Covered in Romance

Musings

Green acres is the place to be
Farm living is the life for me
Land spreading out,
so far and wide
Keep Manhattan,
just give me that countryside.

You know what’s funny about this song lyric? I used to sing the other verse, Gabor’s line that went like this:

New York
is where I’d rather stay
I get allergic smelling hay
I just adore a penthouse view
Darling, I love you,
but give me Park Avenue.

Back when all I wanted in life was New York and Park Avenue. Don’t get me wrong I am still crazy about New York City. I love Zabar’s coffee and fondly recall every Sunday riding the subway all the way up from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to get me a bag. Then the whole subway ride home the smell of Zabar’s roast would fill the subway car and my nostrils.

I loved walking up and down the city streets looking for used book shops and bakeries, or the perfect slice of pizza. I once went kayaking on the Hudson’s choppy waters with my sis and we paddled to and fro in our small buoyed off area, giddy and light as the waves. Walks through Central Park midday and runs across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, will always make me happy that I at least tried on city life like a promising pair of jeans.

But see, I had it wrong. I don’t prefer a penthouse view, or Park Avenue, though both those things are perfectly lovely and I can appreciate them from a vacation-y standpoint. I do want land spreading out far and wide. And farm life, oh gosh, yes please. I will happily shovel manure or attempt to mend a fence, or lay pipeline. Which is what I got to try out this weekend. Well the pipeline part at least.

I worried before I actually began this new farming/ranching endeavor that maybe I was romanticizing it. I have been told I do this. I once spoke with a Navy recruiter on a whim and boldly told my mom some hours later that I was joining the Navy. She looked properly aghast as I had never once expressed even an iota of an interest in the Navy.

“Don’t be impetuous, Cassandra,” my mom said. I actually didn’t know what that word meant until that moment, when my mom expounded upon her point. “Why do you want to join the Navy?”

“I’ve always loved the sea and I would love a life at sea!” I exclaimed, getting my shackles up for what felt like non-support, when my mom truly is the most supportive mom out there. Especially in regards to my mostly rash decisions.

“The Navy is not romantic like you are imaging life at sea to be.”

And the moment she said those words I began to consider the version of the Navy I played out in my mind, versus what the Navy would actually entail. I saw myself in some sort of fetching romper and sea cap looking out of a telescope on a ship with sails. When in reality I would be on some behemoth steel vessel, probably in the bowels, and more than likely doing grunt work in a grey janitorial looking uniform that enunciated my plump midsection.

My mom simply asked me to consider my decision on the Navy for a month and see how I felt at the end of that time. A few days later, I had already admitted to myself that my mom knew me pretty stinking well. I was romanticizing the Navy quite heavily. And in all actuality, I would probably despise it. Especially all that authority and getting bossed around.

So, yeah, that was an instance—among many if truth be told—where I romanced the pants right off of something altogether not that romantic. Now people, have been hinting that maybe I am doing it with this ranching business; even the ranchers themselves have pointed out to me—when my face lights up with glee talking about how badly I want to learn ranch work—that it’s not all that romantic. And I politely nod, while thinking, yeah, sure okay. Says the person in a cowboy hat, covered in workin’ grit, working the land and cattle all day long. Sure, no romance my arse. You’re covered in romance!

Except I don’t say that.

Because, a small, teensie part of me feared maybe they were right. What did I know about ranching? Sure I understood it was buckets full of work and grime and sweat and uncertainty and feces and death, and maybe all I was seeing were the Western hats and cowboy drawls and horses and painting all this poetry when I had no right? What did I know?

Well, nothing really, until I gave it a whirl which I did this weekend. I went out to a friend’s ranch to help them with laying some irrigation pipeline. She had texted to ask if this was something I would be interested in helping with or shadowing. I said yes with all the enthusiasm that I had once reserved for attending  a Fashion Week event at the Plaza. Although I was so nervous about that experience that I needed to take half an emergency Xanax to muster up the will to hobnob with models.

I had ample nervousness about failing at ranching, or worse being wrong about it—that maybe there was no romance—and I would yet again be altogether wrong about myself and then what? But I had no emergency Xanax this time and if I had, I wouldn’t have taken it.

I threw on jeans, my cowboy boots and a somewhat worse for wear Wyoming tee and drove out to the ranch. My friend met me, introduced me to her husband and children while giving me a cursory explanation of the day’s workload. For the first half of the day I mostly just followed around dumbly, as I had no idea about laying pipeline or where to insert myself to be of help, when everyone seemed to have a handle on things. Though, once in awhile my new friends would ask me to hand them wrap-around tape or a pen, or a power-saw and I happily obliged.

Soon enough though I was climbing down into ditches to help maneuver pipeline. Then I got to help lift the gigantic pipes, handing them to the men at work in the ditches. I began to get just a smidge dirty and when hours later the sun began setting in the Western sky, I felt it. I felt the romance. It was there alright. Though I had done nothing fundamentally difficult yet, and while I was mostly an accessory to the irrigation process, I felt it. The fresh air on my arms, the hard dirt sloughing against my boots, the heaviness of the pipeline. And all that besides, I felt the importance of this work.

The importance of it to farm land, to grow a crop, to feed animals and therefore feed people. And I adored it. I adored all of it. I liked being in farm trucks that had a thin layer of dirt covering the dashboard; the smell of hard work permeated in the seats. This is how I remember my grandpa’s truck smelling when I was a child. He owned a drywall business that my uncles now run and their trucks too, have this smell.

I realized this wasn’t something new to me; this was something already intrinsically in me, that I had adored since childhood. Riding down dirt roads in trucks, having my uncles take me out to the woods beside my grandparents house to teach me how to shoot bow and arrows and guns. They were not only outdoorsmen, but working men and I idolized them not only for their work ethic, and love of God’s vast landscape, but because they could build something out of nothing with their bare hands.

This all came flooding back to me sitting in a dirt covered Ram that impressed me with its power in hauling massive farm equipment up a steep hill while I sat in the passenger seat, admittedly beside myself in the romance. Yes, I was not mistaken, the romance was there. It was in the work truck, in laying pipeline, in the Wyoming hills and in ranchers who believed in their work and purpose, even if it was grueling work with no guarantees.

I was deeply relieved to find that I had been right. There was romance here and I wanted to uncover more of it.

I came back the next day, eager to do more, to learn more about laying pipeline, to feel somehow instrumental in this process. And my friend’s father in law who was sitting high atop a John Deere excavator for digging the ditches, hollered down, “you came back for more?”

“I did!” I beamed, “I loved it. This is definitely the life for me.”

He beamed back and said, “I like her.” And then began to sing, “Farm living is the life for me…”

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 2)

Musings

The first time I visited Wyoming was… Honestly I am at a loss for words. Really good love stories do that to you. Encountering Wyoming was one of those real top-notch tales of romance, like the movies. I may not have always had that kind of storybook romance with my men, but damn if I didn’t have it upon meeting Wyo.

But I fear I am getting a wee bit ahead of myself. I left off in my last post still living in Virginia. And before Virginia, New York City. I felt shaken up and beaten down from my time in NYC. It jarred me having to come to the realization that maybe big city life didn’t do it for me. I craved solace in the mountains. That seemed the logical antithesis to my post city blues.

Ray Lamontagne has this song called, New York City’s Killing Me. And while I have always been a big fan of him, prior to living in NYC I thought Mr. Lamontagne had it all wrong. Until I left NYC did I really appreciate that maybe Ray and I had something in common.

I get so tired of all this concrete
I get so tired of all this noise
Gotta get back up in the country
Have a couple drinks with the good ol’ boys

I just got to get me somewhere
Somewhere that I can feel free
Get me out of New York City, son
New York City’s killin’ me

At any rate, the mountains of Virginia were a proper salve to some of my problems. But that aforementioned deep discontent inside of me wasn’t about Virginia lacking something, it was more so about a wrongness in my relationship there.

Let’s just fast forward to when I left the relationship, the apartment with the mountain views, the man who once cared and who no longer did, Virginia, and my beloved mountains. I had to get away again. I took a brief respite in Michigan feeling displaced and wondering what the plan could possibly be now that New York and Virginia were both busts.

I had no ideas other than my gypsy soul telling me the natural solution was to wander until a new place to love came along. That’s when I started to hear the West calling me; it was a faint murmur, but I could hear it. I hadn’t ever given much thought or consideration to the West before. But when some of my friends and sister planned a road trip out West, it seemed as good a time as any to see what the fuss was all about.

We first landed in Denver, staying with our friend there. She took us out on the town. We ate dinner at a snazzy restaurant that used to be a morgue and didn’t have cheeseburgers on the menu. It drizzled rain, and we went thrifting. I thought Denver seemed neat enough, and the mountains were grand to be sure, but I didn’t feel it yet… Then we saw Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National.

I was inching nearer to properly boggled, especially when I saw the night sky in Rocky Mountain National, and yet…

The next day we were headed to the Tetons and I remember being drowsy as we left Colorado. My friend was driving, so I dozed in the warmth of the sun rays in the front seat. When I lazily woke, to still more sunshine, I could feel something was different. In my core, something was thrumming. I looked around me out the windows. The landscape was open and vast, hilly and dry looking.

There wasn’t anything of note, yet I felt different.

“Where are we,” I asked.

“Wyoming,” my friend beamed, as she pulled off an exit to get gas.

All the openness for miles was already seducing me in such a way that were Wyoming a man, I would’ve open-mouthed kissed him.

I got out of the car and ambled into the gas station. And this is when I knew, what I already knew from waking up in Wyoming and having my body lean into this place like a long lost sailor leaning over the rails upon seeing shore.

The man behind the counter wore a cowboy hat and had a handlebar moustache. He nodded his head at me, and said, “howdy, ma’am.”

I wanted to squeal. I wanted to ask if he was a real cowboy. I wanted to persuade him to marry me immediately.

And with the simpleness of a cowboy and waking up in a wide open space that felt like it had been untouched since the settlers first started moseying West, I was in love. Sometimes love at first sight doesn’t work out, sometimes, it’s initial vanity and there’s no real substance there.

This was not one of those cases.

The further I delved into Wyoming, the further I fell. By the time, I had seen more cowboys, men in chaps, beards aplenty, horses by the dozen, ranches, hills, canyons, elk, bison, and oh the mountains, sweet God-built pieces of jagged splendor, I was done for.

On my way out of Wyoming several days later, I was driving, winding my way up through the Bighorns. My heart was hammering in my chest with each mile spent ascending up into the clouds.

I knew I would soon be back in the Midwest and I was trying to brand every image of Wyoming in my mind and on my heart. I joked with my sister to leave me on the side of the road and keep going, even though we were in my car. I saw a sheep-herder riding his horse with his trusty dog trotting along behind him and I wanted to weep, it was all so perfect and all so meant for me.

At the time, this song called Red Canoe was playing on my sister’s iPod, and I remember playing it over and over again, so that whenever I heard the song in the future, I would see Wyoming, the Bighorns, the sheep herder, the cowboys and invite it all back to me.

That song and that sentiment created a fervor in me to come back. Leaving was heartbreak, but I knew it was only temporary. I, of course, did come back, nearly a year later, to the exact lodge I had passed in the Bighorns on my trek back to Michigan. And the fact that I left Wyoming a second time, is slightly unfathomable to me still.

I had found myself staring at the cowboys in line at Starbucks and Walmart, with their bandanas wrapped around their necks, cowboy hats and cowboy boots donned, trying once more to brand these people and this place into my memory bank. As, I certainly never saw a man with a cowboy hat and a bandana around his neck at Starbucks in New York City.

And what happened that cowboys and ranchers and cattle and sheep-herders and fly fishermen and rodeo stars suddenly had imprinted themselves on my being? I can recall loving nature from a young age. And horses. And the outdoors and even outdoorsmen. But this seemed excessive coming from a girl who used to dream about brownstones on cobbled streets in NYC boroughs.

But with leaving Wyoming a second time, it seemed that this life was all I wanted, perhaps all I had ever wanted, and leaving it was all wrong.

Hence why I only lasted about two weeks back in the Midwest.

And what’s remarkable to me, is how I haven’t actually changed at all. If I had really been paying attention I would’ve seen the signs all along. I picked the college I attended based on its proximity to forests, rivers, and lakes. I spent my time as a child reading about high adventure and then trying to recreate it in my backyard. I bartered for riding lessons as a sixth grader with my neighbors who had horses. Every birthday and Christmas I either tried asking for a horse and when I wisened up that Santa wouldn’t bring one to store in my shed, I started asking for riding lessons instead. I even almost bought my own horse once in college and thought better of it, because uhhh… I had nowhere to put it.

So I guess it shouldn’t amuse and delight me so much now when I find myself picking up Western Horseman magazines or stalking— that’s a harsh word, let’s say perusing—every cowboy, farmer, and rancher I can find on Instagram, lapping up their horse posts, fresh egg posts, cattle-roping and wilderness packing posts.

I, of course have been singularly applying to work as a ranch-hand though I have no ranch experience. I understand that, but I fervently tell the ranchers that I want to learn to mend fences and tend cattle and maybe lasso—please don’t laugh I want to lasso so bad—and that I’ll prove to them how much of a Western gal I really am at heart.

I used to want to sashay into a top magazine office in Manhattan in a sharp suit, riding up the elevator to my posh job that required heels—or if not required, then strongly implied. Now I find myself aching to get up at dawn and feed animals and work on things with my hands, and get filthy, and ride a horse somewhere far, far off, and wear myself thin. Seriously I really wouldn’t mind wearing myself thin, I have a slight penchant for chocolate croissants. You’d be doing me a favor, guys.

And who knew?

Well. Me, I suppose. I guess I knew all along this is where I belong. So hey, uh ranchers, if you’re reading this, c’mon, give me a go. I won’t let you down. I mean if you’re not convinced by this love letter then I am not sure what will convince you. Hmm… maybe my ax wielding skills. They are on point. Ish. But in the hearty ranchess sort of way. Not in The Shining madness sort of way. Aaaaand, I think that’s my cue to wrap up.

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 1)

Musings

I used to fancy myself a city girl. I sat in my humble house in the country, located in a small farm town in Lower Michigan and dreamed of getting out. I envisioned bigger and better. To me bigger and better was New York City. I watched When Harry Met Sally as a teen, and seeing Sally aimlessly walk through Central Park with Harry, or drag her Christmas tree down twinkly streets was so picturesque and vastly different from Fowlerville, Michigan that I latched onto that place and vowed to get there.

All my thoughts orbited around New York City. How to get there, how to make it there, how to have what Sally had. So easy and simple. She moved there as a hopeful writer and voila, she was a writer. She had this friend that kept coming back to her and he fell in love with her. She watched Casablanca and had lunches at the Boathouse with her girlfriends, while bemoaning men.

I moved to New York City, fresh with my newly minted writing degree, down ninety-two pounds from working my arse off on The Biggest Loser and ready to take on the city streets, writing and love with all my know-how from When Harry Met Sally. Imagine my surprise and dismay when the only jobs I could find were waitressing and Starbucks. The only men looking my way were gay (fabulous, but not interested in any sort of lip-locks) and the city streets, while magical in their own right, were also fraught with a lot of trash and noise, making me realize that maybe making it there wasn’t like the movies at all.

I am sure a lot of people could’ve told me that. And there’s a reason Frank Sinatra croons, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!” This is true. NYC is not for the faint of heart. I don’t believe myself to be faint of heart, but I think I gave a lot of credence to my city love (based on a movie and a couple class trips to Chicago as a youngster) and zero credence to my country love.

I was having the worst anxiety of my life while living in New York City. While she was a dreamy place full of fantastic culture, art, cupcakes, architecture and wonder, I felt closed in and manic. I never slept while I lived there. This isn’t one of my dramatic exaggerations. I really didn’t sleep; at least not at night. I had insomnia that wouldn’t go away and I utilized this the best I could by training for my first marathon in the middle of the night, instead of tossing and turning in bed, fitful with worry and damp with sweat.

I lived in Brooklyn Heights and I would leave my apartment in the middle of the night and start running: across the Brooklyn Bridge, weaving through Manhattan’s skyscrapers, past policemen milling about, fishermen fishing off the pier, kids skateboarding, and the homeless sleeping against fence-enclosed graveyards. And then I would run back and sit on a bench looking at the sun coming up across the Manhattan skyline while rats scurried beneath my feet. I would amble home, shower and lay in bed in utter exhaustion until eventually I dozed somewhere around five, or sometimes as late as seven.

I remember talking to my friend once as I walked to work in the Village, telling her that maybe I overestimated how much of a city girl I was and underestimated how much of a country girl I was. This troubled me, because I wondered how I could be so wrong about a place I had planned on loving for over a decade.

A need for nature kept hounding me, a need to escape to somewhere quiet where I could gather my thoughts, which were as rampant and erratic as the New York City rats. I would look at the skyline and wish it were mountains. I wanted all the hustle and bustle to be forest-still silence. I wanted the murky concrete puddles to be cloud reflected lakes.

My mom blamed all of this on a love who had recently broken my heart and then up and moved to Alaska while I headed for the big city. She thought the reason I saw mountains instead of skyscrapers was because of him. And that the whole heartbreak thing was ill-timing, ruining my NYC experience. And maybe to a certain extent it was. But I think it was more than that.

I think the mountains were in me long before that love came along and broke my heart, long before I saw When Harry Met Sally, and perhaps long before I even knew which way to go.

When things began to promptly fall apart in NYC, around the time I was due to fly back to the Midwest for my marathon, I didn’t much feel like going back. I was in between apartments and without a place to live. I was sleeping in a hostel in the fetal position and sniveling, wondering how in God’s name Madonna had done it, and starting to unravel in a most disheartening way. I would wander into churches and cry alone in a back pew. Or find parks to sit and do yoga-style breathing techniques and then get mad when I heard an ambulance blare on by.

When I told my mom after my marathon that I couldn’t go back, I just couldn’t, she seemed distressed, thinking I was giving up on my dream and that I had to just stick it out—the anxiety and insomnia and noise. My mom wasn’t being pushy, she was being supportive of how bad I had wanted this one dream.

I couldn’t do it though. I loved New York City and truly always will, but I knew what I needed and it wasn’t skyscrapers and bustling streets. In fact a guy I had started dating around this time took me out one day when I was visiting a friend in Maryland. I was still living in New York and was wildly shaken up. He asked if I wanted to go see Washington D.C. and I all but screamed, no! I didn’t want to be in the city. I didn’t want to hear traffic or see people. I wanted him to take me into the country. “Where?” he asked. I told him where the pumpkins and apples grow.

It may have come as a shock to everyone who knew me and knew how badly I wanted the city-girl life when I abandoned ship and ended up moving to Virginia. Granted I was living outside of Washington D.C. in an urban metropolis about as busy as NYC, but I told my boyfriend at the time that I didn’t care where we lived as long as I had a view of the mountains and easy access to them. Suddenly the mountains became my new focal point.

They were my obsession and I wanted my eyes on them at all times. On my way to work they were on my left; on my way home, on my right. I wanted to talk about them constantly and found myself in a continuing state of awe over their grandeur. I must admit not many people in Virginia seemed to share my amazement. I got a lot of people giving the Blue Ridge Mountains the ol’ brush off and saying, well have you seen the ones out West? I had not, but I thought it was a little disrespectful to discount mountains right in front of us, for even bigger ones far, far away. Clearly these people weren’t mountain lovers.

And with my eyes on the mountains I started rerouting my belief system. About what I really wanted and questioning where I really belonged. I considered that maybe I belonged in Virginia because I had fallen in love with her and the man that lived there. And yet… there was still a displaced restlessness deep down that haunted me. It didn’t keep me up quite as badly as it had in New York, but it was there lurking in the shadows all the time.

To be continued…