Looking at the Leap

We’ve all experienced it, the “holy crap” moment when we finally let loose and take a leap of faith. Maybe it was when you finally popped the marital question, or said “yes” to the same. Likely it was the day that you decided (or found out) that a baby was on the way. Buying a house, quitting or starting a job – they are all leaps into the unknown, and so we jump breathlessly into the abyss.

My husband and I took the most outrageous leap of faith when we set out to remodel our house. It started nearly the moment we moved in. The major tasks complete, buried in boxes, the kids asleep, I stood in the doorway to the master bathroom and looked. I was hit hard with the reality, (buyer’s remorse?) of the condition of our newly acquired home. The outdated cabinet falling apart under linoleum countertop left unfinished on the ends, toilet and shower smashed together on one end with nary a hair between, the shower door dangling open showing peeling paint and broken tile within. I broke down sobbing, braced within the doorframe, I couldn’t move. Certainly this breakdown was an exhausted coalescence of closing on a mortgage, packing and moving our boxes of belongings, and keeping the kids present and accounted for in school. Or maybe it was a peek into a proximate madness. My husband’s gentle arms wrapped around me, “I’ll make it beautiful for you, you’ll see.” He assured. I took a deep breath and let loose the doorway. So we planned, researched, strategized, and searched the stars and the gut to determine when to jump.

For nearly a year we stood on the precipice curling and stretching our toes over the edge, poking our noses out just far enough to peer into the deep crevasse, and would pull back – “Not yet.” But ours was not to be a calculated leap; we were forced off the edge by Mother Nature. A winter storm that froze the house solid resulting in damage to the heating system and subsequently to the walls propelled us into the uncharted depths of a DIY remodel so extensive it took nearly half a generation to complete.

So I take a new leap into a chronicle (not chronological) of the endeavor. I look back and find catharsis in seeing the project as an assemblage of humorous sketches in the taking apart and putting together of a place called home.

Written Wanderings

It seems I’ve always been a writer. Expressing through a pen thoughts, feelings, dreams, making up stories, this was all part of living. Then came adulthood with real work, family, community – and the writing took a back seat to all that seemed important at the time. I was the same person, but part of me was contained in unexpressed prose. I’m happy that this new life gives me time to be a writer again. I have the blessing of words back; I can speak in a familiar way and take you, my reader friend, along for the journey.

So where should we journey? Back to a time not so long ago when I was a child? Living a summer adventure in the Ohio valley, running in the heavy air and damp grass, watching fireflies glow and then disappear in the twilight. Or maybe we will go to Parsons and walk by the river with my tiny hand in the firm grasp of my father’s and listen to the stories of his youth and a simplicity of life that has flowed away like a single drop of rain in the ocean of time.

We could take a journey of the senses – a romp through sights and smells and sounds. Each etched in a memory for me and an experience for you. We can travel together on a textural quest and feel the wild Wyoming wind sharp and bracing against our skin or breathe the hot, dusty, sagebrush summer air.

Come along with me and we can revel in being young and reckless, bouncing around in the back of a pickup truck. Or join me in contemplating the passing of youth and the heft of raising a child – or four – to become young citizens of an ever more complicated world. We may venture to lean on each other in loss and wander the cold, dimly lit paths of grief to reappear in the warmth of humor that was tucked under a memory.

Maybe we will begin along a well-worn road and take a detour to something unfamiliar. It is probable that we will trek along only to careen off of a cliff and fly away to something new. (Oh, that happened today.) Wherever we go, it will be made joyful by a companionship of words.

Where shall we journey, my reader, my friend? So many places to experience together, so little time in our lives to take the quest. Come with me and see new places, or view the familiar places through new eyes, just take a moment – you’re invited, and I am ready – to write.

Appalachia Song

There is something comforting and attractive in what is familiar to the senses. Each of us is tuned in to notice what says “home”. Usually this comes from the elements that surrounded us as children, so the music of the familiar is initially composed by our family.

Many times during my childhood we travelled from our western haven in Wyoming eastward to family in West Virginia. Great-grandma, grandma, and my aunt’s generous family were the focus of our visits. The visits were summer excursions into the dialect and rhythm of Appalachia. The singing of cicadas, the chorus of songbirds, and the language of my family wrote an indelible melody in my subconscious.

As a child you do not understand or comprehend the way that your extended family influences your life. This hidden influence was brought to my attention in a local restaurant on our first house hunting trip to Morgantown. I could feel the change in my demeanor when I heard our waitress speak; the familiar surrounded me and I quite suddenly felt relaxed.

“She sounds like my cousin.” I told my husband when the waitress left our table.

“How’s that?”

“It’s the way she speaks.” I couldn’t accurately describe at the time what it was in her voice that reminded me of my cousin. I have now pinned it down to a few sounds that strike the familiar notes. Most prominent is the short “a” that sounds like “awe”. This vowel pronunciation makes “grandma” sound like “grandmaw” and easily slips its way into even the shortest conversation.

There are also certain terms and colloquialisms that I pick up in my sojourns about town. When heard, the statements almost always cause a giggle to escape me and I hope that the speaker doesn’t take offense to my chortle. Typically the grocery store is where the most familiar phrase comes within earshot and it usually has to do with a shopping cart. “Junior, go get grandmaw a buggy,” I overhear and an image of my own grandmother pops up, along with a stifled chuckle. I really should try to get this reaction under control since it probably looks like some sort of strange spasm.

I catch the nuances of sound faster now. Maybe I walk around more aware, listening for the harmonies of language that fill the local dwelling places. Each restaurant, market, and shop a place to imbibe in human sound. Every outdoor venue presents the opportunity for orchestral compositions from fauna of earth and water and sky. My ears and mind work together to knit the memories of childhood into the fabric of my current place in life, weaving something comfortable into what is new.

In knitting together the past and present, I sift through each experience collecting tidbits for the project. One such experience was last fall when my aunt came to visit our new house. She brought family photos, home canned vegetables, and the melody of a dialect song from my childhood, all things that warmed the space between our new house’s walls to begin to make it home.

Night Sky

The patio is our refuge from the world, a place where the background sounds of the neighborhood mix comfortably with a quiet personal spot for perfect relaxation. Late in the evening, you may find us chatting languidly over a glass of wine enjoying the dance of fireflies in the trees that surround our backyard.

“Beautiful evening.” The man of few words, my husband, succinctly observes.

“I miss the stars.” I sigh.

In nearly every way our lifestyle and living conditions here in West Virginia have made this new home “Almost Heaven” – yes, just like the song. However, most of the stars are missing from the sky.

I knew that the vast western sky was going to be something that I would be leaving behind. As moving day from Kemmerer was drawing near, I would gaze out with awe and wonder at the huge aqua palette that God used for the day, and feel a melancholy ache in my heart. But looking up at the night sky would instill a sense of regret; I knew that many of the stars in the sky were going to disappear with the density of humanity in the east.

If you have ever visited the remote places of the earth you may know the sight. Wyoming’s starry night sky defies description. Your view of the sky in Wyoming is unobstructed – seemingly even by the air itself. No humidity, no pollution, and at night, no light. As you look out toward the horizon on a moonless night the velvet-black sky hosts a sparkling veil of stars too numerous to count.  On a night when the Milky Way pours its shimmering white blanket across the sky, you can imagine walking up into the heavens along its path.

Some time back I met up with some women who were trekking across Wyoming. They were from the eastern states and were taken breathless by the night sky.

“I won’t be able to describe this to my friends.” One woman said to the other. “They simply would never believe that there are so, so many stars.”

Her friend replied, “And a sky so big, dark, it really is very empty.”

Yes, even though the sky was bursting with stars, she described it as empty. I do know what she is saying, and I came about it back shortly after my college years.

As a summer hand for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, I spent many weeks in a remote spot at the south end of the Big Horn Mountains. This central Wyoming location was a full two hours away from the city of Casper, and an hour from any evidence of civilization. I studied and mapped the ecology of the area by day and spent the nights alone with only my dog and a campfire for company. As the fire would dwindle, I would look up into the vast Wyoming sky and feel the closeness of millions of stars; almost near enough to touch. Even so, the black sky was empty, a lonely expanse. I felt very tiny, no more than a speck of dust in the turning of time. Truly, it was the most humbling experience I had ever had and one that will never be forgotten.

I see that big Wyoming sky in my mind’s eye and hope to visit it soon. Until then, I will miss the stars.

Kemmerer’s Music Festival – Oyster Ridge

Are you looking for a barrel of fun for the weekend? Not much money? Need a break where you can be yourself and feel perfectly comfortable? If you are in or near southwest Wyoming the Oyster Ridge Music Festival http://www.oysterridgemusicfestival.com/index.html is the place for you beginning Friday, July 26. This weekend marks the 20th year of the festival that swells the host area to nearly twice its population and gives the music lover an opportunity to sample the up-and-comers of  bluegrass, folk, blues, country and rock – most of it a mish-mash of many combined styles – musical bliss and it’s free!

Early on the going got pretty rough for the free music festival. The little town of Kemmerer, Wyoming is a sleepy haven of coal miners and ranchers speckled with a smattering of public service and government workers; not folks that typically engage in social musical entertainment. I recall driving by the Triangle Park in the late ‘90s, knowing that the music festival was in “high gear” with nary a soul in sight, the lonely band on the stage singing into the empty space. I looked on feeling sad and guilty, sad that yet another local celebration seemed to be dying before my eyes and guilt that I wasn’t contributing with my presence. I returned home after some errands to announce to my husband that we should be in the park supporting the musicians and the community.

“Maybe next year.” He said and went on with the work at hand.

“There might not BE a next year!” I retorted with some desperation.

Lucky for us there was a next year. We spread a large quilt on the grass of the park and positioned the family around to partake of the music. We delighted in the entertainment as we whiled away a Saturday in the summer sun. By evening everyone was up dancing barefoot in front of the bandstand. We went home with dirty feet and singing souls . . . we were hooked.

In the following years, we dropped all projects and plans so that we could wallow in the “Oystergrass”. It wasn’t long and we were volunteering, my husband at the beer booth and me at an information booth. When family came to visit we would drag them along drawing them into the musical revelry. Over the years we eagerly awaited ORMF saving back vacation days to fully enjoy the three days of music and merriment in the park – with an extra day off to recover on Monday. We watched as former residents would return for the community celebration, and always delighted in the many friends that gathered together over blankets and beer.

I brought Oystergrass to West Virginia with me on a bumper sticker that went the way of the dodo when my car was rear-ended several months ago. (Heidi, I need a new bumper sticker!) I also found a way to reuse those music festival t-shirts that had become ragged around the edges from so much wear – pillows. Leaving behind the people of Kemmerer and especially the Oyster Ridge Music Festival was more difficult than I could have imagined. There is a big blank space in my calendar for this coming weekend, an emptiness that I long to refill. Hopefully next year I can revisit and revive, but until then I will need to get by on the spirit of Oystergrass that I brought in my heart, the friendly spirit that gathering around music can bring. I hope to sprinkle it around the neighborhood a little and watch it grow.

IMG_0793

Sights and sounds of ORMF: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GT7sXYiO9Bk

Frontier Treasures

Today was the first full day of the 2013 “Daddy of ‘em All” a title that probably means little to those outside of rodeo fans and the populace in and around Cheyenne, Wyoming, or maybe I don’t know the popularity of this annual extravaganza. The western celebration of rodeo, night shows, parades, pancakes, and a miscellany of carnival and hoopla is Cheyenne Frontier Days and it becomes part of your life in southeastern Wyoming. This ten-day event marks the middle of summer and it blisters with action nearly 24-hours each day.

As a child I eagerly awaited Frontier Days each year. It was a time filled with activity and wonder. I excitedly watched the parade from the downtown sidewalks admiring the trove of beautiful horses. I scrambled for bits of “gold” and “silver” thrown from the mining floats and thrilled at the mock outlaw shootouts. Every year we would stand waiting, for what seemed an eternity, to savor the sweet taste of free pancakes, ham, and juice served up by the local Kiwanis Club.  I have a few memories of watching the rodeos; these consist of dust flying and blurred images of legs – horse legs, cow legs, and legs of cowboys.

A child’s memory is a funny thing; it focuses on the immediate field of vision. That limited vision often gets a kid in trouble. My most striking childhood memory of Frontier Days is the visit to the “Indian Dance” which took place in the downtown streets. The tribal members would set up in the round and entertain the crowd with traditional song and dance. As the culminating event, the children in the audience were invited to join in the round and dance alongside the tribe members in their beautiful beaded costumes. I couldn’t have been much more than five-year’s old when I ventured into the swirling cloud of fringe and feathers. The drums thump-thumping, the women’s voices in high, hollow chorus and the throaty chant from the men filled my ears. I stomped and spun along with the crowd. When the dance was over I looked around for my parents, but they were nowhere in sight. The drumming continued, but now it came from my heart as panic ensued. I felt breathless and confused, the world was spinning, but I was standing still. My eyes welled up with tears. All I could see was the blurry figures of the tribe members, the beauty of their beaded costumes washed away in my frightened confusion.

Suddenly I was swept up in the arms of my father, who had never taken his eyes off of me. He came to my rescue and brought me back to the safe grasp of my mother’s gentle hand.

I don’t remember ever joining the dance again. I remained satisfied with the safe sideline activities, especially the parade. I loved horses and dreamed of riding one in that parade one day. I never did ride a horse in the parade, but I got something much better.

“Oh, look at that cute little boy on that great big horse.” My mom pointed out to the street at one of the boys from a local riding group. I didn’t think much of the boy at that time in my life, but the horse was great.

Many, many years later my mind’s eye looks back on the parade and the little boy who became the love of my life and is my husband today. Little did I know what treasure existed at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Parade.

See more about Cheyenne Frontier Days here: http://www.cfdrodeo.com/home

The Rules of Golf

IMG_0368

There is a commercial on TV that features a popular professional golf player chastising a casual golfer who has just kicked his ball away from a tree. This cracked me up the very first time I watched. That commercial goes through my head every time I go out on the course. There are several beautiful golf courses here in Morgantown. I’ve had the pain and pleasure of playing three of them. Pain because I am a beginner and they are difficult for me to play and pleasure because each is lovely and I enjoy playing golf. This is a surprising phrase as I “never” thought I would actually go out and play the game. Rule #1: Never say “never”.

My first attempts at using a set of golf clubs came in high school. I was not an athlete; so when the choices available for our P.E. class were coed volleyball, field hockey, or golf, I determined that golf presented the least likely scenario for broken bones and signed up. Week 1: learn to grip the club and practice swinging at an imaginary ball – wow; I was pretty good at this already! Week 2: place a REAL ball on a rubber mat in front of you and hit it. This was my downfall; no matter how hard I tried I simply could not hit that little ball. Week 3 came and went; my classmates were learning different clubs and perfecting their swing, I still hadn’t hit the ball. Week 4: field trip to the local golf course to apply what was learned. I, however, was left behind at the school to continue to attempt to hit the ball. So, as you may have deduced, I never hit the ball. In the instructor’s words, “Maybe you shouldn’t play this game.” Rule #2: Learn in the right atmosphere with someone who can give you valuable insight.

In all my years in Wyoming I never attempted to play golf again, but I didn’t feel that I was missing too much. The weather was usually prohibitive and the courses that I was familiar with were not very scenic. My husband liked to play and enjoyed the game with his many friends all over the state.  So when he bought a golf glove, I wondered why; when he bought shoes, I thought he was going a bit overboard; and when he shelled out “big bucks” for a new driver and 3-wood – well you can imagine my dismay.

About a year ago I tried again to hit a little white ball off of a tee on a West Virginia golf course. This time I used a club from my youngest son’s junior set and had a few tips from my ever-patient husband. The club face came down and actually connected with the ball, it didn’t travel far but I was as giddy as if it had gone several hundred yards! Each consecutive attempt drew me further into a pastime that I hadn’t considered pursuing. Soon I had clubs (shared with my youngest), a hand-me-up glove (also from the youngest), and a good pair of golf shoes. Rule #3: Buy the correct equipment.

My husband and I play a few holes nearly every evening and we truly enjoy this activity together. I’m learning the rules and when scoring must take extra strokes for balls lost, hit out of play and into the pond. The game is a sine curve of ups and downs for me, but the challenge of developing my game within the rules is enjoyable.  Rule #4: Follow the rules and have fun.

As you can see these rules of golf apply in pretty much any situation. Take a chance and try (or try again), get good guidance and tools, and maintain integrity for the best experience. I consider this life lesson while looking down on my ball in the tall grass of the rough.

“Go ahead and fluff that ball up a bit, everyone else does.” My husband suggests as I pull my 5-iron from the bag.

I reply, “Rule #13 – The ball must be played as it lies.”