Shaking off Winter

Hebgen Lake, Western Yellowstone

 

Winter. A daunting word for a Californian girl who has never been below zero. Her skin is made of sunshine and warm wind, and her laughter dances in the Poppy fields splattered across the hills. Winter has always been a myth. It has entailed snow and mistletoe and warm socks, though her winter is forty degrees. The second clouds cover the sky, she crawls into her pajamas and starts a fire. Winter has been a type of weather rather than an entire season, and winter never lasts more than a day. Though, the past week she had spent sitting by a once frozen lake, she realized that spring in Montana is what she had always believed Winter to be.
Spring has been reaching down her strong, delicate fingers to crack open the ice that blanketed the lake. After the week of stretching and shrinking, the last bits of ice have been broken through and the lake has begun to thaw to her best shade of blue. If you ever have the chance to achieve two springs in one year I would recommend it. This transition time is rich with growth. Small sprouts shoot through impossibly cold earth at ground-breaking speed. And the earth seems to be laughing as the color tickles it’s surface. Gray. Brown. White. Blue. Now, Green scream across the landscape. The willows, tired from carrying the weight of snow, reach their burgundy arms to the sky. The sky tries on different jackets. One day snow, one day rain, one day…

Today the clouds broke away from the fog and the fog away from the sky and the blue pierces your heart in a way you haven’t felt since the first time you fell in love. The wonder and curiosity and excitement all wells up inside of you in a way that makes you want to cry and shout and burst out giggling all at the same time. Instead, you sit there with the world rushing past you in the bench seat of a pickup Chevy. The lake and the willows and the clouds all preparing themselves for their Spring splendor. And you thought your friends took a long time to get ready for the party… Nature takes her sweet time, arriving fashionably early or late exactly as she pleases, always ready to impress.

So we sit here, you and I, patiently waiting for the sun to shine enough and the rain to fall enough, and the wind to calm down enough for Spring. Being from California, I have never known how to wait for a season passing. I would love if you held my hand as we waited for the colors. If you have stories to share, or wisdom to impart, I welcome it all. It seems that seasons teach patience. It seems that seasons teach one to wait for things to come and how to let them go. It seems that seasons trigger some wonderful intuitive part of ourselves that need the cycles of opening and closing. If you want to join me for this change, you can find me by the river where the sheets of ice are being blown across the lake and colliding with each other. 

I’m falling in love with myself and parts that I have never known because only winter knows them. It is winter that coaxes the creativity from our wind-chilled bones. It is winter that reminds you that you are only human, and you are fragile and I am fragile, and we need each other. We need fire, in our homes and in our hearts to keep us warm and alive. It is the same fire in the sky that burns the fire in our hearts that burns spring through winter’s cloaks. So while Spring is coming, let’s run to the lake, run to the earth, run to the places that have been hidden to see what happens when they bloom. Because they are blooming like the song on the tip of your tongue that wants to be heard. I’ll sing with you if you’d like…

Falling In Love With Strangers

Ojai Farmers Market, Roots Organic Farm

In the blank spaces, imagination rushes in to create what it will. It is as if there is no choice but to fall into the void left by unknowns. That first time your eyes meet another’s, their color flashing into yours and staying a moment if you are lucky. Opia n. “The ambiguous intensity of eye contact with a stranger,” pours a warm rush of adrenaline to spike your heart rate and make you gulp. At this moment the other person is pure potential. They are everything you ever wanted and never wanted simultaneously, and you are not sure whether to approach them or let your fantasy be the only reaction you ever had. There are unexpressed parts of you that begin to bloom, hoping someone will notice them and honor them. This stranger could be their scapegoat! Though the fear of not being accepted had an equal weight of dread attached. So you sit there stuck in the middle of a “what-if” and decide to walk away. The final “what-if” lingers on your fingertips as you create stories that you trail behind you. 

I realize the stories you and I both write. I, maybe more so, end up designing narratives so vast and detailed I end up loving people I have never met. My weakness is the men who write. Whether it is songs, or essays, or letters, words are the way I process my world. I find myself writing to strangers, waiting for the response that triggers me and keeps me close, and pulls me closer. Closer to them and closer to myself. I find myself opening unintentionally, as if my inner world has been begging to be seen. Maybe we all have inner worlds that have been hidden because we don’t think they are safe in the open, and the attention of a stranger ignites hope in those worlds. Our stories end up with new potential to run in a completely unpredictable direction.

The unpredictable becomes an addiction. And the lines across the screen from a stranger you don’t know, and the words on the page from a friend you are learning, and the random shirts and orchids left on your bed, and all of the art of the dance keeps you dancing. Though you would love to find a partner, you are happy with the ones you have had. There hasn’t been one yet who could pick up on all of the tempo changes and wide ranges of emotions that are within you. So you wait and dance your own dance, flailing limbs and all, hoping that you might booty bump a stranger accidentally that can climb the mountains, and sing the songs, and love your friends with you. 

Falling in love with strangers can happen daily, monthly, minute by minute. It hits you at the moment you feel recognized. When it does you’ll find yourself running, either to or away from whatever caught your attention. If it is that glimmer in their eye, or the way they used the word “Ranunculaceae,” lean in and breathe. For all of the negative “what-ifs” there is the what-if of never trying. There are the good maybes and the bad maybes. Maybe the human on the other side of the hemisphere has a thing or two to teach you about hard to get Or maybe you feel so cherished and loved, you aren’t sure you care about how they loo. Or maybe your stranger snores, and maybe they can’t carry on a conversation in public, maybe they are so caught up in their own egos that they run on chasing strangers to achieve a storm of raining hearts falling behind them. But maybe they’re the ones with rain buckets out waiting to catch you and your storm where you are dancing. 

This is why I fall in love. This is why I don’t mind admitting it. This is why I run and jump for that triple spin pirouette and end up falling and bruising both knees only to get up again. This is why I let love go. I hold onto the hope that one day there will be that crazy stranger who understands. Because I understand that no one really understands, and the gentle door left open in that stranger’s curiosity is what will keep you alive. This is an invitation to all the strangers to go find the other strangers. Whether your connection is through words or music or punching in numbers for the boss man, let it shine out so that glimmer in your eyes means something.

When you get caught, don’t fight it. If you can’t dance their dance, run to get a breath of fresh air and jump back into your own. There is only one thing you really have to remember. No matter what, no matter how long you end up staying strangers or lovers or friends or anybodys with your stranger, never never lose your curiosity. Each person is a universe that you will never know fully. So jump dive and dip into that longing glance. It is yours. 

Why Am I On the Road Again?

The IChing Way of Life

Another airport. Another checked bag to worry about. Another couple of hours of trying to figure out how to prop a pillow between my shoulder and head in order to struggle through turbulent upright sleep. Another person who pushes their seat back as far back as it can go. Another takeoff and landing mixed with coffee that is only palatable on airplanes. Another layover. Another airport. Another another. Then there is you, in the middle of it. You can get lost in your world, or you can get lost in theirs. The other stories around you are blossoming and blooming and dying in tiny bursts as you bump the arm next to you and make eye contact with the elderly couple across from you on their IPads. 

There is the monk who sits in the window getting his shoes shined, and the man with Nike Velcro sandals, splayed across four armrest-less seats, and the young moms in micro-puff Patagucci holding onto their already too-cool kids hands. There are pilots, puffed up with importance and fatigue simultaneously, and the stewardesses who kindly decline interaction as they gather up themselves again after being enclosed in a tube in the sky with needy and uncomfortable strangers. There was the couple next to you on the plane, sharing their Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal as a pillow between their Coachella Clad attire. There are business men and downright dirty backpackers. And there is you, still there amidst it all, sweating through the layers of clothes you couldn’t fit into your bag and were afraid to leave behind because you’re from California and Yellowstone is cold and unpredictable. You laugh at yourself for the lengths you took so you didn’t have to check your bag. 

If there is all of this discomfort and chaos why do you travel? It isn’t luxurious, though it is, if you look at the cost. It isn’t comfortable sitting crammed next to strangers. The food is never good and is always expensive. Yet, you find yourself totally in love with it all. The ache in your back, the constant motion, the heat generated by your baking body, the skylines and terminals, the world stretched out below you… It is all a part of it and you are in love.

This is how I feel when I travel. When I ask myself why I am traveling, the answer is not obvious. For me, the thought of traveling is somewhat exhausting, but once I am in it, it becomes a trance. There is a push and pull of timings and connections that I have to solve like a puzzle. And there are the stories that flit around me in the open air that calm me down and remind me how small my story is in comparison. At the the same time I am filled with an epic sense of wonder for the strangeness of humankind and how many ways there are to live a life. Traveling helps me feel less alone and okay being alone simultaneously. On my flights and buses and Lyft shares I find there are a myriad of people going to the same places to do different things. Convergence and dispersal. 

And aloneness and loneliness have become separate things since I have begun to travel. I am comfortable being surrounded by people I don’t know because I never have to worry about the niceties of small talk. If I end up talking to someone, which I usually do, we graze through the entry conversations with genuine curiosity and if time allows we enter into deep conversations about many things I wouldn’t talk about with many of the people who know me well. There is something reckless about the ambiguity of strangers that allows me to open deeply quickly. Perhaps it is because there is no commitment. Perhaps it is my own fear about being held to what I express about my emotions, knowing how quickly they change. I couldn’t really tell you, but I can say that traveling allows me to express the unexpressed parts of myself.

So, when you are alone in a place you don’t know, which I hope someday you will be, remember that there is power in your aloneness. You can be anyone and anything you desire to be. When no one holds you to any preconceived notions, who do you find yourself to be?

Freeing the Last “Free” Buffalo

Buffalo Field Campaign, Montana

Imagine a Buffalo. Are they in a cage or on the open plains? How big are they? Do they seem loveable or threatening? 

The answers to these questions, though to me are obvious, are in debate in the area of South Western Montana near the town of West Yellowstone. Personally, I love the image of Buffalo (or Bison… same same) roaming and grazing and napping where they please. Their large furry bodies moving in seemingly impossible ways over swaths of land, untethered by human interference. The image of this brings me joy. “At least the buffalo are free,” I think to myself sometimes when I feel stuck in the doldrums rhythms of every day life. Yet, after being in Montana for only one day, I realize the scene is actually much different.

The bison are treated as strangers on their own land. They are not welcome on portions of land that have been their primary migration corridor for years that reach back further than any of us have ever seen. These buffalo are the last pure buffalo that migrate freely by their instincts on the land they have always migrated on. All of the other buffalo we see in various parts of the nation are transplants from the Yellowstone Buffalo. Yet, their freedom is limited. 

When the “white man” (I apologize for the lack of a better term) came to inhabit the land, they recognized the ties the Buffalo had with the Native Tribes already on the land. They begun to kill off massive amounts of buffalo simply to eradicate the native people. Now I am going to skip over an important part of history that involves the brutality that was imposed on the Native people in order to stay focused on the bison, but their stories are deeply interwoven and arguably cannot be pulled apart. There are parallels with how the Buffalo are treated today that directly correlate with how the Reservation system functions.

Back to the bison. On the land where a once stable and healthy population of buffalo were just roaming about migrating North West to South East were killed off to near extinction (numbers can be found in attached link), cattle ranchers began to move their cattle in. These cattle infected the buffalo with a disease and somehow somewhere a law was passed that moved Buffalo into the category of livestock. I repeat, buffalo are considered livestock in the state of Montana. The definition of Livestock is: n. “a farm animal regarded as an asset.”

Do Buffalo fit into that category in your opinion?

If your answer is yes, I invite you to stop reading. You are the problem. Bison are not livestock. They have never been a farm animal because farm animals did not exist until the White Man moved in. Buffalo are no different from wolves, eagles, moose, and all of the other animals we love to see as free. Buffalo are native to this land, and currently the last population is in danger of being pushed off it. Now, you may be thinking, “The buffalo in the picture look pretty free to me.” The ones captured in the picture are safe because they are on the land owned by the Buffalo Field Campaign. However, the minute a buffalo steps off of their protected land (which is very narrow and constricting compared to the amount of land they need), they are in danger of being hunted or hazed.

Sigh. It is exhausting to try to write down all of the corruption in one post. I am not used to writing factual pieces. However, I want to make it clear that any future glory posts about Buffalo in the future are underlined by this crazy history. So this is the history as I understand it and I thank you for reading.

I did say Hazed above. That word sounds just about as horrible as it is. Since the bison are treated as livestock, their populations are also managed as such. Their low numbers are not enough to sustain a population through the stressors that the Department of Livestock, DOL for short, puts them through. On a projected date in May, coming soon unfortunately, the DOL rounds up their Cowboys, ATV’s and helicopters and begin to push all of the Yellowstone Buffalo back into Yellowstone. This means that only two or three weeks after a mother has given birth, and a calf has been born, they are herded two 15 mile long stretches into the park. The mystery and wonder of birth is immediately followed by a deadly march across uneven terrain, through deep rivers, across roads and over excruciating miles that no buffalo would naturally run in this portion of their lives.

Why? The cattle ranchers (who are mostly hobby ranchers not welfare ranchers) use the excuse that the disease could be spread to their cattle in order to justify pushing buffalo off their land so they can have their cattle that introduced the disease to the bison in the first place on it. Note that there is not a single case of bison actually transmitting the disease to cattle, only the cattle to bison. Seen from this lens, the disease cannot be used as an excuse at all. The depth of the psychological excuses being made is far too complicated for me to delve into. However, it seems clear that the buffalo are entitled to the land they have always been a part of. Moreover, as the last pure Yellowstone Buffalo with natural migration instinct that applies to their land, it is a right that they be granted access to the spaces they have always used and will always need to maintain their population and rights of being the last free roaming buffalo.

It is hard not to get emotional about this topic. Many of the people here will end up in an almost-shout when talking about the issues and illusions around this whole controversy. On the bright side, the campaign did win a safe parcel of land where there is hope that the first generation of yearlings will not be faced with human brutality and hazing. With these small wins happening, it is easy to let the optimistic advertising and propaganda fool you. There are still many changes that need to happen, and many more supporters that are needed. As a new member to the group, I have only skimmed the surface, but I urge you to research and if you can, to help. Whether it means coming out here and volunteering, or donating money, or simply becoming an informed citizen, everything is a part of it. 

While there is still hope, change can still me made. 

Climbing.

Gibraltar Rock, Santa Barbara

It takes gear, time, and friends to climb. Once the mountains start calling, they don’t stop, and when you learn the language of the rocks, you not only hear it’s whispers on warm summer breezes, but you feel it in the ache of your hands and body. It becomes a craving, an almost unhealthy addiction, and it is impossible to run. So you don’t.

Then you do, but all of the running is away from everything else deep into the home of the rocks. That is where you’ll find her. That wild woman that feels and reasons with equal gusto. And when you find her there with wild hair and a dangerously alive fire in her eyes, you’ll feel things that you’ve been afraid to. If you dare, she will let you, and she will hold your hand tenderly the whole time while pulling you deep into the heart of everything. 

Climbing is not exclusive. Despite popular belief, not all climbers are exquisitely fit and sleek Roman gods. Though, naturally, the field is full of such gods, every shape that a body climbs in can be found on the rocks. It is the puzzle solvers and challenge seekers and nature enthusiasts that inhabit these wilds. And I’m not saying everyone is good, heck, a lot of us aren’t, but at least we are out there. As climbers, as friends, as humans, we flee to the hills to slow down and unwind with babbling brooks and trees and birds. If we get exercise while we are out there, then it’s a bonus (you always do whether you realize it or not).

Remember that woman you found a few paragraphs ago? Yeah, she is still there, always there. She is anywhere you leave her or want to find her in the woods. She waits for you while you’re at work, eager to play again. She loves climbing because it takes everything in her to accomplish each climb. Her eyes, dancing up the moves barely before her hands. Her feet, seeking and finding each new step to push and lean and pull from. Her shoulders, tense and relaxed and strong. She has been waiting for you because she is the parts of you that are still wild. When you run out of breath, she pushes it back into you and takes you higher. She is the animal of your body that needs to move and love and explore. 

She climbs because she can because you can. If you doubt her, you doubt yourself and the parts of you that you have let wander away. When you see them floating in the little stream of your mind, bend down and take a look. What has come between you and them? What excuses do you make that keeps you from her? What stops you from climbing the mountains? And if climbing isn’t your dance, what is?

This is a blog about finding her, you and the dance of the two. Climbing is where I found her, and where I run to be with her. She, for me, is my true self that I lose sight of when I walk down the path of “shoulds and should nots.” And so this is for you too, as we find her and us and each other somewhere. After all, this is what it means to be human. 

Becoming.

 

Waves and Wanderings: Big Sur, CA

She found herself, alone again, by the ocean. The waves lapped at her feet, trying to pull her in and keep her out simultaneously. Her toes sent shivers up her spine, and she shook them out and she shook them out again as she reached up to the sun and ran into the water. She didn’t care that air slipped out of her. She didn’t care that for a moment, no one could see or hear her. She didn’t care about anything other than that moment of relief from everything else. As she emerged from the depths and blinked the salt from her eyes, she found a smile on her face. The surprise of the smile made her laugh; it had been a while.

Then the memories flooded back from their escape. She felt the weight of goodbye and the reality of loss. Him. Her and Him. She felt them and held them and when she was ready she set them in the ocean to float away. She kissed the anger and sadness and confusion into her hands and put them in the water. “Goodbye,” she whispered to the wind. Then she turned and walked out of the water and did the only thing she could do.

That night the ocean danced out of her eyes, onto her guitar, onto her bed. She let everything that needed to come, come and go when it was ready. Time happened for the next few days like this, allowing space for him to go and her to come back. She had been through the motions before. Luckily. And she planned to again.

It was a gentle transformation of untangling the person she let in from herself. She found there were some strands that weren’t quite hers anymore, and so she pulled them gently out into the pile she planned to shed. Once she had sorted through the keeps and dont’s, she wove a garden bed and planted seeds for the summer. She felt movement inside herself. An ember that had caught flame and started to burn. It was hers, and she had forgotten that she was responsible for it’s light. Another smile crept across her face, rooted in the flame, she was coming home.

The next month she found herself on mountain-tops and small streams. Coming back into her body felt as though someone was carrying her and showing her to all of the places she had known, but was learning again. As time passed, she slipped back into her body, first in the strength of her legs, then out to her fingertips, then into her stomach and chest and heart, and finally her head. She fit perfectly into herself and wondered where she had been the whole time.

The novelty of being in her own skin again caused her to dance and stretch and feel everything for herself. She had been lost, blind-sighted by the magic of loving another, but found the feelings of the world were there for her too. She took a breath. And then another. Everything was alive. She was alive. It felt like magic.

The next breath, her deepest breath, filled her lungs with sweet coastal air and she stepped out of one story and into the next. She was home. She is woman.