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Home Planet

Archive for August 2010

Wheels and Wranglers

Each of us builds a future in our own way. Some are the caretakers of an established family legacy. Others roll up their sleeves, lay new brick and create a fresh start. Today, I experienced both.

A bicycle built by two

This morning, I rode a freshly painted rehabbed biodiesel school bus, towing a trailer, up the five hairpin switchbacks of Montana's Beartooth Highway.  The driver was a petite woman just barely beginning to show with her first pregnancy. Beside her, in his signature Utilikilt, her husband looked over the back of his seat and grinned widely as he talked.

Welcome to Beartooth Bike Tours.

The couple, Doug and Suzanna Bailey, are the creative energy and enthusiasm behind the business. Their year-old enterprise carts passengers and bicycles up the winding highway to an elevation of more than 10,000 feet. After taking photos at the Wyoming state line sign (we drove right into a late-summer snow storm) and strapping on helmets and getting a few safety tips,  everyone hops on comfortable Cruiser-style bicycles and, as Doug likes to say, “It's all downhill after that.” Riders simply coast down the next 14 miles, tapping the brakes now and then. Stopping frequntly at turn-outs, there are plenty of opportunities for taking photos and asking questions.  No pedaling. No struggling in the thin mountain air. Just the feel of the wind in your face and a wide horizon filled with breathaking scenery. The business, Doug told me, was conceived as a way to stay in a place they loved. And, as he looked over at Suzanna behind the wheel, “to provide for my family.”

Maintaining a Montana Dynasty

After lunch, we pulled into the Lazy E-L Ranch in Roscoe. The 12,000-acre spread was homesteaded in 1901 by Malcom Mackay, who was just 19 at the time. Today, the ranch is still intact and now managed by great-grandaughter Jael Kampfe.

Kampfe is a pefect blend of cowgirl, business woman and hostess. She runs the summer grazing program, feeding and fattening more than 2,000 head of cattle each year, while operating a successful guest ranch. Kampfe, the first woman to head the ranch, has taken an established, successful and respected legacy and brought it into the 21st Century. Surrounded by cabins rich in Montana and Western history, she guards the old while looking for ways to stay relevant and contemporary. It is no easy task.

As we drove back to Red Lodge, in the deep Montana twilight, they were all on my mind. The young family breaking rocky soil to put down roots and the smiling, determined, woman who calls the shots at a beloved family ranch.

Going forward isn't necessarily easy. But it's still the only way to get where you want to be.

(To see photos of Doug Bailey and Jael Kampfe click Continue Reading)

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Are you an EPL princess? Check your panties and Band-Aids.




    When I was a little girl I loved to read fairy tales. I spent hours with my nose buried in beautifully illustrated books and my favorites were the classic stories of strong-willed maidens and castles far, far away.  
    To overcome whatever obstacle bound them, each woman used her wits, called on magic (there was always some kind of magic) and then fell for the handsome prince who came riding into each story just in the nick of time.
    And each, by the end of the story, walked away with the keys to the castle.
    The first time I opened the pages of Eat, Pray, Love I recognized a familiar landscape.
    In it, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her failed marriage and combative divorce, her depression and tendency to repeat old patterns and, ultimately, her search for authentic self. That search, in case you’ve been on Mars and haven’t heard, took her to Italy for the food and language, India for spiritual solace and Bali for personal direction.  At the end of the year, thanks to the magic of good food, a guru and a medicine man, and - the most magical thing of all - a lucrative book contract to write about experiences she had not yet had, she was whole again. And, coincidentally, in love with a hunk who’d come riding in and fallen head-over-heels for her.
    That would be, by any middle-class, overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated woman’s standards, a fairy tale ending to a really bad year.
    I’m not bashing the book. I read it and enjoyed it well enough when I actually finished it. (It took me two tries.) But at no time did I ever lose my head and believe that I can do what Gilbert did. Because, as it turns out,  I am a middle-class, overworked, underpaid and occasionally under-appreciated woman. I may be able to get out of town for a week or two, when the budget and schedule allow, and if I organize things around the house and call home every night, but how on earth can I run away for a year to simply sit and think? I can’t. I have to take my peace and inspiration where I find them.
    Now there’s a movie and Julia Roberts has made Gilbert’s story even prettier. Entertainment and enlightenment in 2 hours and 13 minutes. Another fairy tale ending.
    The tourism industry is rushing to make Eat,Pray,Love packages available to women who want to retrace Gilbert’s journey. What do you want to bet well-heeled participants don’t have to scrub floors at the Asham.
    Virginia Woolfe told us we need a room of our own and a little money. Those two things on their own are often hard enough to come by. Now, we need even more money and a trip around the world?
    The thing I find most fascinating about the whole EPL phenomenon is that Gilbert, in true modern day princess fashion, has become a brand. You may not be able to book a flight away from the kids (children were a complication Gilbert didn’t have to work around) but thanks to the Home Shopping Network and Cost Plus World Market you can buy genuine Eat,Pray,Love merchandise to give your home that journey-of-personal-discovery look for less. Not to mention the jewelry, tea, candles and journals and perfume. All without a passport.
    I guess the world hasn’t changed all that much since I read old fairy tales and my daughters watched spunky Disney princesses live happily ever after.     
    Can “Eat, Pray, Love”  panties and Band-Aids be far behind?
    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Savor Every Bite

     Food. Books.
    Somewhere, at some time, the two became intertwined in my mind. It just didn’t seem right to do one without the other. I ate when I read and I read when I ate.
    I remember practicing sounding-out words on the back of the box of Corn Flakes when I was a first-grader.
    As a middle-schooler, I loved nothing better than to spend a weekend on the window seat which ran along the long wall of windows in the dining room, with my nose buried in a mystery, a plate of cookies or crackers by my side.
    When I got older I would make a pot of tea and pour one cup after another as I turned the pages of thick leather-bound classics. I’m pretty sure I absentmindedly ate almost an entire fruitcake when I read Jane Eyre. Even now, just thinking about Mr. Rochester brings on a curious craving for candied fruit and pecans. And I’m not a big fan.
    All this reading and chewing was fine when I was young, but now, well, it just won’t do. I finally realized that my habit of reading while I eat, or, the other way around, often means I take in far  more than I’d intended. Just one more page, turns into another chapter. One serving turns into two.
    So, I’m giving it up.
    It’s funny how things taste when you take the time to savor them. To hear the crunch of celery, taste the burst of sweetness in a slice of watermelon or consider the complex soft-yet-tough texture of a banana.
    I’m not a complete stranger to the mindfulness of paying attention to what you eat. I once attended a retreat, as the guest of a friend.  I don’t remember a single thing about that Saturday except lunch. We were served a tuna salad sandwich on whole-grain bread and we were asked not to talk during the meal. We were to focus on the food that had been prepared for us.  I can close my eyes and see that sandwich, and the dark bread. I can still taste the tuna, and even the flavor of the herbs mixed with it.
    The other morning I was up before anyone. I made myself an espresso and a plate of fruit and took it out to the patio to eat. I didn’t take the morning paper with me. I didn’t pick up a book. I left the computer inside.
    Looking down at my plate, at the sliced strawberries I’d arranged along the edge, I noticed for the first time how a thin slice of the red berry resembles the interior of seashell. The outer skin is pebbled and gives way to a lighter band of pink on the inside.   It is delicate and beautiful
    Picking up a blueberry, I bit into it and for the first time in my life, looked at the interior. I was surprised to discover that blueberries are actually green on the inside. Does everyone but me already know this?
    It’s hard to break an old habit. Especially when it is wrapped with pleasure. But, I’m trying. I’ll just have to do it one little bite at a time.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Why Worry?

   

   It wasn’t just that the voice was familiar to me, but the tone of the voice on the phone was also instantly and unpleasantly recognizable.  I would know it anywhere.
    It was, for those of you who’ve raised a family and know what I’m talking about, the annoying sound of an adult child ( or, to be more specific, a child who is almost an adult) letting me know that she wouldn’t be needing my advice at this particular moment.
    I’ve heard that tone plenty of times.
    “Mom, I’m 20 years old,” the disdainful voice on the phone said. “I know what I’m doing.”
    Oh, really? Is that a fact.
    I wanted to ask her if she had any idea how many times the words “I know what I’m doing” are served up with a really bad idea.
    I don’t know for sure, but I imagine “I know what I’m doing” is exactly what runs through the minds of squirrels, deer, possums and skunks right before they cross a six-lane highway. At rush hour.
    It seems to me George Armstrong Custer sent a similar message before riding over the hill and straight into a mighty big mess. So did Amelia Earhart as she cranked the propellers, climbed into the cockpit and flew right into an unsolved mystery. So did somebody at the White Star Line when the unsinkable Titanic rolled out of the shed and splashed into the sea. Just before it sank like a stone.
    What do you want to bet that some unlucky stiff in Chernobyl  said the same thing?  “Of course, I hear the warning bells. Relax. I know what I’m doing!”
    Want the perfect contemporary example of thinking you’re a whole lot smarter than you really are and getting us all in a lot of trouble because of it? Two words: British Petroleum. They told us they knew what they were doing, too.
      I woke up the next morning with a headache, brought on, I’m sure, by grinding my teeth all night.
    As a parent, nothing infuriates me more than having my offering of perfectly good advice and wisdom ignored.
    She ought to listen to me so I can save us both a lot of headaches. I’ve been around. I’ve done a few things. I’ve made enough mistakes for the both of us.
    I deserve a little respect. After all, for goodness sakes, I know what I’m doing.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

The Garden Secret

   The thing about the park is that there are all sorts of corners where you can hide away. Secluded benches in the space under the boughs of a tall fir tree. Leafy rooms with walls made of hedgerows and stacked stone. A vine-covered gazebo tucked beside a stone building.
    I stumbled into one of those hidden corners, walking my dogs at the end of the day.
    I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going. I was just following a familiar path and to be honest, my head was in the clouds gathering in advance of the sunset.
    Just as I came around the curve of the path, ducking under the low-hung branch of a tree, I heard the sound of a woman crying before I saw her. She was sitting on a bench, in the corner of a little gazebo, elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. She was crying harsh, broken, wracking sobs.
    “You don’t have to do this,” she cried into her cell phone. “You know you don’t have to do this.”
    Horrified, embarrassed to have intruded on the woman’s privacy at such an obviously terrible time, I immediately turned around to escape. The trouble was that my dogs got all tangled up, catching their leads on a rock at the edge of the path and then knotting as they moved back and forth, wrapping around my legs when I tried to flee.
    We were a ridiculous sight: two panting and wagging mutts and me dancing a jig around the animals.
    The dog and clown show got her attention and she looked up at me.
    I gave a series of gestures meant to show my embarrassment and continued yanking at the dogs.
    I finally managed to tug them free and turned to leave.
    “It’s OK,” she said. “He hung up on me.”
    I said I was sorry again. I kept saying it as I turned to go. I was kicking myself for wandering down this particular path.
    But then I stopped. The woman was a mess. She looked so sad. And it crossed my mind that she might be sad enough to do something terrible.
    “I’m so sorry,’ I said again. Sounding like a broken record. “Can I do anything?”  
           “No, just an ugly divorce,” she said, standing up and dusting off the seat of her jeans. She smiled a weak, watery, smile.  “I’ll survive.”
    The woman stood up and walked over to where I was standing. She reached down and patted one of my dogs.  Then she looked back up at me and smiled again.
    I couldn’t think of anything to say. I knew if I opened my mouth I would tell her I was sorry again. So I fell into a kind of sign language. I looked in her eyes, shook my head and lifted my shoulders and hands, palms open and up.
    She did the same thing. We stood there silent, facing one another in the late evening light.
    Sometimes words aren’t necessary.
    She went in one direction and I went in the other. I’d never seen her before but I hope I’ll see her again on a happier day. This isn’t a big city. Chances are our paths will cross again.


    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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