Boz Angeles, Montucky

Living in Mammoth, we are just a ten-minute drive from Gardiner, Montana. In this little tourist hub, you can find some overpriced groceries and a few other delights, and we make our way to Gardiner regularly. But when we need a big load of groceries, or when we just want to have fun, we usually head an hour and half up the road to the college-town/ski-town of Bozeman.

Bozeman, Montana is both a little more bougie and little more redneck than it might seem at first glance, earning it the nickname “Boz Angeles, Montucky.”

Picture this: as you’re enjoying an artisanal Brazilian bowl and local microbrew on the patio of an upscale local restaurant, you’re likely to see a mullet-man behind the wheel of a mud-covered monster truck, a swarm of college kids riding their bikes, or a dude riding a longboard with a bright yellow kayak attached to his back. Honestly, Bozeman is pretty cool.

This weekend, we decided to make our Bozeman trip into a two-day event. On Friday, we got off to a late start (getting some things done at home). But we got all our things packed while Lydia napped, and headed off. We traveled 30 minutes north of Bozeman, and then another 30 minutes down a bumpy dirt road. Here we found Fairy Lake Campground: our headquarters for the night.

IMG_6251.JPG

Tate made camp while Mama made coffee. As I boiled water for pour-overs and reheated a lunch of cauliflower nachos, Lydia helped Rafal hammer in the tent stakes. Then she played around in the dirt, while Rafal and I relaxed in our camp chairs.

Once we were fed and set up, we got back into the car, traveled back down the bumpy road, and headed back into town. We did some shopping, some chilling, and some errands. We stopped for some take-out sandwiches. Eventually we made our way back to camp for the night.

IMG_6272

We got into some cozy clothes, snuggled into our family sleeping bag, and passed out under the starry sky. In the pre-dawn hours, a family of mountain goats came to graze right next to our tent. (No image, sorry.)

The next morning, we slept late (past 8:00 am, which is practically noon to us), and woke groggy. We made some oatmeal and coffee, and casually broke down camp.

IMG_6286

We drove for the third and final time down the longest, bumpiest dirt road and back into Bozeman again. This time, we headed to Lindley Park for the 40th Annual Sweet Pea Arts Festival.

We saw live music, theatre, and dance, including an awesome hip hop dance group called the Groovaloos. Lydia played at the playground. Rafal and I had chicken on a stick. Lydia ran with kiddos for hours on end. She even got her face painted (for the very first time) and got a balloon!

All of a sudden, while watching the Groovaloos (and watching Lydia dance with a circle of new friends) we simultaneously remembered that we had to go to Costco! It was 5:30 pm! Costco closes at 6! Rafal said, “Oh well, we’re not gonna make it.” And I said, “No way! We have to go!” and took off running. As we were flying through the festival (pushing Lydia in the stroller) a teenager girl turned to her friend and exclaimed, “That jumpsuit is sick.” When teenagers are complimenting your outfit (calling it “sick” no less), you know you look good!

We still had to purchase our perishable groceries, and I needed to get to Costco to get what I needed! We flew out the gate, and into the car, and down the road. Just as we were pulling into our parking space (with a few minutes to spare), I realized that I’d misplaced my phone. I picked up Rafal’s phone to try and call it, but just then my mom was calling him. The lost and found at the festival had called her to tell her they’d found my phone! It must have fallen out of my pocket right when I was luxuriating in the compliment of my clothes (yes, this sick jumpsuit has POCKETS).

We finished up our grocery shopping and then returned to the festival to get my phone. But since we were already there, we decided to stay a bit! I bought a bean burrito and Rafal had some Asian noodles that Lydia shared. Then the three of dug into the most incredible slice of apple pie, listening to the music play.

Finally, we loaded ourselves back into the car–which was now stuffed all the way full–for the last leg of our journey. We drove the hour and half toward home, through the spectacular mountain desert of western Montana, under the glow of the rising (almost) full moon.

Not a bad way to get the grocery shopping done. Not a bad weekend. Not a bad life.

IMG_6282

2.5

July 31 was Lydia’s half-birthday. Two and half, to be exact. And it feels like a huge turning point. I can feel the baby moments slipping away, as she grows more articulate and more independent each day.

Here’s just a handful of the adorable not-quite-baby, not-quite-kid-yet things she says & does lately:

– She says “slotion” instead of lotion, like “Baby needs some slotion.”

– She says “li-buh-wit” when she means little bit, like “Put li-buh-wit in my hand?”

– Anytime she gets nervous (or simply wants to be picked up) she comes close to me and says, “Mama’s got chu.”

– She says “hello-copter” (She is obsessed with “hello-copters” and airplanes.)

– Though she’s mostly grown out of it, she used to say “compingo” instead of computer. (Some friends of ours figured she was speaking Polish.)

– Her favorite thing these days is to ask us, “What does the ______ say?” And though it started with animals and people, it’s now advanced to all sort of abstract things like, “What does the heavy say?” “What does the moon say?” “What does the ‘lid-a-lid-a-lid-a’ say?”

– If I hurt myself, she runs over to kiss it, and then she asks so sincerely, “Is it better, Mama?”

My mom and I often celebrated my half-birthday growing up, so I wanted to do something fun with Lydia for hers. On Monday we spent the whole afternoon at the park.

IMG_6202

Then after Rafal got home from work, we drove to Gardiner and sat on the Tumbleweed patio. We drank iced teas, and Lydia had some milk. She seemed to grow older by the minute.

IMG_6225

All week long, Lydia wanted to go-go-go. Each day she would say, “Go to silver car! Go to silver car!” (Because she loves riding around in our big Nissan Pathfinder.) And when we would we say, “No we’re not going in the silver car right now,” she’d come back with: “Go to blue car?”

With a stroke of luck on Tuesday, I was able to get almost all of my writing work done, which freed up Wednesday afternoon and most of the day Thursday for fun stuff. So after Lydia’s nap on Wednesday, we got into our swimsuits and piled into the car. We drove just two miles down the road, switched over the stroller, and then strolled down the 1/2 mile walking path to the boiling river.

IMG_6239 (1)

The next morning, I had to go in to Gardiner to see my chiropractor, and of course my side kick came along. (The chiropractor is so great her with her; he has Lydia put her hands on my back and to help adjust Mama.) Afterward, we needed to kill some time before our Thursday playgroup, so we spent some more time on the patio of the Tumbleweed (conveniently right next door to the chiropractor), drinking smoothies and saying hello to the chickens.

IMG_6241

Then we made our way to the Gardiner elementary school playground, where Lydia spent the next two hours running and playing with her friends, and I got to chit-chat with the local moms.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: newborn babies are not my forte. The first year of Lydia’s life was tremendously difficult, and the second year was pretty hard too. To all the parents who said I would miss those baby days: I don’t miss them at all and I don’t think I ever will. When friends of mine with tiny ones exclaimed that “they’re growing too fast,” or that they wish “time would slow down,” I simply couldn’t relate.

But now! Now I do wish time could freeze, that minutes could slow, that this moment could extend itself into all directions. We’re in such a good groove, me and her. Of course, what makes her so delightful is the fact that she’s learning and growing with such voracity, such enthusiasm, gathering life in two small open arms.

IMG_6224 (1)

So in what feels like her final six months of babydom, I’m trying my best to be present each day. I’m working to bolster her journey and fuel her zest for life. I’m trying to let her be more than what I can make of her, more than what I am, beyond the limits I secretly wish for but won’t let myself implement.

So is so big and so smart, y’all. She really does blow me away.

IMG_6220

Attitude Adjustment

On Wednesday morning I threw out my back. Bad.

I had an out of town guest arriving later that afternoon and another set of friends were stopping by for lunch. My toddler was running around without pants on, and I needed to squeeze a workout in so I could log it with my fitness group. I was already struggling to meet a deadline for an editor who just kept piling things on my plate. Rafal kept telling me to email the editor and say I couldn’t handle so much right now. But I thought, “Nah. I can get it all done.”

Then I turned slightly to move a heavy vase of sunflowers from one surface to another and KAPOW, an electric sting that started at one hip and made its way across my lower back. I stood completely still, hoping maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. When I took a deep breath and tried to move again I realized it was worse. I had to stand a 45 degree angle.

IMG_6173.JPG

So of course I spent the rest of the day trying to learn a lesson: what was this injured back trying to teach me? It isn’t as simple as, “No, you can’t do everything.” Because admitting that I can’t do everything doesn’t somehow let me off the hook for getting things done.

The next morning I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment. (Thank goodness for my narrow proximity to town.) Perhaps the real message is housed within the concept of “adjustment” itself. The chiropractor did not heal me with one snap-crackle-pop. I’m still icing it. I’m still taking ibuprofen. I have to go back again this week, and for several weeks thereafter.

But it moved me a notch or two in the right direction; it helped to plant both of my feet equally on the ground. And maybe this injury can help adjust a few other things: my obsession with a clean house, my mania when it comes to working out, my inability to admit when I can’t handle what I’ve been handed, my rotten attitude when I can’t do what I want. Perhaps I can scale each one these back one notch, one vertebra. Perhaps I can pop each of these attitudes one degree in the desired direction. Maybe it will help me keep both feet planted, and move on.

I had to admit that I was injured, that I was vulnerable. I had to tell Rafal, “No, I can’t do that 4 mile hike.” I had to show my friend Sabrina (and her dog Zaza) a bit of Yellowstone by car. But they really didn’t seem to mind, and I got to say hello to Artist Point.

IMG_6177

Sabrina and Zaza hit the road on Friday morning, and Rafal and I were left wondering how to spend the rest of out weekend. Hiking was out, biking was out, driving long distances in the car was out. So we formulated a plan based on healing.

First, we made out way over to Emigrant, Montana (about a 40 minute drive) to check out Wildflour Bakery. (Breakfast food and coffee always soothe me.)

Then, we paid a visit to Chico Hot Springs (a beautiful hot spring resort just up the road from Emigrant). It was heaven.

We lounged by the pool, we drank non-alcoholic cocktails, we let our worries melt right into the natural hot spring water. Our little family unit tends to go-go-go, always searching for next the adventure. We’re not always good about slowing down. As Lydia rounds the corner of 2.5 (tomorrow to be exact), we need to try our best to savor these moments. We’re great at smelling the wild flowers, but we often need a reminder to stop.

Yesterday, we soaked in the fountain of youth: hoping it could keep our girl tiny for just one extra day, hoping it could heal our tired bones, hoping the joy would seep into our hearts. I think it worked. I think we all feel a little better than before.

 

 

Weekend Warriors

I’ve got a serious case of the Mondays.

I have a long to-do list, a pressing deadline, and a cup of coffee that doesn’t ever seem full enough. I slept an hour later than I wanted to, and I just can’t seem to pull myself together.

During the week I keep a pretty strict routine. On the weekends, I let it all fly out the window. Sometimes by Monday morning I am craving structure, and I catapult into my schedule with zeal.

This is not one of those days.

So now that I’ve got the laptop open, Lydia is occupied with markers and stickers, and I’ve just made myself another strong pour-over, I thought I’d do something fun before getting to the nitty-gritty workflow.

***

Our summer got off to a pretty slow start. The record snowfall this winter kept us off the trails for much of the spring and early summer. Then we had the surprise move, which took multiple weekends to pack, clean, move, unpack, and furnish a new place. But we are comfortable in Mammoth now. And summer is finally in full swing! Here’s how we spent the weekend:

THURSDAY

Rafal works four ten-hour days each week, meaning we get excellent three-day weekends. That also means Thursday night is our Friday. Even though I’d been cooking dinner in the crockpot all day, when Rafal walked in the door, I just said, “Can we go somewhere?” And he replied, “Hell yeah!”

Living in Grant there was never the opportunity to just go out and grab dinner, so we were delighted by this novelty! We went to Yellowstone Pizza Company, which Rafal proclaimed to be “the best pizza [he’s] ever had in the West.” (I’m still partial to Pinky G’s in Jackson, but this pizza was damn good.) We followed this up with scoops of Montana-made Wilcoxen’s ice cream at Yellowstone Perk, right next door. It was a great way to kick off the weekend!

20170720_190914.jpg

FRIDAY

Friday was meant to be a grocery day, but since we didn’t eat the dinner I’d prepared the day before, we decided to stretch it.

We live just a stone’s throw away from the famous bathing spot known as the Boiling River, where thermal hot spring water pours into the Gardner River. Due to the heavy snowfall this winter (creating higher-than-average water levels), this location was closed until about a week ago. Despite all the time we’d spent in Yellowstone, we had never dipped into this beloved pool.

Rather than get into the car and drive to the parking lot, we thought we’d try walking to boiling river! So we suited up, popped Lydia into the backpack, and set out. We took the Lava Creek trail down to the river and continued along the bank. In 30 minutes, we traveled from the threshold of our door to the glorious, steaming hot river!

 

Some places were too hot to handle, and other spots were freezing cold. I found a spot with both extremes on either side of me–Lydia relaxing on my lap–and settled in. It had been way too long since I’d been hot-spring soaking (or “hotpotting” as they call it here), and I was in heaven. I can’t wait to return in fall, winter, and spring!

 

On the way back, we took a different route, and I nearly shed tears climbing up the steepest hill with Lydia on my back. But we saw this beautiful young bull elk, so it was OK.

IMG_6123

SATURDAY

Saturday we had to go to Bozeman for groceries. We shopped, had brunch at Nova Cafe, and sipped tea and Townsend’s Teahouse.

I bought a new outfit that was so cute that I went into the bathroom and changed, and Lydia got some new shirts, too. It was a lovely day, and now we’re stocked for two weeks.

 

SUNDAY

Sunday was slated for a hike, and since we’d had such success with the Boiling River, we decided not to get cars involved. We geared up, put Lydia in the backpack, and walked right out our front door. We took the steep social trail about one-mile uphill to the historic district of Mammoth. Here we met up with the Sepulcher Mt. trailhead. We took this trail up past the Beaver Ponds, climbing to Clagget Butte. We made our way across the lush alpine meadow, overflowing with wild flowers, and then turned to back down toward the hot spring terraces. Lydia even hiked on her own for a while.

 

Finally, we made it back to the same trailhead, walked out through Mammoth, and made our way back home. The whole trek added up to 7.3 miles (over 3 hours and 50 minutes). It was steep and challenging and gorgeous.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching a movie in bed. Then we drank decaf coffee to rally our spirits and forced ourselves to clean the house.     

MONDAY

That bring us up to Monday morning. I’ve already been awake for hours and I’ve crossed nothing off of my list.

Maybe now that I’ve taken a few minutes to catalog this restful/eventful weekend, I can put my shoulder to the grind. Only four long days until we can do it again!

The Beartooths

It is Sunday today, and it feels like it. We’ve been in living in Mammoth Hot Springs for three whole weeks now, and we’ve been busy.

Some highlights include:

Lydia playing with a million other little kiddos at our weekly playgroup.

IMG_6021

Having coffee in our backyard on weekend mornings.

IMG_5906

Lydia riding her horse while listening to records (daily).

IMG_5987.JPG

Hiking new trails! (Bunsen Peak, Beaver Ponds, Lost Lake, and more).

Going to the Montana Folk Festival with my friend Margo (and leaving Lydia at home).

IMG_6004

Attending yoga class, shopping in Bozeman, and regularly heading out to a coffee shop to write (like right now).

IMG_5999

This weekend was particularly sweet. This was the first time since we arrived that we didn’t have shopping and errands to do, so we decided to celebrate. We woke up early Friday morning and packed the car, then headed northeast.

We traveled through the Lamar Valley where a bison almost gored our car (he was probably just bluffing). Then we exited the park through the less-used northeast gate, and had breakfast at the Log Cabin in Silver Gate, Montana. (I wish I would have gotten a picture, because this place was adorable). Lydia had fallen asleep in the car on our way to Silver Gate, and she stayed asleep as we transferred her into her stroller, ate our breakfast, redeposited her back in the car, and kept driving. (When she finally woke up, she enjoyed pancakes and eggs in her car seat.)

IMG_5903

We traveled up the famous Beartooth Highway, an All-American Road that reaches nearly 11,000 feet at the pass. Because of heavy snowfall on the steep and winding road, this section of highway 212 is only open from late-May to mid-October. Neither of us had ever driven this road before.     

IMG_6023.JPG

We traveled down the other side of the Beartooth Mountain Range and entered the city of Red Lodge, Montana (population 2,125). We didn’t know (but quickly discovered) that there was a biker rally being held in Red Lodge this weekend (in anticipation of Sturgis, which is just weeks away). There were vendors and bikers everywhere, and it was a festive way to arrive. We walked around and browsed souvenirs, then Lydia and I wandered into a cafe while Rafal hit up the local barbershop.

IMG_6041.JPG

Honey’s Cafe and Espresso (located right across from the barber) could not have been more perfect. They were playing Bright Eyes. They served my iced americano in a mason jar. THEY HAD A PLAY AREA, complete with tutus and a rocking horse (Lydia’s two favorite toys). On one wall, they had books for sale, and on display was Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object, which I’d been meaning to buy! Seriously, this place gets five enthusiastic stars.

IMG_6067

After this, we made our way to the local farmer’s market, where Lydia ran wild and we bought a homemade apple pie. Then we piled ourselves back into the Subaru and kept driving.

IMG_6065.JPG

We made our way past the historical Smith Mine Disaster site and out into the farmland of Bridger, Montana. We followed the directions narrated by our GPS guide toward our destination for the night. As we turned down increasingly smaller and smaller dirt roads–with the GPS cutting in and out–Rafal and I exchanged quizzical glances. All of a sudden, our guide announced, “You have arrived at your destination.”

We were in the middle of a field.

Rafal stopped the car and we looked around. I jokingly pulled out the binoculars. We called our Airbnb host, but no answer.

Fortunately, once we turned the car around, Rafal saw a small turnoff he had missed. We drove down ¼ of mile and there we saw our lodging for the night.

IMG_6044 (1).JPG

It was really hot when we first got there. Earlier that day we’d been at almost 11,000 feet elevation, but our tipi was deep in the valley at only 3,000. Plus, it was extremely sunny, so we were hot!

IMG_6061

Our tipi contained individual cots, there was water and a grill for us to use, and there was an adorable three-legged beagle dog who became my friend. All around us were animal sounds, with Lydia asking, “You heard the cow? You heard the owl?” Our host, Daniel, was a friendly guy that uncannily resembled Ray (Ricky’s dad) from Trailer Park Boys.

Once the sun started to hide behind the mountains, we got a bit of relief. We ate the veggie chili I prepared ahead of time, and devoured slices of apple pie. I put Lydia to bed in her little cot, and Rafal and I snuggled quietly in front of the fire.

The next morning was oatmeal and coffee. Then we packed up and headed back to Red Lodge, and back to Honey’s for a second breakfast. There, we enjoyed the most incredible burritos–with local eggs, local pulled pork, mozzarella, kale, chard, potatoes, and green chilis (mine was in a bowl and Rafal’s, minus the meat, was in a tortilla)–while Lydia played with the toy kitchen and built a tower with legos. (We overheard a whole string of leathered-out bikers ordering the burritos, “hold the kale and hold the chard.”)

IMG_6034.JPG

Then we made our way back over the pass, enjoying a totally different view. We drove all the way back through the Lamar Valley, as rain made a rhythmic pattern on our windshield and Lydia napped. We stopped in the Tower-Roosevelt area of the park just as the rain was letting up and hiked the 3-mile loop to Lost Lake and the Petrified Tree (which is weirdly behind a fence).

IMG_6069.JPG

The rain started back up just as we got into the car, and we drove the last stretch toward Mammoth Hot Springs, or in other words, home.

Truth be told, it’s a little too hot here for my taste. And I miss my old buddies in Grant. But so far, this side of the park is treating us well. So I think we’ll settle in for a minute.  

IMG_5993.JPG

 

The Exterior

I am here at Lake Hotel today, in part, to say goodbye. After this afternoon, I don’t know the next time I will come here to write, perhaps not ever again.

I am proud to announce that Rafal has received a promotion. In less than one week, the three of us will be leaving our place in Grant Village and making a new home in Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth—the headquarters of Yellowstone National Park—is 2.5 hours north of Grant Village, on the boundary between Wyoming and Montana. In Mammoth we will be close to a school, a grocery store, a playground. There is a Mommy Group and lots of other kids. In the neighboring town of Gardiner (five miles outside of the park), there are yoga classes and a coffee shop.

We are officially leaving the interior.

Last Wednesday, I performed my show by that title for the people of Grant Village. I set up my stage in an industrial maintenance building known as The Berger Barn. It smelled faintly of diesel, and the walls were lined with all manner of equipment and materials. It was an excellent place for a show.

The Interior talks about the first summer I lived in Grant, about reorienting my life around a tiny person and rediscovering myself in the process. Speaking the words of that show again–draping that summer around my shoulders–I recognized that everything is completely different.

The summer of 2015 was stark and lonely. Even as I embraced the adventure, even as I tried to take it all in stride, even as I labored to write in a way that obscured and downplayed that sadness and boredom, those emotions are there, unmistakable. Simply living through that solitude and desperation—colored by the unimaginable sleeplessness and inestimable change of early motherhood—was all I could think about and all I could bear.

But, like I said, everything is different. In the show, I talk about “grasping on to scraps of my art and hoping they [could] carry me through.” I’m here to tell you that they did.

Putting on this show in Grant was easy. I knew who to ask about using the barn. I knew where I could borrow extension cords and zip ties. I knew where I could hang fliers. I asked numerous friends to help me: Grace ran my slides, Margo introduced the show, Lisa took some pictures, Tad put new plywood on the floor, Adam lent me a bluetooth speaker, and Rafal stayed home with our wild kid.

This was a show about being self-sufficient, about the endurance to make theatre art in the absence of community. But that’s the thing about the theatre: it engineers collaboration. It coalesces relationships and illuminates connection. My community here in Grant Village helped me tell a story about what it was like to be here alone.

(It was also great to perform the show in the place it sought to reflect. When I said the line, “Grant Village is more often passed through than visited, and the villagers love this about Grant,” the whole room erupted in cheers.)

And it isn’t just my social life that is different. It just doesn’t hurt as much to be a mother. For all of the ways it is still difficult—the tantrums and the defiance, the never getting to take a break—it is so much easier. Maybe I have finally surrendered to the flow of it, the constantness, the reality of changing from center of my own universe into a planet around another sun. Or maybe it is actually just easier. Probably a little of both.

In Scene 6 of the show—titled Breakdown—I talk about a night when Lydia was tiny, when Rafal had to work late and she wouldn’t sleep. In this scene, I talk about wanting to “get my life back,” and realizing that I never will.

In the past, whenever I performed this scene, tears would well up in my eyes. I would let one or two of them visibly slip on stage, harnessing the energy of the moment. But during rehearsal this time around, the tears just wouldn’t come. I figured that in front of an audience I could turn up the emotional impact, but even on show night my eyes remained dry. I’ve gotten some sleep. I’ve gotten some perspective. The ache of it all is no longer right next to me.

In the next scene—called Depth of Spirit—I talk about working at the post office, when a song comes on and transports me into a memory of the Grand Canyon. In this scene, I imagine a time in the future—when I smell pine or hear the strum of a ukulele—and I am transported back to my time in Grant Village, back to “that sweet place that remembers the delight, but diminishes the exhaustion.”

Standing there in The Berger Barn–illuminated by hardware store lights and looking out at my generous audience–I realized that I looked forward to looking back at this. I knew I would always remember that moment: of locking eyes with my community while baring a piece of my heart, a moment when I felt like a true Grant villager, a finale of communion before I said goodbye. As they had failed to do in the previous scene, my eyes swelled with honest tears.

As excited as I am for coffee and yoga, for preschool and normal kid stuff (like Halloween), I know that I am leaving a special, simple season of my life.

I will miss the friends I’ve made here. I will miss volunteering with the Visitor’s Center. I will miss the groove I am finally finding. I will miss the silence and the space.

As my baby grows up and away, as my social life becomes busy and complex, I know I will look back at this time with nostalgic gratitude. The truth is, I am sad and scared to start over, even as I am delighted by the adventure.

It came sooner that I expected, but it is time to bid farewell, both to Grant and the amazing people who call this place home.

Thank you, Grant Village. I look forward to looking back at you.

Making the Most

I am sitting at Lake Hotel in Yellowstone National Park, and I’m just so pleased to be here.

I’ve already consumed a cinnamon scone and a 12 oz shot in the dark with half and half, because today is a special day, and I’m treating myself.

The weather is terribly gloomy, and I’m in a big comfy chair looking at rain through a massive window. The mountains in the distance are completely obscured by flat, shapeless clouds. It is Saturday and Rafal is home with Lydia. Since March (when we returned to the park), this was my first chance to drive off on my own and carve out some time to write. Many roads–and this hotel–have just opened their gates for the spring season. Outside, I’d hardly call this spring weather. Just last Sunday the snow finally thawed enough to expose the sidewalk in front of our house for the first time since November. But this week brought a steady drizzle of snowfall that covered it right back up.

I’ve got to say that this weather’s been getting to me.

Usually, I pride myself on a sturdy ability to weather all weather with a smile. But this is my first time spending most of the year at 8,000 feet. Snow began accumulating here in September and it’s still here. We left from November through February for a gloomy few months in Chicago, and we returned in March to a record-breaking seven feet of snow. (And with that statement, the rain outside transforms into thick flakes). March and April were great fun, filled with cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and reveling in the adventure. But May–with it’s propensity for spring fever–has been a little bit tough.

For a long time, Rafal and I have claimed “making the most of it” as our motto. So that is what we do. We drive down to lower elevations every weekend, and find adventure wherever we can. A few weeks ago, we biked 18 miles through the Tetons.

IMG_5464

After that we spent the weekend in Missoula: hiking, drinking Butterfly coffee, riding the carousel, and visiting with friends.

Last weekend we camped at Buffalo Bill State Park (just outside of Cody, WY) where the temperature climbed to 85 degrees!

IMG_5571

And just yesterday we drove down to Grand Teton National Park and hiked the 3.5 mile loop around String Lake. We saw numerous marmots, trudged through dense snow, lost the trail, and then found it again,

But most days are passed with Rafal at work and Lydia and I at home. I work out, write wikiHow articles, cook, clean, and mess around on the internet. Lydia and I play in the snow, visit with people in the village, eat snacks, enjoy naps, and take a lot of selfies.

(And with that, the clouds clear and the sun come out across the lake. The mountains are still invisible, but the warmth and glisten is magnificent).

The gates are open and the people have arrived. Grant Village is lined with fresh faces–both new and old, tourist and employee. It was nice to have Yellowstone all to ourselves for a while, but I welcome the company along with the sun.

Grounded

When I was 14–during the summer after 8th grade–I got into some trouble.

I had been sneaking out of the house at night to hang out with two neighborhood boys–occasionally smoking cigarettes or walking around town, though usually just watching TV in one of the boys’ backyards. I’d been bragging about these expeditions–at a place and time I definitely should not have been– and I got busted.

I was grounded for the remaining two months of break. I had to spend my days at my step mother’s sister’s (my step-aunt’s) place because I wasn’t allowed to be home alone. I couldn’t see my friends. I didn’t have the internet at home and I wasn’t allowed to use the phone.

Ever the optimist, I tried to look on the bright side. I had two months away from everyone (which, as a young teenager felt like an eternity). I had two months in which to transform myself into someone more beautiful and more interesting. I could start high school with a new look, a new outlook. I would be both mysterious and refreshed.

I’m not sure how I planned to achieve these transformative outcomes. I spent most of that time listening to Everclear and Natalie Imbruglia albums on my diskman and sitting in my step-aunt’s backyard reading Steven King.

But I did indeed refresh. I spent less time talking–the action that, in a way, had gotten me into trouble–and more time, not exactly listening, but more or less absorbing my surroundings, exploring my thoughts, oscillating between acceptance and escape.

Within the following six months, my life would change drastically. I would move out of my father and step-mother’s house and into a trailer with my mother and grandmother (a transition both dramatic and brave). My life would grow louder, more crowded, and more chaotic, yet immeasurably more comfortable. I would not listen to headphones or read novels or sit quietly in the sun. I would be happier, more free, both literally and figuratively less grounded.

In some ways, Grant Village is like my step-aunt’s back yard that summer. In this place–the interior of Yellowstone National Park–I relish the privacy of transformation and the mystery of being absent from my old life.

(Of course there are temporal-emotional differences: I’ve chosen this space of semi-solitude; instead of two months, it has been two years; I connect to you through crafted messages, sent by way of a satellite up in the stars. It would be wrong to cast this experience as any kind of punishment, when it’s really a welcomed retreat. None-the-less, parallels arise.)

I spend this time watching my daughter grow to a soundtrack of house music, led zeppelin, and various children’s songs. I read memoir after memoir after memoir. I build fires, drink coffee, and gaze out at the world.

As the snow continues to accumulate and April turns to to May, I can’t help but think about life in the city, about the glory of return. I daydream about when I will be ready to emerge with a new look, and a new outlook, at once mysterious and refreshed.

I think about how much louder my life will be, how exciting, and how busy. When I’ll be able to do things the things I miss–like work in a theatre–and things that I have dreamed about–like putting Lydia in ballet. When I will undoubtedly look back–lovingly, longingly–in the direction of this simpler life.  I’ll be more free, and less grounded, but very much the same girl.

Until then, I’ll try not to get into trouble. Until then, I’ll savor the calm.

Life is Good

I haven’t been able to write all winter. So it’s time for me to embrace spring.

Looking out my window, there is glimmering snow in every direction–so bright I can’t handle the glare–but that doesn’t matter. This is what spring in Yellowstone is like.

Last time I blogged (last November), we were getting ready to leave the park for the winter. During our stay in Chicagoland, I worked on wikiHow articles, Lydia turned 2, and Rafal remodeled his parents’ bathroom. We spent a lot of time with family and a little time with friends. I turned 33. I said hello to sweet Carbondale and its inhabitants. I performed The Interior at Villanova University.

Then, at the beginning of March we drove westward across the country again. Just like last year, we stayed in Omaha, Cheyenne, and Jackson. But unlike last year, when we left Jackson, we drove north to Flagg Ranch, where we parked our car indefinitely and climbed into a mattrack truck. For the past two years (three for Rafal), we’d arrived in May after the roads had been cleared. This year, we rode atop seven feet of packed snow.

Getting back into our old apartment was delicious. I made food, Rafal made a fire, Lydia made friends with forgotten toys. The very next day, Rafal and I learned to drive snowmobiles, and by that weekend we were ready to ride as a family.

These days have been filled with records, tea, cross-country skiing, walks, finger paint, early morning workouts, West Thumb geyser basin, seeing friends, and sharing smiles. We celebrated Rafal’s birthday by hiking the Old Faithful geyser basin, sledding, and eating homemade peanut butter cups.

I can’t say how I would feel if I had been snow-locked like this for the past 3 months, but for the past 3 weeks, it has been so awesome. Such a pleasing contrast of warm, cozy comforts and rugged adventures: our life in Grant Village is good.

 

 

 

 

 

November in Yellowstone

Each season, our stay in Yellowstone grows a bit. The first year (when Rafal was by himself), it was five months, then last year six, and this year six and a half. Next year, we will stay more than eight.

So this is officially the first time we’ve experienced November in the Park. Growing up in a city and spending my entire adult life living in the heart of college towns, I wouldn’t have pegged myself for someone who likes isolation. But these past couple of weeks, walking around in Grant Village and not passing another soul (save for a fox, a coyote, an elk), the thought that there are only a handful of people for a miles and miles in any direction has brought a bright grin to my face. I feel tickled, and special, and safe. (Yesterday, a stark white rabbit crossed my path and I thought about following him off into the woods, but I did not.) With everything that is going on in the world, for better or worse, isolation feels so good.

When I’m not out walking, I’m inside shaking like an autumn leaf. I suppose the cool outdoor weather calms my nerves, while the crackling fire in my apartment lights my fuse. (Incidentally, I have been getting really freaking good at starting and maintaining wood stove fires, and I’m proud of that.)

The World Series had me on edge (go Cubs!). The election this Tuesday has me really on edge (go Hillary! I already voted!). The situation at Standing Rock has me on my third edge (f*ck that horrible pipeline). And we leave for Chicago in SEVEN SHORT DAYS. So I am all out of edges: just a smooth, jittery circle. Or perhaps more of an oval, as I feel pulled in two directions (deep peace and tense anxiety) from one moment to the next.

So I’m taking some time to push myself to write, to find some grounding in my own words, to seek balance. Every day I let my other work, or my household work, or my work out on the mat take precedence during the brief moments of Lydia’s nap (or her daily dose of Daniel Tiger). I unintentionally skirt my self-expression. So today—even when I feel like I have nothing to say—I am making myself say something.

In these types of moments—when I feel off balance and devoid of deep thoughts–I find the best thing to say is “thank you.” So that’s what I aim to do.

I am thankful for the small community we have here and the fun Halloween we shared.

img_4572
Harry Potter, a Fortune Teller, & a Care Bear walk into a bar . . .

I am thankful for my fitness group & my writing group who both help me to feel connected to the world (and to my goals).

I am thankful for my sweet toddler, who is learning and growing at lightning speed.

I am thankful for my partner, and for this journey we are sharing.

img_4554

Finally, as ever, I am thankful for Yellowstone.

 

img_4609
photo credit: Lisa Stoorza

See ya in nine days, sweet home Chicago. The Kos family is heading home.