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…

Where I belong

Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I meant what I said.

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.

Help Me I’m Poor!

Musings

After a splendid weekend home a couple weeks back, full of overly sugared donuts and ghost adventures, I came back to the Yoop feeling refreshed and content. Until work the next day when my boss walked into my classroom to tell me they were cutting my hours. Indefinitely. As I blinked rapidly trying to process the fact that I was being let go, (even though it wasn’t me personally, it was mass budget cuts all around) which has never happened to me, I felt a sinking dread over how I would survive.

I wasn’t so much worried about the finding a new job thing, I can always manage that, I mean, have you met me? My personality is delightful. No, it wasn’t that. It was that of all the jobs I do that aren’t full-time writing gigs, this had been one of my favorites as it involved working with kids. Sure some of them are less than darling, like this one particularly sassy girl pointing out the other day, rather snottily I might add, that I had a hole in my leggings. (Reference the title of my blog if you’re confused why I had a hole in my leggings. Also I forgot they were the holey pair when I put them on. And the hole was small and in no way revealing anything indecent). When I said I forgot there was a hole and not much I could do now, she rolled her eyes and asked why I hadn’t gone home to change. As my face began to get hot with annoyance, I told her to go back to playing tag and not worry about the state of my clothing as it was none of her concern.

So yeah, all kids can’t be Shirley Temples, but the way I feel about kids is the way I feel about life, and that is that they are remarkable and if there happens to be one or two sour ones in the mix, well isn’t that just how life goes?  After only about half a day of grave concern over the state of my life and already very grim finances with losing the best paying of my three jobs, I concluded that this had to be my a-ha moment. It had to be. God never just takes things away from me without it leading me to where I rightfully belong. So I thought it’d be rather un-trusting of me to start assuming now that God didn’t have a plan, even if I was at a loss as to what that plan entailed.

Of course, just because I had my a-ha moment of that’s it, this is my sign! Stop working jobs that aren’t your art and really go after it! Within a matter of days, the high of my a-ha moment had worn off. And on the heels of the now plummeting high came my dreaded nemesis, Anxiety. I was in the throes of an anxiety attack eating 100 Grand after 100 Grand (the candy bar, obviously. If I had real 100 Grands I would not be in this conundrum now would I?) leftover from our 1920’s party as a futile attempt at therapy while staring hopelessly at my Idea Notebook.

The candy bar therapy wasn’t really working. Shocker. Food just doesn’t soothe me like it used to. I considered day-drinking. Hemingway, my hero, would totally give his nod of approval to that. But all that was leftover from the party was gin, champagne and beer… Okay, so that actually is a really fine selection. Call me a snob but if I am going to day drink I really feel like it ought to be wine. I mean the hard stuff just scares me a little and drinking beer mid-day, well it seems a smidge more on the alcoholic side than the classy angsty artist side.

So day-drinking was out. I tried soul-therapy then. I went to the library and checked out A Moveable Feast and sat rapt and moved by Hemingway’s prose while it drizzled outside. But still, the anxiety would not leave me, the dirty rotten bastard. I stared out at the vastness of Superior and tried to pinpoint the furthest reaches of the lake. I wanted to be at that place. I suddenly had latched onto my other self-soothing technique which is complete and utter crazed denial accompanied by the urge to flee.

Whenever this happens in my life, (the urge to flee) which truly is often, I always seem to be at a crossroads financially. Okay, fine, I am always at a crossroads financially! (Like today when I cashed in my coin jar for gas money. I thought there was only about $8 in there, hoped for $12 but was blown away when my grand total back was $20.71. Make it rain!) But it is not because I am irresponsible. Au contraire. All my bills are paid on or ahead of time and in hefty sums. It’s just that I really love Dave Ramsey and want to be debt free, so I put everything I make toward my debt and nothing ever goes into savings. Ever. If it does, it is immediately taken out to be put toward said debt, because being debt-free to me equates my being able to finally run away and join the circus. And honestly if I had a dime for every time I threatened to run away and join the circus, well my debt would be paid off and I would be unencumbered to ride the rails and maybe elephants too.

Alas I knew what I had in my checking, savings and on my credit cards and all of it combined wouldn’t even give me a full tank of gas to find the edge of the Lake, much less a free pass to join the circus. I morosely packed up Hemingway, feeling worse somehow and went home. At this point, my sister Kirst who had been feeling much the same as I had—riddled with anxiety that is—and I began to chat. I told her how I needed, no really needed to run away. I felt manic and crazed and like I was losing my a-ha moment. I told her I read about someone else’s a-ha moment on Oprah and how the woman had gotten laid off, was in debt and overweight and how she figured it all out. And wasn’t I in the same boat? Laid off? Check. In debt? Double check. Overweight? Yeah, okay that too.

What’s my a-ha supposed to be? I proclaimed. Now is the time! These are what a-ha’s are for! And I am especially primed because I have all these extra forces and obstacles against me which make the a-ha even better! Bankers are always getting laid off and then admitting their true calling of opening a donut shop and then they wax on and on about how it was the best thing that ever happened to them.

This was supposed to by my grand a-ha and I was already fucking it up because I didn’t know what the fuck to do with my a-ha. My mind was all over the place. And amidst this ranting and raving where Kirst was ranting and raving back at me with her own need for her own a-ha because she was still working at Beef-A-Roo, what I refer to as La Beef, her fast food burger joint job, while having her own dreams of fashion grandeur, we realized we were screaming our dreams at each other at the top of our lungs and asking each other if we were crazy, admitting, truly, yes we were and then saying we would run away, we would run away, dammit and go find our fucking a-ha’s!

And then we were laughing while we were screaming. Laughing so hard and yelling so hard that we were crying and writhing around on our chairs, because we couldn’t sit still with our dreams or our want for them or our pure idiocy in wrangling them to us. And the crying was not out of sadness, but crying out of unbridled hysteria that we truly were insane and we got each other’s needs for more. Something more that we couldn’t even yet name or find but knew deep in our souls we needed, enough to cry and scream over.

And then we calmed down. And our anxiety, at least for the moment, had run off with our laughter and tears. We didn’t yet have a complete plan, or a concrete idea of what to do with our newfound a-ha’s, but we knew something was looming and that if we didn’t at least acknowledge it, Kirst would continue unfulfilled work at La Beef while dreaming of the fashion forward of the East and West, while I continued to use running off with the circus to escape the bonds of the normal as my easy out for not going after my dreams with gusto.

So with very little money at hand and not much in the way of prospects, Kirst and I both are holding fast to our hope in the a-ha moment, in its beautiful certainty that change could be lurking right around the corner. If we accept that a-ha, yes, life could be different if we are just a little bit unafraid. Unafraid of being broke, being laid off, leaving town, getting uncomfortable, failure, success, dreaming too big, dreaming too small, or not recognizing an a-ha when it’s slapping you right across the face.

 

Life Begins Over Again

Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

What Could be Better?

Musings

Lately I have been having a lot of what could be betters? It’s funny, because I am in the throes of the biggest what could be worse—heartbreak that is—but, despite the agony of a disintegrating heart, I can’t help finding that things have been more than alright.

Like the smell of pine trees and pine needles dusting a forest floor. Oh mercy. What could be better? Besides the fact that the forest might be filled with some of the most intoxicating scents to ever fill my senses, it always reminds me of our family camp which happens to be my favorite place in all the land.

Then there are my freckles. Have I spoke before now about how fondly I gaze at my freckles? If I haven’t, I’ve been remiss. My freckles bring me no small measure of delight. I like them at all times of year, but in the summer when they crop up by the dozens on my face and arms and I can make constellations with them, well, what could be better?

What about Cat Power’s song, I Found a Reason. Gosh, I forgot about that song. It came on shuffle on my sister’s ipod one morning while I was cooking a particularly Gordon Ramsay-esque breakfast and I was stopped immediately. I had to find the time to sway. What could be better? To let my stinkin’ faulty smoke detector go off if it had to, but I had to get lost in that song, in that moment. I am not one to forget in the power of music, but sometimes, something deliciously unexpected catches me off guard, like this song, and why oh why do anything but honor it?

Or how ’bout the Northern sky? Have you ever seen anything like it? It fills the whole world I am living in with its vastness: its blues, its pinks and purples, whites and greys. And that’s not even speaking of the clouds. Oh the clouds—they touch every part of the horizon, seeming to touch land and sea and everywhere in between. I was on the beach today, sitting out on a rock island a small distance out from shore, having waded through Superior’s icy waters to get there, and for so many moments I couldn’t do anything else but gaze at the sky in wonder. I felt like I was on vacation at some fancy resort, but no, this was my backyard. What could ever be better than a Northern Sky?

Lake Superior perhaps? My favorite sea. Truly she is. I was informed today that Lake Superior is considered too large to even be considered a lake, so in fact, she is an inland sea. The Ojibwe called the lake gichigami, meaning “a great sea.” With my sea-loving heart, what could be better than 3-quadrillion gallons of water at my beck and call? In the morning as I pedal into work I see her. Or in the evening on my nightly walk, waves a-blowing to shore. What could be wrong in life with Superior out my window? Even her name has bragging rights.

What could be better than having four of my six sisters living in the same town as me? Two of which live in the same apartment as me, one who spends the night most nights anyway, while the other bikes over after work. How agog am I over having my sisters near me? Well, they fill my soul with equal parts joy, comfort, hilarity and fulfillment that it can’t help but heave happy sighs of contentment.

And then, then. There is my main man. My one and only. God. What could ever be better? He is the biggest what could be better and the best of course, hence why I saved Him for last. I wouldn’t have any of my what could be betters without Him. I wouldn’t have Cat Power or extra tall pines or waves or pink skies or freckles or six sisters. So with gratitude for things of beauty and delight saturating my heart that needs it, I again say, what could be better than God? From whom all blessings flow.

So, sure, the breakup is the worst what could be worse (at least as far as my heart can tell). But if I didn’t have God, I wouldn’t be having all these what could be betters to get me through. And for that I am a very lucky girl. Very lucky indeed.

The Old Girl’s Still Beating

Musings

I have been rather forthright about my heartache and while it’s not something I plan to prattle on about for long—as it reeks of stagnation and does not embrace the spirit of adventure—it does cloud most of my mental space on a daily basis. You know that scene in When Harry Met Sally (everything in life can easily tie back to that movie) when Harry and Sally are talking about moving past their ex’s and Harry is talking about a date he went on recently.

Harry: We’re talking dream dates compared to my horror. It started out fine, she’s a very nice person, and we’re sitting and we’re talking at this Ethiopian restaurant that she wanted to go to. And I was making jokes, you know like, “Hey I didn’t know that they had food in Ethiopia? This will be a quick meal. I’ll order two empty plates and we can leave.”
[Sally laughs]
Harry: Yeah, nothing from her not even a smile. So I down shift into small talk, and I asked her where she went to school and she said. “Michigan State”, and this reminds me of Helen. All of a sudden I’m in the middle of this mess of an anxiety attack, my heart is beating like a wild man and I start sweating like a pig.
Sally: Helen went to Michigan State?
Harry: No she went to Northwestern, but they’re both Big-Ten schools. I got so upset I had to leave the restaurant.

A version of this has been happening to me all day every day. I was at work rinsing out a mug when I noted that the song, Wagon Wheel was playing. Right as I began to happily sway to this dreamy of all tunes, this trainwreck of a thought happened:

This song is by Old Crow Medicine Show.

I saw them in concert.

The day I saw them in concert DC and I were texting.

He wouldn’t stop calling me ambrosial.

At the time I thought his over-usage of the word ambrosial was nauseating.

I would give anything to be called ambrosial again. Okay not really—still hate the word—but I wish he still thought I was ambrosial enough to tell me so.

And then I wanted to puke in the freshly rinsed mug, my heart was hurting so bad. How did my brain do that from a song that has virtually nothing to do with DC? Because everything has everything to do with DC right now. It’s just the way love and heartbreak work unfortunately.

It happened again another day while buying strawberries. I picked up the package and then was lost in remembering strawberry-picking with him in the mountains.

I had walked up to a neighboring fence with a white horse and bragged to DC that horses just trusted me, as sure enough the horse ambled over to me and let me touch his striking jaw and feed him some grass. We made our way through row after row of strawberries plucking and sweating while I paused to take photos of him. I loved photographing him.

And still yet while thrifting with my best friend I spotted some Yankee Candle melts and touched them as anguish washed over me in deep floods. I shook the Yankee candle at her saying even this stupid candle was dragging me down into an abyss. She asked how?

When DC and I first started dating, we went to this quaint German town in Michigan called Frankenmuth. We walked around the town holding hands while it rained. He bought my mom a bunch of Yankee Candle melts because it was near Christmas. He carved our initials in the side of a bridge. I looked at his wool pea coat that was dappled with raindrops and thought, ah love, how perfect.

And now… ? Now Yankee candles were giving me gut rot.

I just kept thinking about that line where Sally curiously asks if Helen went to Michigan State and Harry matter of factly states no, Northwestern, but it’s a Big-Ten school (I even know what Big-Ten schools are now thanks to DC) making connections that only heartbroken people can make. I could connect an earthworm to a sports stat at this point, that’s how badly my heart wants to find its way back to his heart.

I have seen When Harry Met Sally 1,000 times and that line never affected me much me til now. And now I can so easily see how it didn’t matter at all that Helen hadn’t gone to Michigan State; Helen hadn’t yet left Harry’s heart, so still he could make the connection.

So while I may suffer daily with these inane and improbable connections myself, I know it’s just my hearts way of making sense out of something utterly nonsensical. My heart doesn’t understand what my brain does. I wish that were so, but my heart has always marched to its own drummer, brain and rationale be damned.

So I’ll leave my poor heart alone and let her do her thing. I’ve always trusted my heart too much to start in on her now. If this is what she needs to cope, then I guess I’ll accept that certain things—or everything—bring me back to DC in some way. But as a wise friend of mine once said: feeling sheer and utter sadness over something reminds us we’re alive. And if my heart is still carrying on this much at least the ol’ girl’s still beating. At least there’s that.

What the Au Train Taught Me

Musings

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

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

There are no coincidences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Winds Are Changing

Musings

Winds in the east / Mist coming in / Like something is brewing / About to begin / Can’t put me finger / On what lies in store / But I feel what’s to happen / All happened before.
-Bert, a la Mary Poppins

Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to being lost. While there have been many times in my life that I have felt lost, usually it has mattered little to me as I have always felt a bit un-tethered. Once while on a road trip with a past love, I groused to him that I had tried braiding my hair to tame it, but that it had exploded upon itself anyway.

He replied, “I guess that means you can’t be tamed.”

Even though I had used the word tame in regards to my wild curls, I loved that he threw it back to me in describing my wild spirit. I found it to be a high compliment and nodded to myself that it was so. I certainly could not be tamed.

I realized, however, with my epiphany in the bathroom the other day, staring at my body and not feeling shame, that I feel a little less lost in myself. The importance of this didn’t occur to me until today. Well last night really. I couldn’t sleep because the rain was splattering so furiously on my windows that it kept jarring me from sleep.

Though I checked my phone multiple times to find it was still the middle of the night I started to feel awake and with my alertness, I began to feel a little lost. A few years ago when I lived in Wisconsin I used to feel so lost that I would wake up in the middle of the night, look across the room into the mirror, catch my reflection and not know who I was looking at. I felt like a displaced person inside of myself and it happened all the time. It was unsettling to say the least, but I couldn’t put my finger on why it happened so frequently.

Now I suspect it had something to do with my vast unhappiness in my own skin.

But when I woke up last night it wasn’t the kind of lost I used to feel in Wisconsin, instead this felt like a directional sort of lost. This one I was more familiar with and could identify as part of my gypsy spirit, the part of me that needs something more … somewhere … but I am not yet sure what.

When I left New York City I had the same feeling. At first I knew I needed the flat farmlands of my hometown of Fowlerville, Michigan, to soothe me, but that didn’t satiate me long—it never does—and shortly after abandoning New York I knew I needed the mountains. That’s all I could think was mountains, I need the mountains and their vastness. And their “good tidings,” as John Muir says. I felt claustrophobic after leaving New York City and the mountains seemed the perfect antidote to that.

Now, all I knew was I needed the North. I needed Lake Superior. I needed to be on the lookout for moose and the moving green mists of the Northern Lights. I needed dense forests and zero traffic. I needed my sisters. After that I didn’t know what I needed or where to go to get it but first and foremost the Great Up North seemed to be beckoning in her most alluring way.

I often feel that a lot of people couldn’t or wouldn’t comfortably understand my need for abrupt change, but the best way I can describe it is this:

“Not all who wander are lost.”
-J.R.R Tolkien

So while I feel a bit like Mary Poppins noting that the wind has changed and there is nothing to be done but follow it, I don’t feel internally lost. I feel ready for a good wander. Internally, I have never felt more secure.*

 

***
I wrote this post before I moved yet still wanted to post it, but my secure-ness has shaken a little—err a lot—and my lost-ness has intensified. But alas at one point I felt certainty in the wind change. Now… well now I am just finding comfort in myself, deep down where God resides.