How you spend your weekend…

Weekends around the ranch, no matter how well intentioned and thought out, are usually pretty unpredictable. Where some families have a nice and lovely routine that includes pancakes in the morning, taking kids to practices, catching a movie and maybe going out to eat with the family on Sunday after church, around here we try to keep our plan simple so as to not disappoint:  wake up when the sun gets up and see if we can’t get something done between the hours of sunrise and sunset.

Sometimes we rock it. Sometimes we accomplish our goals of moving cows, mowing the lawn, fixing fence, taking down the little Christmas tree, taking a walk, nailing something to something else and feeding all the damn cats in time to cook supper together and kick back in our respective spots on our comfy furniture with our feet up before hitting the sack.

Other times our biggest accomplishment of the weekend is getting out of our sweatpants.

And usually those Saturdays come after the Friday that the band plays in town.

Uff. Da.

Because when the band plays in town we don’t roll back to the ranch until 2 am.

And, well, you know what I say about 2am? Well, usually nothing because usually I’m sleeping. But if I happen to see it, I scold it. Because nothing good happens after midnight…and nobody is beautiful at 2 am…especially not yours truly.

I’ve known this to be true even during my stint as a younger woman who may or may not have been the only one caught sleeping at the completely innocent and organized after prom party.

2 am and I never got along.

But making that drive to town to listen to the band play “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Can’t You See” and John Prine songs that make me think about dancing the two step is worth the inevitable next day spent shuffling around the house in sweatpants. Especially because one of my favorite things in the world is singing with these men, my pops, our neighbor, and two or sometimes three of the greatest musicians around.

Oh, and then there’s the talent that just might saunter through the back door sometimes, like the squeeze box player from New Orleans, the fiddle player from the badlands or the base player from the next town.

The music is always good.

And the next day after I have pulled off my boots and washed the smoke out of my hair, no matter the hour we arrived home to our bed, I am always a little rejuvenated, despite that my blood-shot eyes might indicate otherwise.

See, when I was younger and looking over the edge of the nest, waiting to take that inevitable leap, I have to tell you, I think I was realistic about how much I really knew about life. And that’s why I was scared to death. But the few things I did know, like what it felt like to be loved, which direction my car needed to be facing to get me home, how to make a killer bowl of ramen noodles and the fact that leaving this place was inevitable were a good basis for what I now know will be a lifetime spent learning how I might exist here with purpose.

Which brings me to my point. I have one, I think. See, when I left home ten years ago I don’t remember being too delusional about life, although I am sure it snuck its way in there at times as I imagined myself singing on big stages, selling at least enough CDs to pay the bills or writing a best-selling novel. No, I didn’t see myself as a CEO of a company or a big PR Executive even though that might have been the direction my professors were leading me. I didn’t dream of climbing to the top of big mountains, but I would have taken you up on your offer. And I didn’t picture myself with 4.5 children, a white picket fence and a casserole in the oven, although I was open to it if it happened to turn out that way

Casseroles weren’t something I dreamed of then.

But when the clock would hit that magical 11:11 at night, something that I always found so thrilling to catch, do you know what I wished for every time?

A happy life.

Yes. Even though I had no idea what that meant, what my version of a happy life was, I wished for it.

And so here we are a good nine days into the new year and I’m not going to lie, it’s been a tough nine days around here. Because it turns out even my safe-haven, even the rolling hills of the ranch and dreams coming true can’t protect us from pain and uncertainties that can come speeding down the pink road. But it has put this question on my mind as I roll out of bed, trying to move through the fleeting thoughts that come with knowing there are things I may never have and people in my life who may never have the happy life I speak of.

And as I talk to friends and family who might be hurting or reaching for something that they are continually denied or failing to see themselves, to really see themselves, I tell them: try every day to live honestly…and be true.

And so I tell myself.

But what does that mean? Really? What am I saying?

Ok, well, let me bring it back around to those men who play guitar and sing while closing their eyes tight on Saturday nights at the bar in their hometown. Or the woman who gets up in the morning before her children, before her husband, just as the sun is peeking over the horizon to lace up her running shoes and spend an hour propelling her body over the earth, sucking the morning air into her middle-aged lungs. Or the father who sits patiently with his teenage son to teach him the art of wood-turning, the artist who sees the sunrise as a painting, sees a face in the clouds or the single man who finds himself committed to conquering fears and the adrenaline rush that comes with skiing down the face of a snow packed mountain.

What do they have in common? It’s not the result of the painting, the physique that comes with the run, the money made on the piece of art or the applause after the song is over.

No.

It’s the beauty of the wood discovered underneath the bark and the conversation with his son that he might not have had otherwise. It’s giving herself the chance at a morning quiet enough to hear her own heart beat out in the open space she loves, it’s taking notice that the world is the masterpiece and the understanding that the end result can’t possibly give her as much joy as the process of creating it.

It’s singing out loud next to your father and his best friends for the sake of singing. For the sake of committing to doing something that you love with people you care about.

Because in order to live honestly you must know yourself and the tools you need to cope in a world that can be downright unpredictable and overwhelming and sometimes unbelievably sad.

It’s knowing there are things inside you that need to be nourished, things that need to be shared with others, created,  or kept safely next to you on your bedside table. And it’s trying your damnedest to find out what those things are and doing them, even if it means staying up until 2 am.

And so it’s worth it  sometimes (if you have at least one pair of clean underwear left) to let the laundry wait until you get back from your walk, finish that painting, go to your yoga class, visit a friend…

Because the secret to living honestly, staying true and living a happy life, just might be how you spend your weekend….

Momentum

Momentum. Forward motion. Moving.

I have been thinking about the act quite a bit lately as I have been guiding my car through back roads and highways, my feet along cattle trails and off to cut my own path.  The act of moving forward, in any capacity, whether it’s walking, riding or driving, is what I envision the stream of consciousness to look like: sweaty, breathing, flushed, meandering or running in a straight line following a bird, a path, a rainbow or nothing in particular.

Because there is something about covering ground that propels not only your body, but your mind. It frees it up a bit, opens it. And even when there is somewhere else to be, a dot at the end of the map, a destination, there is something about the space between point A and point B that takes on a life of its own entirely–the space where you can’t go anywhere but forward. Where time ticks away with the miles.

I drove across the state on Tuesday. 350 or so miles from the northeast corner to west. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing across the flat landscape. The road I was following was completely unfamiliar to me as I headed in the direction of home. I had my radio blaring familiar music, music that I could sing along with and softly  I mumbled through words I have forgotten only to crescendo as I was reminded of the ones I always knew. I rolled down the windows. I sipped coffee. I adjusted and readjusted my visor and my sunglasses. I put a stick of gum in my mouth.

My mind wandered and I found myself back on all of the unfamiliar roads I have traveled during the time I was on the road with work and music. In pieces those moments flashed in and out of my memory–the toll booths on my way from Fargo to Chicago in the early daylight hours, my eyes heavy from the unexpected miles.  The long stretches of yellow lines on the interstate in Kansas. The blacktop backroads on my way to a small Wisconsin college town. The bridges that confused me in Green Bay. The antelope infested stretch in South Dakota. The mountains that unexpectedly jutted out as I hit Boise. The white-out road that welcomed me home to North Dakota and forced me to spend one spring night in my car along the interstate.

While I remembered parts of my life that weren’t significant enough to make it out of my mouth and into stories to friends and family, the miles carried me forward and turned me onto a highway I have taken home hundreds of times. And while I sped between its straight lines it was as if someone was playing DJ and handpicking the soundtrack that came through the car speakers and into my conscious to help me replay the events I moved away from and back into during the time I spent on the pavement that stretched out in front of me. Pavement I haven’t been on for years. The songs and the road and the setting sun bounced off of my aviator glasses as I thought of beer, coffeehouse gigs, sidewalks in my college town, movie theatre trips to pass the time, crying from pure loneliness, a future naively hopeful and wanting so bad to be somewhere else.

My tires hummed along as I watched the sun dip down a little further, changing from gold to pink to red and I thought about the idea of wishing to be gone. How I used to exist in that thought, in that wish, so passionately. Driving toward the horizon I suddenly felt a little uneasy, like I needed to begin constructing plans for what was next. That I couldn’t just move through the miles thinking about what could have been, but concentrate on what is now and what could be so great.

I started constructing plans for what was next. Ideas passed through my mind like a slide show, progressing with each mile marker, playing themselves out as the sky turned from red to black and headlights flashed in my eyes. But by the time the landscape started to roll a bit, after I crossed the big lake and the road began to wind the unease calmed and I settled into my thoughts, sorted them out in my head, planted some and let others fly away when I flung open the doors of my car to breathe in the familiar air of the ranch–wet grass and dirt and horse hair.

When my husband and I moved to the ranch when we were first married, we weren’t ready to be here. We weren’t ready to plant our lives. We had more to see, more to do and be. We didn’t understand yet that we did not have to hang up our wings to exist on this landscape.

And the best thing we could do for ourselves make the decision to leave. Because time was always something we understood. Time and the knowledge that only we have the power to change the way we feel, the way we live.

So we left. That dream we had since we were twelve or thirteen was staring us in the face, but our  arms weren’t open, so we left it there, alone.

To know that you can always move, to know that you have an option of a road, an option of your feet to take you where you don’t even know you need to go is one of the greatest freedoms.  That is what my husband taught me.

That is what we taught each other.

That we can always move. That we have hands to hold and feet and roads that are there to lead us anywhere we want to go.

And those hands, those feet, that longing to fly, those same roads brought us back here. When we were ready. When we understood that sometimes freedom isn’t always about leaving…

sometimes freedom is choosing to stay.