A Christmas Tree Cutting

Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas y’all!

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 Kind of Girl I Wish I Was

Musings

There is the kind of girl I wish I was and the kind of girl I actually am.

I wish I was the kind of girl who read The New Yorker. What I read is a lot of Martha Stewart Living. And Archie Comics. And Sedaris. I never pick up a newspaper unless the picture on the front is of a far off place, and doesn’t include guns. If I do pick up a newspaper, I immediately find the section with the far off places or the columnists who don’t write about politics. The rest of the paper I save to use as window cleaner as it smears less than paper towel.

I wish I was the kind of girl who liked NPR. I will not listen to a single bit of talk on the radio, including a commercial… even if I am in my driveway. I will still persistently channel surf until I find music. Any form of talk radio, or radio host having a conversation on air instantly brings to mind ways in which I would like to off myself rather than be listening to talking on a radio while trapped in a car. Talk radio of any kind, about terrorists, mayoral candidates or even dating makes me so panicked and agitated that I nearly break out in hives and then promptly inform/threaten the driver of the car that I may die from having to listen to speculations of ebola taking over the U.S. Or has it already? I wouldn’t know. I don’t read the news or listen to NPR.

I wish I was the kind of girl who liked Words with Friends. Except I actually don’t, as Words with Friends is Scrabble’s ugly step-sister and why would I play Words with Friends with you when I have about ten copies of Scrabble sitting here in my home waiting to be played accompanied by a cup of Joe and my notorious bad temper if I lose?

I wish I was the kind of girl who liked getting up super early in the morning to do productive things before work, i.e. make my lunch, eat breakfast, maybe work out, put on mascara, go and sip coffee near the lake, really be wild and crazy and not wear my hair in a bun… But every morning I hit snooze for anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour and then am shocked that I have to leave my bed. Then I spend an inordinately long time sitting and pouting that I have to be up before I’m ready. Once I finally realize I have all of ten minutes to get dressed, do my hair, mascara, eat breakfast, pack a lunch and get to work on time, I am a crazed lunatic trying to squeeze in time to put on my favorite rings and find extra bobby pins and throw a can of tuna—and wait a can opener—in my bag before running out the door, where I still waste more time hooking up my iPod for my seven minute drive to work so I can listen to my latest download on repeat to set my mood for the day. And then no matter what good intentions I had about being put together, having breakfast or lunch, or being on time, I still am somewhat disheveled, eat cough drops for breakfast, and am never on time while trying not to cringe or explain that I didn’t oversleep per se, I just can’t believe where the time goes in the morning.

I wish I was the kind of girl who gave non-bearded men a chance. Oh wait, no I don’t. If loving beards is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. *Fellas: Grow a beard. Buy a flannel. Oh and know your way around a forest or a power tool. I mean honestly, it’s not asking a lot.

I wish I was the kind of girl who knew a thing about how to do my makeup or my hair. I also wish I cared about either of these even one iota. Instead I am the kind of girl who finds the store Ulta to be more intimidating than a trip to the dentist. The likelihood of my paying $18 for anything that is going to be smeared onto my face to supposedly give me a sun-kissed glow is the same likelihood that I would pay $18 for a toothpick. It’s never going to happen.

I wish I was the kind of girl who didn’t eat dessert for breakfast. Who could go a day without fantasies of living in tree houses, riding the rails of Russia, or lumberjacks sweeping me off my feet by insisting I own a sled dog team. But I am just not that kind of girl, nor will I ever be. I won’t be the kind of girl who works out before work, or learns to do my makeup or even plans that well for breakfast but instead plans my Trans-Siberian Railroad getaway.

I guess there is just no use in trying to change what God so intricately put together: A somewhat disheveled, morning loathing, news avoiding, non NPR supporting dreamer and poor-planner with a beard fetish and a sweet tooth. Hey there are worse things to be right?  Like ISIS. See! I am not completely out of the loop.

I Get By With a Little Help…

Adventures in Nature

Today was perfect. I got up for work at seven. Okay. Correction. My sister woke me up at seven because I am without a phone, therefore without an alarm clock and at the mercy of others (because I keep neglecting to just travel back to 1999 and buy an alarm clock) and waking up at seven was less than perfection but no matter. I laid in bed not fully letting myself fall back asleep but instead fantasizing about the sleep that I could no longer partake in for fifteen minutes. Then I proceeded to the couch where I sat for another fifteen minutes not accepting that I had to go to work. Then I remembered that there is really fresh and delicious coffee where I work and I perked up, got cute and hopped on my bicycle.

Where I got coffee and got to work.

I left around two and immediately was called to nature. I got ahold of my hiking buddy, Dana who I can always, always count on to do just about anything outdoors and active with me. I put on my bathing suit under my hiking clothes as I had been broiling since my bike ride into work this morning. We went out to my favorite secluded beach and started weaving down the trails that ran parallel to my beloved Superior. Today the lake was glassy, with green undertones in the shallow waters and royal blue reflections out deep, with some fog dolloped on top for added mystique.

As we walked through the forest I couldn’t help but continue to inhale deeply. I’ve come to realize the smell of the forest, like the smell of the sea brings me more joy than I can hardly stand. I became so intoxicated with it, that I pointed out to my friend that they should bottle up the smell of the forest—the pine needles on cushy ground, the dense growth, the timber—and make all men wear it. But then I’d be in for a world of trouble, because it’s bad enough the flannel wearing, beard sporting men in this town, if they all smelled of the forest too, I don’t rightly know that I’d have a hold on myself. All bets would surely be off and I might become a wild thing.

As we walked along, though worries wanted to nag at me—I have a whole list of worries I can pick from on any given day: how will I pay all my bills, when can I see the whole wide world, why did my relationship end, how much weight do I need to lose, etc.—but today I forcibly reminded myself to be present. There was no use re-hashing what had been or wondering about what would be. All of that nonsense would detract from my walk with my friend, my walk with my forest, my walk with God.

After the hour-long hike, both uphill and down I was of course sweating where my body produces sweat, which is everywhere. I de-robed and slowly waded out into Superior, feeling her out, wondering if I would lose all feeling in my ankles and calves before forcing myself to submerge fully like I always do. No matter how frigid Lake Superior may be, if I go in past my ankles, I must dunk. It may be a Finnish thing, or perhaps it’s a crazy thing. Either way I stand by it.

I waded out to my chest. It was cold, sure. Numbing in a way, but not its usual electric shock of frigidity. The numbing chill felt welcome and therapeutic, like ice on achy muscles. I took a breath, plugged my nose and tipped back. I popped back up, smiled and dunked once more and just like that I was used to it.

I yelled to Dana that it felt amazing. She stuck a toe in and told me I was crazy and that it was freezing. So I frolicked around in it a bit and then met her at shore where I searched out unique rocks and eventually sat down on one in the lake, my toes still submerged to chat while I let the air dry me.

I found what looked to be a floating piece of newspaper and I plucked it out of the water inspecting it. Amused, Dana asked if I’d found a love letter while I read it over hoping that’s exactly what I’d found. It was just movie times that seemed burned around the edges, left over from a fire. I put it on the sand and told her I still held fast to hope that one day I’d find a love letter at sea. Or by my coffee maker. Or in my mailbox. I never lost hope it seemed. Though I knew at 28 the chances of finding anything other than bills or an Ulta catalog in my mailbox were slim to none, I always checked the mail with hopefulness that one day, one day maybe someone would have something soul-stirring to say to me.

We left the beach to go make our dinner which we agreed would be hearty steak and a slew of vegetables. Something about being out in nature pumping my legs just makes me want to eat like a man. And now that I knew how to cook a steak, I wasn’t holding back anymore. The entirety of my relationship with DC I would mention my cravings for steak (it’s been my favorite food since about five) and anytime I wanted him to make it for me for dinner, he would say we needed a grill and it was no good on the stove. I would acquiesce, disappointed and hold on until summer or he took me out for steak. But never would I simply attempt to just cook the damn steak on my own; I thought it was a mans job.

Malarky. It is now my job to cook a mean steak if I want to eat like a man, which admittedly sometimes I do. Back at Dana’s I cut up onions in thick chunks, sliced wedges of carrots and drizzled asparagus with olive oil topped with parmesan cheese. I sauteed mushrooms with fresh garlic. And I grilled up two steaks, seasoned to perfection and rare enough to moo (at least mine that is). As I put bites of steak topped with mushroom and onion in my mouth, then quickly scrambled for a bite of carrot and asparagus, only to wash it down with a pomegranate beer, I realized that food had never tasted so fine.

And I’d made it myself. After hiking the forest. After swimming in Superior. After getting up at seven to make ends meet. On my own. By myself. As God intended. For me to understand that I can and should be reliant on myself—with a whole lot of help in the way of forests and trees and steaks and girl friends thrown in from the Big Guy—but other than that, just me, learning how to forge ahead making my own way and my own steak.