Bear Aware… And Other Concerns

Musings

I went hiking yesterday.
By myself.
I think bears were about.
And they probably would’ve liked to eat me, given the chance.

I contemplated bringing an old and probably very dull hatchet I bought for a friend—in order to encourage him to pursue dreams of becoming a lumberjack, but he left before I could gift it to him—I decided against the hatchet because I have a penchant for rock climbing and suddenly had horrific flashes of me not only falling to my death but severing my head in the process. The hatchet stayed home.

I arrived at my hiking destination, one I had been eyeballing for some time. Not only for its inescapable beauty, but its challenging qualities: namely a never-ending field of hills, atop of hills. I started out around 4pm, feeling charged on the idea of tackling this beast. I had asked a friend to come with me, but he changed his mind and not one to be deterred I opted to hike alone and informed my sister where I would be in case I did indeed fall off a cliff or got mauled by a bear.

Let me interject with the bear fixation here. Not only are there indeed bears in Wyoming, but I had recently been to Yellowstone where there were rumored to be Grizzly sightings. Also this particular spot I wanted to hike was an area in which I myself had spotted a black bear climbing along the tree line.

Furthermore, that morning at work I had been perusing a fishing regulations magazine in my downtime and saw an ad for bear spray with a particularly gruesome photo of a man who had been attacked by a bear. That image was now being replayed with every step I took toward that tree line and up the never-ending hill, to my point of interest which was naturally the tip top.

I also have read several cautionary signs in Wyoming that proclaim: Be Bear Aware!

So as I walked I repeated to myself, bear aware, bear aware, be bear aware.

This might have actually been a hindrance rather than a help because by the time I had ascended the first hill to make my way down into a valley to climb the second larger hill, I was almost petrified with the notion of being attacked by a bear. I had come upon a river I had no idea existed in between the two hills. It was nestled down a steep ravine. By this point I had mapped my route up to the highest point and wanted to be there, bad. So seeing the wild drop down to a river I could hear but couldn’t see, along with the fact that it slipped into forest, heightened my bear aware fever. But the thing about me is when I want something, I get slight tunnel vision over it and have to have it. In this case I wanted to be at the top of that hill. I hadn’t accounted for ravines and rivers, but my mind was already made up. So though I was pulsing with a slight paranoia over being mauled by wildlife I worked my way down the ravine anyway.

When I heard a tussle in the bushes nearby, I froze in crazed irrational fear, thinking, this is it; I was bear aware and it did me no good. Except it was just a deer. I continued down to the river. It wasn’t all that wide or fast flowing and there were ample rocks dotting the stream for me to climb across. I did come face to face with an imposing amount of scratchy brush, but I plowed through anyway, bolstered by fear-laced endorphins.

When I reached the other side, I could no longer see the golden hill that I wanted to climb. I only saw forest and rocks. I hustled up the other side, making my way over another tiny stream and was faced with a craggy rock wall. I breathed a sigh of relief as I shimmied up, getting scuffed and scratched while I huffed and puffed trying to outclimb the bears that were surely lurking and watching me in the forest behind.

And finally I was at the swaying field of gold that ascended right up into Wyoming’s crisp autumn sky. I was overjoyed and felt relieved, like I had escaped sudden death. But climbing this hill was its own version of death, because it was so arduous that I had to break and breathe about every fifteen steps while sweat gushed off of my face and I guzzled water and muttered profanities—my favorite way to deal with challenges. I pushed on, noting at this point my tenacity, simply to get to the top of a hill. I heard sounds that seemed to be rattley and hissy like a snake. The golden reeds were as tall as my waist and God only knew what lurked in there. The sun blazed down on my uncovered shoulders and still I was very much bear aware, looking warily into the forests to my right, while I heaved my girth upwards and upwards.

I got to the last peak, which was where the field was stacked with slate-like rocks. I was beyond spent at this point, shaking and sweating. When I went to reach for one of the rocks to climb, not only did it slip out of place and go careening down the hillside, but my arms gave way. I asked myself the question I often ask myself when doing something perhaps overly adventurous, and that is: Would Mom like this idea?

Nope.

I begrudgingly moved down the rocks a ways until I found a safer way up and when I hoisted myself up over the edge onto another field, I let out a euphoric yoop and got maybe a little bit teary. This field flowed downward into a deep valley going down the other side of the mountain with tremendous views of the valley, the highway and endless amounts of pines. I sat and stared for awhile. Maybe I did a few fist pumps. I can’t rightly recall in my state of exhaustion.

Then I scanned the hills, contemplating my way down. The way I came seemed a bad choice, so I outlined a different way down the mountain which admittedly was closer to the treeline and forest where I had spotted the bear months ago, but seemed less rocky. The only problem with this side as far as I could see were the cows grazing in the valley below. But I surmised that I could maybe bypass the cows, yet stay in the field far enough away from hungry bears. I started down feeling almost giddy with how easy it was going. Until I got to a dip in the hillside and saw the vast amount of cows and what looked to be another steep ravine. I know cows are just cows, but there were a lot of them, several with their babies and these are Wyoming cows, which is to say: behemoth and probably fearless.

I really didn’t want to be eaten by a bear, but if I was going to go out in an adventuresome blaze of glory, the bear attack would be the way to go. I was less enthused about coming to an end by cow. I inched away from the few cows who had heard my movement and were now eyeing me or running away. This placed me in a little cove of Aspens and closer still to the dense forest of pines I had been trying to avoid. Again I heard rustling and froze. I heard a growl.

My heart ratched up 17.5 notches while I seriously contemplated my life if a bear were to take off all my limbs. Again it was only more deer. I moved more swiftly down the next ravine only to find that the river I had crossed earlier with ease, was now about 3 times wider and deeper on this side of the hill. Also it was missing the convenient rock steps I had utilized prior. I was stricken. It was nearing 7 o’clock, which meant I had about an hour left of daylight as the sun was already sinking on the horizon. I had very little energy to go back up the mountain and around. Also I was now all but convinced a bear had smelled the sugar in my bloodstream and wanted me for dessert. I also was also in a mild upheaval over the cow situation as well.

I gazed at the deep and terribly murky river with floating logs covered in algae. I was almost as scared of deep seaweed filled water as I was of being taken down by a bear. I walked along the riverbed for a bit mulling over my options and trying to find a way across. I got to an area where the river was less wide and considerably less deep.

I knew what I had to do. I looked down and it was as if God was already one step ahead of me, helping me along. There was an old rusted sign that was long enough to be used as a sort of walking stick. I stuck it into the river to test the riverbed’s bottom, seeing if it was deep mud that I might sink into. It was firm sand. I took a deep breath, quelled my fears and trudged in. The water was chilly but I hardly noticed as I sunk up to my thighs while moving across trying not to lose my balance in what I had already dubbed in my mind as the Cow Shit River. I hadn’t actually seen any cow shit, but given the proximity of the beasts, I could only assume this wasn’t the freshest river in the Big Horns.

Once I made it to the other side, I used my rusty sign to help me up this last hill, which albeit small in comparison to what I had just done, was still a feat, as I was now beyond exhausted and soaked up to my underwear. My shoes were filled with river sludge and all I wanted was to be back at my car where surely no bears or cows were hanging out.

Now here is the thing I realized on this hike, which I gotta say was a doozy, and also maybe one of my favorites, simply for the death factors. Okay, okay, I didn’t actually come close to death, but my hyped up overly-imaginative writer’s brain thought otherwise.

The thing is: I am a pretty determined person. When I want something bad enough I make it happen. I remember when I first moved to Virginia, I discovered this beautiful winery that I decided I had to work at. They weren’t hiring because it was winter but they told me to come back the first of May. I was there resume in hand on the first of May and ended up getting the job.

But for some reason when it comes to my writing, the thing I love most, have wanted the most and think about constantly, I don’t give it rock climbing, heaving through fields and prickers, warding off bears, tearing up my skin and hair through Wyoming’s wild terrain and crossing cow shit rivers persistence. I give it a small nudge at best. So why, I was curious, when I wanted to get to the top of a mountain, was I willing to risk life and limb, convinced of bear growling and all, simply to meet my goal? Do I want to get to the top of a hill more than I want to make something of myself as a writer? No. I don’t think that’s it.

I know I am unafraid of the tangible challenge of tackling hills and all their surprise encounters. But for some reason the writing world and all its challenges, including agents, and query letters seems to scare me more than bear attacks. What is wrong with me? I am willing to get eaten by a bear, but I am not willing to submit my work to a bloody magazine…

There is something smelly in the water here and it isn’t the cow shit. It is my logic. It is all kinds of skewed and makes no sense to me. But I’ll tell ya this. The dawning of this epiphany has led me to believe that if I can tackle mountains and bears in Wyoming (alright I know! I didn’t literally tackle a bear, but I was willing…sorta) then maybe I should send someone out there in the universe my stuff and ya know see what happens.

Maybe nothing happens. Or maybe I face mass rejection. But at least I will be moving forward in my fear and accomplishing something. Instead of sitting pretty on my fear like I have been doing. I am taking one from my own experience and am going to become bear aware in the arena of writing. Agents and freelance contracts cannot possibly be more frightening than a wild bear. Just sayin.

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.

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.