It’s a strange experience arriving in Cajun Country on Lundi Gras at the end of the coldest winter in decades. Truth told, every day had been a strange experience in the weeks preceding, but those were an ending and this is about a beginning.
For those of you unfamiliar with Lundi Gras, as most anyone outside the sphere of New Orleans / South Louisiana is, Lundi Gras is the Monday before Mardi Gras. Literally translated as fat Monday, Lundi Gras has grown to be a holiday in its own right down here. A celebration of anticipation, it is a day of joy and excitement recognized mostly by the locals, often confusing or eluding outsiders focused solely on Fat Tuesday.
Lundi Gras is at its most festive in New Orleans with parties at friends’ homes and favorite bars, final costume preparations for yet more parties, parades and general revelry. At its least, like in the small town I am now calling home, everyone is either partying at home or sleeping to be ready for the night and next day, so it means empty streets and a lone business open only until 2 p.m.
We arrived freezing and exhausted in the doorway of the sandwich shop at 1:45 in the afternoon after 3 Days on the Road and 200 straight miles in a rainstorm pulling a trailer and trying to entertain an infant. I was disappointed by the grey, the quiet, the cold. My mom had to fly out the next day and this was not the Louisiana I had told her about. It was not the Louisiana my heart had been yearning for. So I was disappointed and anxious for us both and my fight or flight adrenaline was burnt to fumes. Luckily, Angelle’s is owned by a true Cajun man who took pity on this threadbare traveler and her brave companions and a gentle smile accompanying a catfish burger, sweet potato tots, and a shrimp po-boy were the perfect homecoming meal.
Stomachs full of more than road trip food, we emptied the U-Haul into a warehouse with as much ceremony as a hungry dog scarfing is kibble and called an end to the journey. Relief barely flickered within me and I had to accept it as enough. We made it, we were home, it didn’t need to feel good yet. Lundi Gras will happen again next year. We will have friends, parades, costumes, and laughter next year. For now the strangeness of the experience was moot, the arrival was what mattered.
You know that book you love almost everything about, except that one chapter? That chapter you hate, that chapter where a heart is broken, a friendship is torn, an old house is bulldozed, or an ancient tree is struck by lightning… you know, that chapter. The chapter you wish wasn’t in the book, the chapter you wish you didn’t have to read, but you know the book couldn’t go on without it. You know the heroine had to go through it to make the change, or take the turn in her journey, or grow the strength, or learn the skills to become the woman you know she will be. She had to suffer through that one chapter to really be the woman you love, the one who makes your heart swell when her life becomes the amazing adventure you knew it was going to be when you picked up the book to begin with?
Florida was that one chapter. So let’s leave it at that because as necessary as it may be to the story, no one wants to ever go back and read that chapter again, do they?
Ahhhhh my favorite smell is in the air… Sure the coal stove is smoldering less frequently. Yes spring is bringing on the buds of trees and new sprouting grass. Granted the dogs gallop through the house spreading damp, muddy happiness from jumping in the unfrozen waterways. And the sun is actually drying the clean laundry on the line within an afternoon. But none of that compares to what is permeating my soul. It’s the smell of a new adventure, of change on the wind that is truly filling me with joy.
New decisions have been made and I am preparing once again for a move. It’s time to pack up and fly south once more to the land of palm trees and mangoes and sandy toes. I am elated.
I am also bumping up against a series of adjustments needing to be made to my normal “off I go again” routine. I has become we. We have become a family of 4, 2 of which are giant “dangerous breed” dogs that not all places welcome with open hearts. My family of 4 will become a family of 5 in less than 2 months when a tiny human will join our ranks outside of the quiet, easy-to-tote belly in which she currently travels. Our tribe has a home which must be sold rather than merely un-leased. And our home is full of too much stuff.
Packing all I own into 2 bags and hopping on a plane or boarding Amtrak is not an option. Nor is loading everything into the back of a pickup, covered in plastic wrap and duct tape. Nope, now garage sales must be at least considered if not organized. Freebies must be hauled out to the curb in hopes we don’t have to haul them any further. Decisions must be made about exactly how many beds are worth hauling as opposed to replacing. The list seems to go on and on and on.
How did I get this way? And do I like it? At this moment the answer to the latter is no. There is no way I need all this stuff. Is there? I clearly made it almost 15 years of being an “adult” out on my own without it. I suppose that changes as you “settle down.” But I’m not sure it has to go to what feels like the extreme I am dealing with now. Luckily the husband feels the same and has shared with me his hope to become more minimalistic in the future.
So now, rather than “nesting,” as my instincts are telling me to do, I shall purge everything I can, knowing more will come when I open all these boxes upon arriving in what is to be my next new home. In my mind I will keep hold of the goal of eventually moving onto a sailboat… That should at least keep me from adding to the clutter. Right?
*note: Life quickly became overwhelming and this post has been completed and posted after the move occurred. Hindsight is interesting. More on that soon.
It has been too long. Far too long. I began writing a few things over the past several months and finished none of them. A year ago I said I would be living the “adventure of staying still.” I have tried my very best to keep that phrase in mind, but I failed often. I am not the staying still type, even after mentally trying it on for size over the past 12 months. I became very afraid a couple months ago because I realized the attempt to settle myself and my soul into this place I agreed to call home was warping my internal mirror drastically. I believed myself to be an old, sad, sedentary woman with only memories of adventure,
I became very afraid a couple months ago because I realized the attempt to settle myself and my soul into this place I agreed to call home was warping my internal mirror drastically. I believed myself to be an old, sad, sedentary woman with only memories of adventure, excitement, and romance to look back upon.
I am not ready to be 80 (much because, at 80 I want to be grinning madly and snickering to my best friend in the rocking chair next to me about how pathetically boring “the kids are these days”). And, I am not 80. I may have passed more birthdays than I care to, but I am still young and capable and full of anticipation and need. Looking in the mirror at this tired, broken old woman, I realized I had, over the months, forgotten that this piece of life is just another part of my adventures. But I had forgotten so fully, that it was very difficult to find my hope and excitement again, buried as they were under snow and housework and simplicity.
Forgetting not only left me feeling old and parched, it stole the joy from the adventures I promised myself I would pay attention to while trying out this married, Colorado life. Sitting by the fire I felt trapped. Baking bread became a chore. Planning a wedding was desperately lonely. Walking 90 pound puppies on 18 F degree cloudy days was overwhelming. The idea of this being “forever” was suffocating me.
Sadly, I couldn’t get back there, back to the “adventure of it all” on my own. Happily, my co-pilot saved me. Apparently, I’m not the only one not wanting to stop here, not wanting to throw in the towel. So today, I have a new map, a new notebook in which to record my research of towns and beaches and bike paths, a new adventure to plan. And somehow, this winter isn’t looking quite so scary anymore, the chill won’t settle into my bones.
I haven’t written a thing in months. I’ve been so busy preparing to hold still, so preoccupied trying to wrap my head around the thought of that, I have had little time and less focus.
I’ve …decided to accept a request that I stay here, in Colorado, for the foreseeable future. When I think about it that way, I feel panic chewing at my edges.
I’ve… decided to choose one of the many life paths I have long dreamt of following. Less panic, and some of my functionality returns.
I’ve always had so many ideas for my life, so many dreams. *)Live in France, work in a vineyard and be a writer. *)Live in New Orleans, have friends, and be a writer. *)Live in the Caribbean, be the crazy white girl with the awesome beach bar, and be a writer. *)Live in the Caribbean and be a pirate. *)Travel, constantly, uh, and be a writer. *)Be a wife and a mother and have a home and find a job I didn’t hate so I could be comfortable and loved and still travel when I could and hopefully write a little in my spare time.
I have always been aware of the impossibility of following all of these paths (I didn’t want any of them to be temporary); it simply cannot be done by one person in one life. I don’t like impossibilities though and have been straining against this particular one, hoping I could find a way to live several lives, also knowing I was ultimately wasting time trying to decide which path to take. If I didn’t choose something, soon, my choices would be taken from me one by one, by age most likely, or any other scary limitation that might occur. I began to fear that I was falling into that worst trap of all, by not choosing one, I would lose all.
When this latest path reappeared from the darkness of lost hopes, I was a child with the sudden shock of a butterfly landing on her nose. I was stopped in my tracks, forgetting to breathe, staring half cross eyed at the gentle, but exotic beauty of the path most traveled. I had honestly almost dropped this option from the list as it seemed least likely and had lost its sparkle in the last few years of hurt and human ugliness.
Stay still? Make a home? With a house and a job and a family and all its beautiful trappings? Back where I started? I said YES and it all became a whirlwind of activity and preparation, to stop. I was scared, often. More scared than any of the times I have decided to pack up and disappear to somewhere new and strange. I still am some days, like today.
I realize, however, that this IS one of the paths I longed to take. It has beauty and magic and hope and, now, possibility. It also has love and safety and stability. Most surprising and wonderful of all, it unexpectedly is going to let me travel and adventure, and be a writer. That I never guessed could be a part of this path.
So I am easing my way into this strange stillness, and I find myself happy. I am myself, completely, and accepted.. no, loved, as such, and my fears are fading. I see that some adventures are more softly shaped, and at the same time, I do not have to let go of the type I am used to. I get to live a dream, one of laughter and creativity, but filled with love and peace instead of loneliness and hardship. This is going to be interesting.
The best part…. he loves adventure too. Look out world, I have a partner in crime.
It’s amazing to think the house in which I am currently dwelling was an honest to goodness piece of the Old West. The farmhouse on the ranch is over a century old.
For a little perspective, someone was cooking in the very same kitchen in which I make my coffee every morning when the United States only numbered 45 and people were still robbing stagecoaches. Somebody’s wife was probably sweeping my porch and hanging laundry out to dry just as I am doing today when “Buffalo Bill” still had a good ten years of his life to go on supporting the rights of women, Native Americans, and the environment, and entertaining Europe with his Wild West Show. (Yea, seems like he was a pretty all right guy)
It’s almost a challenge to believe it in today’s society in which we tend to just throw out the old stuff when it’s not shiny and perfect anymore and simply build or buy new stuff. But the oddities of living in this house make it impossible to not really believe this house is OLD.
Yes, I have plumbing, though that is old and decrepit as well, but not quite as old as the original structure. There is running hot and (painfully) cold water. There is a shower, inside. There is even a toilet that flushes… nothing other than water and whatever comes naturally out of the human body. Meaning no toilet paper in the toilet.
It was explained to me that one simply throws the paper in the trash and then burns it later in the woodstove. I very quietly had an internal fit and then devised a plan to buy a package of brown paper lunch sacks to keep next to the toilet for paper collection. Now we can simply throw the whole bag in the fire whenever we see fit. No way was I picking toilet paper out of the bin, sorry, that is just one step too rural for me.
Oh and peeing outdoors and using the outhouse is officially highly encouraged.
Though plumbing was an update that could be made to the house, modern insulation was not. The construction of the old place is fairly solid, but there is no option for just removing drywall and packing in fiberglass or foam or whatever people do to newer homes. I know this because I can see the actual materials and makeup of the walls through the holes in the ceiling, small boards, burlap, and some kind of grey, crumbly, pre-cement looking stuff.
That particular open patch is directly above the couch in the living room and no, no it does not concern me at all. Right now, no one lives upstairs! Yep, there is a whole second floor on top of that sturdy looking stuff.
No one goes upstairs right now because insulating the house requires ingenuity rather than basic materials from the “More Saving, More Doing” store. One of the first projects here upon moving in was preparing for winter by upholstering the interior. Stapling, nailing, and screwing blankets to every exterior wall and window, and even some interior ones, became almost a creative outlet and clearly a necessary endeavour as the overnight temperatures began to drop to the single digits. An old mattress was even included on the windward wall for extra protection.. The interior of the house is essentially a patchwork quilt during the winter months. Somehow in all it’s ugliness, it becomes charming and cozy.
Upstairs, two bedrooms are enjoyed and well used in summer, but in winter, to keep all the precious heat from rising up and through the ceiling, they are closed off and padded. Every piece of extra bedding including pillows, mattresses and foam cushions are spread out on the floor like puzzle pieces in thick layers and the staircase to the top level is laid over with plywood and fiberglass insulation batting. So there are no fears of any stockinged feet crashing through above our heads until summer.
I haven’t tested that smoke detector. There’s not much point. The boards of this old house, covered in cloth, are so old and dry, not to mention that burlap packing, that a smoke detector would simply not be sufficient warning to escape an instant farmhouse sized pile of hot ash.
Besides, the only methods for heating the home anyway are baking, which warms up the kitchen, and building a big fire in the woodstove. Smoke inside is a pretty common and un-alarming occurrence. For at least a month and a half, temperatures range between 18 above and 10 below (degrees Fahrenheit), so a fire is needed constantly. That means anytime you wake in the night to add toilet paper to the lunch sack or pee off the back porch, you better add another hunk of gnarled tree root to the fire or morning will show just how long a couple of blankets on the walls will hold out the -8 degree mountain air. For goodness sake though, be awake enough to not scatter sparks or hot coals while you’re doing it. A 4 a.m. test of the flammability of the tinderbox house would be less than pleasant.
One of my favorite things about the old farmhouse is the front porch. In the winter it serves as an additional option for insulation and is completely enclosed with heavy,opaque plastic sheeting stapled to the wood beams. It limits the amazing view obviously, but on sunny days it becomes a country solarium and warms enough to be a total escape from the beyond chilly high altitude winter. Even though it also has to hold the kindling and a saddle I’m cleaning, I’ve cozied it up as much as possible so it can be enjoyable even now. I can’t wait til spring truly arrives though and the plastic can come down. I simply adore a good front porch.
Almost unimaginable, but the original 4 month commitment to WWOOFing on the XK Bar Ranch is almost half way over and it’s time to start thinking of what the next destination might be. Our stay here has the potential to be extended based on the needs of our hosts and my man’s and my own goals for learning and growing in this next phase of our adventure, but at some point between April and July we must find a home, responsibilities, and income of our own.
Colorado certainly has a particular charm about it, invisible clearly to the creator of this map, but evident nonetheless from my window. The peace and quiet and the friendliness of its residents are a balm to my soul, if not my skin (this dry air is the sick joke of my own personal devil I am sure). So Colorado is a place to stay awhile, despite my previous decade’s claims.
The state is gigantic though, and the landscape and “vibes” of its towns and cities are as varied as my resume. So where to land is by no means an easy decision.
Without enough information to choose a town/city, or even truly a region, the narrowing down process has begun with 2 simple ideas.
1) Figure out what we know
2) Go explore
What We Know
a)The “front range” (that great big stretch of flat east of the Rockies) is dirty, ugly, and crowded… in other words NO.
b)The far northwest is like Wyoming – flat, windy. No thanks.
c) Grand Junction (far west, only major city not on the front range) is dirty, flat, and ugly. Again, resounding No.
(Seeing a pattern? Move to mountains = want to live in mountains)
d) Am in utter panic over possibility of “moving back home,” but can’t deny the fact the Roaring Fork Valley (Glenwood, Carbondale, Basalt, Snowmass, Aspen) is seriously beautiful and full of activity and charm.
e)There are some super cool towns up up in the rocky peaks between Glenwood and the dreaded front range.
f) Only a handful of these towns are currently convenient to get to (convenient being a relative term of course, the nearest grocery store to the ranch is 2 towns away, 30 minutes in good weather).
So next step, take this information and Go Explore!! Road trip time. Our hosts are awesome and said they would feed the cats, dogs, chickens, cows, mules and horses and keep our house from quite literally freezing if we wanted to go away for a few days.
On a limited budget, with limited time, we decided on a pretty basic loop that would cover the largest number of potentially acceptable destination towns and off we went.
(Google maps only allows a certain number of stops when giving directions it seems, so just know that when we left Nederland, we headed “straight” south up through Rollinsville and down to Black Hawk and back onto West I-70 where-after we followed our own trail of breadcrumbs back to the ranch.)
This counted as trip #2 because we visited and considered Pagosa Springs and Durango on the original trip north from Florida. There are a few more places to visit yet that just couldn’t easily be flitted past in a 4 day round trip – Telluride, Crested Butte, Salida and Manitou Springs on a southern slash of the state and Steamboat Springs all by itself up north. They will have to wait for a future run, or three.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch… we are happy to go back to our little quiet ways for a bit longer. Odd, this appreciating cows thing.