Forever West

Musings

I have loved my time in the West so immensely, that I naturally wanted to do a salute to my experience here. I am mostly at a loss for words as to how to tell you of my deep and abiding love for this place and so without the words for it, I have instead rounded up some (errr a lot) of my favorite photos from my time spent here in the mountains.

I hope you sense the love.

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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.

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?