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.

The Mountains, the Moose, the Men, Oh My!

Musings

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The West: where does a small-town Midwestern gal even begin? For starters I have been here in Wyoming for exactly one week and I am already so drunk on sheer adventure overload that starting at the beginning feels so long-gone.

Perhaps I could go backwards starting with seeing a cowboy lasso this afternoon. I wanted to faint upon seeing this, like an overwrought lady of yore. But I don’t think the cowboy would’ve understood. He maybe would’ve just assumed I wasn’t used to the elevation when in reality I am not used to so many manly men doing manly things like practicing rope handling and looking dashing while doing so.

Or yesterday how I went four-wheeling in a landscape that could only be described as some sort of decadent mix between Alaska and somewhere the Von Trapp children would roam. I hate to start describing Wyoming with references to other places as Wyoming stands alone in her splendor, but it’s the only comparison I can draw. I kept squealing, “holy buckets!” at a loss for any other explanation for my feelings upon seeing mountains and valleys and elk, that my four-wheeling companion, D2—a bearded outdoorsman who works at the lodge—chuckled and started saying holy buckets the rest of our 30-mile off-roading journey.

He let me drive on the way home and I drove us through a creek, nestled between two bluffs, made sure to hit every mud puddle as speedily as I could and the best part? We saw fourteen moose, one so close to our trail that I sincerely feared for my life as he casually eyed us, eyeing him. Those beasts are indeed massive and have a justifiably cocky look about them that bespeaks of their majesty in the forest.

Or there’s the fact that on our second day at the lodge the fellas taught Kirst and I poker and all initial ditzy doodling aside, we actually raked in the chips. Okay fine I did have a little help from the outdoor adventure guide who called me sweetheart during the game and would tap my leg multiple times when I needed to raise my bet, but still, I think I might need to go to Vegas. Just kidding, I would definitely need my pal to tap my leg for instructions and I think they frown upon that sort of thing in Vegas. In fact I’m sure I would probably be taken out back and have my kneecaps broken and be asked never to visit again. I digress, of course.

I definitely feel like I might be living in an old-timey Western movie. Especially when I meet old cowboys named Merle who kiss my hand upon meeting me. Or when I discovered that there are wild mustangs on the other side of the mountain where I reside. Simply knowing I was in the vicinity of wild mustangs nearly made me choke up with swells of gratitude for the beauty of life in the West. Or the fact that I have driven through what seems to be intense fog and suddenly I descend from the mountain and it clears and I see in my rearview mirror that it wasn’t fog at all, but indeed a mass of clouds I was just passing through.

The mountains, the moose, the mustangs, the men, the majesty, oh my! It’s easy to see why a gal could become overwrought with emotion and simply need to pass out. Or barf. As I pointed out to Kirst today about a man we met while hiking who later met up with us for coffee. His beard was dark and lush. His flannel was, well a flannel. And he laughed at our banter. When he left I turned to Kirst and said, “can we talk about how cute he is?!” Kirst responded, “He is so cute I could puke.” Amen, sister. Amen. The men here are so cute I too could just about vom. But I won’t, as that’s unladylike.

Anyhow. I want to wax more poetic. Always more poetic. But it is my first day off and I need to find more adventure. Wyoming would have hurt feelings if I didn’t. But here are some pictures from our first hike so you understand all this melodrama.

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What the Native Americans Would Do

Musings

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I made the executive decision some time ago that I was going to sell all my earthly possessions in order to be unencumbered when I moved out West. In order to acquire experiences, I would purge my things. Also when I was working at North Star Academy back in the fall we had Native Americans as guest speakers to teach the children about their customs.

I have always been wildly fascinated and appreciative of Native American culture. I think it is so beautiful, poetic and speaks to the kind of life I would like to lead. So when the classroom of children (myself included) got to make friendship bracelets I was pretty jazzed. But here was the stipulation, the woman speaker told the class, these friendship bracelets had to be made with the intent of giving them away. Already I felt overly attached to this bracelet having only slid a few inexpensive plastic colored beads onto my strip of leather.

I wasn’t unfamiliar with friendship jewelry and its purposes. In middle school I was always buying the best friend necklaces that I could give to my bestie so that she and I could proclaim our allegiances to one another. But the thing with those was, there were always two. Usually it was the same necklace but with two sides of a heart split down the middle and one half said best and the other said friend.

My problem with things—all kinds of things—always has been that I immediately attach a memory to the item in question. In this case, I was happily making a bracelet with Native Americans in my beloved classroom full of first graders and learning about a culture I greatly admired. I wanted it for myself!

Then the woman said this next part, which there has been no recovering from since. She said that in Native American culture there wasn’t a word for “mine.”

“Nothing belongs to us,” she said.

I admired them even more. And I vowed then and there to give my bracelet away. As soon as I wore it a whole bunch first, obviously, as it was now filled with Native American memories and good energy. This also became the first stepping stone in my acknowledging to myself that maybe, just maybe I could part with my things after all. They were just things and parting with them didn’t mean I was losing the memory, just the tangible item.

I have read countless stories about individuals who sell all their belongings, maybe even their house, to travel the world, and while I own a whole lot of thrift store treasures, nothing in the way of footing the bill for a yearlong adventure, all my things feel priceless to me. I’ve always wondered how these people did it? In fact every time I try to put a price on anything of mine, I feel like I am giving up animals from a shelter and that I need to do background screenings on the applicants and find the best and most loving homes where my items will be cherished in the way they deserve.

Most of my things have been in storage from when I moved back home from Virginia after a particularly painful breakup. Putting it all in storage was beneficial because I really had no place for most of my furniture and things at the time, and furthermore it felt like I didn’t have to deal with accepting that a life I was bent on having with a person was officially over.

Furniture and boxes of my beautiful things: books, decor, my art collection have all been under lock and key for nearly a year. I recently decided to tackle the removing of said things and the beginning of the purge. I began to deliver old trunks that used to house my vast board game collection to a cousin’s house and put other things away to be sold at my mom’s flea market. The whole day of moving my stuff felt like pure agony. I cried and moved things. And cried some more.

And most of my tears felt like unshakable loss. A loss of things, felt like a loss of self. Who would I be without all this defining memorabilia? All this purging also stirred up uncomfortable reminders of where all this happy furniture used to be placed in a home I shared with my ex. An ex I planned on marrying. Had picked out baby names with. Showed him engagement rings I liked when he asked to see the styles I preferred.

I spotted this fuzzy little deer he had purchased for me two birthdays ago when he took me to see the Luray Caverns in Virginia as a surprise. He told me I was allowed to pick out any treat and I picked out that silly deer. He asked me if I was sure of all the things in the souvenir shop, that the felt deer with plastic horns (clearly made for a child) was the one thing I wanted.

I nodded excitedly. See the thing about that deer was, I had always loved those felt animals when I was a child. I would see the toy horses in the Native American themed souvenir shops that we would stop at on vacation, right after we passed the Mackinac Bridge, but I was never allowed to have them, because they were too expensive and we were just looking. Acquiring the felt deer felt like a win for childhood me and I loved it dearly (no pun intended) and immediately.

It seemed an absolute impossibility that I could part with this deer. The deer was more than plastic and felt. It was my ex. And birthday surprises. And childhood. And murky, dripping caverns of Virginia. It was my love of nature. And happiness. How did the Native Americans do it? Who could this deer ever belong to that would look at it like that?

I didn’t do anything with the deer at the time. I just shut the lid on the box and my feelings and told myself that maybe I could keep it as a small memento of DC. But I also wanted to keep the flea market ring he’d bought me and the patchwork quilt. Could I justify all these reminders when our love had ended? I doubted it and so I let myself part with the ring (my most coveted of the DC possessions) lending it to my sister when she left for Iceland as she confided in me that it was her favorite ring of mine. I told her it too was my favorite ring and that she better come back with it safe and sound on her finger.

I discovered last night, however that DC who let me keep his Netflix password when we broke up, changed it as I couldn’t log in anymore. I know it seems like small bananas but it smells suspiciously like moving on to me and maybe I ought to do the same in regards to the items I still cling to in the way of him.

So Kia can keep the flea market ring. And maybe I will sell the quilt. But the deer… I just don’t know if I can bring myself to get rid of that cheap felt deer. And maybe the Native Americans would understand? I like to think they would. Also I need to talk to them about my blazer collection which I am also having a hard time parting with… I know I have no right to still own a blazer collection as it isn’t 1980 and I am not an extra in the film 9 to 5, but man do I look downright fetching in a blazer.

I think I am pushing my luck though and getting into a murky misinterpretation of what the Native Americans feel is justifiable to hold onto. Alas, I have claimed to be many things, including a lover of Native Americans, furry creatures and new adventures, but letting go easily has never been one of my strong suits. And so still I struggle to hold on when I know, it is time to let go.

 

I’m Not a Country Song

Musings

I have often wondered why my parents weren’t lighthouse keepers in Maine. Not because either of my parents have expressed an interest in being or becoming a lighthouse keeper. The fixation on lighthouses and Maine are in fact both preferences I lean to. But it’s simply that my family is an unusual and creative bunch who all seem to have other worldly inclinations. Almost all my siblings mirror my love of travel and adventure and hopeful possibility.

So it seems to me of all the places my parents could have settled, the logical fit would’ve been somewhere epic and worthy of an epic backdrop to accompany our family’s grandiose dreams. But my parents chose Fowlerville, MI: a flat, farming community with a population of less than 3,000. And I won’t bemoan Fowlerville here as that’s not my job and I wouldn’t want to for anyone who truly enjoys Fowlerville. However, I will say I have never related to this place much. Furthermore it has never really felt like my home. Or at least the home of my heart.

Yes, my physical home resides here and these four walls bring me joy because within them are every memory from my youth and my family. But if ever I felt I was coming home, that place has always been and always will be Marquette, MI, or really as soon as I cross the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula. Sure it isn’t the place that raised me, but it is the place that I can feel in my veins when I’m away from it and when I am there I always feel I’m where I belong. I was explaining this to my friend Meg yesterday as I feel badly that I don’t have more of an attachment to the place I was raised.

“I don’t know why I can’t relate to this place. I think I am missing something in my DNA that makes me fond of the place that raised me. And it upsets me, because I want to. I just can’t. I mean all the country songs are always going on about the place that raised them and how proud they are. And I don’t have that.”

“Because you’re not a country song,” Meg pointed out matter-of-factly.

My eyes lit up like that explained everything. I am not a country song! Of course I’m not. That’s it. I thought it was beautiful and succinct. And it relieved me to have an explanation of sorts to help me understand my compulsion to leave this place once and for all and never look back. The thing is lately I have felt like a displaced person and it has been unsettling to a certain extent. I had been staying with my parents for awhile and then I was staying at my cousins for a spell. And then with the constant travel I do whether it be to Chicago, the Yoop, Florida, wherever I fancy or get invited to, my car became a sort of collect all for the in-between.

And that isn’t the part that bothers me at all. In fact it is specifically why I bought this SUV, for it’s roomy interior and ability to easily be converted into a sleeping space. It is that nowhere in particular feels like my home right now. I am growing up (begrudgingly I will admit) and finding a place of my own feels very important to me. I just am not sure where exactly that place is, yet I want to find it. I am simply very afraid.

My whole life, despite being a fanciful dreamer of the first order, I have had a plan. I planned to go to college. I planned on being a writer. I planned on moving to New York City. Check, check, check. Then the plan got a little topsy-turvy. I left New York and for the first time in my life felt adrift with the what next. Lucky for me my boyfriend at the time made it very easy for me by taking the problem out of my hands and asking me to move in with him. He lived on the East Coast and better yet he said he wanted to marry me.

That settled that. I was living in view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a half hour (if we didn’t hit traffic, which of course was rare) drive into Washington D.C. I loved my new home, I loved my boyfriend and I loved the idea of what our life could be. Me, pursuing my writing, and then settling in closer to the mountains with my sir and starting a family. Except that plan didn’t work either. And the only plan I had after that was to keep my head above water. And in doing so, I found I had a whole lot left in me even if all my plans had crumbled like day-old coffee cake.

My favorite personal trainer, EJ, had asked me while I was still in training for The Biggest Loser, what my plan was then. And I responded that my plan was to be footloose and fancy-free. And his response was, “That’s just your fancy way of saying you’re a poor planner.” I have always found this very hysterical, because by my own admission, yeah I can be a pretty poor planner. But in other ways, I make the things I want to happen, happen. If I want something bad enough, I plan and I make it a reality. Seriously. How do you think I got on national television?

The Biggest Loser producers didn’t knock on my door and say, “Hey Cassandra, we heard you were chubby and lookin’ for a change. Would you like to join our ranks?” Nope. I showed up in Detroit at 5 a.m. for the casting call and fuckin dazzled them. And then I continued to put in the work for months until I made the show and then worked tirelessly for seven more months while on the show to lose 92 pounds. And then I worked my much smaller arse off to get to New York City.

The problem here and now is, sure I am going out West and sure that’s as natural a choice for me as my choosing to drink strong black coffee every morning. It’s that I don’t know what the plan is after that… Because I still want the things I have always wanted. To be a smash writing sensation and ya know eventually locate a man who thinks I’m a humorous delight and then wants to really lock it down and impregnate me five times and then once more for good measure.

And truly my real problem isn’t a lack of a plan or not knowing what the next move is after mountains meeting the sea. The problem always has been my incessant worry. Every single friend I have points this out to me. Meditate more. Quit stressing. Stop worrying. Why do you need to have a plan? These were all things that were said to me only yesterday by varying friends. All nice friends who care about my happiness and well-being.

I just can’t actually comprehend being a person who doesn’t fret over the future like an overprotective hen clucking over her chicks. What, just go West and hope for the best? Really what else can I do though? I am as prone to hope as I am to worry. So I may as well choose hope and try and strangle the worry, though she is an elusive and bothersome little gnat.

In this case, my main man God really says it best and I should just shut up and listen to him.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

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.