The Road to Bliss

Harbor Springs, Michigan – April 2018

Out of all the places to work, how can I be here again? The little white church, the quaint storefronts, the historic homes. This town hasn’t changed at all in thirty-two years. Such a long drive from my forest sanctuary. I felt a tug in this direction, but ignored it, and then a closer possibility fell through. The general manager greets me with arms outstretched. A welcome home, long lost gesture. I’m hired within five minutes and we part with hugs instead of handshakes. I should know by now to not ignore intuition. There’s a reason why I was drawn back here.

A cinematic clarity infuses this new old life. Then and now become a double-exposed movie. Circa 1986 in grainy, pink-tinged VHS superimposed on 2018 in sharp, flat digital. Sometimes the ghost of who I used to be passes through me. The rage-fueled ambition. The impatience. My whole life was ahead of me. It still is. More than ever.

I work in the pantry, making salads for rich people. I work six days a week, sometimes double shifts. I’m saving up to move to California. I would’ve moved out there already, but my grandparents said seventeen is too young for a girl to move across the country alone. The waiters and waitresses glide through the kitchen, so elegant in their black tuxedos. Working, doing coke, and screwing around is all they have in their lives. I have a chip on my shoulder, they say. Angry little girl. What the fuck do they know about my life? My dad went crazy and school was absolute hell. Of course the stupid bitches here hate me. People are always going to hate me.

This establishment has changed in almost every way except name. Except for a cook and a waitress, everyone I worked with is gone. The tuxedoed elegance has been replaced by rumpled, disheveled indifference. The dress code now is to simply be dressed. I work in the manager’s office, isolated from the chaos of the restaurant below. My job is to arrange the antique boat cruises that leave from the deck bar. Captains and first mates are my closest colleagues. First mate Taylor is seventy-five. She swears like the sailor that she is. There’s nowhere to hide from her ice blue eyes.

She loves to hear stories of the places I’ve been, the things I’ve done. “What did you do for work out there?” I rattle off the jobs I’ve held since I was last here: fine dining waitress, massage therapist, secretary, stripper, travel agent, French-English translator, voiceover artist for radio, and, for so very long, English teacher. For three years, I had a country music show on Radio New Caledonia. In French and under a pseudonym. Listeners adored my heavy American accent. That one makes people laugh, but they are most fascinated by the stripper years. The Hollywood dive I worked in and my encounters with the famous.

Taylor shakes her head. “After everything you’ve experienced, you’re now stuck in that shithole of an office.”

“You know what? I couldn’t ask for a better job to reintroduce me to America. It’s seasonal, unique, and I work with the best people ever. I’m unbelievably grateful and happy to be here. Really.”

She shakes her head in disbelief and putters away.

In their corner of the office, the managers discuss figures and strategies. Problems with staff and customers. I admire their passion. Small talk about television shows, the weather, and small town drama. No politics, thankfully. The world is all I’ve got to talk about. It’s the mundane that’s exotic. I participate, but eventually my mind drifts off. Simple things have their charm and lessons, but there is also so much more.

When people ask me what I plan to be when I get to California, I say, Free. Raised eyebrows, eye rolls, snorts of contempt. I think my life will always be lonely, but at least I won’t be like them.

Spring morphs into summer. The interns become my buddies. They linger in the office when the managers aren’t around. They confide in me and ask for advice. As if I’m an expert on anything. Luke’s broken heart. “Someone better is coming your way. You’ll see.” Allie’s crush. “Just go for it. Rejection is much easier to live with than regret over missed opportunities.” The anxiety and excitement about their future. “You’re going to make mistakes. Just try to learn from them and move on.”

TJ is my favorite. Our conversations involve Syd Barrett and Terence McKenna and what it means to be crazy in a crazy world. He gives me hope for the future. He can’t talk about this stuff with his girlfriend. He wants to break up, but he doesn’t want to hurt her.

“You’re so young. You need to have your heart broken and you need to break hearts. If you’re sensitive, it can be harder to be the one to leave.” A searing pain moves through my chest. “But it has to be done. Wait for the one who lights up your spirit, who sees you. Who scares you so much that you want to run away. That’s the one who will make you grow.”A flash of her face, of them together. “You have such an amazing life ahead.”

He beams as he strides out of the room. “You’re such a bright person, Julie. A light. You’re awesome.”

I lean back in my battered chair and stare up at the watermarks on the ceiling. I am the person I needed all those years ago.

He calls me his little witch, because I remind him of Stevie Nicks. He’s twenty-six and works as a cook. We were friends, but when I turned eighteen things between us changed. He’s only my second boyfriend. When he stays the night at the cottage, he picks wildflowers and lays them all over me before I wake up. I didn’t know that love could make everything bad melt away.

The things I pretend not to see: the stifled snickers and smirks that the waitresses shoot in my direction. The lingering touches they give him. The photo of his ex-wife that he keeps on his bedside table. She’s little, like me, and has long, beautiful hair and big blue eyes. A doll’s gaze, flat and filled with menace. When she calls, he goes running. When he returns to me, eyes wild with pain, he shows me no mercy.

In the quiet mornings before work, I walk out to the end of the pier. Vessels of various sizes float on the placid water. The transients that arrive with summer: the high-ranking politician, the rock star, the old industrial money, the wayward souls on the way to someplace else. I dive deep and conjure up a face from the watery depths of memory.

He’s sat in my section every day since he’s been here. Red hair. Soft-spoken. Eyes fierce with determination. He’s about to sail around the world. The night before he leaves, he invites me to his sailboat. I am also leaving for my destiny, California, in a few days. He makes margaritas, the kind with Grand Marnier. He remembered that it’s my favorite drink. After a couple of those, we say fuck it and drink straight from the tequila bottle. We bray along to the radio until the other boaters scream at us to shut up. I decide that if he makes a move, I will let him. Anything to kill the pain of my shattered heart. But he doesn’t lay a hand on me, except to give me a big hug goodbye. The next day, his boat slip is empty. A gaping void. Farewell, sailor. See you at the edge of the world and beyond.

County Road 77 heads north out of town towards a village called Bliss. Follow the signs. Destination: destiny. There’s something special about this area with its farms and bogs and impenetrable forests. Deep rolling hills ripple across the landscape. They’re called moraines, created when the glaciers from the last ice age receded.

The bliss that has taken hold of me these past few months. Effervescence like a pleasurable itch. Is it possible to have too much? When it ebbs away, I’m relieved. I don’t ever want it to stop being special, and I know it will be back. Primary emotions have transformed into subtle shades. Not faded. More precise. Fear, anger, and sadness have become uncertainty, discouragement, disappointment. The intensity is still there, but I rule it rather than the other way around.

In September, just weeks away now, I will turn fifty. Half a century. How is it possible to feel younger than I’ve ever felt, on all levels, even physical? My mother tells me that I remind her of when I was a little girl. My family and friends say: You have never looked better. Something in the way you carry yourself. Radiant. My God, what happened to you? It’s almost like you’re not even you anymore.

I’m more myself than I’ve ever been.

At the four corners village of Stutsmanville, I stop and look left. Do I really need to go down this road again? It’s shorter if I continue forward, but I’ll miss the most scenic area. Maybe there’s still something to be learned here, even after the forgiveness, the forgetting, the indifference. Will I even recognize the house after all these years?

We walk in the woods behind his place. Birch trees rise from the deep snow. A prison of white. Heavy boots under my waitress uniform that’s two sizes too big, but still the smallest one they have. Tears freeze on my cheeks. Why can’t those bitches just leave me alone? I can’t take it anymore. I’m going to California. He leans me against a tree and kisses me until I’m breathless. You can’t go. I’m not finished with you yet.

Stutsmanville Road ends at M119. Right turn into the Tunnel of Trees, one of the most picturesque roads in the state. A cathedral of green overhead. In the autumn, it’s like driving through a tunnel of fire. In the winter, after a snowstorm, it’s like passing through the gates of heaven.

Winter becomes spring then summer. August. The flicker of a bonfire against an aurora borealis sky. He’s there, in the shadows, making out with one of the summer transients, a fatass with crooked teeth. I grab his arm and drag him away. My frantic scream: Why? He throws me to the ground so hard it knocks the wind out of me. He stalks away. Over his shoulder, a snarl: get out of here, Jules. Her laugh. I pick myself up and dust myself off. The pain becomes cold determination, relief: nothing is holding me here anymore. A door in my heart slams shut. No one will have access to that part of me. Ever again.

Strobe light flicker of sunshine on the windshield. This deep blue ocean of a lake. My heart blooms in my chest. I enter into communion with the road.

We park by the ocean. Cold shimmer of waves under moonlight. We’re going to start all over, Jules.

I’m moving to Palm Springs.

Panic enters his voice. I can move there, too.

I shake my head. I’m not doing this to hurt you.

I know. I know. I really fucked up, didn’t I? He puts his head in his hands and begins to sob.

I stare at him. A shadow slumped over in defeat. Why is he so upset? He didn’t want me. Why is he even here? It’s just going to be the same thing all over again. Does he think I’m stupid? A wave hits me: disgust so strong that I swoon. He makes me sick, sick, sick. Why do I feel this? I don’t wish him any harm. The air thickens and I gasp for air. Take me home.

It was his self-loathing that I felt. All the women in the world wouldn’t have been enough to fill the void she left behind. There’s no pain more devastating than that of a broken heart. And nothing more difficult to forgive yourself for than loving so much.

At the village of Good Hart, the VHS halts. Now it’s only now.

Unbolt the door. Throw it wide open. After a lifetime of witnessing how selfish and cruel people can be, this takes the rarest form of courage. Shine the light in. Shine. Pour yourself into your void.

The ego will do whatever it takes to avoid dissolution, especially into love. It will find excuses why it won’t work, tell you it’s too good to be true, and, when it gets desperate, make you think that you’re losing your mind.

I walk over to the general store. A withered old farmer holds the screen door open for me with a shy smile. Faded overalls, John Deere baseball cap. I pause. Such a pure Americana image, surreal in its perfection. The door closes behind me. “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd begins to play over the stereo. I freeze. My song, the one I named my blog and memoir after. I’ve heard it so often these past few months. I grab a lemonade from the cooler and walk up to the counter. The beautiful, unsettling longing. The come back to me. I pay for the drink and walk outside. The song’s final notes seep through the door. Deep breath. I’m here. I’m here. Look to the right: the direction I came from. Then left: the direction I’m going. I walk to the car feeling both harassed and guilty. Always the distinct impression that I’m being messed with and that I’m somehow bringing it on myself.

Onward. North, still. Through Cross Village to Sturgeon Bay. I sit on a low dune and watch the sun’s languid goodbye.

Some of us come into existence with a lot to learn. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve picked myself up and kept going. Even if it was crawling through the murk. The traumas have been dispelled. No counselors. No teachers. No gurus. They might be able to trigger something, but the real work can only be done in solitude. The black abyss that held me prisoner for most of my life is gone, gone, gone. In its place is a field of wildflowers. I couldn’t find it again if I tried. The darkness that remains is black smoke that thickens and dissipates. Wastelands of pain. Dark wonderlands of ecstasy. Not always easy to tell them apart. Wisdom and guidance can be found in the most unlikely places.

Reflection on the waves like a path illuminated. I will follow wherever you lead me.

I pass by the turnoff to Bliss. One final place to visit first: Wilderness.

I swerve around the camper that’s blocking the way and pull up to the ranger’s station.

The ranger’s eyes light up when he sees me. “You look like a lady who knows where she’s going.”

I roll my eyes and laugh. “Not really. I’m just following the road.”

“Follow it all the way to the end. There’s a nice beach out there and you’ll have it all to yourself.”

The Caribbean glow of Lake Michigan in the noontime sun. I lean my back against a piece of driftwood. Waves hiss through the pebbles. A male figure shuffles in my direction. Shirtless, sunburnt, panting. Face contorted with castaway anguish. Heavy southern accent. “Is there a trail back to the road around here? I seem to have gotten myself lost. I tried to cut across the marsh. Now my boots are soaked.”

“You’re almost there. The trail is just past the parking lot.”

He thanks me and shuffles away. When I look in his direction a couple of minutes later, he has already vanished. It doesn’t take long to find your way back, once the way is clear.

What was nebulous begins to sharpen. A purpose. A path. A presence so familiar. My heart begins to pound. I stare across the water. Send out a signal. Not an SOS. An invocation. Echolocation. I close my eyes. I’m here. Out of the silence, a reply. So very faint. It fades and returns. I smile. Not a missing piece. The mirror of my existence. A voice in my dreams. The flash of a face, but when I focus, it’s me that I see. A golden glow, a feeling of home. I lift my hand in front of me and feel the warmth of a palm pressed to mine. It’s enough to know that you’re out there. I’m enough.

Sometimes you have to go far out of the way to get where you need to go. Just keep going.

To Bliss. And beyond.

The Undiscovered Territory

Nineteen years gone. Sixty-six countries visited on six continents. Nine countries, on three continents, have been home for a while. Two passports, but I feel like a citizen of nowhere, not even of the world. The nomadic life is often romanticized, but the truth is that it’s not for the faint of heart, especially if you avoid the expat cocoon. The isolation takes its toll, even on the most introverted. Nineteen years gone. But here I am again, next to this beloved river. Michigan has always been a steady hand to catch me when I fall.

January. The Upper Peninsula beckons. A short road trip brings me to the shores of Lake Superior. Even the mighty fall silent sometimes. Frozen into submission. I may have grown up downstate, but in my heart northern Michigan is my homeland.

Return is only possible because I’m in this wilderness. So much noise, elsewhere. Communication with so many people at once is unnerving. I can no longer hide behind the language barrier. Not only was I physically away from this culture for so long, but there was also a deliberate media/pop culture blackout. I have only vague ideas of what I’m supposed to be enraged about and no idea who I’m expected to emulate. A young man who struck up a conversation with me before my flight from Paris found it hilarious that I didn’t know that there are new late night talk show hosts. I smiled. It is not ignorance, but strategic apathy. Ignorance is being unaware. I’m conscious of the poison that I refuse to consume.

The immensity of the reconstruction unfurls. The person I left behind no longer exists. What did my name used to be? It sounds so strange in my voice. Credit must be re-established. Bad credit is better than none, it seems. My driver’s license has been expired for so long that I must retake the written and road tests. It’s intimidating, being at the helm of a vehicle again after more than a decade.

How will I survive in a land where a person’s value is based on job title, income, possessions, busyness, offspring? Personal experience is worthless. No one is interested in stories of faraway lands. Or different observations of this one. When the despair wells up, I head into the woods. Conjure up the vast internal wealth that I brought back with me. Wrap my arms around myself and take deep breaths. I’m doing the right thing. I’m doing the right thing. Sometimes I wish I could just take the easy way.

There were other options. I could have easily continued to move from place to place. Siberia. Peru. Italy. Opportunities beckoned. But it’s time to let go of the persona that I have so meticulously constructed. The perpetual nomad. A lifestyle is only freedom until you become unable to let it go. So many need to conquer the aversion to solitude. I know how to be alone. It’s time to learn how to be with others.

But there is another reason that I’m supposed to be here. It looms on the horizon, an obscure and benevolent orb. Slowly taking shape. I patiently await its revelation.

February. The falling snow and silence of the woods around my family’s property. We have both changed. Dead wood has fallen and decomposed. The way is clear through regions that once seemed so impenetrable and sinister. The bends in the river are deeper. Its voice is still so recognizable. Welcome back, dear one. You have been missed.

I walk alongside the intense flow, my boots sinking deep into the soft powder. Scenes resurface. Chasing my cowgirl aunt through deep drifts. My little legs got stuck and I fell, knocking the wind out of me. I looked up at her for help. She stood there and snickered. The look on her face said, “C’mon, get up and dust yourself off. Falling down is part of the fun.” This tough love philosophy has followed me through life. Never ask for help. Ever. Asking for help is for weak people. But pride can be another, more devious form of weakness.

Books and articles have been written about reverse culture shock. The identity crisis. The alienation and inability to fit back in. Those who return often end up fleeing again. Forever exiled into a realm of ambiguity. I find this state of consciousness intriguing rather than distressing. The thrill of disorientation and shattered perceptions. Besides, I never fit in to begin with.

March is usually the worst. The suffocating gloom and inertia. But the veil of winter lifts, revealing the slumbering forest. Creatures reawaken. The snow recedes. So very slowly. It’s been unusually cold this winter. Color and smell returns. Naked forest under blue sky. The comforting aroma of cedar.

In recent years, my family has converged on this stretch of river. As if we’ve been summoned. Property becomes available at just the right time. My little brother Billy now owns the cottage that Grandpa built. Once again, we wander this wilderness, picking up where we left off so many years ago. How is it that I’m so much younger now than I was way back when? Billy shows me a beaver den. I point out tracks that may be from the lone wolf that was spotted in these parts. The river’s voice swells, drunk on snow melt and sunshine. I don’t mention the sparkle that I now carry within. Shining the way through an undiscovered territory. Home.

Idaho – November 1979

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Far, far below: a patchwork quilt of green and dull brown. In my ears, the muted roar of jet engines. My parents, Grant, and I are on our way to Idaho for my cowgirl aunt’s wedding. My grandparents bought me a ticket, because it was time that I took an airplane.

The stewardesses push the drink cart towards our seat. My father’s eyes light up. He orders a gin and tonic. When the stewardesses move on, he snickers and slips the tiny glass bottle into my mother’s purse. You’re not supposed to take them off the airplane. A few minutes later he flags down a stewardess and orders another one. She gives him a dirty look as she hands him the bottle. I’ll give them to my friends at work, he whispers to my mother. It’s his first time on an airplane, too. He hasn’t drunk any alcohol in years, except for wine at church. That doesn’t count, because it’s the blood of Christ.

Grant babbles and hums in his deep musical voice as he bounces up and down on my mother’s lap. Recounting a tale only he can understand. The other passengers laugh. He is nine months old now. He has so much to say, but no words to say it yet.

I lean my forehead against the cold glass window and watch the fabric of the Earth turn to ripples of white and gray. The Rocky Mountains. My heart flutters. Most of my aunts and uncles moved out West right after they graduated from high school. Their faces are blurred in my mind. My mother’s address book is filled with their current and former addresses. They move around so much. Newport Beach. Santa Ana. Costa Mesa. Bend. Hailey. Sometimes they come back at Christmas, but never at the same time. They call instead, and the phone is passed around to those few who stayed behind. Every year their voices become more distant and unfamiliar. One summer, I wrote letters to them. A couple of them wrote me back once, and then I never heard from them again.

We are the last to arrive in Ketchum. Hugs and laughter. Loud, excited talk. They are all together again after so many years. Those who now live in these parts say howdy instead of hello. They wear cowboy hats, cowboy boots, and flannel shirts.

Howdy! I reply.

In the hours before the wedding, my mother, Grant, and I hang out in my California aunt’s hotel room along with the other women. My cowgirl aunt and her best friend sit behind me on the bed, while another aunt writes out place settings in calligraphy. A hand reaches out and snaps my bra. The room goes silent. I look behind me. My cowgirl aunt and her friend giggle. My mother shakes her head at them. I blush and look down at my hands, too ashamed to cry. I know that I don’t need one, even though I am eleven. My mother only bought it for me, because all the other girls in my class are wearing bras. She hopes it will make them tease me less. My cowgirl aunt has always been beautiful and popular. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be a dork with no friends.

For the wedding, I wear a red empire waist dress and brown clogs. My mother says that this type of dress is good for thin girls. She rubs some rouge into my cheeks to give my pale face a little color. The church has a large glass window that looks out to the mountains. Most of the pews are empty, because the gathering is only close family and friends. The photographer is a friend of my cowgirl aunt and new uncle. His postcards of Idaho scenery are for sale in gift shops around Sun Valley. He has thick blonde hair and a weird name. A cowboy name. His movements are slow and careless, but there’s a crafty glint in his eyes. He puts his arm around people when he talks to them, even if they’ve only just met.

The reception is at a famous hotel. Just before we enter the building, the photographer takes my hand and leads me to a tall pine tree. He places my hands on the branches. I should feel happy that he wants to take my photo, because I’m ugly. But I don’t like him. My parents stand behind him and smile. My mother looks sad. My father looks proud. The photographer gives my father a dirty look and steps in front of him. Smile, pretty girl.

I lift the corners of my mouth, pressing my lips together to hide my crooked teeth.

Inside the hotel, the photographer takes my photo again next to a metal sun. He moves closer to me, blocking my parents out of sight, and aims the camera at my head. One eye behind the camera. The other eye staring deep into mine. Cold determination. My stomach churns.

I sit across from my parents for dinner. Every few minutes, someone taps a fork on a glass. Everyone joins in, whooping and cheering until my new uncle grabs my cowgirl aunt and gives her a kiss. For dessert there is something called cherries jubilee, which has alcohol in it. The waitresses light the glasses on fire. This burns up the alcohol, I am told, but I can still taste it. Sharp, bitter. People must only like it because it makes them feel good.

A man from my new uncle’s family tells a story about a horseshoe nail. When he sits back down, the photographer calls me over to him. Everyone will be mad if I’m rude to such a fun and nice guy, so I walk over to him. The photographer puts his arm around my shoulders and draws me close. This is what we’re going to do. I’m going to tap my fork on the glass and then I’m going to steal a kiss from you. His grip on my arm tightens.

I look over at my parents. Like everyone else, my mother is looking at my cowgirl aunt and new uncle and cheering. My father is staring straight ahead with that strange empty look in his eyes. His lips are moving. He’s talking to himself again, but no one notices. No one ever notices anything.

The photographer puts his hand on my face and forces my cheek to his lips. A white-hot wave moves through me. I tear myself away and storm back to my chair as the cheers die down.

What’s she pouting about now?

Always needs to be the center of attention.

I grit my teeth and choke back tears. I don’t want him to touch me. Just because they all like him doesn’t mean I have to. I don’t look at the photographer again for the rest of the dinner.

We stay until the restaurant staff tells us that we have to leave, because they are closing. The photographer inches towards me, sliding between people, hand outstretched. I move close to my father and look away. My father smiles down at me and puts his warm hand on my head. He sees me now. I am safe. The photographer makes the rounds, hugging some people, shaking hands with others. He then strolls away, down the darkened path between the tall pine trees. He turns once to look at me and wave.

What a neat guy he is!

So easy-going!

A real character!

The party is moved to my Idaho uncle’s hotel room. He takes out a Mason jar that’s filled with clear liquid. Corn whiskey. Moonshine! He takes a swig and coughs. It’s time to get Grant from the babysitter, so my parents say goodnight. As we walk out the door, the uncles push the beds against the wall so people can dance. My parents walk ahead of me. My mother’s head hangs low. Her shoulders slump forward.

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The next morning after breakfast, we pile into vans and rental cars. I load a fresh roll of film into my camera, a Keystone Everflash 10. It’s a hand-me-down from my grandfather. It has a built-in flash and something called an electric eye. Someone gives me a road map to look at. I watch the road signs and chart our progress to Stanley. There is much talk of a hot springs, but when we get there I’m disappointed to see that it’s just a tiny, stinky pool of water by the roadside. I had imagined a waterfall, or something. Everyone lines up next to it for a family photo. Laughter and shouts of amazement. They are always so enthusiastic about everything. At other lookout points, I take photos of the snow-capped Sawtooth Mountains.

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When we get to Galena Summit, the uncle who moved to California to become a millionaire says, Hey, Julie! I’m going to go look up at the sign like I’m surprised and then you take a picture!

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Then we turn around and drive back to my uncle’s house in Hailey.

Suitcases are loaded. Goodbyes are said. Cars drive away. A silence creeps into my uncle’s place. He paces back and forth for a while, and then he loads some shotguns into his pickup truck. My grandmother and I squeeze into the truck with him and a couple of his friends. We are going to a canyon to shoot off the guns. The mountains that rise above this canyon are a dingy brown. Not as pretty as the Sawtooths. But they are mountains, and I stare up at them.

Can I climb up there?

Go ahead. But go up this side, because we’re shooting the other way. We’ll honk the horn when we’re ready to leave.

My wedge heel fashion boots slip on the loose rock. A stone gouges a small hole in the fake leather. I keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, even though it’s November. The peak is just up ahead already. But when I get there, another peak appears just beyond. The gunshots and cowboy whoops echo off the canyon walls. I am climbing a mountain in Idaho! No other kid I know has ever done that. And I’m doing it all by myself. Higher and higher I climb, but the real peak keeps slipping out of reach. Soon I hear nothing but the wind and my pounding heart. I turn and stare down at the canyon. The dirt road is just a thin line. A gust of wind blows, carrying the faint sound of a horn and someone calling my name. I look once more at the top, and then start back down.

You really climbed up high, young lady!

I thought I was almost at the top a few times, but then it was just another small hill on the way up.

My uncle looks at me from under the brim of his cowboy hat. His eyes twinkle like my grandfather’s. That’s called a ridge. It takes a long time to climb to the top of a mountain. But you did a really good job. He ruffles my hair as I climb into the truck. My grandmother puts her arm around me and squeezes. That’s my tough girl. My face flushes with joy. My mother will probably get mad about the hole in my favorite boots, but I don’t even care. Every time I look at it I will remember.

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**These are the very same photos that I took during the trip, except for the last one of myself with my younger cousin standing near the hot springs, which was (obviously) taken by someone else. I still remember the smell of film fresh from the envelope. A smell like things kept forever.**