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.

Just Like Summer Camp

Musings

I have been perched in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming for just shy of two months now. I have had the good fortune to land a waitressing gig at a mountain lodge which is en route to Yellowstone National Park. For being someone who embraces change in a variety of ways and does somewhat ludicrous things all the time, like buying one way tickets to New York City or selling all my belongings to move Westward, one would surmise that I’d be well versed in how to handle overwhelming newness when it’s upon me.

I do handle it. However, I will be perfectly honest in saying that every time I land somewhere new, I ultimately have a smallish panic attack, question my sanity and immediately want to go back home due to frazzled nerves. But because this isn’t my first rodeo (honestly if I had a dime for every time I worked that into conversation in the West…) I stick it out, knowing that adventure will find me and I will be okay.

Sure enough, after my initial misgivings about being cut off from the world atop a mountain, in a rugged lodge with animal heads staring at me from every corner and a noose hanging from the ceiling of the bar—I kid you not—I embraced life in the cowboy state. And with that acceptance came a variety of wholly new experiences accompanied by feelings of staggering awe.

Besides the mountains, moose and men which I have prattled on enough about, there are some other things I have yet to mention. For instance, the fact that my new employers provide housing and food for their employees. We are somewhat mountain-locked up at the lodge, so unless I wanted to go hunt down a bear, errr and a crossbow for said hunting, or drive thirty miles down switchbacks to the nearest grocery store, which is in fact half a gas station, I would probably starve if they didn’t kindly offer me meals.

Now here is the fun part about the lodge—and truth be told there are loads of fun parts—for breakfast we can order off of the menu. So having a cook prepare me a Belgian Waffle with strawberries any time I feel like, basically makes me feel like a Little Princess. And I mean like the movie, A Little Princess, where she is shut off in that horrible attic, but then one morning she wakes up to silks and sausages. That’s me, up here. Sure there are antlers everywhere and my bed definitely has multiple fleece blankets because the mountains can get a real chill about them, even in July, but no matter, I still feel like a Little Princess almost daily. Even if I am shoving said Belgian waffle into my mouth in a frenzied hurry in between waiting tables as I am usually too busy for leisure waffle time.

Besides having a cook prepare my breakfast (and lunch and dinner but breakfast is my favorite), I also live amidst tall, tall pines and log cabins galore. Before I got situated in my cozy trailer, I was living out of one of the hotel rooms. The ceiling in my room went up in the shape of a roof and was made of wooden beams. My favorite way to fall asleep was staring up at those rustic wooden beams in happy gratitude until dozing off. Then there was the laundry area, which is located in a cabin nearby. It was stocked full of novels and old Reader’s Digests. And as someone who hates doing her laundry, I loved doing it in this cabin. It sincerely reminded me of the movie The Parent Trap. As a gal who always longed to go to summer camp, this is truly what my experience of living at a mountain lodge has felt like: summer camp.

Except I work almost 60 hours a week, which really means I repeatedly tell customers my life story and spill caramel pie topping, coffee or tea all over myself, because I am both verbose and non-graceful like that, but besides that whole earn your keep business, every day walking amidst the pines, having bonfires and game nights with slews of boys—as if they were from the boys camp next door, but really they are my ultra cool coworkers—and hiking mountain-top after mountain-top makes me feel like I got the summer camp experience I always wanted after all. The only real difference is that now I get to drink all the beer I fancy because I am a grown-up lady. And so this is better in fact.

Isn’t it grand how life rewards you like that?

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.

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.