Searching for a Story

Musings

I was freaking out the other day—like I am wont to do—over the notion that maybe I was out of stories. Maybe I had nothing more to say. I had said it all. Which okay, that in itself is quite laughable because I am the most verbose person I know, and I find that I know a lot of people, especially other verbosers like me.

I really had a fret about me as I tried to go about my day enjoying myself, whilst still searching for a story. But when I find that I may not have a story, inevitably a story finds me. Because life is beautiful and happenstance like that.

And surely a few things unfolded. First of all, I did find a story, or more appropriately, I located Story, Wyoming: a darling little village with a population of about 800 people. I suspected right away with a name like Story that I was going to fawn. And fawn I did as my sisters and I wove through the back country roads of Story while it drizzled and the windows fogged. A river wound past us and tall pines lingered in our peripheral.

If that weren’t enough to elicit love—which I’ll be honest, pines and rivers are always enough to elicit my love—what’s more is when I happened upon a quirky little guest house in Story’s dinky downtown, named the Waldorf A Story. As a lover of words and stories—duh, I also greatly admire wonderful plays on words. I was delirious. I popped on over into the library after fully devouring the Waldorf A Story, which was built with bright logs and as warm and charming as Story itself. I chatted with the librarian about the Waldorf A Story, about the town and how I was very enchanted and maybe I just might have to move to Story.

“We actually have a lot of writers who live here,” she smiled.

Naturally I had worked into the conversation that I was a writer. And why wouldn’t I consider living somewhere that appreciated words as much as I did?

The whole ride home I would not shut up about how wooed I was and how conflicted I felt. I loved this place, not just Story, but Wyoming. I loved the mist coming off of the mountains and how nice the librarians are here, not uber grouches like they seem to be in Michigan—come on gals, don’t you know you have one of the most cherished jobs in the world—and I liked the cowboys and their ruggedness and how seriously they seemed to take their ruggedness. I liked seeing them lasso in the middle of the day when I was out shopping, because that is the kind of thing you see in Wyoming. I also liked that my customers understood my Wyoming love and even encouraged it, asking me questions like, “Well, why don’t you just marry a cowboy?”

To which I always responded with, “I’m trying! Why haven’t any proposed yet?” Cue 90’s Paula Cole crooning, Where Have All the Cowboys Gone.

Then I got to thinking, no but really, why hasn’t a cowboy asked me out yet? I posed this question to my girl friend at work today and before she could answer I mused, “Well it could be that I give myself only 17 minutes to get ready in the morning and then I go back to bed for five of those minutes and then run out the door letting my hair frizz out and only having put on one dab of mascara… but that can’t be the only reason…”

So what’s the dilemma then? If I love the mountains and the mist and the librarians and the rivers and the pines and the ruggedness of the men, then what is the problem? Well I suppose it’s that I know deep down I am not ready to let anyone or anything claim me quite yet… even Wyoming and so I feel a bit of melancholy over the whole ordeal, whilst at the same time feeling deep wells of gratitude for my good fortune of being in a mountains embrace dreaming of cowboys.

Do you see? Or maybe you don’t see at all, because I am a slight crazy person, but it’s like this: Wyoming wooes me so much of the time that I genuinely want to sob. I told this to my sister and I hammered on the point of sobbing so much, especially over this ballroom I had recently visited in an old Wyoming senator’s home, that my sister asked if I was pregnant.

“No, I am not pregnant,” I proclaimed, “not even possible! You have to have sex to get pregnant.”

But I had gotten to thinking after seeing the ballroom with the steepled ceilings and stained glass windows in a mansion perched on a hill, and the Buffalo farm nearby, and the town of Story and living atop a mountain, in a place where I felt others understood not just the beauty of the land but the magic of moving Westward, that it was grand I had moved on. Wasn’t it grand and maybe worth a sob or two?

I had loved Virginia in a way that I thought couldn’t be topped. I had also loved New York City, but in a different way. In a desperate sort of manic way. And I love the U.P. with the whole of my being. All these places have become a part of me no matter where I go, but what if I had stopped at the U.P. and never discovered the beautiful insomnia of late night runs across the Brooklyn Bridge, or endearing myself forever to beer, cheese and cows in the heartland of Wisconsin? Or the rolling horse country of Virginia, and Appalachia, and whale watching and falling in love with my nation’s capital and a man all at the same time?

So the conundrum is I can’t stop here in Wyoming. Not yet anyway. Now is the time for lingering. Oh and gosh darnit if I don’t want to linger with cowboys and mountains. But I also want to linger in Italian vineyards and along seaward coasts and wade through cranberry fields and dance at moonlit festivals.

I guess what all the fuss and fanfare is about is that I want to be a little morose already over potentially having to leave another love… because trust me, it ain’t easy folks. But at the same time, damn if it isn’t all so beautiful and worth every one of my seconds that I could simply sob. And I probably will. And no I am not preggo. I am just an emotionally overwrought kinda gal—or as one of my friends would say: a rollercoaster of emotion—and I like to cry over ballrooms, mountains and towns called Story.

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.

Consider Me Wooed

Musings

Okay so the great thing about Wyoming is she is so unbelievable that I find myself in a constant state of awe and wonder. I am perpetually wooed by the state of grandeur, old world charm and epic mountaintops. Furthermore I feel so present in every moment of my existence that I find myself enamored just to be. As someone who has always struggled to stay present in a singular moment, but instead, worries and ruminates over the future, or obsesses over the past, it has been downright shocking how perfectly present I have felt in all of my moments here in the West.

I am present when waitressing and meeting new people and hearing their stories. I am present when off gallivanting in the mountains. I am present when beneath the star speckled night sky in front of a crackling fire, surrounded by towering pines. I am present when sticking my toes in every stream, flowing river or body of water I can locate.

I feel hyper-aware that I am alive. I almost tingle with it. And as someone who is prone to anxiousness, when I am doing something mundane like running an errand, or grocery shopping, I find myself getting anxious to get back up the mountain and continue my tree-hugging, free spirited, high on mountains existence.

But… there’s always a but. I feel somewhat guilty and childish about it all. I know I wax a lot about how I am getting older and how I suppose that means things like I ought to lock down a mortgage or a man. But instead I am flitting about the country. Playing in the hills with a country boy who happens to constantly pick me wildflowers and helps push me up hills when they are too steep and I am out of breath, or brings me a shot of tequila when I have a bad day and joke that I need a shot of tequila to deal with my frazzled nerves.

But I in no way want to lock anything down and that makes me feel like a somewhat useless adult. I want a home sure. I ache when I watch HGTV. But then I love my propensity to roam. And right now my roaming led me to a mountaintop in which my sis and I have been gifted with a beautiful 1950’s style trailer surrounded by hordes of pencil sharp pines, and complete with turquoise appliances and a fire pit . And yes I want babies. But then today in the coffee shop where I am writing, someone came in with a newborn who, while quite cute, kept screaming and I overheard the mother say she hadn’t gotten sleep in 34 hours. I nearly choked on my coffee. Thirty-four hours?! I freak out if I get less than six hours and pretty much go on a war rampage for coffee and then insist on a nap. Actually my new life of high mountain adventure and long work days waitressing has led me to take daily naps again. How could I nap or flit off to Jackson Hole and the Tetons with cute boys and a car full of pb&j’s, wild game jerky and blankets if I had crying newborns?

Okay, realistically of course I will do anything to have my own crying newborns and fixer-upper worthy of HGTV renos one day, but in the meantime, the bonfires, sticky s’mores, spontaneous road trips through jagged peaks and winding rivers, horseback rides, hand-holding with a bearded outdoorsman, and hail-soaked hikes to places called Garden of the Gods seem otherworldly in their present perfection.

And maybe that’s the point of all this anyway. If living on a mountaintop has taught me to be fully alive in the moments of wildflowers and adventure as much as the moments of hail and tequila necessity then I reckon I am exactly where I ought to be.

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.

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.

There’s Nothing Dismal About It

Musings

I was desperate for adventure today. I had two things in mind:

-Get real up close and personal with the mountains. Duh, that’s almost always a prerequisite.
-And go somewhere with a cool name where I’ve never been. That’s almost always a prereq as well, come to think of it.

I went into my old office, which now doubles as my sisters room and inspected my map of Virginia that is tacked to the wall and has pink heart pins in all the locales I have visited thus far. I knew I had close to a full tank of gas, $2 in my checking, $10.30 in my savings, and two folded ones in my purse. The money was a non-issue, as I can make adventure out of nothing. The tank of gas was my jackpot. I made sure to fill my stomach with a small potato, one egg and an individual honey Greek yogurt with some walnuts before I left, so as not to be tempted to eat on the road.

Who knew what I might need $14 dollars for and it probably would be better than food.

I wanted to go to Lake Moomaw, VA, because come on. Lake Moomaw. That’s fantastic. But it was four hours away, which meant eight hours total and that seemed to be pushing it for time and gas. I reluctantly let go of the Moomaw fantasy and left the house with no clear idea but headed West toward the mountains. I detoured to buy myself a mint chocolate chip cupcake as I happened to be passing my favorite cupcake place and what’s an adventure without a cupcake and coffee? Besides I needed the sustenance for researching my adventure. As I sat happily munching and sipping, I scoured a VA map again for another contender. And that’s when I spotted, Woodstock.

I was sold immediately but researched further to make sure Woodstock wasn’t just some unincorporated community I would drive through, but actually had a Main street or town hall. It had both. I grabbed my coffee, got back into my trusty steed, put on The Avett Brothers and was off.

I passed a sign that said, Dismal Hollow Rd. and got to thinking how I ended up in Virginia. My first encounter with VA was on a road trip to Myrtle Beach with my girlfriends in college and we stopped in Fancy Gap, VA for the night. We stayed in a terrifying motel with a door that opened to an unlit hallway and all the TV channels were Indian soap operas. We ate fried chicken in a local diner up in the hills and I bought a bag that said, Virginia is for Lovers. We laughed about Fancy Gap for years and that’s all I associated with Virginia, a creepy motel, fried chicken and that it was for lovers, which did endear it to me somehow.

The next time I made my way to Virginia was on a field trip with family friends who were teaching their children about America’s history. We went to the Jamestown and Yorktown settlements. I enjoyed myself and loved driving through the mountains, but I remember thinking, who would ever live in Virginia? It seemed to me at the time that all it amounted to was Fancy Gap, some Colonial re-enactors and a lot of strip malls.

Four years later and I was packing up my things in my boyfriend’s car to move in with him. To Virginia. I didn’t know what to think other than I loved him, so I might learn to love Virginia. I couldn’t find my Virginia is for Lovers bag and that saddened me.

That was over a year ago. As I passed Dismal Hollow, I wondered about who thought this place was dismal enough to name it so? And maybe they were just passing through and didn’t give it a fair shake. I at one time felt certain Virginia wasn’t worth a look-back and now I am happier than ever that I got the chance to be proven wrong. The Mountains. The Sea. The horses. The history. What could possibly be dismal about this place? Well, okay the traffic. The traffic could warrant a dismal.

I drove on to Woodstock and tried on crowns in Three French Hens. I walked up and down Main street where the parking meter lady smiled and nodded each time she passed. I delighted in Walton & Smoot’s old fashioned Pharmacy complete with soda counter. I found pictures of the sea and New Orleans in the local thrift shop, which touted a half off everything sale. I waved to the men in the barbershop who waved at me. I drove up into the mountains and George Washington National Forest and I drove back down spotting the valley below. I drove across the Shenandoah where a suspension bridge dangled above the river and grape vines lined the hill. I got directions from a kindly woman who said, “warsh tub road” instead of wash and I did feel like I was in the old hollow.

I left Woodstock with my thrift store pictures, a 15 cent postcard and a free decal that said, “Discover Woodstock Virginia” for a total spent of $4.33.

And I could not have been more thrilled. Virginia and all its hollows and hills, mountains and vineyards and even lovers delights me so. I came home to a setting sun in my rear-view mirror, my apartment that faces the mountains and put on John Denver.