Calling this trip a mid-life crisis seems very optimistic to me. A friend asked if that’s what this was, and I didn’t really know how to answer. At 48, that would mean that I’m guaranteed 96 years, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. On a good day, filled with optimism and sugar, I would live to 100… But, the sugar is that I’d be sharp in mind, relatively healthy in body and have lots of friends and family to fill my time with. I sure as hell wont be jumping in my car and taking off to the Wild West! The chances of things turning out that favorably are, well, not likely. If you live to 100, you are sure to see a lot of people you love pass on. To be honest, I’ve already had more than my share of losses and making it to 100 and getting through that many more, is not exactly a tempting thing. Also, given my health, well, I might keep some spark, but it seems that some of this would bring me down a few notches.
Frankly, there have been moments on this trip when 48 feels a little old. Don’t get me wrong: I have a lot of adventure left in me, but some of the bumps get me down more than they did in my twenties. Arriving to a hotel that has a “funny” smell and isn’t very cheery: downer. I am now longing for my wonderful little cabin in W. Yellowstone, where Logan (cute front desk guy) fixed things in my room for me, left fresh baked cookies and little notes and everyone was friendly. Ok, there’s the pathos.
Said goodbye to Big Frank, Mike and the gang today, and they roared off in one direction, while I headed out to Cody, WY. The ride was spectacular. Stopped to see the wolves in Hayden Valley, but didn’t get a good sighting today, too hot. But the colors in Yellowstone and the changing landscape is just plane old hypnotizing. The drive down thru’ the Shashone National Forest, Watiti Valley, Bearclaw highway were spectacular. As you come down out of the East entrance, off the mountains, the canyons begin to rise up on either side and you can practically hear ancient voices. I stopped a few times to just listen to the wind thru’ the canyon, and it was haunting. The stone becomes so different and areas rise up like spires to create cathedrals in nature. It is just beautiful!
The Big Bear hotel, where I landed late today…. not so much. Of course the listing on the internet made it look much better and I got sucked in by the idea of an outdoor pool. The dry heat here makes you hanker for the water we disdain at home. The pool was filled with a bunch of young kids and a few moms, sitting in the big pine chairs. I suddenly felt really funny going out there… especially in a two piece. I’ll be honest, if I look in a mirror on the way out, I shouldn’t be wearing it anyway. BUT, I hate the feel of one pieces and I just don’t look. I pretend I look better and then repeat to myself over and over: I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I don’t care what anyone else thinks. However, somehow today I cared. I would have felt slutty walking out in this small, western town, in anything other than a mumu and one piece. Couldn’t find the one piece, don’t own the mumu. As it is, I seem to stand out in this town a bit more than I did over the past 10 days, I maybe appear… well, I’ll get to the word in a minute.
Last night I was walking around West Yellowstone looking for an ice cream place a friend had suggested. I popped in to the strangest place and got a lesson in wolf management from an elderly couple who owned the business. I walked in a large barn door, covered in touristy stuff, and there was a giant stuffed moose (8′ tall), a buffalo, a bronking buck, and something else, all with saddles on them. Frankly, I was so stunned that I stopped looking around and plastered a super friendly smile on my face to greet the elderly lady, who had a giant white beehive hairdo and a bright pink boa on. Her husband, I assume, was pure cowboy. The idea of the place is that you get to sit up on these (real) stuffed animals and they take your picture, with a realistic background and you can tell friends you rode one of the aforementioned animals. Gave me the creeps! I was trying not to insult, with my “what the…” gape, so, again, I just smiled. I had come in to ask directions for ice cream, not insult the local folk. (There are plenty of funky places in W. Yellowstone.)
(One of the many touristy places to eat in W. Yellowstone, MT)
Instead, we got in to a discussion that started with moose. Having spent a good deal of time in Maine and NH where there are lots of moose, and having seen them in the wild, I knew that the enormous stuffed one there was real. Others popping their heads in (I noticed that on one else actually came all the way in), thought it was fake, something that clearly bothered the owners. Anyway, talking about moose, lead to why they’re a rare sighting in Yellowstone. A moose sighting is a highly coveted “bucket list” item, a term you hear daily as people scramble to photograph anything that moves in the brush. I am not even trying to see one. I know I wont.
That’s when the man sprung it on me. He was explaining that the wolf population in Yellowstone has gotten way too big, and they need to open the hunting season on wolves. I held my gasp. Having spent days trying to see these amazing animals, I was appalled. But then, I have to admit that I don’t really know… maybe the wolves have become a problem? This couple was explaining that the wolves kill all the moose babies (awww) and they “don’t even eat ‘em, they just do it for sport, nasty animals,” he told me. But, the man explained, these (wait, wait, here comes the word) “HIGHFALUTIN lawyers come in and make it hard, let those baby moose be kilt.” Honestly, he used that word! Highfalutin. I think they caught on that I wasn’t showing the same wolf killing enthusiasm and they clammed up (a term that most Montanans probably don’t use) right quick and told me to try the place two blocks down for home made ice cream. They pleasantly informed me that they hadn’t tried it themselves, but that “all the other tourists like it.” Feh. Again, for the sake of fairness and the record: They were very nice people, very nice. The fact that we have different opinions about killing wolves doesn’t change that fact. They were very nice.
Well, that word stuck in my head: High falootin, or so I imagined it spelled. All day, as I drove, I wondered if it was a real word, or just a term that you hear in hokey Western movies and in stuffed animal kitsch tourist shops. Well folks, it’s a real word, in the dictionary! It can actually be spelled: highfalutin or (for you sticklers of grammar) highfaluting. The first probably being the slang for the second? They’re both in the dictionary. And, that’s what I would have felt like in my two piece: highfalutin. I’m feeling edgy, so I’m going with the slang people. Just when you were wondering if I’d get back to the bathing suit…
My BMW seems to stand out here, my style stands out–and really, it’s very Bellingham… nothing that shouts out highfalutin. But, the two piece, I think would have come under the W word, or possibly the S word. The car, I get. Plenty of folks have asked me about it. It was the car that brought Ranger John K. and I together, and set me on my wolf expedition. I helped him post grizzly signs in Lamar, while he told me stories. He liked my car he said. He was fond of the x5 and told me he’d driven a manual once and liked it so much, he “would have traded in his truck right there.” No doubt. The ranger truck was tempting, given my new desire to be a real ranger, BUT, it doesn’t take turns and go 0-60 like my baby.
However, ’round these here parts… I think I look a bit highfalutin in it. Why else when I pulled up tonight, in downtown Cody (a strip of a town), would 3 gentleman watch me park, watch me lock it up, look it up and down and then when I met their stares, tip their hats and say “evenin’ mam.” Do they greet everyone? By the way, they say mam and sir a lot here. Talk to a young waiter/waitress and they say “How you doin’ mam? Yes mam. Can I help you mam.” I just smiled and said “Evenin’ sirs.” The lack of good dining and then the sense that I didn’t fit in, led me to skip the rodeo tonight (I’ll go tomorrow) and come back to my sad little room. Sorry, a little more pathos. Yesterday was a very strange and incredibly productive day, which probably helps make tonight feel even more shoddy by comparison.
(Spoiler: joy) Yesterday I got an amazing amount of writing done in two exceptionally beautiful places! I found a spot in Firehole canyon: a rock bluff just above the rapids and falls, and did a lot of the writing there. No need to spell it out, if you read the fly fishing entry, but this was more adult material. Suffice it to say, rapids are highly conducive to very mature writing. I then drove over to Yellowstone Lake and found a calm, quiet spot by the water to finish the chapter. I had a total brain storm the night before (was up ’til 2:00 thinking through plot, etc) and knew just how I wanted this chapter to end. I can say, because it’s my blog, this is a kick ass chapter! I was totally in The Zone and it just flowed. The plot came together perfectly and as the dialogue and scene wrote itself, I was totally lost to the process. When I finished, I just knew this would be the final chapter of the novel. I will need to do a little editing of other chapter, to accommodate the changes, and will scrap about 4 other chapters, but this is it. I had a moment of homesickness, when I wished I could give it to my writing group right now and get their feedback. They don’t mince words; they’ll tell me if it’s as good as I think. When I typed the last words, I just burst in to tears. Really. There in that gorgeous spot, alone with my lap top… I cried like a fool. Joy, joy, unbridled joy. This place just brings big emotions right out! Face it, I’ve been working on this for years and it finally seems like an end is in sight, that is worthy of some high emotion!
The other big thing that happened, that effected my entire day, was that just before heading out yesterday, I checked my email and found an update from the program leader of the wilderness trip AJ is taking. Though I think of him each day (wonder where in this incredible park he is) I wasn’t thinking about him right then. I was thinking about the chapter I was going to work on. However, as it turned out, the group was camping just 20 minutes from me!! In fact, I was going to have to drive right by their camp site to get where I was going, to write, yesterday. They had stopped at a formal camp site to gear up for a big back packing section. In a park this big, it was amazing to me that he would end up right down the road from me!
So, for the (all important) record: I would not have gone driving down there to look for him. I would not have! However, a friend in MN who I was chatting on line with, did give me a stern warning: Don’t you dare go! I might have, perhaps, driven nearby and used my binocs to see if perhaps I could spot the elusive AJ in the wild… but I would not have approached him. Said friend forbid even that. But, solo loving me cannot deny, I ached to see my boy. I would have given anything to just get a little glimpse, preferably of him smiling, laughing even, with a group of kids who he seemed to have made friends with. A bonus would be him holding up his prize catch. I was sorely tempted.
Ok, say it: weeny. I just can’t shake the mom thing. Can’t wait to get away from them, miss them and think about them when I do. I resent that they don’t write me notes, telling me how much they miss me, but know that my behavior before I left set that up. The older two, I presume (hope) are giving me my space, and little man (AJ) has no choice. He’s working on that maturity, independence thing. This is what I wanted, what I demanded: isolation and space. Got it. Still, for the rest of the day, I kept wondering if I would see the group somewhere, stumble upon them… by accident.
The dilemma of course is that if AJ is miserable, it would be terrible to see that and then leave him… if he is having the time of his life, it would tarnish that experience, running in to mom… out in the wild. It would change the etnire experience. As I wrote the final section of what I now believe is the final chapter of my novel, 2 white vans with a bunch of kids drove by. I’m sure they didn’t see me, over in the trees, by the water. I happened to look up right then, and (seriously) got goose bumps as the vans passed. My baby? Could he have been in one of those vans? I may never know. But, I passed on the most obvious chance to fill my yearning and went way around the camp area where he was staying. Even if I had parked and then hid in the bushes, using my trusty binoculars, chances are, he would have spotted my highfalutin car and the gig would be up.