If This is 29…

Musings

My twenty-ninth year has arrived. And in style I might add. Admittedly I was getting a wee bit skittish about inching ever closer to the nervy thirty, simply because I am so goal-oriented and feel that I am not quite where I ought to be for thirty-ish. Sure 401K’s and babies seem appropriate but I am not giving much thought to either of those at the moment, even if I should. No. My only thoughts seem to center around my writing career taking off and well, adventure.

This is only natural as adventure has been my long time beau and damn if he isn’t good to me. Celebrating a birthday as a new transplant to the West was as enchanting as one might expect with all these mountains and old fashioned gents about. A girl could get downright spoiled if she weren’t careful. In fact that was most definitely the theme of my birthday. Spoiled, spoiled rotten. Just how I like it.

But before you get the wrong impression in thinking I’m a birthday brat, although I am a little bit of a birthday brat, understand that my favorite part of my birthday isn’t about being spoiled with presents. It’s the fact that I get spoiled with love and affection from all my favorite people across the globe. And if that isn’t about as humbling and awe-inspiring as standing before a mountain top, then I don’t know what is.

Then my main man, God went and did one better and spoiled me with Mother Earth. I already adore my birthday so I was off to a swell start with my waffle heaped with strawberries and whipped cream and piping hot cup of Joe in my cowboy mug. I was so full of pep and pizzazz that a coworker of mine asked me in all seriousness if I was on drugs. I resisted replying that I was high on life—I am corny but not that corny—but did indeed explain that, no I did not need drugs to feel this good and why would I ever need drugs in a world where birthdays and mountains coexist?

I proceeded to take myself on a date down the mountain. I stopped in town at the old Mercantile and visited a little with the old men lounging there. Then I wove my way into a canyon with raging rapids flowing past me on my left and jutting red rock faces sprouting up in front of me on all surrounding sides. I gasped in delight and felt an abundance of gratitude to share my birthday with the canyon and endearing locals.

A couple hours later I drove back up the mountain to pick up my sister so that we could then drive right back down the other side of the mountain into wild horse territory. I had spoken with one of my best friends on the phone and told him if I did indeed spot wild horses on my birthday then I really was the most spoiled birthday girl this side of the Missip.

When Kirst and I made our way down into the bright and blazing sunshine of the valley, Kirst couldn’t contain her excitement over the landscape in front of us. She kept squealing that she needed to marry the land, and run through the vast fields before us, and kiss the ground and gather good Native American spirits. I pulled over so she could do three out of the four. I really would marry Wyoming too, but who would perform the ceremony?

Kirst true to form bounded out of the car and ran straight for the nearest field where she wove this way and that. She laid down and jumped up, kissed the ground and pointed to cactus as this side of the mountain was dry, hot and barren, while the other side I had just been on was lush with green and misty with low hanging clouds. When I caught up to her she was lying on her poncho staring at the sky.

I felt giddy with her enthusiasm for the striking nature before us in every direction. The mountains stretched as far as the eye could see and boasted every possible color. Deep blue in some areas, red and speckled, green and rolling, grey and jagged, white capped with snow or shadowed from the clouds above.

I knelt down to kiss the earth too. It seemed only right. I wanted to honor Her. And maybe Kirst was right. Maybe Native American spirits or Mother Earth or some force much bigger than us would take note of our love and shine favorably upon us.

We made our way back to the car to head into the wild horse range. There we crossed over into Montana. We stopped at Devil’s Canyon, a canyon so deep, my mind couldn’t fathom that there are canyons larger, like the Grand Canyon. Again I was humbled deep into my core for my existence and my part in the universe, however small it may be. And standing next to that gorge of rock, I felt very small indeed. In that beautiful way of feeling small, like maybe sometimes that is exactly the size you ought to be.

We moved on and yes, we did spot two wild horses. While my romantic, fanciful brain expected them to be running or kicking up their legs in obvious wild abandon, the two black beauties we came upon were casually munching on some grass oblivious to me and Kirst’s ogling.

After staring for a spell, we wound our way to the bottom of the canyon where the river spliced through rock. We turned around to head back up and passed a herd of horses being led around the winding road by cowboys. But wait… wait. Upon exiting the wild horse range I spotted a massive rainbow taking hold of the sky to my left while Kirst dozed in the passenger seat. At this point, the sight might’ve been overkill, with the canyons and wild horses and cowboys, but it was simply an affirmation that the West had won me over, fully and implicitly.

Being that both Kirst and I are somewhat poor planners, nothing was open for dinner in the small town at the base of the mountain, as it was Memorial Day. We feasted on gas station hot dogs and Coca-Cola’s in a Veterans Memorial Park. We beamed at each other because it felt fitting and perfect. Like the rest of the day. Like the West. It fits and it’s perfect.

If this is twenty-nine, saddling up to my thirties with mountain ranges and desert flowers and earth kisses, then yes please. I will take more of this. Who needs a 401K anyway?

Life Begins Over Again

Musings

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I have had a fucking wonderful summer. Excuse my language, truly I try to be a lady but all things considered (my heart breaking into smithereens and having yet to locate all the pieces or put it back together properly) I have stuck to my mission of becoming who I am becoming. Not only that but I had some incredible adventures.

Now truth be told today started out rocky. I woke up and something about today… the date, September 1st speaking of change including a new season upon us and a new job for me, the dreary rain, the fact that my sister’s boyfriend Kurt was packing up to go back home after being here all summer and delighting me daily with his adventuresome spirit, all of this and more soaked the day in melancholy. As I gave Kurt a hug goodbye I joked that I felt very sad he was leaving and he wasn’t even my boyfriend.

Then I hiked in the woods in the rain for a long while. And got some writing done at Starbuck’s while enjoying my beloved extra extra hot pumpkin latte. But upon hearing this song (which I listened to incessantly while Out West) it made me yearn for Wyoming with a wild desperation. All of a sudden I had to get out of Starbuck’s because all the melancholy suddenly felt like too much. I just knew I had to cry.

As soon as I got in the car I burst into tears. It felt so ridiculous the onslaught of hysteria that I had to question myself. What were all the tears for? And so I answered myself to maybe calm myself.

They were for Kurt leaving and me feeling a little sad because he felt like a little brother now, but mostly for my sister Kirstie, because even if it’s just a move and not a break-up, leaving is always hard.

They were for the start of a new season which suddenly I didn’t know if I was ready for; I had just gotten used to summer. Why was summer over? Didn’t it just begin?

They were for Wyoming. Silly, maybe, but suddenly I ached for Wyoming and felt trapped here and unsure where I belonged at all and I longed for the open West and freedom.

They were a little for DC, who I thought by this time I should be good and over and I am good, but certainly not all the way over. I’d say I have one leg over.

They were for my sister Kia who would be leaving as well to move back downstate in a matter of days and would no longer be my partner in crime every day when I needed her. And it just seemed wrong that I should ever have to be without even one of my sisters.

They were for a friend who I recently found lost his grandfather that I knew he loved so dearly and it just seemed so heartbreaking his loss and there being nothing to be done over it and so I cried for that too for good measure. Well I mean once I was already crying.

And then I decided to pull myself together. And the way to do that would be by sharing my top three summer memories to cheer myself. So here goes:

My birthday. Okay, so that seems obvious, as all who know me and some who don’t know I love my birthday disgusting amounts, but this birthday was quite frankly not one of my favorite because of its painfully close proximity to my break-up, however, this doesn’t mean it was not memorable. My dear best friend booked a night in a teepee for me as she knows me well. Normally this would’ve gone over like chocolate being delivered and spoon fed to me by a bearded man, that is to say, amazingly. Except before we got to the teepee which I would be spending the night in with three of my sisters and bestie, Em mentioned that the area we would be staying in was purported to be quite haunted by Native Americans. And she didn’t leave it at that. She then told stories of the hauntings. Okay fine, I am not that big of a baby that I can’t handle a haunted tale (actually yes I am) but then once we set up our fire, Em and my sister joked about the Native American ghosts who might be in the woods and I very gravely told them they could NOT joke about Native Americans. On their Land. Near their teepee. Seriously I had watched a special in which a man who was warned not to go hiking on cursed Native American land did anyway and he disappeared and then later his remains were found and no one knew how he died. I do. It was obviously the Native American Curse. He was warned people! So naturally I had to be the first to fall asleep so as to feel safe that night, and I was. Because of the exceptionally cold night, we had all doubled up in our bunks except Em. I got my sister Alexa and Sav and Kirst were spooned together while Em was across from us. All was well until I woke up at a time I was unsure of but suspected was the bewitching hour. All I could hear from the teepee were sounds of snoozing from all the girls. Instantly I became frantic that the Natives might be mad that the girls had made jokes and when they came in to strangle someone to death that someone might be me, because what if they got confused and didn’t know it was my birthday, or wasn’t sure where Kirst was, or just decided to strangle all of us to make a statement. Honestly if it was going to happen I knew we had brought it upon ourselves. In a matter of mere minutes I was so wracked with terror and so convinced I was about to be maimed by a dead Native American chief that I shook Alexa up. “What.” she whispered. “I’m terrified,” I said. She insisted she was awake now and it was okay, but I retaliated with the fact we needed to skidaddle. Because we were sleeping in a teepee on haunted Native American land with Native American ghosts who probably rightly wanted to kill us and I didn’t blame them. But I wanted to live because it was my birthday and I like cake. Alexa who knows how much I like teepees and Native Americans but who also knows how much I value my sleep, my life and the power of Native American Curses screamed at everyone to get up because I was scared and we were getting out of there. My other sisters promptly whipped out of bed and sprung into action gathering blankets and asking if I was alright with grave concern while I insisted I was not and we were going to die and needed to leave. Em, the only rational one asked why we couldn’t just stay because now everyone was up and my sisters exchanged glances understanding that was of course never an option. Blankets and phones and marshmallows were thrown into my SUV haphazardly and we drove to a hotel two miles down the road where I happily and safely slept in between Alexa and Kirstie.

 

The Meteor Shower. So there was this incredible meteor shower up here that I was dying to see a few weeks back. I think this was also during the Super Moon, but the moon might’ve just been full and large, but it definitely lit up the whole sky, almost taking away some of the stars glory. My sister, her friend and I made our way down to one of our favorite beaches around midnight to catch the show. We had my sleeping bag and a bottle of pink champagne for the occasion. The night was a cool sixty degrees and it seemed cloud cover was moving in over the stars but we were hopeful. As we sipped champagne from our plastic flutes, suddenly my sis jumped up and insisted she needed to skinny dip. She wasted no time in de-robing and running into Superior. Now I am all about Superior all summer long, though most sane individuals are not. But on this cold night, taking a dip in Superior’s frigid depths, much less naked, seemed a dicey choice. But when my sis came back out seemingly exuberant and slammed the last of her champagne and asked if we were coming in too, it seemed I couldn’t rightly back out. She was younger than me and being this bold, I could hardly be the unadventurous one. So I undressed too and ran in. We all did. And our teeth chattered in the water under the moon and soon-to-be shooting stars. After getting back out, getting dressed and cuddling close the girls saw multiple shooting stars while I only spotted one, but one was all I needed to feel truly and wholly mesmerized and to make a solid wish, which of course I can’t share or it won’t come true.

Wyoming. Sweet Wyoming, there are so many words I have for you (you deserve a whole blog post and will probably get one) that I don’t rightly know where to begin. But I’ll begin with the cowboys. And the horses. Oh mercy me, these two things alone made my summer visit here one of the greatest in recollection. I joked with a friend that the state was so filled with cowboys and horses that I was certain if I moved there I would be given both a cowboy and a horse as a welcome. Wyoming filled my soul with such grandeur, such drunken adoration over the ever changing landscape: wide and winding rivers, fly fishermen, mountains that were green and blue and red and grey, valleys and rolling open land, that most times I was just speechless while others I wanted to throw a tantrum over how desperately I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stomp and fling myself into a moustached cowboy’s arms and beg, don’t let them take me. I am yours now. I belong to you! Honestly, I didn’t want to leave so badly that I applied for a job there in hopes of staying. Hence why I wept over Wyoming today. That place really got ahold of me.

While I obviously had so many more incredible summer memories with sisters and friends and family alike, I said top three and I have already been wildly verbose, so I will leave it at that. But, see there, I’m reminded that if summer was this sweet, I certainly no longer feel like crying and instead feel warm and magical over what this new season has in store for me.

What the Au Train Taught Me

Musings

Friday was my sister Alexa’s 20th Birthday. As much as I love and rejoice in my birthday is exactly as much as Alexa dislikes and avoids her own birthday fanfare. It’s completely puzzling to me as it’s a birthday—your one day in 365 that celebrates your entrance into this fine world. So color me perplexed as to people who don’t bask in this gift. 

While my birthday this year was surely magical and full of fanfare in its own right, like fireworks going off in the distance right around 10:30 p.m.—which is the time I was actually born, well 10:13-ish specifically—it was as if the very universe was reveling with me in turning another year older, celebrating my existence and impact on this world. How else could I explain fireworks going off in my line of vision on my birthday? Coincidence?

There are no coincidences.

As usual, I digress, this is about Alexa’s birthday, but more specifically, what happened on her birthday which might have affected me most of all—a surprise three hour canoe trip down the Au Train River in Northern Michigan’s pristine forests. It would be my sisters Savannah and Alexa in one canoe, and my sister Kirstie and I in the other canoe.

Kirst and I had a bit of a rough start as she was in the back, doing the steering and right from the get-go we were zigging and zagging to and fro in no way going straight or steady as we kept hitting the river bank. My anxiety promptly startled to prickle as I tried yelling directives back to Kirstie about where to put her paddle and when, but still our boat drunkenly lunged this way and that in a haphazard fashion. After running over a log in the river and nearly capsizing while mosquitoes buzzed rapid fire near my head, I lost all patience with Kirst who was giggling in the back while I screeched like a deranged captain. We made our way to a shallow river bank so we could switch positions: Kirstie bow, myself manning the stern.

Immediately we were on course, as I navigated from the back, calling out orders for when Kirst could lift her paddle out of the water and let me steer us or when we could power the canoe together. My anxiety frissons started to melt away as I took in the surrounding landscape while paddling. Sandy ridges dipped down into the clear water. After initially passing a few cottages on the river we were immersed in what seemed to be deep forest. I scrutinized the tree line trying to spot a bear or more specifically a moose. Deep lines of trees, pines and otherwise lined both river banks, immersing us in their powerful scents. After the switch a group of kayakers had overtaken us and we were now right on their tails, so we decided to pull off to the river bank and enjoy one of our celebratory brews that we put in a cooler.

We linked our legs over the sides of the canoes to hold tight to both canoes, having paddled our way over to an area of mostly fallen down and floating logs. We bobbed on the placid river smiling and sipping. My post break-up sadness that had been nearly taking me down for days was far from my mind as I stared at each one of my radiant and incredibly different sisters in the canoes. Kirst had her platinum blonde hair in pin-up girl curls, wearing her “fancy” sandals, mini overalls and a white tank-top, while Alexa wore a pink polka dot skirt and Savannah had on leggings and a long black floral shirt. Every one of us had sunglasses donned.

After a few minutes of sipping and sitting we decided to press on, letting go of the other canoe. I was already seated but Kirst had shifted to the middle of the canoe and stood up to make her way back to the front. As she started walking, I realized she absolutely didn’t have her sea legs yet as she marched down the middle of the canoe as if she were on dry land, with no sense of balance or idea that we were floating precariously in a small vessel. As I felt the boat begin to lurch I opened my mouth to yell for her to balance herself and before I could form a single word I was flying overboard and sinking into dark cool river water.

As I burst back up to the surface still too shocked that I was no longer dry in a canoe, but drenched in the Au Train, I grasped the side of the canoe realizing I still had my beer in hand. I felt frantic, but when I saw that the canoe was indeed still upright and all our possessions including my car keys weren’t lost at the bottom of the river but were still intact in the boat, my mind eased for a moment until I looked at my surroundings. The river had been rather shallow but where I was at currently, I could not feel the bottom, but was kicking my legs to stay afloat in dark brown water and could see lots of algae covered logs nearby. Instantly I started to flail and flip out, for as adventuresome as I may be, murky water that may or may not be filled with leeches and God knows what had my body convulsing in fear. Savannah and Alexa who I hadn’t spotted yet were around the bend a little ways and were laughing and yelling for me to swim to them where it was sandy.

Kirstie who was as dry as chapped lips was looking at me as if I’d inconvenienced her and like she couldn’t understand why I was in the water. I gave her a murderous glower as I dropped the can of beer into the bottom of the canoe which now had a thin later of water floating on the bottom and quickly kicked my legs and pumped my arms across the river to where my other sisters were. I stood up on the sandy shore and once I knew I was safe and my sisters were done snapping photos of me, I began to laugh.

Okay. I was safe. No leeches had gotten me. I hadn’t been sucked under by a mysterious undertow. And best of all no seaweed had touched or even been close to touching me as that would’ve been the worst case scenario when unexpectedly flying out of a canoe.

Savannah and Alexa went ahead while I realized my paddle was caught in a floating bunch of logs that Kirstie was wildly unsuccessful at obtaining, so I mustered up my courage and swam back up river to fetch it, then back down to the sandy bank to wait for Kirst to pick me up in the canoe. We made it around the bend to see a snarl of trees blocking a lot of the river and heard Savannah and Alexa making quite a ruckus on the other side.

It seemed that Savannah had tipped in as well, trying to make it across the tangle of tree branches and shallow bottom. Kirst and I decided it wasn’t worth trying to paddle through ourselves, so we got out to pull our canoe through the mess as it was only ankle deep. Once we had transferred almost all our sopping things from one canoe to the other in order to dump out the excess water in both canoes, we were back on our way.

At this point I realized my favorite pair of large round D&G sunglasses that DC had bought for me had been on my head when I went overboard. Instantly I was sick over the loss. Losing a pair of sunglasses would mean not all that much to me normally, losing a favorite pair would probably rattle me, but because they were from DC it felt symbolically sad that the sunglasses were now at the bottom of a deep and murky part of the Au Train. I tried not to let it bother me as we paddled on, but my heart hurt for awhile feeling the loss as more than just fashionable plastic shades for my eyes, it felt like over-ness, real over-ness and I hated it. Oh how I wanted those glasses back, if only to hold onto something that could no longer be held, which in essence was DC.

The river swept this way and that and the beauty kept striking me despite my melancholy. When we came around another bend I spotted a rope swing with knots hanging high from a tall and skinny pine. My heart leapt away from the sadness of the sunken sunglasses and landed on the rope. I had always, always wanted to swing off of a rope into water and had yet to do it. I felt a little tug of nerves again as the river in this part obviously was dark and deep for there to be a swing into it and I wasn’t sure if I could find the bravery on my own to hurl into the river again. Doing it once without my knowing was one thing, but on purpose? I felt like quite the chicken.

But when the birthday girl, Alexa Belle saw the swing she yelled to Savannah to pull the canoe over so she could jump. Her confidence impressed me. We all pulled the canoes to the bank near the rope swing and Alexa climbed out, climbed up and swung out into the river in a brilliant splash. She just did it.

She did it once more for good measure. This prompted Savannah to try. Savannah went twice as well and then my courage found me.

I stepped out into the water, scrambled up the steep and rocky bank where the rope hung and grasped it. It suddenly seemed so far down and so daunting. I hung out for awhile trying to do countdowns and then go and not being able to. But finally I hurtled myself forward and let go.

I went again and this time, climbed higher and sat on one of the knots of the rope which was even more exhilarating when dropping into the brisk and refreshing river.

Kirstie didn’t want to get wet, though we tried to convince her it’d be worth it. She shook her bouncy blonde curls, no. Savvy, Alexa and I clambered back into the canoes and were off once again, another unpredicted adventure under our belts. Having let go whilst hanging from the rope swing, I decided to let go of the sunglasses too. I had no need to hold onto that anchor of sadness on this glorious river that was teaching me to be fearless and what rewards my soul reaped from my small brave acts.

I thought falling in the river and surviving a would-be leech or seaweed attack, letting go of the D&G’s which also felt like letting go of DC and flying into the air off a rope swing were ample lessons from the Au Train that day, but still the river would teach me more.

After paddling for over two hours, Kirstie and I had hit our stride and now were navigating each fallen tree branch, narrow bend in the river and rock outcropping with Lewis and Clark-like expertise, until we came upon an enormous pine tree the size of a two-story house that was lying down in the river straight ahead. The pine looked as if it had simply given up and snapped right off the side of the cliff it was living on and fell dramatically across the river, like a tired woman on a fainting chair. Its long branches snarled this way and that with mounds of green needles still stuck on.

Savvy and Alexa were ahead and canoed up to where the trunk still stuck to the edge of the tall river bank. I supposed we could just canoe right under the trunk but the girls looked back at us shaking their heads. When we came closer, I too saw that going under the trunk would not happen as there were numerous scratchy branches in every direction blocking any entrance to the other side of the river. Kirst and I backed our canoe up while Savvy and Alexa untangled themselves from some of the pine branches as they had gotten too close and Alexa had been ensnared while their canoe rocked from the jolt.

“How are we going to get around this?” I asked Kirst, not feeling frightened so much as stumped that the river was still surprising me with its obstacles.

The other side looked just as hopeless with tree branches reaching wide into shallow seaweed filled water. The seaweed alone gave me pause. I could not fall in again there. Seaweed was definitely my achilles heel. But there seemed no other way. This route, though it looked too shallow and narrow had less branches. Kirst and I slowly paddled around the fallen pine and through the thick green seaweed.

Coming out on the other side, it seemed so simple. Oh, that was all it took? It seemed another glaringly obvious metaphor for life. When there is a tree 100 times the size of me laying languidly across the river I am on, blocking what seems to be the only way to the end, what is there to be done? Stop and set up camp on the river bank admitting defeat? Turn and go back two hours upstream? Of course not. Find another way. Get around it somehow and keep going.

Huh? Interesting. Very, very interesting. I hear ya God and I am listening.

The Au Train though hardly a rapids, or even what I would deem a level 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, still was not effortless. It required much attention, navigation and fluidity from all of us. There were still times we had to push our paddles down hard into the water to slow down our speed so we wouldn’t careen into a fallen log, times when we had to tread slowly and surely through passages full of branches and rocks and more times still that the river split and we simply had to go with our intuition on which split felt like the right one to lead us home.

And through all of this my mind awakened with not only the healing powers of nature, but what a river could stand to teach me about being fearless in the face of adversity, not just in the present moments but in what surely might be troubling times ahead.

I cannot know how many downed tree branches are ahead in my river—my story. I can’t know if they are enormous—seemingly blocking my entire path. Or if they are easily bypassed. Or how much stamina I may need to get around them. Or if I will get wet or lose things, even a part of myself in the process. But I do know that God created rivers so that only so much is visible at any one time. If I knew everything that lay ahead for me on the Au Train, I may not have even gotten in the canoe, but because I saw each winding bend—obstacles and all—a moment at a time, everything felt manageable.

And I get it. I get it all. I fell in the water and I didn’t drown. I lost something and that something really was someone that wasn’t just important to me, but was a part of me, still I press on. I flew and I didn’t get hurt. I saw no way around. But yet…

Three hours from where we started we pulled our canoes out of the Au Train where my car was parked, which was really only a few miles away. We had a package of soaked cookies, cans of beer that were mostly filled with river water, were missing two pairs of sunglasses that now rested at various sandy bottoms of the Au Train, we smelled like Off bug spray and sun-tan lotion and river and we were all still mostly wet with patches of dry (aside from Kirstie).

And just like that we made it to the other side.