia, Italy, and various other places make him excited to come back to the classroom to begin a new journey every August.
The next stop for the dynamic duo of Mr. Sparapani and his wife, whom he calls his “best friend and companion in the world,” is to the 23,000 foot peaks of the Alay Mountains in Kyrgyzstan. He is very excited to enjoy the cuisine and culture there, spending five weeks mixing culture and nature with hiking and photography.
As for aspiring hikers, photographers, or those who enjoy a combination of the two, Sparapani has some advice: “If travel is your thing, grab your passport and go. Prioritize it. Half of your education is within the four walls of a school building, the other half is about getting out in the world. With regards to photography, grab a camera. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your iPhone or anything bigger and more expensive. It’s the quality of your eye that matters.”
Mr. Sparapani leads a life of adventure. He knows what he loves, and has made it a priority in his life. He is also not the only teacher in the building with incredible stories to share, so throw away that misconception and take time to listen to the amazing things that the faculty at Saint Ignatius have to say. Additionally, make sure to follow Mr. Sparapani’s adventures on Instagram @takeahikephotography or on his blog at takeahikephotography.com.