the endurance of a sunset.

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I suppose the hilarity of dropping Neil off at the airport at 630 this morning was enough to inspire me to whip out my implied pen and give y’all the dish on my quest out west. Let me start this off by saying, reiterating actually, that my parents took me everywhere in the US and Canada when I was a kid. Dragged me all over, coast to coast, for the best museums, monuments, and culinary that continue to inspire every waking moment of my life. But I’ve never taken a car ride for longer than 11 hours, and that wasn’t even mileage, that was snacks and an SUV full of small, active bladders.

Ashley, co-pilot and inspiration for the trip, and I drove technically from New Orleans, Louisiana all the way to La Grande, Oregon (and then back to Boise, ID for the airport) totaling roughly 2393 miles. It was the longest meditation I’ve ever participated in. I got so many looks when I told my people I was driving 33 hours+ across the country; I don’t exactly love being behind the wheel (and if you know me at all you know that I am happy to ask you to drive. Thank each of you for obliging me). But I really wanted to do this. Why? I’m not really sure, but I had a ticket in my inbox and a “instagram worthy” backpack in my mailbox before I could blink. Y’all can thank Neil for that one.

I could fill you in on all of the funny details — like how just after reaching Texas we ran out of gas, in some odd turn of serendipity, directly across an exit ramp from a gas station. Or how we both did so well staying alert for hours and days, but couldn’t quite make it across to Oregon without playing musical driver while we tried to sleep, sitting up right in a car packed with Ashley’s whole life. — I could give you the full run down on our coffee tour across the west or how we found the best Thai food in a small corner of Denver, but why did you want to go? has been the question, so much so I started asking myself, and I think I can answer it better:

There were a few reasons for my enthusiasm towards the road trip, I’ll be honest. I needed a little break from real life and knew that physically having to focus on driving for so long would shut my mind up for a solid 19 hours, if not more. My mind has seemingly been on a spiraling, zooming, roller coaster for the past few weeks and I was intentional in wanting to make that stop. I really wanted to be in nature, just away from buildings and traffic and tourists and people in general. I normally love to chat up a tourist (or anyone, let’s be honest) because I thrive on human connection and can talk about NOLA eats and treats all day; lately though, the conversation has dulled me.

Above all, I said yes to the trip because my friend needed a hand in her massive, amazing, spirited life change. I want to take this moment to say that if you ever get the opportunity to start over, if the answers are looking square on, daring you to just MAKE A MOVE….do it. Sometimes, I survey how many times people say, “I know, I will, I just don’t know when,” and it takes all my zen to keep my eyeballs in my head. If we step back and examine our lives in hopes of discovery, you can find plenty, strong will is already dwelling within. It’s really simple to choose not to see something, but it’s so much more fulfilling to stay woke, eyes open, alert, present, and flowing with what the universe gives you.

I personally have not regretted shaking things up in my world, and if I had to guess, Ashley is nearly patting herself on the back for taking our precious gift of life in to her own hands and creating something wholly new.

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My favorite coffee from the trip. for a comprehensive list, check out my instagram: @coffeetogeaux

In regards to personal highlights from the trip, newness, and nature:

I got to witness the longest sunset of my life. All I could think about as I was watching it was how much longer I’d get to look at it and if they are always so lengthy. My phone was dead and probably out of service and though I’d normally be itching to document such a moment, I didn’t give a damn that I was without technology. I thought I’d enjoyed a long sunset on the porch at my mom’s, or on the deck of the koi pond house, or on the balcony on a beach somewhere; but this one, shades of tangerine and midnight blue, and in certain light sometimes flecked with stars…it seemed to linger.

Maybe I always feel that way when I take the time to watch the whole thing.

Maybe it was watching the rolling mountains against the setting sun that seemed to reconstruct my soul, transfiguring my brain from effort to ease.

Maybe it was the thick starry night sky that came up, brighter than I knew and so full of beams I thought something above had burst.

Maybe it was the sunrise that revitalized us, greeting our day with true light, literally illuminating our path, and welcoming my friend home.

Maybe it was the time away from crowded spaces, traffic, noise, negativity, judgement, worry, that made me simultaneously resent and miss it.

Maybe it was the space between personal awareness and physical time passing that made this moment, and the sky, seem so big.

Time spent in observation driving out west is a stand-alone reason to take this kind of trip. Perhaps, you feel the tug to drive a long time to somewhere all by yourself. Listen to that. Stay present while you’re on the road to wherever you’re going, even if you’re driving around a big, rocky mountain. Set your soul free out there, wherever you go.

Then come back.

Return.

Ground down.

Breathe in and remember, we were meant to endure, just like the sun.

 

 

 

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hardly sanctimonious

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I am not a “New Year’s Resolution” person. I mean obviously, it’s nearly May and I am just now writing about the miraculous word I stumbled on that inspired me to change my way of thinking in 2018.

Working on Magazine Street in New Orleans provides me with an endless opportunity to observe all kinds of stuff. I love to people watch and window shop. I love stepping out of work and smelling all the delicious food cooking from every direction as I walk to my car. I love that I can get a coffee from a local purveyor and support local groceries when I buy lunch. One day, on my way to the grocery a few weeks after new years, my shoe got caught on the lip of the side-walk of the street and I stumbled, trying not to fall in to a group of BAMA dudes yelling, “Dilly! Dilly!” I was distracted by my thoughts and not paying any attention to where I was walking.

After my slight embarrassment cooled, I noticed I’d fallen right on to Harmony Street. I looked up to the clouds, rolled my eyes, and smiled. I told myself right then and there that practicing and living in harmony was going to be my “resolution” this year. This sentiment has taken several shapes since the beginning of the year. I had no idea that the word “harmony” would end up challenging me more than I anticipated; we’re only five months in and the observations I’ve soaked up so far are totally changing my approach to everything.

I moved to New Orleans in July and found it difficult to find work, make new friends, write, practice yoga…basically to exist like I normally would. I hadn’t imagined returning to the Big Easy once I left. I had heard once that New Orleans would either wrap you up in warmth or spit you out; I thought for sure the latter was happening to me. I was restless with indecision about what I wanted to do and was super disappointed in not having all the answers right away. I had finally finished my degree and just knew jobs were going to line up and align with my ultimate purpose — what it is, I still don’t know. I focused on having patience and trusting that the universe would provide me with answers. It didn’t. I had to make up my own answers. I accepted a job I didn’t want and tried to make the best of it until, thankfully, a magical, amazing job landed in my lap. I sound like a broken, looping, blog record, but we manifest our own happiness and we have to keep reminding ourselves of that. Happiness is a choice. Harmony is a choice, something I didn’t really ever stop to think about, and they absolutely go hand in hand. EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY we have to choose those things. I think we get so caught up in developing what happiness is supposed to look like on the outside that we miss the mark on what it is supposed to feel like on the inside — though YOU are the only person who can truly define that.

I was in the middle of a very ugly moment with an old friend yesterday when the conversation we were having posed a question in my mind: if we have to reiterate over and over that we’re happy, are we? As angry as I was in the moment, I felt bad for my friend. I felt the flame of her scrambling to make sure that I knew that she was plenty happy, and for what? She made clear, as people often do, that she didn’t need my approval to be happy. So it made me wonder: why do we care so much about others approving of our happiness? I briefly assessed recent conversations with people I don’t see often and I don’t think I ever included the assurance, “I’m happy. I’m so happy, do you hear me? I swear I am.” I don’t think people need that kind of confirmation. If anyone has experienced me within the last few years, they know I am getting married to the person of my dreams and that happy is not at all the right word for what I feel! Think sublime joy, irritating, smiley, sappy, joy; I feel like I’m beaming most of the time. I think when we say things like, “I hope you’re just as happy,” we challenge others to compare our version of happiness against theirs…and that is really not at all what the emotion of happiness is. That realm of “happy” seems a like pointed, maybe even fake, cry for attention. I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate your happiness, but damn, stop comparing it to your next door neighbor’s appearance of happiness; it is, after all, just your perception.

living in harmony and finding happiness looks like this for me:

this is one of the first yoga photos I ever posted, and I had to dig to find it, but boy does my heart sing when I see it. I look at it now and remember the emotional disarray I was swimming in when I found yoga. — I’ve talked about this a good deal in various places on this blog, so I’ll spare you the replay. — You can see the sunlight cracking through the top of the photo, light barely coming in, but it’s there; what a metaphor. I was losing weight at a rapid pace, my hair was falling out, and I was watching a long, unhealthy relationship unwind. I felt like a wild woman, freeing herself of the things that bound her; I was unwinding but learning to piece myself back together, too. Each time I stepped on my mat I found new things my body could do and this dazzled me; what began to happen in my mind as I moved, an internal digging out, humbled me in ways I’m still learning to explain. My practice now feels more like finding the harmony between my body and breath, my mind concentrating almost solely on the dissipation of thought. I don’t have a perfect practice, I never will. Sometimes the practice is too hot to concentrate on not concentrating, too challenging to feel any rapport between body and breath. But I find that if I keep understanding at the forefront of my thoughts, the harmony is easier to locate.

You may be swimming in something similar, so ask yourself: what would bring ease in to this situation? How can I have that? It is SO easy to choose the hard thing because we don’t want to drop our egos long enough to learn something about ourselves, but that’s what we really need to do. By actively selecting something other than easpiness, we create more dissonance, causing chaos. “Just choose ease,” may sound flippant and trite, but it is the path that leads to less resistance from the world. It doesn’t mean you’re making a lazy choice by not acting, it’s actually quite the opposite. By choosing ease, you choose yourself, happiness, and ultimately…joy.

I promised myself this year I would write more because writing makes me happy, and I haven’t done that. (Like I said, it’s not a great idea for me to label intentions as “resolutions.” I think I actively break the promise just because I made one.) Lately, I think all day and night about what I want to say and if I should say it and are the opinions worth sharing? I worry that my words will just fly in to cyber space and get lost somewhere, all because this or that piece didn’t immediately make me a million dollars. This kind of fear is stupid — a word I hate to use. I have kept thousands of words in my head for months because I’m afraid of stepping on the wrong toes or failing or succeeding or whatever. The fear… it’s real. Fortunately, the last forty-eight hours have been eye-popping and I cannot help but find myself, here in the chair with coffee, willing the fear to shut the fck up. When we allow this kind of fear to set in, we need to pause and ask: how is this serving me? Is the fear driving me to do something new, daring, and great? Am I learning in this moment or am I drinking in the fear and letting it take control? Taking a pause for thought in moments like this is crucial, that’s when we learn what we’re made of and what outcome is most important to us. Maybe we just don’t allow enough space between our perception of the situation and what is actually going on.

Yesterday I posted about writer’s block and today I’m writing, I guess that’s how it goes. I have been overwhelmed by emotion in 2018, nearly a drowning sensation of all kinds of overwhelming happiness mixed with weird anger. I’m angry at the anger when it shows up, since it mostly feels like it’s just there to spite the harmony. I make it a point to emphasize the stuff that deliberately creates harmony in my life: practicing yoga, drinking in the Louisiana sun, checking things off of all of my to-do lists, grocery shopping, doing laundry; it’s not glamorous and it’s not mundane, it just is. The list of happy and harmonious could go on. Now that I’ve made a small change to my way of thinking, I spend less time worrying about all the things I can’t change in this moment and focus on being present here and now. If you haven’t read or listened to Ram Dass, look him up. He talks so much about struggling to “know” and helped me finally figure out that once we stop trying to “know,” once we relinquish this insatiable hunger for answers and resign ourselves to live simply in the ebb and flow of harmony, life feels less daunting; the universe seems kinder.

I know you’re sitting there wondering, what does any of this have to do with harmony? Wasn’t that the entire point of this blog? The answer is yeah, you’re right. I feel like my resolution has totally taken over every aspect of my life journey. It is constant work. We don’t just wake up and feel all the good things all day every day, life unfortunately isn’t like that. It’s easy to get down about it being and feeling like a constant uphill climb, and it can be if we perceive life that way. Harmony, I’m learning, is this incredible yin and yang. Effort and ease. Balance and imbalance. It’s the marrying of voices of all kinds to create a beautiful sound. We have the power create that sound within ourselves and within others. We have the power to manifest happiness and harmony, to expand and share it and be in gentle union with not only others, but the world.

Take a moment today to observe the harmonies, or disharmony, in your life and ask yourself: how can I supper and celebrate this feeling? how can I find it? what changes do I need to make RIGHT NOW that will bring me ease and ultimately joy? Five minutes is all you need, and it is totally worth it. I promise.

this was right after I almost face-planted on Magazine St. — who knew what I would find on this street sign?

For those of you exploring harmony on the mat, check this article: Finding Balance Between Effort and Ease

Here’s a song:

writer’s block: you can’t sit here.

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I have avoided writing of any kind for so long, it’s turned to spring and I haven’t written not the first thing about anything. I got my degree then totally dropped the ball on my favorite past-time…and now it feels nearly impossible to do. I have bits and pieces of short stories for a “swamp thing” and the framework for a children’s book. I’ve got a running list of novels to write before I die and what am I doing? Netflix and chill. And sleep. And work. And everything I could possibly think of doing OTHER than writing. I have never been in this predicament before. Normally, the writer’s block I experience lasts for a few blinks of the cursor or until I can fill my coffee cup up again. But now? It’s months without a peep and I think about it all day every day.

Why am I just thinking about it? Why can’t I actually get off the block and in to the chair to write? This is the most uncomfortable place for me! Is it because I was in the collegiate swing for eleven years and now have to make myself write things? Is it because I was in the collegiate swing for eleven years and made myself tired of the endless, mindless research of topics I was only halfway interested in? What gives? Who else experiences this? This is by far the longest dry spell on a writer’s block that I’ve ever experienced and I really don’t want to sit here anymore. But I wonder…how do I get up?

Help.

 

the story that didn’t make it.

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I suppose I have avoided this chair long enough. Not sure why my move to New Orleans has provided such writer’s block (am I willing to take ownership of this?), but it has and I am nervously hopeful that the imbalance has shifted.

I won’t dilly-dally with what I’m here for — I feel like lamenting is less entertaining than it once was to me; a feeling I suppose is due to the sadness in the news, it seems to keep us from spending too much time on our own comparative trivial pursuits. This is a story I wrote for an invited submission, but was not selected for; a story that didn’t make it. I could go on about the bout of disappointment I faced, but that doesn’t really serve a purpose. I will say, though I was sad when I figured out my work hadn’t been chosen, I was considerably less sad when I realized that meant I’d get to spend more time with Evalynda Cane. Her character came to me in bits, and when I was done with  “Arbres Gelés”I found myself a few words over the allotted word count and very upset that I didn’t have the time to know more about her.

Of course, that all changed. Writing is sort of amazing in that way….we can change the narrative whenever we want. (Wait, is that life too?!) I am repeatedly convinced that each closed-door is an opportunity knockin’, y’all. I have sat for months in observation of life in Louisiana, reading short southern stories here and there for inspiration, listening to people talk about what food their family makes for this or that occasion; I have vividly imagined myself gliding over the swamp in a small pirogue, in search of something and nothing. I have dug in the tiniest crevices of my mind to find the right way to tell Stories from Bayou Cane and The Lost Pine Girl (working title.) Evalynda is my vessel for this endeavor, and I’m excited to share her with y’all today.

I have absolutely no idea where this story will land in the collection of shorts, but I at least wanted to share a bite of what I’ve been working on.

This is the FULL version, published for the first time, of “Arbres Gelés”. Please enjoy.

“Arbres Gelés” (Frozen Trees)

Evalynda Cane was busy filling her pirogue with things she would need for a day on the water when a cool gust surprised her and chilled her to the bone. “Get outta here old woman, mean ol ting,” she mumbled, mentally locating her Orisha beads, “just in case she come.” It was dead of August, a time when very often little rain makes its way to the musty Louisiana swamps, let alone cool weather. Thick fog had spread itself through the mossy limbs, wedged its heaviness between the cracks of the floating homes on Bayou Cane. Evalynda peered at the steam billowing off of her cup of hot coffee and was soon unable to differentiate where that ended and cool fog began. “Bette fine that knit too,” referring to her Granmè Bertilde’s shawl.

Granmè had left her “Evie” everything she owned in the world: the house, the pirogue, that old dog, what clothes hung in the closet, what food was left in the icebox. There was a car, but that drowned one day during a hurricane. Evie clung to these possessions, unable to shake the feeling of Bertilde’s touch that lingered in the house. Unable to accept the death of her Granmè, Evie set up her body in the guest room, the one that faced the bayou, oiled her down real good and used good wrap on her; a weekly ritual now, and she looked decent considering a year had passed, not too watery yet. She burned sage and other herbs in prayer over her every day, never feeling peace or freedom from the grip of grief. She prayed old prayers from the worn book on the nightstand; it had been handed down, written, and rewritten by all the women in the Cane family. Granmè Bertilde, who did most of the rearing, taught her to speak and sing the lines in the book to perfection, but never told her what they meant. Chants lifted up so loudly the house would rattle and the wind would whip. Evie spent days and months in prayer and song after she passed, in hopes it would stir Granmè’s soul and breathe life back to her body. That was the old way and that was all she knew. “Every day I see you die, Bertilde. Why’d’ya show me these tings?” Evie often spoken aloud in her home, expecting an eventual response from her grandmother.

Mighty strange things began to happen the day Granmè died, none of which Evie could reason or explain. During the days of mourning, cypress knees shook loose, floated up from their ancient roots and turned to amber mush in the hand. Soft, white rain fell from the sky and piled up on the marsh, cooling the land like winter. That was just the first month or two. Eventually, hunters found gators floating belly up, full of, “unspeakable dead things.” Next was what felt like a plague of coiled rattlers, dead and dried in patches of burnt swamp. Six months after Granmè’s passing, egrets lined the edge of the porch, silent and still for hours, gawking at her window; the next day, a large, white gator disjointed and bound by sticky spider webs lay in the pirogue. All these things, stirred by the passing of Bertilde Cane.

Evie let the gator rot in the front yard as a sign to the spirits that seemed to be testing her. She’d read about that in the bedside book too.

What few neighbors, the ones that had always passed by with stale biscuits, thick cut bacon, and molasses to share stopped coming; the smell of the house was off-putting, what with the body and the gator and all of the other dead, even to the occasional suitor vying for Evie. Yep, those men stopped coming down too. No-one came to this corner of this swamp no more.

The cool of the present morning was unsettling to Evie but she carried on anyway. Food supply was low and she needed a small gator or gar. This task felt like a breeze to her by now after years of practice, the familiar voice of Granmè whispering how to catch and kill the gator, skin it right then cook and eat every part so, “nothing go to waste and dat dress stay on ya hip.” Evie made the rice days ago, the roux the night before, and could taste the gumbo on her tongue already. “Some shrimp sho’ would be good, Poboy, I know.” Poboy hadn’t always been the dog’s name, but Evie had trouble pronouncing some of the old Creole words and settled on a food she’d tried once, a gift from a white woman who came to Granmè for blessings. Poboy normally joined Evie on these outings, but today he refused to get off the porch. “Ol lazy ass dog, when you get so ol? Bon rien!” she hollered at him as she pushed off in her boat, laughing at his droopy eyes. “His tail tucked tight, why though?” she thought, sucking misplaced cold through her teeth.

As she floated further away, Evie paused to drink it in. “A house all my own,” she thought, smirking. Breeze caressed her collar-bone and she imagined the icy chill of Granmè Bertilde’s hand floating down her back as she braided her long hair, like so many times in her life. “But never alone.” She smiled at the thought, sunlight bursting through the fog, illuminating her house, causing tears to well and burn her eyes. “She wit me now, I feel it,” she said to the trees around her, “she always wit me.”

Evie wound her way through the familiar route, searching for a gator, deeper and deeper than she’d ever been before, and for what felt like dizzying hours. Her stomach rumbled and she knew it was far past supper time. “I guess we callin’ it,” she said to the trees, feeling defeated. “You think I know how to do dis by nah. Dis may be the day she get me.” Evie dipped her paddle down to push off a cypress knee and it snapped like a twig, instantly dissolving before her eyes, leaving her stranded with nothing to push her but the wind. “Wind, is you listenin’? Get me back t’m’house!” she murmured to the now bending, tangled looking trees. Evie took these trips silently, only whispering to the trees and animals she would encounter, as to not disturb the spirits sleeping around her. Her family always believed the swamp was full of spirits and things that could clamp their teeth around your soul and never let loose.

“WIND DO YOU HEAR ME?” she screamed, and with it, the whole swamp grew silent; empty as Evie’s mind the day Granmè died. A frightening cold gust blew past her, drawing Evie board-straight with pure fear, a world instantly frozen. A crisp snapping and cracking ripped through the swamp, an eachoing sound she would never forget. The rip of it would ring in Evie’s ears for the rest of her life, lost and wandering in a foreign arctic, barefoot and dragging her empty pirogue behind her.

Some say you can still see Evalynda Cane walking through the swamp, hungry and tired. They tell her eyes have been hollowed out from weeping and that old dog, Poboy, follows behind her. They say his poor body looks chewed up and that a big white gator walks on its hind feet behind them, snapping ever so often at Evalynda’s heels. “She put a cunja on dat whole place, Bertilde did,” says Renee Desplat. Desplat, among other brave women, have gone looking for what is now known to be the Cane Sisters Book of Song, and claim to have spoken to Evie’s spirit as they floated through what is now referred to as the Arbres Gelés. Desplat says that Evie “wept for Granmè Bertilde’s body, that is wayward in the afterlife without liberation.” Others say she sings about a day that will come, “when the winds will rip up the water and dry out the land; when the trees will become bare and the whole swamp will become pointed like daggers, crossing closer to the sun and colder somehow, like mountains.” That’s what they say.

“I wait for dis day,” Evie whispers to the trees and those that are listening. “Though it never come, and now, she’s always beside me.”

……more to come. thanks for reading!

 

the patient recounts her dream

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Two cold snaps in New Orleans and I am already disappointed I’m not getting a full Fall. Does anyone else associate the overwhelming influence of weather to a person’s mood? I wonder only because I spent most of the summer melting into a puddle inside of the koi pond house. The outdoors looked enticing, until I stepped out onto the deck to let Layla out — even she has been less than thrilled to spend time in the sunshine. On top of blistering light, heat so pooling you could drown in douses you. A day’s gorgeousness is only alluring on the surface; we are kept inwards, indoors during summer days to avoid exhaustion. And I want to feel alive.

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The recent trip Neil and I took to Colorado changed my mind about the way I am rooted. I have always strongly believed that I am devoutly Louisiana in a subtly obnoxious way, unwilling to give up the peculiar looks one receives when you say, “I’m from Louisiana.” Y’all know, we’re special. If you’ve ever crossed Henderson Swamp with me, you’ve been asked, “Is there anything more gorgeous than the swamp?” because I truly think it’s a masterpiece of wonder. Such weighted darkness lives in the swamp, so the contrast of the crisp, chilling Rockies pierces me, steadily present.; as if my soul reached the correct temperature. I still feel the cool air, lingering at the back of my throat. I’ve been telling myself for two weeks now that I’m not dealing with the normal sinus infection you get when you’ve been in a foreign climate, that instead it is delicious leftover mountain air refusing to diffuse in my lungs. This thought has made me sad, haunted my dreams; I don’t think I have ever fallen so hard for a place, I can’t get the feel out of my mind.

 

Louisiana friends that migrated northwest for longer than the winter: I get it. Colorado is a magical, sun-kissed, heaven-on-earth  state and I am currently trying to figure when/how I will be able to have a small piece of it. It’s all I can think of!

When I was a kid, my parents brought me to Alaska, Maine, and all over Canada. Did I love those trips? Absolutely. Seeing a glacier as a twelve year old is definitely the dopest thing anyone in your class did all summer. Unless they got to lick the glacier, that would be different. Do I remember instantly falling in love with these places? No. Winding up and down the side of the Rocky Mountains, which seemed to be continuously growing larger as we drove…well, that is something to fall in love with, to be humbled by. — AND FEAR!!! I screamed for at least an hour going up, louder after I saw the runaway truck ramps. –Neil will tell you that the second we took off on our six hour road trip from Denver to Telluride  all I could talk about was how immediately overwhelmed with inspiration I was. I sat in vocalized awe at the size of these massive, ever stretching mountains. The popping of my ears didn’t even bother me, my eyes were too busy to be bothered.

My previous encounters with Colorado-type terrain consisted of appreciating from afar, and I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve seen some beautiful places. I purposefully got lost in the Muir Woods once, a stunt my parents did not appreciate. The tour we were on wasn’t spending long enough in each area, which meant I was missing the opportunity to take an obscene amount of crappy photos (I was an avid disposable camera photographer). As soon as I heard we were loading up, I ran back to my favorite place for just one more picture, a little further than I remembered. “THE BUS IS LEAVING WITHOUT US TIFFANYJO,” my dad hollered at me as a ranger walked toward me. “IT’S A STUMP!” I could hear his frustration, I could see the ranger’s slight amusement, but was busy snapping pictures, winding as fast as I could. I needed to document this tree, dammit! This particular topiary had died, it’s stump indicating long life among beautiful friends; it devastated me. Though I honestly do not remember noticing in the Redwoods how the fresh air affected my breath and my brain, I remember feeling surrounded by friends in that moment too. I had several beautiful, refreshing, and daringly connective moments with the Pacific Ocean the handful of times we went out to whale watch while visiting British Colombia, that was life changing, yes. But never, in my adult travel experience, have I felt so nearly unhesitatingly changed.

Even on the 13,500 ft., 4 star, wildly vertical Wasatch Trail, I noticed a difference in the way I was fighting for my breath, the way I was thinking about it and physically doing it. Was I cursing Neil out in my head for encouraging a group of mostly new hikers on such an advanced trail? Yes. We endured forty-four switchbacks on shaky legs and empty stomachs. Had we taken that exact same hike under Louisiana climate conditions…..well lets just say it would have taken a considerably longer and we would have all been naked from heat and humidity by the end of it. Colorado was kinder to us. We stopped for breaks every thirty minutes or so,  all willing to kept going. We would be lined up on the trail, looking forward and back at each other after someone asked, “How much further?” No-one wanted to say, “I’ve seen enough, lets turn around,” because IT WAS SO FCKING PRETTY, honestly bordering ostentatious beauty.

Thirteen miles and six hours later, we were all exhausted but so so happy. We each milled about the mountainside house, quietly reflecting on the day as we prepared dinner. What we ate, I can’t remember; I was distracted with the reel. I thought of the gold confetti that fell on us most of the way before we encountered our first patches of snow; of Layla eager to meet other dogs on Bear Creek Trail and at the rock garden; of specifically the rock garden and the reminder that so many others have walked this trail before us, for no other reason than to be close to nature, to bathe in the freedom she gives.

I spent our entire first day hiking feeling as though floating up and down mountains in someone else’s dream, only able to muster enough focus to keep from tripping constantly. Ever little leaf called to me, the snow glimmered. I wanted to touch everything. Us Louisiana kids packed for temperatures around 56*-64* and we were definitely met with winter temps, so for my rickety knees to work properly, I had to keep moving. We crossed a ramshackle mining bridge to get to the “top of the waterfall” and felt every inch of our lives possibly being risked; Neil would randomly say, “THE WATERFALL! It’s worth it,” when he could feel us all dying. I didn’t know there was a possibility that we might actually slip and fall to our death (though what a place to be buried). That night ended up being the most magical sleep of my life.

 

 

Cornet Creek Falls was absolutely the most fun hike because it was so involved (at least for me) and I was ready for it. The day of rest we took in between Wasatch and Cornet was crucial for me, and for Layla, to be able to enjoy the rest of the trip. Elevation punched me in the face in the best way!  When we got to Cornet’s water fall, I went crazy wild woman and just started climbing up the rocks as fast as I could. I felt wild, totally inspired by the wild that surrounded me. I still can’t find words supportive enough to label the sensation of climbing feeling totally natural, of sliding on your bare palms and feet to just keep from seriously scuffing something up. I was a tomboy growing up, a climber…but I never dreamed at nearly 30 I’d want to climb EVERY fourteener before forty. Red dirt was flinging everywhere, I think Layla’s paws will always have a little red in them now. After playing for about an hour at the fall, we made our descent back down the trail, taking time to swing on trees and roam a bit. Neil and Zach wanted to climb a little higher than I did in an area just off the trail, but we stopped where there wasn’t much room to really rest, so I had to wedge myself in to the safest spot I could manage, and wait. It was a misty meditation, regardless of how nervous I was to be potentially, literally flying solo. Heavier rocks eventually started tumbling down and I DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO ROLL MY EYES. I had to press as far back as possible (without losing my footing and my hold on Layla) and hope that the boys weren’t about to get tangled in the trees bending around me. The real challenge came on this day when the rain arrived; we were thankful it wasn’t heavy rain but it was plenty cold which oddly motivated us to move faster on the way down! I immediately took a nap when we got home, and woke up to real, fresh, fluffy, falling snow. SNOW THAT STICKS! My mind was blown. 234567890th time in less than a week — was I dead and just reeling? No, this was tangible.

We finished up our trip with what seemed like a leisurely walk to Bridal Veils Falls, a truly breath taking experience at a pace that felt like a lazy river in summer.

 

Layla often led the way on our hikes, excited by each step and smell and challenge by her favorite element. It was amusing to see the retriever that normally wants to lay around all afternoon practically sprint up these trails. She pushed herself yet seemed content no matter how long we adventured.  We encountered quite a few animals, though none as majestic as the giant elk that showed up in the DRIVE WAY after an afternoon house nap. Her spirit is not the same in Louisiana, and I absolutely feel her on it. Sometimes when she’s asleep and looks like she’s dreaming, I wonder if she’s dreaming of the next mountain or set of squirrels.

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ya know…just talking a walk.

The continuous, perpetual summer of the south removes the presence of change, therefore, we remain the same. I will never not be completely fascinated from this experience forward with the way my surroundings moved me. Louisiana motivates you to either get where you’re going in a hurry, as to avoid a sweaty, sticky mess, or to embrace the heat and move slowly, never feeling completely dry. To be brief, this year has been a whirlwind of movement, and while I’ve had quiet moments, I haven’t spent much time mentally celebrating the beauty that’s unfolding. My spirit set its wild self loose among the Rockies and will be, from here on out, totally unsatisfied with stones unturned.

The spirit can plant roots anywhere (this we know) and while I have blushed and  inwardly rolled my eyes at those that have called me “free spirited,” I think the definition is clearer now, though I still feel the term is often too blanketed. “Wanderlust” is okay, but I don’t immediately picture myself twirling in a field or ascending a mountain. — I think of Paul Rudd’s epic pep-talk in one of the funniest movies Jennifer Aniston ever pulled off. — I’m not bohemian enough to claim anything other than righteously curious and uncontrollably fascinated by the natural world around me. My continuous thought throughout the trip, a moment that pinches me just the way the cold Telluride morning would, is with me as I recount the moments now: I can climb a little longer.

And so can you.

Be affected by the world around you. Allow yourself celebration, healing, experience. YOU ARE WORTH YOUR DREAMS.

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I want to take this hammock all over the world with you Neil!!! Let’s see everything together. ❤

Here’s a song from an album I heard in my head while hiking through the Rockies:: Lit Me Up

for others.

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I’m sitting here, watching Layla chew on an ice-cube while thinking to myself, “how am I to going to get back out there?” I am happier than I’ve ever been, but I have been in a “doing-stuff” funk. Neil pretty much has to dangle a latte in front of me to get me out of our perfect koi-pond house. I haven’t done yoga every day since I moved; if I’m being honest, I’m at twice a week at best and that’s not my best. I haven’t read much. I haven’t written a thing in months. All this inaction seems level considering all I did for months was read and respond and write and move my body. In my mind, it’s much bigger than “I’m just taking a break,” which is what I mentally chalk it up to for fear of going crazy. This idea of a “break” has literally taken the shape and attitude of “I don’t know what I want to do,” a frightening thing for a person like me…which is why I’m sitting here, forcing out the words over cold brew.

Summer always seems to fly by, leaving a wake of enlightened newness and curious uncertainty behind it. Before the frying Louisiana heat hit, I was in an academic vortex swirling my way towards graduation and a summer that was full of promise. I’m not saying that I was disappointed in the season by any means. I think if anything, I was overwhelmed by it. Life turned in to a full-on heightened emotion marathon and once it slowed down, it left me feeling empty, reeling on the high. I finished college, completed the first of many yoga certifications, moved back to New Orleans, and most importantly, GOT ENGAGED TO THE LOVE OF MY LIFE! To say it was a lively summer would be an understatement, and to try to express my happiness with just words is honestly what’s been keeping this laptop at arm’s length. I feel like I can’t do any of these feelings justice.

But I’m here to try.

Graduating college is something I still can’t comprehend. I know it’s a common, every day occurrence, a totally ordinary something, but I feel so empowered by proving myself wrong so many times. Most of you reading this finished your undergrad in four years, give or take a semester or two. A handful of you were amazingly lucky to have college completely paid for by either scholarships, grants, parents, or grandparents; maybe you’re reading this, silently thanking your aunt or uncle for squirreling away $20 here and there so you could have gas money to commute. Maybe (hopefully) you’re still working towards your higher ed goals. (It is so worth it.) My personal college journey — financially and physically — was long and wild and I’ll certainly spare the details about all of that. Suffice it to say, it’s done and  I can’t believe I did it. It was the one thing my father asked that I start and finish, and even though it took over a decade of major ups and downs, I DID IT.  I actually removed this looming obstacle completely out of my way. I started to type “all on my own,” but that wouldn’t be the truth. While I did do all of the studying, cramming, testing and etc etc, I did NONE of this solo. I have had the most incredible support system over the last two years and it really changed the game for me.

I’m not sure how I managed to gloss over the fact that last year that I passed BOTH math classes required for my curriculum, but I did, and with a grade that didn’t kill my grade point average. (Seriously, how did I not write about passing math?) This was such a huge personal victory for me because mathematics has always been the thing standing in between me and undergraduate freedom. I know I’m not alone and if you’re reading this and suck at math too….PLEASE KEEP GOING. Listen to classical music and make up stupid songs to remember the formulas and BELIEVE IN YOUR MIND because it absolutely has the capacity to do whatever you want it to do. I absolutely knew in my heart and soul that I would have to set my dreams aside and find something else to study, because wrapping up college couldn’t happen without passing scores in Contemporary Math and Finite Mathematics. And I was wrong.

Fortunately for me, I had the squad of dreams in my life, and they weren’t willing to accept my defeat. They pushed me. They cheered me on. They listened to me cry, laugh hysterically at my failures (because without a sense of humor, what are we?), and loudly rejoiced with me when I succeeded.

They were for me, and these expressions of humanity will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

While I do love a good list, I’m afraid it’s impossible for me to “tag” everyone, but a LARGE thank-you must go out to those sweet, generous souls in Alexandria; y’all got me through the best and worst of it. It was hard for me to willingly swallow the bitter pill that was moving home, but I desperately needed to reorganize and reshape my life. “Relinquish control to gain it,” right?

On this soul-makeover journey I was fed, housed, listened to, hugged, praised, constructively criticized, and L O V E D. Through the good, the bad, the early mornings, the long nights, I was supported and uplifted over and over and over. I was caffeinated, stretched, enlightened, frustrated, and completely humbled at the ability of the people in my life to push me onward, even during times of emotional stress of their own. I am so beyond blessed (what a trite word for such an uplifted feeling) to have had two years with such a specific, growing experience, with so many beautiful souls who spend their lives being for others. The brilliant part? Most don’t even know they’re doing that.

I think there were three weeks in between finishing college and starting yoga school; not much of a gap when you’re busy getting ENGAGED!!! and celebrating with family, while also packing up to move to a new city as soon as the next thing is done. I didn’t have much time to process or decompress or whatever it is you do after you finish a lengthy academic journey. (Does it ever really end though?) I thought maybe I’d use my time in Ft. Worth, TX at Free Life People School of Yoga to do that. Decompression was not in the curriculum.

My soul has been so ignited and stirred by the things I observed and learned during the sixteen days I spent in school. I can imagine it’s why I’ve had such a hard time with my “break” from “normal” life, and I’m sure it’s why I managed to get behind this screen today. You see, during my studies at FLP we talked about/practiced how to actively take the seat of the observer and notice all. I think for the last month, during my state of inactivity, I have simply chosen to see. Perhaps, this morning was the morning it took seeing it for nearly the 40th time to say “okay, enough,” and I showed up for myself. Finally.

I didn’t feel the need to decompress at FLP because we spent our days in mindful movement and openness. I wish I could make that sound less flowery, but that’s how I feel about it and I very seriously doubt anyone in my class would disagree. While there were challenging days — and I mean days so physically and emotionally challenging we were all looking at each other like “She wants us to do what?!” — there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t willing to show up….because everyone else was showing up for me. 

We spent at least half of our day, every day, teaching  in small groups, offering feedback, coaching each other, leaning in and on one another. I will be the first to admit: there were moments I didn’t want to do it. We would rotate one person observing, one (or multiple) practicing, one teaching. There were moments when I didn’t think I could keep going. I was making excuses in my head about dehydration, my knees hurting, feeling hungry, and so on. I would feel an overwhelming urge to find a bottle of wine, crack it open right on my mat, and say, “TO HELL WITH THIS!” But I didn’t. I would do my best to survey the room and notice. And what did I see? Everyone, moving, sweating, and breathing…for someone else. 

I won’t forget teaching my last class with my small group; Gwen was my assist, Katie was practicing for me. The day started with a REALLY tough practice 9am, so by the time 430pm rolled around on day sixteen, our brains and bodies were worn out. But Katie practiced her heart out for me. Gwen gave magical, delicious assists, and I somehow managed to find energy in my mind, body, and voice to deliver an honest class. We were all able to withstand and move through the soreness and mental exhaustion because someone had done the same for us.

Though I feel that I’m not doing my experience justice, I feel like I need to save some of that good, magical stuff for just me, to give my blissed-out state longevity and not diminish the entire thing by TRYING to convey what’s in my mind. What you should know, is whole idea of “being for others” was my biggest take away from school, though there were so many things that cracked my thought process wide open, forever changing the way I think and feel. I can’t even think about moving my body in the same way. I have felt myself gently soul-searching during my whirlwind summer and know that the only thing I need to focus on is serving others in any capacity I can, and the rest is sure to follow.  

 

 

Here’s a little something we practiced at school that I’ve continued::

 

DUDE! I have missed my writing!! That felt so good! If y’all have any questions about yoga school, college, or whatever, please find me on social accounts or leave me a comment!  I’d love to hear from you!

man’s first winter.

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first and foremost, I’d like to say: I AM SO HAPPY FOR SPRING! however, if summer is half as warm as this season has been so far, Louisiana will come the US National Nudist Colony. It’s so hot!!!

Now on to more serious things.

I’ve been bitten by the writing bug…finally. The end of this college chapter is requiring a deal from my brain and I feel like the only thing to do is keep the words flowing in order to avoid gridlock.

I recently connected with a short story by Jack London , a writer I wasn’t necessarily fond of until I was required to read this: “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

This is beyond an excellent read, and most certainly worth your time. If you’ve got thirty minutes to spend looking around on Facebook, you can read London’s sixteen page creation.

I was so inspired by London’s words, I had to write my own. I didn’t complete all of my thoughts, which is normal. I stew on stories like this, can’t shake them. The blog I wrote about muses the other day was so obviously about Edna Pontellier, though I didn’t notice that then. While I was technically inspired by the grade I was hoping to get, I’m sincere in my feelings towards this story. I understand not being able to invest in long, American tales about outdoor labor and oil and shady politics and porch talk; those stories are important as well, but it takes a certain momentum and desire; they are terribly dry sometimes, I know. This story is not that. You will become so engrossed by the man’s journey and absolutely commit to following through to the resolution.

My essay is below. If you haven’t read the story, these words will mean nothing as my thoughts are not a summary. I offer a little support from the text and a few articles. I wouldn’t mind taking these ideas a little further, so if you’ve got questions or comments, feel free to post below.

Enjoy either over coffee. Or whiskey. Or both.

 

 

Man’s First Winter

Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” though bitterly cold and hard to read in parts, is an inspiring moment in American literature as far as the words “humanity” and “triumph” are concerned. As humans, we all endure a “first winter,” an awakening of sorts. It often feels like a season of sheer bewilderment and uncertainty, though we endure these things over various landscapes and under unimaginable circumstances. Is it a classic, “man’s search for meaning?” I wouldn’t go that far; our protagonist seems too far removed from any depth of emotion for that. It is, however, a snowy explication of fortitude, and is particularly raw in description; a true tale of perseverance, a relentless, icy test of endurance. London personifies how far we can push the mind and the body, how to make the two work in conjunction in the most bleak of circumstances, and how to accept defeat with grace and “death with dignity” (London, 638). The struggle – and failure – to provide one of man’s most basic needs leaves the protagonist literally fearing for his life; what he does with the fear is the lesson to be learned.

The best way to find London’s intention for the story is to explore the text carefully, with caution, step by step. This is a story of intention and carefulness, though our protagonist may not hold up to our method. “The trouble with him was that he was not able to imagine. He was quick and ready in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in their meanings” (London, 629). This is a troubling thought considering that hiking the Yukon in such conditions as “fifty degrees below zero,” was not ideal. Imagination is required to assess and carry out thought, to put “the thing” in action. Was this man prepared? London seems to believe so, though he portrays the man in a gently flippant way from the beginning of the story to the attempt to build the third fire. He says several times that, “a thought never entered his head” (London, 629). It’s hard to decide under these tones if the man was actually prepared, or passing off his flippant attitude as confidence; those are very different things with very different circumstances in “80 degrees of frost” (London, 629).

The man seems to subconsciously and continually,survey the knowledge obtained by his person, and justify his actions because by his own estimation, he’s mentally and physically prepared for his journey towards the camp. “He paused to breath at the top. He excused the act to himself by looking at his watch” (London, 628).Why is it necessary to justify his breath, excuse the action? If London’s intention was to weaken the character, reducing the audience’s faith in the man before the outset of the journey, that’s the seed that was planted. “And to get his feet wet in such a temperature meant trouble and danger” (London, 631). London exploits arctic doom and the fear of freezing before the man has reached mid-day. I can’t help but immediately assume the worst is upon this man from the beginning due to lines likes this and others, though by the end, I am fully aware and in support of what kind of decision he has to make. It is so raw, human in a way I think other writers find troubling; London remains accurate regardless of difficulty.

It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailness as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able to only live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe” (London, 629).

This excerpt is a blatant example of the man’s ego, and obvious lack of imagination. One might think of or survey their days as they walk such tumultuous earth. That was no nature-walk or a stroll in the woods for pleasure; his journey was out of need to meet and make connection with other humans. He seems to border on cheekiness with his soft dismissals and overconfidence in the harsh Yukon conditions. The Yukon is located directly in the middle of Alaska, British Columbia and Northwest Territories in Canada; in plain terms, this means it is frigid outside. I spent a few summers in Canada in high school and the days were pleasant when the sun was out, but the evenings – especially on the water – were freezing. I cannot imagine staying any further north for an extended period of time, let alone meander, then wander, about in the Yukon. The mere thought is chilling.

The body deserves a moment of speculation here, as it reacts to the cold in a specific way. In a BBC article, “What Effect does the Extreme Cold Have on the Human Body?” Stephen Dawling explains that, “The human body is not designed for polar cold – most of us live in temperate and tropical climes, where the mercury rarely dips below freezing. There are populations that have adapted to polar extremes – like the Inuit in Arctic Canada and tribes like the Nenets in the north of Russia – but the vast majority of Homo sapiens has no experience of living in such sub-zero temperatures.” Without getting overly scientific, Dawling reiterates the instinctual notion that human bodies are not meant or designed for freezing temperatures. This man was on a journey in a country unknown for the first time. No matter how mentally prepared he was, it was no match for what the Yukon had in store. London doesn’t even bother equipping this man with proper attire; mittens are surely tossed out when considering what other sturdy, weather-bearing garments the man wore and carried.

Lois Josephs’ article Man’s Relationship to Nature: A Sub-theme in American Literature, offers a blanketed introduction to the sub-theme, “man’s relationship to external nature, unifies ideas and encourages critical thinking” (Josephs, 180). This seems in clear opposition with the man in London’s story, but there is absolute truth in her reflection. If a man possesses no imagination, it’s hard to believe he is in possession of critical thinking skills. Joseph reminds us that Henry David Thoreau, “suggests that we learn from nature,”(Josephs, 181) and I agree, though Josephs finds this notion, “impractical.” I don’t believe observation and note of nature leads to anything but further understanding of what we innately possess. Yes, we are human and bound by social construction; however, at our innermost core, we possess instinct. Our protagonist follows his instinct as long as he possibly can, until eventually allowing his mind to be consumed by a force greater than his own power: nature – the experience of a lifetime, man’s first winter. The awakening, as previously mentioned, is the line that’s drawn between instinct and knowledge, the difference, being nature.

Natural elements that drive the man’s experience in the story are his possession of and connection to the husky, the rigid, unforgiving elements of the Yukon (previously mentioned,) and the excursion to build – and maintain – fire. To begin with, we must observe the man’s inability to maintain the fire he builds. It would have been nearly comical had London not emphasized how dire the situation was. This frozen man attempts to build three fires, essentially failing all three times as none of the fires eventually save him. The element of fire reigns supreme here as it is the thing he needs most while simultaneously being the thing that will ultimately kill him; there is no chance of survival without a flame to keep him warm.

The dog represents nature in working companionship. This “big native husky,” (London, 630) is figuratively said to be “man’s best friend,” but London doesn’t necessarily depict it that way. The dog has far more realistic reactions and views to the bone-cold weather, as it is naturally efficiently equipped to bear it. “To permit the ice to remain would mean sore feet. It did not this. It merely obeyed the mysterious prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its being.” Once again, man versus nature, instinct versus knowledge; the native dog knew how to handle cold to this degree, and possessed the mental capacity to understand that over thinking action would be a waste. It appears that the dog carries a deal of sympathy for its master, and is truly distraught after his death. However, the it demonstrates it’s allegiance to it’s true master, nature, when it departs from the man’s body and, “trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food-providers and fire-providers” (London, 639).

In my mind, the dog finds the boys’ camp alone, signally the man’s fate to the other men, who survived their trek to the camp, by nothing other than luck. “The man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known.” He becomes a legend of the Yukon, the kind the old-timer from Sulphur Creek recalls from time to time, heeding other, similar men of no imagination of singular thought of survival, “be mindful, winter is upon you.”

Works Cited

Dawling, Stephen. “BBC – Future – What effect does extreme cold have on the human body?” BBC News. BBC, 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

Hudson, John C., ed. GOODE’S World Atlas. 20th ed. N.p.: Rand McNally & Company, 2000. Print.

Josephs, Lois. “Man’s Relationship to Nature: A Sub-Theme in American Literature.”The English Journal, vol. 51, No. 3, 1962, pp. 180–183., http://www.jstor.org/stable/810294.

London, Jack. The Norton anthology of American literature. “To Build a Fire.” New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. Print. 628-639.