Strangers & Sonder

The world is smaller now than it once was, and I revel in the things that make it at once bigger and smaller. The discovery of new species makes the world seem bigger. There are things out there that we don’t know, things I hope we’ll never find. Parts of this earth need to stay wild. At the same time, the formation of new friendships makes the world smaller. One more face that feels like home. One less stranger on this earth.

Strangers. As children, we’re told to never speak to them. As adults, speaking to those we don’t know almost becomes a necessity. I was shy as a child. Still today, I frequently have to push myself out of my own shell. Because today, strangers present themselves in the form of interviews, dates, friends of friends. Sometimes even former friends, those whom at one point, I couldn’t imagine life without. Now, I remember them illuminated by headlight circles and bonfires, yelling Bohemian Rhapsody into the Colorado night. And I hope that they are well, wherever they are.

That is my version of ones that I once knew. We all carry versions of each person we encounter every day. There’s a driver who kindly let you into their lane, and another driver filled with holiday road rage. Two fleeting instants. Two people remembered in two different ways. Such moments could be a mirror of a person’s everyday self, or they could be completely incongruent with one’s character. Nine times out of ten, we won’t know. We’ll never find out. Yet, every person lives a life just as complicated as our own. There are no formulas. Each life is filled with its own beauty, its own trials, its own joys, and its own sorrows. So much so that even on your darkest days, there is never an excuse to practice anything but kindness.

Kindness has a way of making things better, on both sides. The giver of kindness will feel good about their actions. The receiver will appreciate these actions, and often feel a need to pay it forward. So today, and every day, embody kindness. Maybe you’ll reach an understanding with someone facing difficult times. Maybe you’ll turn a stranger into a new friend. Maybe the smallest thing that could happen is helping to make someone’s day just a little brighter. And as the holidays approach, why not try to be merry and bright?

 

Strangers – The Trishas

White Christmas – Bing Crosby (I always gotta love the Bing version. Classic.)

Power Through

“I don’t want to think about it.” I heard this line coming through the radio as I was sitting in the beginning of rush hour traffic. Maybe it was because I was tired, or maybe it was because I hadn’t been in anything remotely close to rush hour in many months. I hadn’t been listening to the radio very closely until that moment. I hadn’t even heard the song before. (By the end, I decided I liked it, and now it’s in my iTunes library.) But something about that lyric set me off.

“I don’t want to think about it”, but what happens when you have to face the thing you don’t want to think about? You’ll be blindsided, unable to weigh out all the options in the situation. Your procrastination will cloud your ability to think clearly and make a decision. Of course, there’s a difference between thinking about it and dwelling on it. But you have to prepare yourself for the possibilities.

Why do we put off doing things that are difficult? Ignorance is bliss, it’s true. Yet we choose security over challenge. Rather than strive for greater things, we opt to stay in a relatively safe comfort zone, even if it doesn’t bring us true happiness. And we all do it. Procrastinating difficult things only begets laziness, passiveness, and further procrastination. I believe that it’s better to just do the undesirable things and get them over with, instead of knowing that you’ll have to deal with them eventually. Doing the things we don’t want to do creates discipline. It creates work ethic. It creates efficiency, and it creates a better ability to overcome challenges the next time they come around. This can lead to increased pride in your work and greater self-esteem.

So my challenge to you, and to myself, is this: tackle an obstacle head-on. Have that difficult conversation. Overcome challenges. Get something done now, instead of putting it off. Power through the tough stuff. Do things the hard way. Lean in. Do not stand idly by; rather, get after it and make it happen. From the bottom, it seems impossible. But the view from the top is sweet, and I can almost guarantee that the climb will benefit you in the long run.

 

Love Me Now – John Legend

“Work smarter AND harder.” – Mike Rowe

Road Trip Reflections

I left Colorado about three weeks ago, but just got back to Michigan this past weekend. It took me a while. I decided to turn my drive home, usually a straight shot across I-80, into a road trip. I wanted to see everything I could see while I was “in the area”. Of course, it took me about as long to get to Missoula as it would have taken to just drive back to Michigan. Some would argue that such a distance doesn’t qualify as nearby. But I didn’t have anywhere to be right away, so why not make it into an adventure?

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My last morning at Badger Creek.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m awful at road trips. Whenever I go anywhere, I just want to get there as time-efficiently as possible. Anything that slightly inhibits my progress is frowned upon, even if it’s a necessity like refueling. I never want to stop, especially when I have a destination and/or timeline in mind. I wanted to break that mindset. So while I had some key stops on this trip (I’m looking at you, Laramie, Missoula, and Idaho Falls!), I tried to keep my itinerary as open as possible. I wanted to have time to experience things along the way, things that caught my attention on the road, things that I could stumble upon and explore with no prior knowledge. I would drive until I felt like stopping – for a few minutes, for lunch, for the night.

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Wide-open Wyoming.

This became an exercise in patience for me. It took a couple days to get into the swing of things. I passed by Leadville, Colorado – what seemed like a lovely town – for no reason, aside from the fact that I was going to Laramie. Shortly after, I zipped past one of the most incredible mountain views, because I was on the phone. But after a while, I figured out how to road trip. And while I sometimes got bored with driving, or lonesome for company, it was such a fulfilling experience.

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“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so, on the road.” – Jack Kerouac

I pulled over on interstates to take pictures of old barns in the golden hour light. I was able to visit with friends and family across the west, laughing about old memories while making new ones. Shoot, I got to watch the Cubs win the World Series with one of the biggest baseball fans I know. I got to see a breathtaking mountain lake, while simultaneously setting what felt like a land speed record for hiking, and I know that we’ll laugh about it when we’re old. I once again got to ride my favorite horse in the world, and eat at my favorite cowboy bar in the world. I got to stargaze from my tailgate with a good friend and a glass of whiskey.

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When I couldn’t beat the self-timer.

It wasn’t always fun, though. I became overwhelmed by frustration when I ended up in Lander instead of Pinedale. Then, after a few phone calls and decisions, I felt that frustration wash away and be replaced by gratitude when I fell in love with Dubois, Wyoming, and drove through the Bridger-Teton National Forest at dusk. That reroute gave me the chance to pray, the chance to hike in the mist and snow of the Tetons, and the chance to visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art. If I had gone the route I planned, I never would have spent the night in Jackson. I wouldn’t know how great the town can be in November.

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Dusk in Bridger-Teton National Forest

Then, the winds of November came early on the Mackinac Bridge, and almost claimed the cover from my truck bed. All of my belongings were in the bed, so you can imagine my fear when I saw the cover flapping in my rear view, knowing there was no way to stop and secure everything until I crossed the 5 miles of bridge spanning the Great Lakes below. I imagined worst-case scenarios and whispered frantic Hail Marys. But when I made it back to solid ground, I met two of the nicest men who worked for the Bridge Authority, and they helped me fix my truck. I also got to visit Mackinaw City, while buying duct tape from the local hardware store. The kindness and generosity of the people who helped me gave me hope for a world so racked by negativity. I continued down I-75 feeling restored.

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Back in the mitten!

I felt the thrill of crossing state lines that I had never crossed before. I appreciated the quietness of the Wisconsin woods at night, and the silence of silos backlit by the Big Dipper. And all of this made me come to a great realization.

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Looking out at North Dakota’s badlands.

The past two years, coming home from Colorado was a negative thing for me. It meant school. It meant a winter away from the lifestyle I loved. It meant putting up walls and avoiding too many new friendships, because I’d just be leaving again in the spring. It was a great weight to carry. But now, I know that the best anyone can do in life is to make the most of every situation. So this winter will be different.

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Winter settles in on the Tetons.

We are all called to love. We can’t do that if we are closed off, hiding behind our own perceptions of the world, trying to make things happen on our own. All that does is create self-fulfilling prophecies of negativity. But if we change our mindsets into one of love and hope, there is no end to the joy we can spread. Even if it starts out small, joy is like a ripple. If we let it, it can become a wave. Let love and Light rule your life, and see how the ripple can grow.

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Ripples.

Recommendations from this trip:

The National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, WY

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID

The Bitterroot Valley, MT

The Nova Cafe (especially the California sandwich), Bozeman, MT

May We All – Florida Georgia Line

How I’ll Always Be – Tim McGraw

“There’s no room left for darkness, when you’re filled with the light it comes out.” -Let It Rain – Zac Brown Band

Common Ground

The land rolls on uninterrupted as far as the eye can see. Herds of buffalo appear in far-off meadows like ghosts, before vanishing like so many of their ancestors. Bands of wild horses are even more elusive. They call these the badlands. I think they’re anything but. In our country’s time of manifest destiny and westward expansion, this land was passed over because it was less desirable than the rich arable plains of Kansas and Nebraska. I’d be lying if I said it was a shame. If this land had been settled, it would have removed its wildness. The badlands’ unspoiled splendor is a testament to the man this park is named after. I wonder how many others before me have perched on this same cliff and wondered at the vastness surrounding them.

It is like living history.

Today, we are living history in many ways. 2016 is certainly one for the books. There is no doubt that there’s a lot going on in our world, and so much is focused on the negative, especially in this election.

These are our lands. This is our country, and regardless of what happens in this election today, it is still one of the greatest countries on earth. The people we are voting for are not our leaders. They are representatives, and it would do us well to keep that in mind. Yet a major theme these candidates have represented throughout this election is one of polarization. We can’t afford to be divided. We need to stand together, to find common ground regardless of who we voted for today. We can find similarities with each other, and that will be the beginning of a culture of kindness and compassion so desperately needed.

So as those results come in tonight, no matter who wins or loses, let’s come together as one vast country. Vast in landscapes, diversity, interests, and backgrounds. Let’s find our common ground, and come together as Americans.

“Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think, and yet it dominates the things I see.” – Roll Away Your Stone, Mumford & Sons

“The world, it don’t feel right. Love would win if it would fight.” -Hold On, Gospel Whiskey Runners

The Wound by Gospel Whiskey Runners

Leaving a Wild Land

In just about a week, I’ll pull out of the dirt road driveway leading to the place I’ve called home for the last six months, and begin the trek back to Michigan. I’ll be trading the moonlight streaming in through my windows for streetlights, and off-the-grid, solar-powered living for suburban Detroit. Again.

When I graduated college this past spring, I imagined that I’d complete my internship in the fall and land a full-time ranch dream job right away. However, the way we imagine things is rarely the way they actually happen. (That’s a lesson I’d imagine I would have learned by now, but that just goes to prove my point.) I had plenty of options: accept a job offer and work full-time, find something seasonal for the winter, travel, go back to school, etc. When I saw all of these options written down on paper, I realized that there are so many things left that I want to do before I eventually settle down and live the life I really want to be living right now.

I want to go to Iceland. Ireland. Alaska. Heck, maybe even Antarctica if I can make that happen. I want to visit friends and family I haven’t seen in a while. I want to see musicals on Broadway and road trip to places I’ve never been in our own country. So when I saw that “travel” option written down, I knew that if I didn’t take it right now, maybe I never would.

And that’s why I’m leaving this wild land for now. I have no doubt that sometime, hopefully in the very near future, I’ll have my ideal ranch job, with a house and family and commitments that I crave but don’t have right now. But through this tough decision, I’ll be able to fill that house with stories of adventure and exploration and people I meet along the way.

It’s not going to be easy to leave here. My internship has taught me so much, about working horses, cattle, and land, and I am so grateful for the warmth and graciousness shown to me by some of the best people I’ve ever known. Because I’ve also been taught so much about life. I’ll never forget the laughs we’ve been so blessed to share, and the miles we’ve ridden over some of the most beautiful country on earth. And I know that this place will always be a home to me.

That’s the thing about traveling – after a while, everywhere becomes home. 

“Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.” Genesis 28:15

Homecoming – Josh Ritter

Goodbye Colorado – Corb Lund

Adventure Is Out There!

There is something about the American West that fascinates and enchants, something that pulls people to visit and re-visit time and again. There is something romantic about the cowboy lifestyle, even when it’s portrayed at its worst. There is some sort of ingrained desire for open spaces and prairie sunsets and mountain air that can only be satiated by wandering westward.

I have a good friend who is well-learned in the Lakota tradition. She was once telling me about the medicine wheel, which is a symbol used by Plains tribes to represent knowledge of the universe. Each of the four directions is connected with a different space. The West is linked to joy and growth in the intellect space, where you hold the things you’ve always wanted to do. In our American tradition, westward expansion is linked to exploration and adventure. Those two images of the West overlap for me, joy and growth stemming from the adventures I’ve always wanted to take.

Adventure has always been a big theme in my life. I remember spending hours as a child, poring over accounts of the Vikings, Lewis and Clark, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Edmund Hillary. I’ve always craved range to ride and mountains to explore. To me, the West always seemed like the perfect place to live, an idea which was made fact by several family vacations in my formative years. Yet somehow, I never realized that I could actually live here, until a visit to family in Montana after my first year of college.

I still remember it so clearly. I was 19 years old, and feeling burnt out and lost. I didn’t know where the next turn was, or what to do once I got to that turn. My cousin told me, “I think you need an adventure.” We went on to talk about all the things I loved, and how to make those things a part of my everyday life. How to create a life I loved. How to follow my bliss, as Joseph Campbell would say. And that’s when I discovered, adventure didn’t have to be something I dreamed about, it could be something I lived. From that point forward, that’s how I’ve tried to make decisions and live my life.

Life is too short to do things that make you miserable. Of course, there are going to be hardships and difficulties along the way. That’s just how life goes. But those hardships and difficulties are much easier to bear if you live where you love and do what you love. To me, that’s living out west and ranching in the mountains. It might be something completely different to you. But the important part is to find the thing you love, then do more of that thing. To quote Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox, “Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward.”

Adventure is out there. All you have to do is find it.

 

(shoutout to the movie Up for the title inspiration. You go, Russell.)

Our Edge of the Lake

I don’t live here, but it’s here that I refer to as home. Thirty years my family has been here, just a blink in world history, but thirty years is longer than my entire life thus far. So to me, it is everything.

It’s a place that has afforded me deep solitude while teaching me the meaning of hard work, simultaneously allowing for relaxation and the chance to challenge myself. It has so deeply formed and shaped who I’ve become, indelibly influencing my 22 years in innumerable ways.

It’s where I learned to drive, where I learned to swim, and where I learned to shoot, change the oil, and build a fire.

It’s more than that, though. It’s sunrise coffee on the porch swing, but also sleeping until the sun streams in too brightly to sleep anymore. It’s dancing around the kitchen mixing cookie dough, knowing the amount that will be baked is less than will be eaten raw. It’s exploring in the woods and cutting new trails through the trees. It’s the glassy green stillness of the lily-padded cove and a Gatsby-esque green light glowing across the water.

And it’s the stars. I remember laying on my back on the dock with my head almost touching the water, each bright pinpoint of light piercing the blackness above and reflecting, ever-shimmering, onto the lake’s dark surface like a mirror. From there, broken only by a line of silhouetted trees, the entire world became a globe of stars.

That’s where I did most of my best thinking. What secrets lay beneath the sand that lines the bottom of those hundred-foot depths? What did this land look like before it was touched by the hands of settlers? Before the Natives? Before the glaciers carved it into the shape of a mitten? Before that? These teenage philosophies continue to creep into my mind from time to time, but the one that always circles back around and sticks with me is that of the stars.

Looking at those stars marked the first time I was struck by how small we are. Each of those stars represents an entire solar system, yet we place enormous significance on things that are really rather undeserving of that sort of attention. Like how we stress about things that will mean nothing in 5 days, 5 months, or 5 years, let alone the light years spanned to deliver a billion-year-old star to us, to one single moment. The present.

The stars gave me a sense of unity, not just with my loved ones and the land, but with all of humanity. Everyone who has ever been in the northern hemisphere has seen those stars. People today, our ancestors, all the great minds of history, all the way back to the cave people, have all seen those same stars. When it comes down to it, everyone has the same basic needs and deals with the same basic issues. We are all human, and I believe it is human nature to look up and wonder.

Which is why I kept looking up, and all of my thoughts on how small we are dissipated when I really understood how important we are. All of those individual suns, yet ours is the only world we know. The only world perfectly situated to support us and the only world ever likely to be called home. It’s no accident. God put us all here for a reason, to fulfill some purpose and do something with our fleeting time here.

I don’t know what that means to you, because it’s different for everybody. It’s yours to discover. That’s the beauty of life and the beauty of humanity. But I do know what it means to me, and I discovered it on our edge of the lake.