Where I belong


So remember how I said I had two days of being a bawl-bag and then I was fine? A-okay? A juicy peach ripe for the picking? Okay that last one I don’t even know what that means, I just wanted a third thing indicating A-okay-ness.

Well that was before Illinois. I had two days on the road dallying in the West, drinking fine coffee in Sioux Falls, then spending the night at a friends house in Madison where we talked relationships and how bleeding fickle they are, while he plied me with wine and hand cooked vegetables.

And then right about the time I exited Wisconsin, accidentally leaving my favorite insulated water bottle at a Dickey’s in South Dakota and leaving my makeup bag at my friends house in Madison—because God knew my brain was losing functions—I merged into Illinois and began to feel it. Wrong. It all felt very wrong. And I am not even talking the actual breakup from my boyfriend anymore, I am talking about the breakup from Wyoming. This one felt like a huge mistake and like I wanted to call Wyoming and say, I didn’t mean it! I’ve loved you all along! It has always been you and it took leaving to truly know for sure.

With every highway sign that said East and not West, my stomach lurched and my brain begged me to turn around. With every billboard that popped up touting adult superstores and gentlemens clubs because we were nearing the big cities, I felt a queasiness that could not be quelled. With every smokestack puffing fumes along the dismal grey horizon, my soul sunk into a kind of sadness that was entirely matched by my surroundings. It was like Illinois could sardonically point out, hey I’ve got ill in my name, this is natural. (And I mean no disrespect Illinois, I am going through a breakup you see and I feel very melancholy and prone to these bouts of sad punnery).

One of the toll-booth operators along the way asked what part of Wyoming I was from and I explained the Bighorns, not wanting to reveal that I wasn’t actually from Wyoming. He said he was from Laramie and that he owned some land in Wyoming but that he didn’t get there much as his wife liked to vacation in Grand Haven or Florida. I wanted to tell him his wife was an idiot and that she didn’t deserve Wyoming and could I have his land if it wasn’t being put to any use?

By the time I reached my exit for Fowlerville, I was in a state. Boy was I in a state. Underneath the sign for my hometown I was surprised I didn’t see lettering in parentheses (where dreams go to die). I told you I was in a state. Grim was now where I was located. Not Fowlerville, Michigan.

I walked into my house and looked at the walls and my siblings eager to give me hugs and I was kind of quiet and shaky. I sat down at the counter and tried to picture the comfort I was supposed to feel in my childhood home that my mom had decked out to look like a shabby chic lovers dream.

But amidst the cool whites and turquoise antiques I felt nothing but panic. Like a deer who thought he had time to cross the highway into the safety of his forest and then headlights come around the bend and he knows. He just knows he made a mistake in judgement.

I have left places before. Many in fact and each time I have felt a certain kind of acute sadness for leaving people I loved and a place I had grown accustom to, but none like this. None with such a strong urge to get back in my car and turn around immediately. I said it to my sisters as I sat in my old room, that was now occupied by my fourteen year old sister and a slew of stuff that didn’t belong to me.

It wasn’t just that the West is grand and open and full of an untamed beauty that is both bold and inviting, perhaps mirroring my spirit, it was that the West is kind. And not oppressive, because it is vast. And it held me in a way that made me feel like the kind of person I am supposed to be. The kind of person that can flourish because I hiked two hours to the top of a mountain by myself. And that kind of thing bolsters a girl.

I have to go back, I wept into the pillow, mascara staining it in splotches. My sister rubbed my back and said, “then go back.”

I didn’t have a plan at first. I still don’t really have one now, but as I lay on a little carry-away bed on the living room floor of my parents house, having begged my sister to get me one of my mom’s Xanax so I could sleep, I felt in my heart that the West was where I belonged, knowing it more than I ever felt in New York City or Virginia or any other place I’ve roamed. I adored those places sure, but for the entirety of my time in the West I have known it was my home. The home for me. Maybe not my sisters, maybe not anyone else, but it is where I belong.

And if leaving created in me such a vile, hostile, almost allergic reaction then I know what I’ve got to do. I am not saying I am just turning around, though that is very flippant and like me and I probably could wing it. But no. I fear maybe I am getting too old for that.

I am just going to find a way, a better job, a situation in which I can take care of myself and save for land. And my ranch. And my horses. And a barn. And a dog. And then some goats and probably an old Ford pickup, but one thing at a time.

Here is the thing though. I am a very determined person. Especially when I am agonized. And last night I lay there feeling like my entire existence was hurting me. Everything hurt. All of it and I felt overwhelmed to a degree where a Xanax was definitely in order. However, in the cool (admittedly still grey) light of day, I had fiery action pulsing through my veins.

My mom must’ve sensed it, because before I could even tell her how wrong it all was, she said, “you want to go back? Just go back.”

Just like that. Supportive as ever and not for one second believing me to be the idiot I often deem myself to be—one who doesn’t really think big life decisions all the way through and instead relies on her emotional state and then second guesses it anyway.

I couldn’t think about the suckage this morning, instead I focused on action plans combined with thankfulness that being home meant that my mama had a constant pot of black coffee on and would fill my cup (both literally and figuratively) every time I needed it.

So I don’t know what I am doing or how long I will have to do it, but the West is my great love, and if you are foolish enough to leave your great love, just know that if they’re truly great they’ll take you back, forgiving your tiny little misjudgement.

And at any rate, I had the best naysayer before I left the West and if you know me at all, you will know how much I adore naysayers and how much they motivate me. But more on that later. I have to rope you in somehow. See what I did there? Rope you in. Like a cowboy—I don’t feel like saying cowgirl, because I think they’re a little too flashy and fringey for me. So yeah, like a cowboy.

I meant what I said.

Forever West


I have loved my time in the West so immensely, that I naturally wanted to do a salute to my experience here. I am mostly at a loss for words as to how to tell you of my deep and abiding love for this place and so without the words for it, I have instead rounded up some (errr a lot) of my favorite photos from my time spent here in the mountains.

I hope you sense the love.

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A Christmas Tree Cutting


My sisters and I live in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Some rumors were flying around since I got here that you could cut down your own Christmas tree. Now to those in the know, or perhaps in the West, or maybe even anywhere but Fowlerville, Michigan—where I grew up—this wouldn’t seem an unusual concept.

But in my mind, the only people who cut down their own Christmas trees were the Griswold family or people with hundreds of acres of land—like oil barons, but oil barons who dressed like normal people but weren’t, because they own an oil conglomerate.

So when it came time for my own potential pine, I considered all the people who were out and about in the Bighorns hacking down trees. I asked about this. Could people really just go into the forest and chop down a tree? That seemed to have illegal written all over it. Well, I was right. You can’t just go into the forest and chop down a tree, all willy-nilly. But you can, however, go to the Forestry Department first, like a law-abiding lil lass and pay for a permit to cut down a Christmas tree.

I had never heard of such wonder and delight. But I prepared myself thinking to acquire a permit to cut down your own tree would cost at least $40. So when the nice gent at the Forestry—bedecked in his appropriately forest green uniform—told me that the permit was in fact $8, I almost did hip swivels accompanied by boisterous fist pumps. But I didn’t. Because that’s uncouth. Although I bet the Forestry man might not have minded. But the prospect of cutting down my own Christmas tree in the mountains for a mere $8 was pretty jazzy—and wildly inexpensive—as far as firsts go.

On the day that would be the Christmas tree cutting, I bundled up in my newly purchased for life atop a mountain: $3 ski suit that zipped all the way to my chin. I donned my faux fur bear hat, grabbed my rusty old ax, some rope and hot cocoa for myself and the girls.

We located a field a couple of miles away from the lodge. After parking the car we began our trudge into the forest to find the perfect tree. We mulled some over here and there but none that struck us as the perfect Christmas tree. So we kept on. Scraggly brown brush were scattered throughout the field that I thought looked like they might belong somewhere swampy but the ground we were walking on was packed and firm so I thought nothing more about it as we wove into the forest.

We had just contemplated whether to wind our way back along the forest line toward the car or go a little deeper in when we spotted a tree with a halo of light glowing down upon it. Once all our eyes clapped onto the tree we agreed she looked like a beaut as we made our way toward her to further investigate. We got excited inspecting: the tree looked to be the appropriate height for our small abode, had sturdy branches and was altogether charming.

It was our tree alright. Kia said a little prayer of thanks that the tree was giving its life for our Christmas fancies and I took the first hack with my rusty but very efficient ax. After we all took turns chopping for the sheer lumberjacky-ness of it, we had the tree down and Kirstie roped it with what she called her “Boy Scout” techniques. I am certain these knots were not Boy Scout approved, but she got the job done and looped the rope over her shoulders to start pulling the tree out of the forest.

Kia took a turn as the tree was heavier than it looked. I mosied ahead, taking a different way back and not much paying attention to our footprint tracks from the way there. I found myself in that same brown brush again. I was holding my cocoa and the ax when suddenly I felt myself sinking fast beneath the snow. It felt like quicksand as I glanced down to see my left leg sinking in mucky brown goo up to my thigh. My right leg was safely pressed against some brush and not yet sunk.

I lurched my body backwards to avoid sinking further into the mud bog and yelled at the girls to get back, thinking the situation was worse than it was. Like that maybe I was about to be enveloped in mysterious brown goop that would swallow me whole as I flailed and told the girls to save themselves. I am highly dramatic like that. As I pulled my left leg out of the muddy glop, a smell rather pungent and along the lines of cow shit hit my nostrils.

I shimmied back, getting myself unlodged from the mess, assessing my now mud-soaked leg as the girls stared on and laughed from behind me.

“I think it’s a poop pit!” I yelled, scrunching up my nose in disgust, remembering that this exact field had housed numerous cattle all summer long. “I just fell in a poop pit!”

As I quickly backtracked my steps to avoid any more surprise underbellies of filth and muck I couldn’t help but note the hilarity of the situation. Only I would manage to walk atop some dingy cow pie pasture while on a happy Christmas tree hunt.

Kia was looking a little like an overworked mule dragging the Christmas tree across the field so I took over while she and Kirst went ahead. I was naturally quite nervous about more surprise mud bog/poop pits so I yelled to the girls to avoid the brown brush and make sure the ground was secure before I came through with the Christmas tree.

Kirst crossed an area that was teeming with the brown brush and I paused, asking her if any of the ground was squishy. She said no and that she’d made it across fine. I still hesitated, “but you’re like 100 pounds lighter than me!” I yelled, looking at the brush nervously and my already soaked left leg.

I delicately made my way across the field, now heaving with sweat from pulling our perfect little tree. I made it across just fine. And upon reaching the car, peeled off my snowsuit and threw it in the trunk and then all three of us girls climbed and maneuvered to get the tree tied to the roof.

We got home to haul it in, set it up and inspect our handiwork… only to realize that much like the Griswolds who had a similarly enlightening experience with a tree in the woods only to get home and find it was 7,000 times too large… ours was perhaps 7,000 times too small. Or at least not nearly as full and lush and brilliant as it had seemed in the forest surrounded by her other piney friends.

It didn’t matter though. We were all fiercely in love with our tree, our handiwork and the charm that only a freshly cut Christmas tree could possess. Our lil gal was perfect. We donned ugly Christmas sweaters and got her bedecked in Christmas flair. And then staring at our tree glowing in silvers and blues and old fashioned Christmas lights… I realized that even with falling in a poop pit, my first adventure of cutting down a Christmas tree in the wilds of Wyoming was entirely satisfactory.

Merry Christmas y’all!