Saturday, February 12, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: Reading The Signs

Born in 1899, my Grandma King was a simple country woman whose formal education ended sometime during the sixth grade. One of the fondest childhood memories I have revolves around hearing her backwoods southern drawl call out to my sisters and me for a little lovin’ when she'd warmly declare, “come and give me some sugar”.

It’s funny how young minds can innocently tie things together that don’t necessarily belong together, and even funnier how that intermingling can oftentimes become so integrated that a lifetime of decision-making can be subconsciously influenced by these misconnections. For me (and who knows if Grandma King really had anything to do with it or not), I think equating love with sugar must’ve been one of those obscure childhood misconnections.

Case in point takes me back to the early ‘90’s, to a time when life was busy pelting me with lemons, and I was sure that love was the sugar I needed to turn it all into lemonade.

Apparently that subliminal belief set the divine stage for me to reconnect with an old OC friend from grade school who’d been living in Montana for about ten years. He was passing through Orange County (yes, That “OC”) on his way to Baja for two weeks of surfing as he did regularly in the fall. A reunion of mutual OC friends ensued, and the rest became my Big Sky Life history.

Naturally I visited Montana to check things out before actually marrying Chef or agreeing to move my family and 3-bedroom household up there. I'm generally pretty open to new experiences, and it helped a lot that I was keen to get far away from Orange County and the arrogance of a deadbeat ex-husband who refused to pay child support. Had the deadbeat unilaterally opted out of supporting his own children, yet had had the intelligence to understand that he couldn’t have it both ways, the location situation might’ve been sustainable. Be that as it may, my particular deadbeat staunchly believed it was his right to go behind my back and hang out at the house I struggled to pay for in order to spend his 'free' time with the children he decidedly felt no obligation to financially support while I was away at work. And that was just for starters.

The week of the wedding arrived…and a sign of things to come.

It started off with an urgent court summons smugly delivered over the telephone at 7:00am by the deadbeat himself who was convinced that I had no legal basis for taking the children he vehemently declined to support out of California. After paying two thousand dollars I couldn’t afford to an attorney and enduring incalculable levels of distress, I spent the day before my “happy day” in a courtroom, sans Chef, where the judge practically tore up the deadbeat’s audacious petition in front of all parties present, his own parents included.

Chef, on the other hand, had spent most of that week alternating between surfing (stress management he said) and reception dinner preparation. Since Chef was in actuality a bona fide Chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)-Hyde Park, NY, no one (me especially) wanted to ever hear him complain in the follow-up years about the food served at our reception attended by more than 100 well-wishers. The rest of the preparations and arrangements had been entirely mine to handle, and the day of the ceremony saw me completely numb from exhaustion before the wedding march had even sounded. If all of that wasn’t enough, my body had gone to the extra trouble of reminding me that very morning (and ten days early no less) that I wasn’t getting married because I HAD to.

And then there was the honeymoon. Well, more like “what honeymoon?” because the “honeymoon” saw us cramming my 3-bedroom household into the biggest U-Haul truck we could find, and taking to the highway on a grueling 1,800-mile 36-hour road trip to Big Sky Country and my new home.

The first half of the trip was long and dry and relatively uneventful. Everything changed when we pulled into Pocatello to gas up. One of the back dually tires had apparently gone flat sometime after Salt Lake City. Not something that could be easily fixed, especially with a full load sitting on top of it, so we waited several hours in some empty parking lot on the outskirts of Pocatello for U-Haul to send a repair truck.

After the tire had been repaired and the tow truck had long gone, as if on cue, the U-Haul’s electrical system went on the fritz. The cause? It seems the truck had been packed so tightly that one of my couch cushions had smothered an overhead light fixture long enough to not only burn a smoky 6” round hole into the cushion, but to comprehensively blow out the truck’s entire electrical system. Although we were lucky the over-stuffed contents of the truck didn’t explode into flames somewhere on I-15, the already white-knuckled drive became even more dangerous when it began to intermittently pour rain and hail as we traveled through Montana without having the use of our windshield wipers or headlights. But in the true pioneer spirit (or maybe it was more like the Donner party spirit), we carried on. That, and Chef was homesick and wouldn't hear of another delay, even if it was for repairs.

And then there were my California license plates. The engine on my little urban-mobile hadn’t even cooled down from the trip before Chef ushered me back into my car and off to the DMV to change the car’s plates and my driver’s license. He insisted that everyone would give me ‘stink-eye’ if I dared to drive around town with any smell of California on me. Frankly, I think he was more worried about getting the ‘stink-eye’ himself. Something about guilty by association. Whatever. I deferred to his anxiety on the matter and hid the evidence within two hours of arrival. The rest got handled with a hot shower and a bottle of lemon juice (for scrubbing the tan off, oh duh).

They say that hindsight is always 20/20, and so it was for me - even if it took a few years to come into focus. I suppose things might’ve been different had I better read the signs during one of the longest weeks of my life. Oh well. Live and learn. And what I learned that May day in 1992 was that when you move to Montana, you need to hide all evidence of your past and move into a house that looks just like the Unabomber’s. That way you blend in with the rest of the pack, and save yourself the notoriety of becoming an open target for the ole 'stink-eye'.

For more of "Living The Big Sky Life", you might want to start with "T T Territory".
The first Montana house I moved
into had the same floor plan as
the Unabomber's.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

Cabin of Unabomber
Theodore Kaczynski
in an April 6, 1996 file photo
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Butterfly Goddess Sheds Her Cocoon

A special thanks to Artist KAd Collins for allowing me to use the image of her exquisite "Butterfly Goddess" as my avatar. She is truly magical! Thank you Kate.
Butterfly Goddess © Copyright by Artist, KAd Collins.
To find out more about the artist, go to ArtistKAdCollins or KAd's Etsy Studio.
Artist KAd Collins is currently working on two new collections for release sometime in 2012 and 2013. If you are interested in becoming a collector, contact the artist directly.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: “T T” Territory

My first on-the-ground experience with “T T” territory happened long ago, once upon a time, in a state, far, far away - a state that still fancies itself “Big Sky Country”. Tourist propaganda notwithstanding, my quality of life in “the last best place” was the equivalent to hell on Earth with little hope of deliverance no matter how loudly I squealed.

In hindsight, I don’t know that anything could’ve truly prepared me for the small town initiation I would get when I set up shop in the cliquey postcard community I was to call home for the next four years, three months and fourteen days. And the citified and seasoned business sensibilities I brought along as baggage only burdened me with a naïve assumption that doing good business was good business no matter where you were from. Suffice it to say that I have never worked so hard to make a living that barely scraped the poverty line as I did during my tortured tenure in this state of purgatory.

The descriptive captions written on the back of every photograph taken of me during this time read “deer frozen in headlights”. I was convinced that the country gods of big sky country had used my own tube of red lipstick to make a life-size bulls-eye right on top of me, and the look of trapped panic that rarely left my face was testimony.

Sources have told me I’m a survivor, and surviving the harsh elements of "T T" territory demanded that I significantly alter my approach posthaste, which really meant that it was time to put into practice the old adage “Keep it simple, stupid”. So I grudgingly "KISS-ed" them all in the name of survival, and refined the art of doing business on a handshake while shootin’ the breeze with them good ole’ boys of the backwoods smelling of cow chip campfire and dried fish guts while all duded up in cowboy hats and big silver belt buckles, or sporting hunter orange vests stained from buck ‘n duck blood and speckled with goose down particles.

Just because survival made it necessary for me to blend into a world that was far removed from any civilized grid I’d ever known, doesn’t mean for one second that I was inclined to turn all ‘wild west’ or anything. You know, like trade in my little urban-mobile for a Ford pick up with a gun rack. Or replace the business suits and pumps in my closet with bib-overalls and Dingos, or my briefcase for a well stocked tackle box. OK, I admit - I did have to slip into a pair of hip-waders on occasion because frankly, someone had to wade into the creek (alternately pronounced ‘crick’) at the edge of the property to tear down those damn beaver dams that flooded my backyard every run-off season.

View of my backyard
As far as I was concerned, this strange land was a poster child for “T T” territory - raw and uncensored. And while I internally obsessed about escape, I came to understand why many never did.

Part of it was financial, of course, because barely making enough in minimum wage to cover the cost of room and board, boxed wine and beer means there’s not enough left over to lease a U-Haul. I realized, however, that the greatest impediment to escaping for the majority was simply perception – meaning it was less about being so po’r that you can’t afford to buy an extra “O”, and more about what escape really means to you.

The keyword here being ‘motivation’, and it usually begins with the standard line of questioning: ”escape from what? go to where?” If we perceive ourselves as content and congruent with the mentality and ‘quality of life’ around us, then what could possibly need changing? Escapism can be easily achieved in thousands of ways that happen to be a lot less complicated than packing up the shack for no good reason.

Feeling that sense of belonging to a community with those of our own ilk is a natural tendency and can hardly be summarized better than “birds of a feather flock together”. Ultimately I didn’t feel so bad when I recognized that even the migrating flocks of ducks and geese passing through big sky country who were lured in by the ‘quality of life’ struggled to make their escape after landing, especially those peppered with buckshot.

Clearly some never made it out alive.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM 
© by DK King