We’re Glad You Are Here

Musings

I often feel lucky. Extraordinarily lucky to be precise. Even when life sets me back with unexpected pitfalls, I can usually see the comedy in the situation, at the very least. For instance. My plumbing went out recently in the house I am staying at. Besides, having one day where I overflowed the toilet by attempting to do the dishes and having to cart loads of murky toilet water out to the weeds with a milk jug, I also lived like I was camping for a few weeks, with no ability to use the bathroom or sinks.

If a pioneering lifestyle was one I had pined for then I had gotten what I desired, I surmised. Splashing myself with ripe sewage water while sweating profusely was comical yes. Having to go to the bathroom late at night and running behind a pine tree, also worth a chuckle. A friend stopped by one day and I confessed that perhaps I had slipped into a sewage funk from the fumes. She insisted I stay with her for a few days in her cozy log cabin. And that brings me back to that whole luck thing.

But it’s not luck really, though, like I said, I oftentimes feel very lucky. It is simply that God spoils me, even in the midst of sewage funks. Or regular funks, which I had admittedly been in for the last couple days. I don’t know why but I couldn’t shake this insane fear—could’ve been prompted by some bad men and even worse dates—that I was going to end up a barren spinster, living alone in the woods with weird hair and a slew of dogs, watching Dr. Quinn and polishing my rifle collection. Though, honestly, that sounds slightly bad-ass in the admittedly crazy lady way. At least where the rifle collection and dogs are concerned.

Being at my friends house for a few days had helped. It also helped immensely when we went out for pizza on Wednesday night—Hyattville’s hub of social interaction—and I got to visit with some of my favorite people in town. This one older couple I adore had joined us for dinner. The husband of the pair always says the loveliest things to me. When I first met him, he said his name and when I gave him mine, he said, “I am happy to know you.”

This time after visiting throughout dinner and telling him stories, while he and his wife in turn shared stories of their own, he told me, “We’re glad you are here.” That one sentence warmed me more than the two nearly full glasses of cabernet I had paired with my pizza.

Then later when my friend and I got back to her place we had a fit of giggles over our two glasses of wine. She confessed in a bright burst of enthusiasm, “I could either do a hike right now or go to bed!” I felt the same, though, about fifteen minutes into conversation we realized bed, it was. At least I did, as I made my way upstairs and promptly crashed in a fizzy wine, pizza and gratitude haze, replaying that line in my head, “we’re glad you are here.”

Despite the glory of log cabin sleepovers with a girlfriend that makes me laugh and town folk who make me feel oh so welcome, I still couldn’t shake the funk. And admitted it to my girlfriends when out at a brewery the next night. They had all been telling hilarious stories about their husbands and kids and I sat there in a mute panic, thinking, what if I never get to be a part of this club: the Hubby Horror Stories and My Kids Are Driving Me Nuts Club? I felt stricken and downed my beers and tried to stifle my worry. When I finally fessed up to my weird mood and weirder fears involving Dr. Quinn and dogs named after my ex-loves, one of my friends said I needed to just unleash and let loose a stream of f-bombs. I laughed while loving that advice. I did unleash, venting about such fears, though I refrained from the f-bombs.

I tried to cool my jets and stop stewing on it but still the fear taunted me well into the next day. It didn’t help that my job had been going dismally slow, allowing my brain to fester and my boss to not so helpfully distract me with the status of his lodged earwax. I wish I could tell you I was kidding, here, but discussing my boss’s earwax was an actual conversation I had at work this week. Well mostly, a one-sided conversation, because I didn’t much know how to respond to such scintillating talk.

I went to a friend’s house after work that day and while she was finishing up some farm chores, I visited with one of her horses, who curiously came by to check me out. I rubbed the side of his face with my hand, and felt an odd and immediate comfort from the large animal. I looked at my reflection in his eye and said, “It’s been a rough couple of days,” thinking he might understand. He may have horse problems, or he may not. Either way, it felt good to get it off my chest to a completely impartial party.

The strong and sincere comfort I had gotten not only from my kind friends but from the horse gave me an idea and on my drive home I pulled off at a barn where I usually stopped on my runs out into the country. Here resided two unbelievably friendly horses. My favorite horses in Hyattville in fact.

When I got out of the car and began walking toward the fence, I saw one of the horses munching away, but when she spotted me, she immediately abandoned her food and trotted toward the fence to see me. I felt so grateful. She stuck her head over the fence, close to my face, bending down to let me pet her. And she didn’t stray. She let me pet her over and over again, while I whispered things to her. Then she inched her face closer to mine so that her lips seemed to brush mine. I would run my hands all the way up to her ears and along the side of her neck and back down. She would give me what felt like a kiss in exchange. So I finally pursed my lips with a slight giggle, and she leaned in and did it again.

And just like that, my fears began to melt away. I knew she understood. Maybe not the fears of being alone, or maybe indeed, as she seemed all too happy to keep me company and forgo her dinner for a bit. But either way, she knew I needed her and though she may not need me—she has a caretaker after all—she seemed glad I was there.

I drove home, feeling somewhere in the vicinity of sublime, again thinking of that sentence, “we’re glad you are here.” For now, knowing that some very fine people and horses were glad I was around, well, it simply would have to do. I would have to shelve my worries that terrorists would get me before a good man did. That’s not a real theory right?

Rodeo Queens and Me

Musings

I think perhaps the West was in me long before I was ever in the West. I saw this picture once where my mom was holding me—I was a toddler—and I was leaning over a fence feeding a horse an apple. I used to listen to Shania Twain a whole bunch even though her hit song ‘Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under’ was strictly forbidden in our household. Why, you ask? Well all that sexual innuendo of course. Though I didn’t get it at the time, I simply thought Shania’s man was a little negligent with his boots. Big whoop. I also wasn’t allowed to listen to Billy Ray Cyrus’s, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ because he threatened that if you did tell his achy breaky heart he might blow up and kill a man.

My parents weren’t total squares; I think they really just wanted to do right by us kids and not have sex talk or blow up talk earlier than was necessary in life. One could reference our trashy next door neighbors as wayward examples of what happened to children with too much knowledge on the country music circuit; they once told me that God didn’t put the new baby in my mom’s belly but that my parents ‘really liked each other, if you know what I mean,’ with a suggestive wink. Sure. My parents really did like each other and that’s why God gave them a baby, obviously.

At any rate. It’s not just that I liked country music and horses and fields of grain or would bemoan when a Wal-Mart was put in where a field used to be. It’s that everything about the West already fascinated me. I read every story I could find about Sacagawea. In fact in sixth grade I read such a large book about her, that in a book reading contest, I earned enough points on that read alone to go out to lunch at Big Boy with my principal. Thanks Sacagawea.

Oh but I wished to be her so bad that some mornings I woke up in my pristinely pale Finnish skin and was aghast that I hadn’t dreamed myself a Native American leading explorers to greatness. And don’t even get me started on the explorers. Or the other Native Americans. Their drums and dances. Their traditions. The way they honored Mother Nature and carried babies on their backs while picking corn.

I couldn’t spoon that information into my mouth fast enough.

So when I actually encountered the West for the first time, it was as if I were returning to a place I already knew belonged to me. A place I had read about and entertained notions of grandeur for decades. Before coming back to Wyoming for a third time, I was lingering in Colorado and I found myself drawn to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy. As I lazily ambled through the displays, reading about cowboys and cowgirls, I couldn’t help but feel intense admiration for the all the women who had inhabited the sport and the West.

I was struck by women who could stand on their horses backs while they galloped, women who influenced rodeo, or helped their husbands succeed. A part of me leaned into this like I had always leaned into the West.

Now don’t get me wrong. I in no way want to be a rodeo queen, that’s way too much bedazzlement for my tastes. Nor do I have aspirations of standing on a horse while he gallops. I would surely break my neck. But I do think these women, both the rodeo queens, cowgirls and pioneers of past and present are a source of deep admiration for life and possibility in the West.

I want to be like them, but still be me. I don’t care all that much about the fringe or the fanfare. Well, except, for my fringey Buffalo Bill Cody coat which I do bust out on occasion, because I can.  And yes, I do enjoy some fanfare in my life. No, it’s not that though. I don’t care about being the next best thing in rodeo or the West. That is not a goal of mine. My goal however, is to be the best version of myself here.

I want to be the best me in the West. If that means I can ride horses and lasso cows and listen to Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been under while donning a cowboy hat and boots, well then that’s mighty fine. And if that also means I am a complete contradiction to the girl I once thought I was, who hoped to be sophisticated and wear heels and have a brownstone and never listen to country music, well then, that’s okay too.

I am simply finding myself. And I seem to be as woven in these hills as intricately as the horses, cattle and buffalo are. Like I said, maybe the West was in me long before I even knew. And I simply had to find my way back to myself.

“For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.”
Robert Penn Warren

 

My Manifesto

Musings

I want champagne and fancy breakfasts. You know the kind I mean, the kind that Eloise at the Plaza would eat. Steaming sausage and biscuits, chocolate croissants, and fresh fruit bowls, all of which I prepared myself, lovingly and languorously. And I know Eloise can’t have champagne. But I can.

I want to be able to don an apron and experimentally bake all day just because it brings me joy. Then I want to share that bakery with all sorts of people who love having sugary goodness in their mouths.

I want to adopt a dog and know that I can take care of it. I want to be able to take care of myself without anyone else’s help. And then one day I want someone to help take care of me, not because I am incompetent but because that person loves me and knows things like: when I am sick I am a colossal baby brat and want extra attention.

I want to be able to fill up my gas tank and drive to far off places and not worry about bouncing my checking account. I want to stop and visit with old men in barbershops and men who are fishing in streams and waitresses in diners. I want all of their wisdom. I want to bathe in it like I want to bathe in a clawfoot tub. I also want a clawfoot tub.

I want to own my own home with my name on the mortgage, no one else’s because I did it all by my independent self. I want to own goats and chickens and horses and perhaps a cow or two. I want to know in turn how to take care of those animals. I want those animals to roam about my yard and lean into me when I visit with them, like they would lean into the sunshine. Because I will love them so much.

I want to perhaps turn my home into a B&B, or at the very least a cozy and open space where friends, family and even polite acquaintances are always welcome. I want that place to be in Wyoming. I also want that place to have a big porch, or at the very least big trees where swings and tree forts can be happily built.

I want land where I can roam. Where my animals can roam. Where I can ride horses. Where I can have fences to mend. Where one day, God willing, my children can roam and pretend to be the Boxcar children, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or the Swiss Family Robinsons like I did as a child. My children will know who all of these people are. They will also know about Lewis and Clark and the importance of explorers. They will know about Annie Oakley and fierce-minded, strong willed ambitious women, they will know about God and that highest and purest of unconditional love, and a whole bunch more.

I want to have a writer’s room or a writer’s barn or a writer’s workshop or even a writer’s nook where I can write novels and have my babies snug tight to me in little papooses while they sleep. And when they are not sleeping and creating a racket, they can go play with the goats or their siblings or their dad.

I want to learn how to garden like my mom does. Meaning, pretty much like Martha Stewart does, because my mom’s gardens are exquisite. I also want to maybe one day like gardening. And if it turns out I don’t, I want my mom to live right next door and I will pay her to make my gardens look as nice as hers.

I want to do nice things for my community like help organize events, or throw old-fashioned soirees, because I love an old-fashioned soiree, or be someone that my neighbors know they could rely on, because I love to help people. I also happen to think this is the best reflection of Christ’s love and if anyone I meet ever thinks more lovingly of God because of me, I will consider my time here a massive success.

And if I can somehow do all of this, I think I will have made it. And if I can do only some of this, but I have tried really hard, I’ll still think I’ve made it. I only say all this, because I do want it all deeply and therefore I never tire of saying it. Of dreaming it. And perhaps, with saying it enough, dreaming it enough, I can inch my way into manifesting this reality. It’s possible of course. We are living in a world where Donald Trump may become president—though I shudder to think—so the possibilities truly are there.

So here’s to champagne this weekend. I can’t afford all the things I want: champagne, and impromptu road trips, and ingredients to bake a lemon blueberry cake, and a horse, but I have opted to purchase for myself a cheap bottle of champagne to accompany my I Love Lucy marathon and cucumber face mask I forgot I owned. And then perhaps I’ll go star gazing in my backyard and feel unnaturally lucky anyway.

 

 

The Arrogance of Belonging

Musings

I admit I have been struggling to write for the last week or so. I felt like I had this ah-ha moment of beautiful writing clarity while writing about my forays into ranching and then I became sort of stumped. I felt like I had ejaculated all my good creativity into that post, and wondered if I had any more left? And then I began to sort of belittle my existence and think I didn’t have anything good to say anyway.

My days—though could be constituted as lazy—have been filled with all sorts of experiences, both giddy and slightly gruesome. First off I got hired to be a pizza delivery driver, as this ranching business is more of a learning experience and I am doing it all because I want to learn. However, I still have student loans and car insurance and a cell bill which won’t happily go away because I want to play with horses and cows all day.

At first I was relieved to have a somewhat mindless job, so as not to take away from my writing or ranching. That was until my first day when I had to watch training videos on my new role. Included in training was a detailed video on handwashing in which I mentally rolled my eyes, but then proceeded to fail the handwashing quiz twice, while it boldly proclaimed that I was ‘contaminating the pizza!’ In my defense, being a slight tree-hugger, I shut off the water in the wrong order, according to the quiz.

As the shifts piled up, my morale went down and I begun to feel sort of lousy about the whole thing: being critiqued on my overly chatty phone answering skills by a sixteen year old boy, making less than minimum wage, wearing the pizza tee and ball cap and looking like a husky boy. All this combined with my dwindling bank account and living off of my hosts leftover food supply of canned corn and beans was making me feel like a real life pauper.

But then you see, I snapped out of it. I can only play the ‘oh poor me’ game for about a half day, maybe a day and a half max, before I grow incredibly weary of myself. Because it is always about perspective.

Happily enough I had these things going for me:

A house stocked with a large canned food supply that I could eat until I had more fundage.
Incredibly kind neighbors that invited me over for dinner a couple of times a week. Just because.
A job that allowed me to make money on the side and spend mornings and days having coffee with ranchers and listening dreamily while they said things like, ‘I reckon,’ and ‘that’s life in the far west for ya.’
A girl friend that planned a whole day of adventure for me, combined with off-roading, canyon-carved rivers, a beachy bonfire complete with roasted hot dogs, brews and ice cream, dancing and cartwheels, coyotes howling in the night and a sheer giddy appreciation for Friday’s that didn’t involve delivering pizza.
This fella that I kiss sometimes. Don’t read into it. But after a night spent playing a rousing game of gin rummy, followed by a heated debate on Yankees vs. Confederates, mixed with two vodka cranberries, I burst into tears about my fears of ending up a spinster. He got me tissue and smiled at me when I asked if I looked like Swamp Thing and said no. “Liar,” I said, “I know I look like Swamp Thing… you like that look huh, you weirdo.”
“You know it,” he answered tucking me into his shoulder. And then he kissed my forehead, my cheeks and my lips a whole bunch of times until I was all but simmered down and sort of convinced spinsterhood was far, far away from me.
Having the nicest sisters in the world who don’t think I am a lowlife when I call them to confide that I am struggling and amidst my strife say things to me like, “I will always look up to you,” and don’t judge me, but only uplift and support me. Or who call me excitedly this morning to say, “I am putting money in your bank account today that is strictly earmarked for yummy groceries, a bottle of wine and a treat.” I then called my mom to tell her this and my mom says, “you’re welcome.” I know, Mom, ya did good on giving me my baby sisters. I can’t wait to make it as a really posh writer one day and call my sisters with news that I will be depositing funds into their bank accounts for yummy groceries, wine and treats.
Living in a place where bald eagles swoop, and mountains envelop, and coyotes howl, and cows move freely about the road, and ranchers say to me, “I’ve been praying for you,” when I mention trying to finish writing my book, and a community that includes me like I am one of their own, though I’ve only just begun here, and getting to deliver pizza because if I were truthful with myself, it’s kind of fun and working amongst teen boys with Bieber hair who talk about ‘Twitter being so out, while Instagram is so in,’ makes adult problems seem kind of trivial and far off, because teen boys are lighthearted and amusing.

Which all brings me to this term “the arrogance of belonging,” by David Whyte, which I read about in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and loved it. She also said “you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”

Even if everyday I am not ranching and romancing the West with prose and possibility, I am here and I do belong. And the experience of being a pizza delivery driver, while still getting to go out and see baby calves, or have a chill shimmy down my spine upon hearing coyotes howl at dusk, or kiss boys merely because I feel inclined to, is a part of my experience.

And the thing is I chose this experience. I chose not to apply for big girl jobs, or newspaper jobs, or jobs with 401K’s and health insurance in order to have my own experience in the West and write my own way. Even if it humbled me greatly to fail a handwashing quiz and wear a pizza ball cap, I realized a humbling experience or two never hurt anybody. In fact I hope I am better for it.

“The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred—not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely by saying “I am here!”
-Elizabeth Gilbert

This Ranching Business

Musings

I have been living in Hyattville, Wyoming—population 75—for just under a week. On the first morning after I arrived, shaking the dust off of my nerves from my harrowing GPS debacle, I happily sipped fine coffee in an even finer log cabin.

The woman who the log cabin belonged to was a friend of a friend who I had been communicating with about ranching before moving to Hyattville. She insisted I stay with her when I first arrived, putting me up in her guest room, feeding me dinner that she’d set aside, and generally being as hospitable as people in Wyoming are known to be.

The next morning, her father was preparing to go to the ‘old timers’ coffee at the local community center, while my gracious hostess caught up on some work. She mentioned to her father, however that he should invite me along.

“Is that allowed,” I asked somewhat bemused.

“Oh yes, you can come,” her father said.

I was not going to decline an invitation for coffee—old timers or not—especially in my new town heavily populated by ranchers. There was work to be done, and step one was getting to know people.

We arrived at the community center where I saw two men already seated sipping coffee. They did the ol’ cowboy head nod at me—looking very rancher-esque in Carhartts and boasting weather-crinkled skin. The skin of the working man—and smiled while my new friend did introductions. They continued visiting, until a natural lull in the conversation occurred and they turned their attention to me, peppering me with questions. Being un-shy and someone who loves meeting new people, I happily answered their questions.

Another man ambled in, poured himself a cup of coffee, sat down and began to tell a story of a trapped cow. I listened raptly. The same way I was listening earlier when the men talked about cribbing horses, using the term, ‘cribbing old fool.’ I was delighted and wanted to take notes but didn’t want to seem overeager.

Then the new fella, a bit younger than the two old-timers and sporting a worn cowboy hat, asked my name, and offered to top off my coffee cup.

We delved into another conversation about how I really wanted to learn ranching.

“You should’ve been with me this morning then, trying to get that cow out,” the younger cowboy chuckled. I wish I had been there this morning, I thought to myself.

Then I piped in with my story.

“Ya know, a friend of mine gave me some ranching advice,” I said, “he told me all I had to do was remember to close the gate and make sure my truck was full of gas and I’d be alright.”

They laughed and said that was pretty good advice, but I kept on and told them the story of my getting to Hyattville, following the rogue Google advice and how I didn’t gas up when I had the opportunity, causing my extreme anxiety while being lost in the Wyoming wilderness, finishing with, “and so I failed my very first piece of solid ranching advice which was, ‘always gas up the truck!'” to which they all burst out in greater laughter and one of the old timers chimed in with, “but there’s a third piece of ranching advice you need to know…”

I looked at him expectantly.

“Never listen to your GPS.”

More rounds of laughter burst forth and the younger cowboy got up to go and commented, “Well I’m glad I stopped in today, this was exciting.”

I was glad I came too. I learned about cribbing. Sort of. And hobnobbed with real ranchers. And best part of all, made them chuckle with my idiocy. Honestly, I’ll take it.

The rest of the week passed in my learning my way about town. That took about 1.5 minutes. I went to Wednesday’s pizza night at the old saloon, where I met still more ranchers. My gracious hostess took me to see the Medicine Lodge archeological sight and upwards into the high foothills where I glimpsed every mountain range in Wyoming as far as the eye could see. Literally I could see the mountains as far as Yellowstone.

I went on runs to explore the hills and creeks nearby, and counted the cars that would pass. The most I saw was on a Friday night for a grand total of 3. I settled into my new and temporary home, which is a friend’s place he has on hand for Wyoming visits, while he resides in Texas. He also owns a ranch here.

I slept the first three nights with one eye open, reacquainting myself to the intense and deep quiet of Wyoming. The kind of quiet that comes with being able to keenly hear an animal sniff about the house, a deer prance past, or the bed creak beneath my weight. Every sound had me thinking: ghost! or scenes from the movie The Strangers which I am still kicking myself for watching.

I met up with an old cowboy pal of mine in Cody on Saturday and he told me this fantastic story about putting out a fire once on Halloween at an old hotel. He said that he and another firefighter saw a man in horns coming out of the smoke, looking remarkably like the devil.

“If that’s who I think it is, we’re never putting this fire out,” my friend said to the other firefighter.

Turns out it was the bartender in a devil’s costume.

I then went and checked out the dude ranch I will be working at this summer tucked neatly between Cody and Yellowstone, nestled between bluffs and canyons. I was in heaven and already picturing drinking my morning cup o’ Joe on the big homestead porch overlooking the mountainous terrain.

I drove back to my sleepy little ranching town and happily dozed by nine, my vigilant ghost-watch forgotten.

I awoke on Sunday excited about church. It was a short walk, as the church happened to be on my street.

Being heavily neurotic, I arrived ten minutes early to a completely empty church other than the pastor. Slightly stricken, I asked, “did I miss it?!”

She smiled and said, “no. It’s a small town and they’re like New Yorkers. They’ll all arrive at about two minutes til.”

I was relieved. The pastor asked if I was new in town and I told her yes, that I was here to dabble in ranching.

“Are you a writer?” she asked, taking me by surprise. Although instantly I felt flattered.

“I am,” I said.

“It takes one to know one,” she smiled, eyes twinkling. Color me more flattered, I thought sitting down. She then came back to ask if I wanted to read scripture in the service. I did and took my part very seriously, finding which scriptures I needed to read and marking them in the Bible beforehand.

I recognized one of the old timer cowboys from coffee and his wife, and waved. And several other townspeople came and introduced themselves.

The service was sweet and traditional and the hymns reminded me of my childhood and I sang them slightly teary-eyed as I am that way.

Afterwards, I met a woman who owns a sheep farm and I expressed my interest in seeing her farm, and another woman offered me fresh eggs, while still another woman asked if I wanted to carpool to a Lenten luncheon later in the month. Small town Wyoming. You gotta adore it.

And so here I sit. Upon a new week. I went to old timers coffee again this morn and was delighted when a rancher referred to a truck as an ‘outfit.’ I had brought my notebook this time, on the ready; though I was too self-conscious to take notes. But I listened and was gleeful when they would turn and ask me something, calling me young lady.

At any rate, no one has needed me yet, or maybe they aren’t taking me seriously with how eager I am about terms like ‘outfit’ and ‘cribbing,’ but they’ll come around. They’ll have me on board. And then we’ll see what this ranching business is all about.

Cheers to Naysayers

Musings

Let’s have a little talk about naysayers, shall we? Naysayers may seem like the bunion on the toe of life, but they are very much the opposite. At least for me anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not surround myself with naysayers, because constant naysaying or negativity would surely bring a gal down. No, no. But a well-placed naysayer is motivational gold.

I just had one the other day while I was waitressing. My last day of waitressing in fact, so the timing was impeccable.

It was a couple that I liked as I had them many times before. They weren’t awful tippers, they were kind and jovial, and they were always very understanding if I got swamped and couldn’t tend to them in a timely manner. Overall, I had no beef with these people—still don’t in fact. Toward the end of their meal, however, we got to talking and I told them I was leaving Wyoming, but that I would be back one day to get me some land.

I thought it was a nice thing to say, complimenting their state and all, but this is where things veered into the naysayery.

The woman of the pair, squinted at me, and said, “Land here is very expensive,” like she was imparting some great wisdom on me, because clearly I didn’t know land in the jutting mountains of the West would cost a pretty penny.

She also looked entirely certain that my coming back to buy land was preposterous as she carried on with her wisdom-giving.

“Maybe if you go to school one day…” she said looking hopeful that I could make something of myself other than glorified food-schlepper.

“I’ve been to school,” I said matter-of-factly. “I have my Bachelors.”

“Oh?!” she beamed brightly, “what in? Nursing? Because we are always looking for nurses and that pays well enough.”

Side note: Why does everyone and their cocker spaniel think being a nurse—I commend you nurses, love what ya do, but I could never, ever be you—is a viable solution to my wayward artistic dreams? I cannot tell you how many people have suggested I become a nurse. My parents even did at one point, encouraging me to do it for the job security, probably fearing a likelihood of my living in a cardboard box near Union Station. That hasn’t happened yet, though I was vaguely homeless for a spell in NYC, but that’s a story for another day.

It doesn’t matter that the sight of blood makes me queasy and the only math I like to do is computing tips when I go out to eat (for the record folks, 20% should be your baseline and I encourage you to go up from there). I actually have no idea how much math is actually involved in nursing, but I will tell you I considered being an interior designer once and when the woman I job-shadowed told me there was math involved, I promptly closed the file on that career choice. That is how much I despise math. Math in my opinion is like dating a redhead. It should be avoided at all costs. Unless he’s Scottish. Then all bets are off.

I digress.

I informed the woman that I did not go to school for nursing, but that I was a writer. Her brow furrowed once more, clearly determining that I was a hopeless case.

“Well,” she floundered, clearly out of ideas on directing me to make enough money to afford land.

I smiled and firmly told her I wasn’t worried.

She decided to worry for me anyway, the dear. I said my goodbyes and she wished me well on getting back to Wyoming one day.

I was ecstatic. I hadn’t had a good naysayer in so long. One who really lit a fire in my insides. While this woman was in no way mean-spirited and in all respects just seemed a practical sort, I loved that she seemed none too confident that I could ever A. Purchase my own land or B. Make enough money as a writer to purchase aforementioned expensive mountain land.

I felt like the Grinch when the lightbulb goes off to steal Christmas and his smile goes up to his hairline in unadulterated glee. The last person who told me I couldn’t do something was an elderly chauvinist who spewed what a waste of money horses were on top of the fact that poor hapless husbands were the ones getting saddled with the bill for the whole lot.

“Why does my husband need to buy me a horse?” I asked him curiously.

He also looked as taken aback as the woman who thought a waitress could ever buy her own damn land.

“Who else would buy it?” he nearly spat.

“I would,” I looked him in the eye.

“You?! How?” he asked, like I’d just told him I was in fact running for president while working at a mountaintop lodge.

“With my own money…” I said, trying not to insinuate he was dense.

He harrumphed and shook his head, like it was impossible.

“How?” he insisted.

“I make my own money now,” I said patiently, though I wanted to scream, what do you mean how!? “And I will make my own money later too, when I decide to buy a horse.”

He still didn’t believe me and muttered declarations under his breath about a woman buying her own horse, now he’d heard everything.

This guy honestly annoyed me a great deal, but I of course channeled that annoyance. Filed it away for a rainy day. Now that was stacked upon this woman not believing I was capable of purchasing anything other than a candy bar.

Now I had some serious ammunition. A man telling me I could never afford a horse. Check. A woman telling me I could never afford land. Check. Now all I needed was someone insinuating I couldn’t make it as a writer and I will be fully locked and loaded. That’s gun terminology right? I don’t really know. But I do know I also want a pistol when I go back West.

My favorite naysayer example was this “friend” I had from high school who told me she’d always prayed I would never lose the weight because I had such a pretty face and she didn’t want the competition in the man department. She said this to me after I had grown progressively chubbier in college and we were on a walk where I was bemoaning said weight. Her response was to happily confess her feelings on my weight loss. She said it with a giggle too, like it was all so amusing, but wasn’t it nice that I was pretty? I had that at least and shouldn’t fret over being fat, especially when it would coincide with her dating life.

I used that wonderful naysayer to help me land a pretty sweet gig on The Biggest Loser. And while I am currently no Kate Moss, I have never loved myself more, cellulite or otherwise. So thanks, girl. I appreciate your hideous confession, without you I fear I may not have gotten all the gumption for the life change I needed.

My point with all this is that having good friends and family be your cheerleaders and have your back is vital. I couldn’t accomplish any of the things I have accomplished without all of their well-wishes, pick-me-ups and unwavering support. But I tell ya what, just a couple solid naysayers sprinkled in the mix with their doubt and snark are just as vital to my making it. Because you know what’s happening here? I am charging forth on a path with fiery determination to prove myself right—I can afford a freaking horse and land! Okay not in this exact moment per se, but mark my words, I can and I will. Also should I procure a husband before I have purchased land, or a horse, I will firmly insist on buying them myself anyway. On principle.

So. Here’s to you, naysayers. I raise my mug—of hazelnut coffee—to you and your doubts and criticisms and sexist assumptions. Thank you kindly for believing a woman to be incapable, or helpless without a man, or feeble or a downright idiot. I look forward to the road ahead. And I especially look forward to proving you wrong. Cheers, mates.

Feeding the Wild West

Musings

Working in the Big Horns has its pros and cons. An obvious pro is that any ol time I feel like I can dally in one of the many peaks or pines surrounding me. And mark my words, I do a fair amount of dallying. A solid con though is mountain life ain’t cheap. Meaning when 85 cowboys from around the country packed up their horses, mosied on over to the Wyoming High Country to camp for a week and set up a circus tent for food, my lodge was there to cater to their every dining whim.

Now don’t get me wrong, I asked to be put on this particular catering job, because, duh, like I need to explain myself—horses, cowboys, dining amongst the pines—and I was properly forewarned that the days ahead would be long, but I tell ya what, a 72 hour work week will wear a girl right down. I don’t know how doctors and CEOs do it. Kudos all you folks at Google, I salute you, but I wouldn’t wanna be you, not even for all the scooters and ice cream bars on the East Coast. But I digress. This isn’t about how much I worked. This is about Trail Ride and what an experience it was to be a part of something so Western, so the opposite of Midwestern, and so romancing that I didn’t even mind when one old cowboy in particular saddled me with daily come-ons. In fact I kinda liked it. Hey he was still a cowboy! Even if he was sixty-ish.

Each day for trail ride consisted of my coming into work at 5am to help the folks who had already been in the kitchen prepping food since 3:30am. We then packed up the caravan of all-terrain vehicles for the trail riders first meal of the day. I watched the road bleary eyed on the thirty mile drive through the mountain out to their campsite. Elk stood grazing on hilltops, their antlers a regal and proud silhouette against the morning sky.

My driver, Francis, would swerve the car onto the gravel on the side of the road and lean over me excitedly snapping pics of the elk and uttering death vows to those sweet Bambis. I countered back with warnings for the elk to take their young and flee as this man couldn’t wait to gun them down.

“Actually it’s a crossbow.”

“No matter. I am going to buy a bugle to warn them you are coming for them.”

He would smile and shake his head at my hippy-dom. I shook my head at his loving them purely for their luscious meat and striking antlers. Though truth be told, I am a bit of a traitor as I do enjoy their meat and their antlers are something of a stunning sight. But still, I felt like were they to be unknowingly struck down by arrow there should at least be a Native American Poem recited over their body for giving their life like that. But again, that’s just the hippy in me.

So trail ride. Every day I ladled either mashed potatoes, pancakes, salad or strawberry shortcakes onto nearly 100 hungry cowboys (and cowgirls) plates and happily beamed at their bandanas and chaps and spurs and wide brimmed hats, while sneaking glances at their horses grazing outside.

When we would leave the site later in the evening I would twist my body around in the truck to whisper sweet nothings to the painted ponies disappearing in our dust and hope they felt my love.

One day on the way to our dinner meal, we encountered a downed pine tree in the road, the size of a semi. It was utterly unmovable. The owner of the lodge who pulled up after us, bemoaned that she didn’t have her chainsaw in the truck that day and went to go try and fetch one back at the lodge.

It started to rain as we waited in the truck with the hot food that would have to be delivered somehow or some way to the hungry campers.

A fellow in a large white truck came up the road a bit later and offered to hitch the tree to his truck and pull it out of the way. Francis hopped out of the truck, running out in the drizzle to be of assistance. I watched from inside with rapt excitement while a young co-worker of mine, Victoria, sat beside me smoking a cigarette.

“Now this is what I came to Wyoming for!” I exclaimed in glee as the men wrapped the pine tree with chain and hooked it to the hulking truck.

“What’s that?” she asked bemused.

“Manly men doing manly things like pulling trees out of a road on a whim. Look at them go!”

She didn’t seem to see it. Then again she is a lesbian and does not share my love of bearded lumberjacks.

“Girl, you may need to step out of the car a moment,” I joked as I pretend fanned myself from the sight of the men and the truck straining to get the tree out of the road.

“Or you could step out and have a cold shower,” she quipped back. I burst out laughing.

The tree was promptly yanked aside and Francis got back in the car to deliver us and the cuisine to the waiting brood.

On my last day of Trail Ride I wore my cowboy hat and cowgirl boots. I swayed to the Merle Haggard tunes being played by a musician in the corner of the tent and stuffed myself with prime rib and shortcake and bemoaned afterwards that I put myself into a food coma.

On the way back to the lodge I saw a field of about twenty horses trotting towards me. I bellowed for Francis to stop the truck so I could run out to them. I ran up into the field and stared while they moved past me in a line, barely giving me notice as they wound their way back into the pines.

I got back into the truck and asked Francis where they were going and he said, back to their campsite.

“They just know to go back?”

“Yeah.”

I watched them until we rounded a corner and they were gone.

And just like that Trail Ride was over. I would go back to working only nine or ten or twelve hour days and the cowboys would go back to Montana or New Mexico and I would be left with the memory of their horses and hats. And the fact that for a week I got to be a part of the Wild West. If only just to feed it.

The Wilds

Musings

I haven’t been very secretive about the fact that I have been unraveling a bit lately. Mostly because when it comes to my own secrets, keeping them to myself feels like the equivalent of keeping myself in a cage. And if you know me well, you’ll understand I am wild through and through and cages are always meant to be smashed to smithereens. In fact my dad and I got into a little spat about this the other day. Not my wildness per se, but the wilds in general. My dad is the most easy-going, genial person that could exist. And the person I am least likely to ever argue with. That is unless you bring up politics as my father is a staunch republican.

And that is all well and good, but I get a bee in my bonnet when he turns anything to do with the environment into a black and white political issue. Being that the environment, animals, the sea and forests, along with their protection is one of my greatest passions, I naturally get a little sassy on their behalf. One of the points I made to my father is caring about the environment or saving the whales isn’t because I am a hippy (though I kind of am) or that the liberal media (his words) have brainwashed me. It is something that has been with me as far back as I can remember. I relayed the story of my first encounter with zoos. I cannot remember how old I was, but I was surely very young. I think my first visit to the zoo was the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing. For anyone who is not familiar with this particular zoo, it can be described as dismal at best.

I remember walking around in the sticky heat, feeling pretty nonplussed and irritated. But then I got to the lions. There was the king of the jungle in his shabby cage, mostly concrete with a few sprigs of matted down grass in the corners and a faux rock looming behind him. He looked hot, depressed and void of any of the regal airs he might’ve once possessed. But you know what the worst offense of all was? The flies buzzing around his eyes, while he looked lifelessly back at me. The poor lad didn’t even have a roar left in him to alert those pesky flies to back the fuck off. My heart was broken. And immediately following my sadness at the lion’s sadness was rage. I hated zoos. Why was I here? But worse why was this lion here? I have been loathe to set foot in a zoo ever since.

Now I asked my father, was it the liberal media that got me to see the lion that way? Or was it my bleeding heart? Or what about when in the fifth grade I read an article about drier states wanting to siphon water from my beloved Great Lakes? I wanted to write to congress. I wanted to become an environmental lawyer. I wanted to tell them to just move to Michigan and get over themselves. The Great Lakes were ours!

Nope, the liberal media hasn’t influenced me, I was simply made this way. I have always understood I have an innate wildness running through my veins, like bulls charging the streets of Pamplona. Even animals that lack a physical cage—the horses that pull carriages in Central Park for instance—still have that sadness in their eyes that the lion had that day. They are shackled to an existence that is sucking their soul dry. I couldn’t lovingly touch the lions mane and convey to him that I wanted to set him free, but every time I see a horse that looks this way, I touch his face, his mane and look into his eyes and nod my understanding. Maybe you can’t be set free, sweet sir. Maybe if I set you free I’d get thrown in jail and then where would we both be? But I’ll tell you what I’ll do guys. I will spend my life being as free as you ought to be. And I very much equate being free with being wild.

And maybe my wildness is getting a little out of hand. Maybe I should grow up and get a 9 to 5 and a 401K. But much like my unwavering understanding as a youngster that no longer cared to frequent zoos, I know what my wildness is telling me. It is the reason I feel trapped by my circumstances and somewhat unhinged by my failures. I have put myself in a cage thinking I am limited by those failures and circumstances when in fact I should be emboldened by them.

No one cares about a successful girl who is super fetching and laughs gaily all the time and wears oversize fisherman sweaters and has a flat midsection and a funny, flannel-wearing financier boyfriend and a really great house-trained husky and pays all her bills on time and everything is as easy as peach pie. Who is that girl and who cares about her?

Give me the slightly erratic, maybe a little insecure girl who does laugh, but not gaily, maybe with a slight hyena like hysteria, and who falls asleep in the bathtub because life has wore her right out and who makes lemon blueberry cake out of all her lemons and has a pudgy midsection but still goes after it with gusto: the love life, the career, the hopes of a flat midsection but who the fuck knows, the freedom and the wildness, all of it. Give me that girl. I like her story better anyway.

And then when that girl does get the beau, the book deal and the husky—the husky that pees all over the floor, the book deal that was ten years in the making and the beau that puts his socks in the hamper inside out—well she’ll appreciate all of it in the most exquisitely human way. And she’ll understand the importance of her story being flawed and rife with uncertainty and therefore very much worth telling.

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.