He’s the Berries (Part 1)

Musings

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.
Rick, –Casablanca

It is no secret that I am a romance-a-holic. I kid that I have been this way since I left the womb… maybe ask my mother to back this point up as she’s the only one who can give you the real facts on my womb exit. Or ya know, maybe don’t. Just take my word for it.

Anyhow, when I packed up for the West, which has a romance all her own, I had some notions of the kind of romantic grandeur I was looking for. Naturally I expected to be romanced pure and proper by the mountains—and lord help me, those beauties nearly romance my pants right off daily. Nearly, I said. Don’t worry, I am wearing pants.

I also liked to make grandiose declarations before I left the Midwest about how I was off to find my cowboy. I even packed my cream lace flapper dress I had worn for a Roaring 20’s party the Halloween before, telling my dad, the justification for taking such a dress to live on a mountaintop in Wyoming was in case I did in fact meet my cowboy and he was so taken with me that he just whisked me away. At least I would be prepared with a lace dress should such a man fall for me in such a way.

Here is the thing about cowboys. They have this essence about them that embodies all the things I like: ruggedness, the outdoors, they always have a horse… but besides all that, if my experience with the Farmers Only matchmaking commercials was any indication, I suspected cowboys, like farmers, might be real good old fashioned men just hankering for a girl who wants to live on a farm (or ranch) cook homemade bread and have babies on her hip—while she writes and whisks things—and her cowboy rustles up chickens, mends fences and generally goes about being handsome and handy.

At least that’s how it always plays out in my mind. I blame Pioneer Woman and Chip and JoJo on HGTV’s Fixer Upper for giving me ideas on the kind of cowboy I wanted to find. Also JoJo’s cowboy—or version of it—is a goofy and kind cowboy who knows how to build all kinds of things, ride horses and also thinks JoJo is the berries. That’s what my mom says when something is really wonderful. Well isn’t that the berries.

So with cowboys and mountains on the brain, I headed West with all sorts of hankerings in my heart, knowing I would find mountains. And simply telling all my customers if they spotted a good cowboy who happened to be looking for a good gal, well then to point him in my direction.

I once had a table of two sweet old men, who asked me why I had come to Wyoming. I always thought this was a rather obvious question but I’ve never minded answering it one bit. I always answered in the same fashion: that I came for the scenery—the mountains and the cowboys. What more could a girl want? When they asked if I’d found my cowboy, I placed a hand on my hip, and said, “well no, but I saw one out there riding’—waving my hands in the direction of the adjacent field—‘the other day and I about dropped what I was doing and went and hopped on his horse with him.”

They seemed rather bemused and later when I went to refill their coffees one of the men waved me away saying he couldn’t have any more coffee. “I’d be liable to get jittery and run over that cowboy who’s looking to marry you.”

“Oh no don’t do that!” I exclaimed.

They wished me well on finding him and went about their day. I never really believed my life to be so propitious that I’d actually find a cowboy in the West, but I am ever the hopeful one.

And then… in he walked one evening to have some spaghetti and meatballs, cherry pie and glass of milk. My cowboy that is. Of all the lodges, in all the mountains, in all the world, he walked into mine.

Nothing was different about this day of work on the mountain. I had my hair in a side braid. I was dressed in my usual Catwoman waitressing attire of all black. The only difference was I wasn’t on my normal morning shift. I was covering Kirstie’s evening shift because she had the day off. In fact here is the intriguing part. The night prior Kirst had come home and I was playing a game of Scrabble with a friend. I was intent on beating him so was half listening to Kirst telling me about her day and this dreamy pilot she had met. Kirst waxes a lot of poetic about dreamy men so I wasn’t all that phased. She carried on about this particular pilot’s smile. She went on and on.

I nodded and said, “that’s nice, Kirst,” not giving one thought to the pilot or his smile.

Until the next day. The pilot came in for dinner. Of course I didn’t know he was the infamous smiley pilot yet. I didn’t have any tables at the moment and so I sat him in a booth and took his order.

I talked to him here and there. And then other patrons started to trickle in. After checking on how he was doing with his pie, he mentioned that he had my sister as a waitress the night prior. I smiled and said, “oh yeah?”

“Yeah, she mentioned that I would have you today. She said my sister’s real pretty.”

I beamed, thinking how nice it was for Kirst to say that to a handsome stranger and I was starting to become a little taken aback with his smile. I cannot recall if it was that moment that I started to make the connection and asked him if he was a pilot or he offered that information up, but suddenly my mind latched onto the information at hand. This was the smiling pilot that had Kirst all twitterpated the night before. My initial reactions were:

Oh my, she was right!
And
Oh no, he probably likes Kirst already. And Kirst likes him.

Doomsday.

I tried not to think about that as I got a little busier with other tables. Still the pilot lingered and I would catch his smile as I passed and my stomach tightened. I brought out plates of dinner to a table, set them down and scurried away wanting more sneak peaks of the pilot. When I went back to check on my table, they told me I’d brought them the wrong food.

I realized I wasn’t paying a lick of attention to what I was doing. I was completely consumed by that smile of his.

There were a lot of hunters atop the mountain—including the pilot who wasn’t actually from Wyoming but Pennsylvania—looking for elk and big bucks and several were now in for dinner. One of them, sitting alone near the pilot had struck up a conversation with him and the pilot had joined him to visit. I went over to check how they were doing. The hunter, named, Bill asked me, “now when are you two getting hitched?” motioning to the pilot and I.

I will admit the question had delighted me. I thought, what a weird question to ask a waitress and some guy she was waiting on, but nonetheless, if anyone was going to assume I was getting hitched, I was deeply flattered that Bill thought I could land a dashing pilot with a smile to weaken the knees of girls for mountain miles.

Before I could think of a cheeky quip, the pilot answered, “Oh, I can’t hold her down, she keeps traveling all over the world,” and then he winked at me. At which point I wanted to faint onto his lap in my own heap of twitterpated glee. But instead I turned to Bill, with a hand on my hip and said, “Don’t let him fool you, he hasn’t asked.”

Bill’s response was to inform me that I should just forge the pilot’s name to a marriage certificate. I was indignant and told Bill as much.

“That’s not how I want to land any man! I want him to be wildly taken with me. I am not forging anything!”

Bill laughed and the pilot smiled. My heart lurched. I scampered away before I really did do something rash like propose to him.

The hunter and the pilot lingered all the way until closing time and as I sort of pretended to be busy at the front counter but mostly wanted to eyeball the dashing pilot, Bill came up to the counter and asked me when my next day off was. It was Monday and I told Bill that I had Wednesday off. He motioned his hand behind him to where the pilot sort of lingered in line waiting to pay and was smiling at me still. “I think this one wants to take you to dinner in town? Would you like to go to dinner with him?”

“Yeah, I’ll go to dinner with him,” I said, not believing for a moment that the pilot wanted to take me out, but hoping by some miracle it wasn’t just a meddling hunter trying to fix up a waitress; but that maybe… possibly…. that gorgeous man did want to take me out.

“Alright then, it’s all set,” Bill said. “Do I get a commission for fixing you guys up?”

“Only if we get hitched,” I laughed.

I went home in a vague fog of delight and instantly started gushing to my other sister Kia, the way Kirst had done to me the night prior. I even quoted that Casablanca quote to her. I felt something important was stirring in the universe and I didn’t yet know what, but I knew I fancied it, something like surprise warm chocolate chip cookies upon getting home from school after a particularly grueling bus ride home. Ask my best friend Emily for details on this.

Some Version of Camping

Musings

_DSC1136
About a week ago, after a six day work week of ten hour days spent hustling between tables and scraping leftover bites of pancake into the trash, it was imperative that Kirst and I escaped the lodge for a bit. And truly escaped, meaning no day spent off catching up on cleaning, or paying bills or driving two hours down the mountain to go linger in coffee houses. No, none of that. We were going to instead be one with Mother Nature. We were going camping. Or as my good friend Francis would say, campin’.

We left our trailer in the early afternoon as I wanted to spend an unhurried morning lazily flipping through one of the 12 books on Hemingway I picked up from the library. As I readied the car and looked at the directions drawn out for me by a forest ranger for our designated nature adventure, I spotted Kirst coming in and out of our laundry room—which really doubles as one giant dressing room—with multiple bags. The route we needed to take was what the term “off-road” was coined for. We would need to cross a river that had washed out the road and then go straight up into the mountain, over various rocks and potholes big enough to be considered small gorges. I watched as Kirst loaded clothing piece after clothing piece and bag after bag into the living room.

“Do you want me to pack body wash?” she asked in passing.

“Why on earth would we need body wash for one night of camping?” I asked.

“I don’t know…” she said as she stuffed more clothes into her already heaping bag.

“Kirst, where do you think we’re going? Paris? Why are you packing so many outfits? We are coming back tomorrow.”

She disregarded me as she loaded up another bag with paints and books.

“You do realize we have to carry all this stuff across the river if my car can’t make it across.”

“Oh really?” she looked surprised that any work would be involved in this camping trip.

“We also have to carry the tent, the air mattress, the cooler, the food bag, the fire wood, the blankets, the pillows, the hammocks…”

“Oh…” she seemed contemplative over this information but still unwilling to downsize on any of her “essentials.”

We were going to have to cross the river in the car. Or camp elsewhere. Or I would simply have to accept that camping with Kirst meant some version of glamping where she put on her white wedge sandals for the ride to look the part of fashionable summer gal.

At this point I should note that my tire had all but disintegrated a few nights prior and my good pals had to put the spare on… which was still on. I meant it when I said no errands and no runs to town on my day off, even for tire repair. Which left us with the question of do we ford a river in a somewhat sissy SUV with a spare on to get to Calvin Lake to camp?

Well ya know that joke, Why did the chicken cross the road… To get to the other side. I think the chicken must have worked a whole bunch of overtime, waiting tables at a mountain lodge and had this one beautiful coveted day off a week and he had heard of this pristine lake on the other side of a road that had been flooded and so naturally he was getting to that other side. My only confusion is why this is considered a joke. This is no joke, man. I totally get why that chicken was willing to get plowed down by a vehicle to see what was over yonder. I was willing to risk getting stuck in a river, on a mountain, with no cell service, just for a glimmer of what I knew was tucked into the Big Horns.

When we arrived at said river and the sign that said Road Closed, I hesitated for a moment staring at the water. It didn’t look too deep or fast flowing. Though my SUV is a baby brat, she does have one thing going for her and that is height. I asked Kirst her thoughts and she told me to just gun it. And so I did. I fucking forded a river. In my girly SUV. With the spare on. That’s exactly how Lewis and Clark would’ve handled that slight dilemma too.

Okay, so for making it across the river, my vehicle could not make it up the next road which was straight incline combined with jagged grooves of dirt and rock. I tried going up anyway and made it about halfway before having to reverse all the way back down.

Kirst and I decided to find a camping spot in the nearby woods and mountaintops and then hike up to the lake instead. While setting up our hammocks I went to retrieve rope from the car and felt a presence near me. I lifted my eyes to see a moose staring back at me from about 100 yards away where the grass dipped into a creek.

My heart stopped and I quickly ducked down so he wouldn’t see me. Kirst who was off to my left, tucked into the forest was oblivious. I loudly whispered, “Kirst!” several times until she looked at me and I motioned her over while pointing with big eyes at our visitor who now had dipped his head into the creek. Kirst came over and together we stood on the inside ledge of the car leaning over for a good look.

From time to time the moose lifted his head up, met our eyes, and then dipped back down to munch on grass and gulp water. We were giddy as we repeatedly looked at each other, then looked at him. Well as long as he stayed where he was and we had a ton of steel between the two of us as protection in case he decided to charge.

After hiking up our appetite on the way to see Calvin Lake, we discussed food on the way back down and how I forgot to pack the marshmallows while Kirst was busy packing multiple outfit changes.

“Is there anything else we could roast?” she asked as she navigated her way back down the trail. I followed behind taking photos.

“No,” I said.

“Well I am going to roast your fingers then,” she quipped. I smiled, delighted by her response. “Or we could roast some ants or cockroaches. You know some people do that… Actually I couldn’t be one of those wilderness survival people. I love the wilderness but if I was in that situation, I’d just let wilderness take me down.” I laughed as I watched her touch tree branches and observe Mother Nature.

We got nestled back in our tent just as it began to rain. We devoured our snacks. Now this is where maybe I didn’t get the memo on appropriate camping snacks as instead of buying some ballpark franks and mallows, I had packed proscuitto, goat cheese, hummus, pita crackers, veggies and dark chocolates. Errrr and maybe some mint oreos for extra chocolate measure. Oh and Leinenkugels. Lots and lots o’ Leinenkugels.

We lounged and read and napped and hammocked in the breezy Wyoming high country. We awoke to a clear sky and snorts from a nearby animal. I froze thinking the moose was back and surely would trample the tent with us in it. I peaked out and saw a deer meandering past.

I unzipped the tent and went to make the fire.

We sat beside it basking til dusk and then went back into the warmth of the tent to play Scrabble and await the midnight sky and the star show that would ensue. When we unzipped again, the sight before us was nothing short of Godly in its overwhelming perfection. We oohed and ahhed and shivered and took turns peeing one last time behind the car.

As soon as we were back in the tent we heard nearby snorts again and froze, looking at each other in girlish irrational fear. We each located the large and imposing knives Francis had sent with us. We told ourselves it was just deer and put one knife on either side of the bed and hunkered down in cozy abandon.

I awoke several times in the night shivering in the frigid mountain air, clinging to Kirst for warmth and more warmth, twining my legs around her, to acquire all of her body heat. I borderline wanted her to just lie on top of me, maybe even my head so I could get some relief from the chill, but I dozed in and out clinging to her, breathing hot huffs on myself to perhaps warm my nose.

Even though every time I camp, it ends up being the worst nights sleep of my life: I wake up on a rock, with a dewy tent on my face, my back is stiff, or I am chilled to my very marrow, it seems entirely worth it for the endless stretches in nature, free from Facebook or work concerns and then those happy run-ins with moose and abandoned fishing poles on mountain lakes.

Honestly, if you haven’t camped, or glamped as Kirst and I would do it—with tall wedge sandals and prosciutto—well then, you are missing something truly grand. Even if you have to sleep with a knife under your bed and your sister on top of you.

_DSC1100 _DSC1105 _DSC1113 _DSC1115 _DSC1118 _DSC1121 _DSC1131 _DSC1142 _DSC1143 _DSC1146 _DSC1149