Looking for Wildlife in the Big City

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I am a Chicagoan, born and raised; and even when I have tried to live elsewhere, this city has always drawn me back in. I love my hometown. We’ve got the best pizza, hot dogs, and Italian food; we’ve got two of the best MLB teams; even our accent is cool. The Windy City certainly has a lot to envy, so choosing something that I feel it lacks is a bit difficult. I wracked my brain to decide what, if anything, I would incorporate into Chi-Town to make it better, and I could only come up with one thing:

Pure and simple nature. I’m not talking about forest preserves or man-made parks… As phenomenal as our Zoological society is, that still doesn’t quite do it for me. I miss virginal nature – the kind that has not been tampered with at all by our species. Simple, untouched, and wild. I don’t want to walk on a decorative path… I’d much prefer the feel of wild grass beneath my feet. I’d love to roam the areas where the native wildlife has not been cast out. I’m willing to risk the potential of cougar attack just to get some one on one time with Mother Earth. And I’d like to see the stars laid out before me; not just the few white specks that shine through the glare of millions of lights reflected off of our lovely ozone, but the galaxy in all of it’s distant glory.

But alas, there just isn’t enough room for these things in the City of Big Shoulders… Guess I’ll just have to get in my car and drive off the map for awhile.

[original prompt @ – http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/city-planners/ ]

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When Words Fail

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There are certain days when organized thoughts are lost upon me. I sit down prepared to write something noteworthy and epic, and as I look at my screen my mind goes as blank as the word processor I’m staring at. Today is one of those days. Perhaps it’s a case of the Mondays (though I do believe you’d get your ass kicked for saying something like that, man)… Or maybe it’s because I carb-overloaded at lunch. A fourth cup of coffee may be what I need to get my creative juices flowing; yet, somehow I doubt that. It’s just one of those days. So rather than write nothing, I’ll write a haiku. I’ll even gear it toward my Writing 101 prompt for the day… Here we go:

the thinker awakes
deep thoughts have left him famished
which way’s the café?

 

 

The Cryptic Message

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It was lying on the hot asphalt path as if someone had simply dropped it without realizing; a plain white envelope with no return address and no stamp. There was not even a mailing address on it, it was simply addressed to “YOU”. I looked around, as if the person who had possessed this letter might still be within sight, but there was no one. My curiosity was piqued. I crouched down and plucked it off the ground. It was thin and light, so I knew there couldn’t be more than a sheet of paper inside. Peering around once again, I nervously picked at the corner of the envelope. In that moment, I decided I had to read it.

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I Can Hear my Childhood, and it Sounds Like British Pop

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It never ceases to amaze me how certain things can spark one’s memory. Scent, for instance. When I smell the musky aroma of burning leaves, I am virtually transported to my childhood when I would go on weekend trips to Michigan with my Dad and our neighbors. At night, we would come back from swimming in the lake and have a bonfire at the cottage. The Dads would grill sausages, and us kids would run around barefoot in the yard having water balloon fights. When I catch a faint whiff of gasoline fumes in the wind, I think of summers spent in Lake Geneva and my Aunt and Uncle’s speedboat cruising along the water. I’d always lean over the side of the boat near the back and try to catch seaweed as we’d coast by. My mom would yell at me to stop, always afraid I’d fall in.

Scent is one thing that has that power. Another is music.

I was born in the mid-80s, and I can honestly say that I still gravitate more towards the music of last millennium than most anything I hear on the radio today. I hear “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure and I have fond memories of going to the roller rink with my friends when we were in elementary school. I couldn’t skate for shit. Still can’t. But listening to that music, laughing and being pulled around the rink by my friends just so I could stay upright for more than two minutes… That’s the kind of thing that stays with you and brings out your inner child even as you’re sitting at your desk paying utility bills and researching what kind of medical care you should have when you turn 30.

I could list countless songs and albums that conjure up a lifetime of memories, but I won’t do that right now. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Instead, I encourage anyone out there who’s having a blah kind of day to turn on some music that brings them back to happier times. Bonus if you can recreate some happy aromatherapy too. Everyone today gets caught up in finding prescriptions to make them happy, stocking up on meaningless possessions, drinking until you reach the illusion of euphoria…. I can tell you, channeling your senses instead is a much easier, cheaper, and satisfying way to tune into those feelings of contentment. Plus, no hangover or credit card bills to haunt you later.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with this gem:

Why, you ask? Because this is the song I was listening to when I was partying like it was 1999 and thought that the world was going to end at the stroke of midnight Y2K. The world didn’t end, though. We just ended up pissing the night away 😉

Extreme Jeeping with Ember

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The air is a refreshing 68 degrees even in mid-summer, and the light breeze carries the scent of Aspen and Juniper. A quaint little Victorian town tucked away in the San Juan Mountains; Ouray, Colorado is possibly one of the most underrated destinations in the Rocky Mountain State. I spent several years living in CO, and Ouray was always my favorite spot for a weekend getaway. Year round, there is a wide array of activities to occupy your time: In the winter, ice climbing is one of the main attractions. If rock climbing isn’t extreme enough for you, you should experience the rush of scaling a frozen waterfall with a pickaxe. In the warmer months, off-roading on one of their many jeep trails is all the hype.

Enough of the brochure talk, though. I actually own a Jeep. My Dad bought it for me shortly after I moved to Colorado because my lemon of a Dodge Neon self-destructed on me and I desperately needed a car. I never actually intended for my Jeep to be used in extreme off-roading. It’s a Liberty Sport and it’s trail-rated, but I pretty much chose it simply because I knew it would be good in the snow. At this point in my life, all but one of the friends I’d hang out with were guys. Consequently, as soon as they saw my new ride they decided we were going to be using it for it’s full rock-crawling potential.

“No, guys.” I’d say, “I don’t want my tires and whatnot getting messed up.” (whatnot is my go-to term when I really don’t know WTF things are called, like most car parts for instance). “You all have SUVs, why do we have to use MY Jeep?” I’d ask.

The answers were always the same: “Because we can.” and “Because my jacked-up 4Runner is too big for the narrow mountain trails.”

And because I liked adventure as much as the next reckless college kid, I went along with it. Sure, I’d bitch and cuss people out when my Jeep would get hung up on a boulder or stuck in the mud or driven through a river that “seemed a lot shallower from over there”… But it was all in good fun. Mostly.

There is one particular trail that stretches through the highest parts of the mountains… 13,200 feet to be exact…. And it takes you through abandoned mining sites and untamed wilderness all the way to Telluride, CO. I never wanted to experience this trail. I am not that much of a thrill seeker, and I’m kind of afraid of heights. We’re talking about a narrow rock-and-dirt path that often runs beside a drop-off of ten thousand feet or so. I’m all for dying in a blaze of glory, but I’d prefer it if that blaze were not from the flames of my exploded vehicle after careening of a cliff.

So, I can’t really explain why I allowed the guys to talk me into it… Well, scratch that… It can easily be explained by a night out with Jim Beam and friends, and the [empty] promise that I would get to see wild stallions at the top of the mountain. So one July morning I found myself loading up my Jeep and getting into the back while my friend took the driver’s seat. I absolutely refused to be the one operating the vessel that would potentially lead me to my demise. I didn’t even want to sit shotgun. I was as comfortable as I could be in the safety of my back seat, sandwiched between a cooler and my excessively slobbery dog.

I had a system worked out. I hugged my dog and drank beer with my eyes closed until my friends told me that we were “safe” – i.e. not on the edge of a giant cliff. This system worked well for me, and I still got to see most of the stunning scenery. There were vast meadows of wildflowers, old mine shafts, caves, waterfalls, natural springs, and animals that you wouldn’t normally see at sea-level. If you’ve never watched a bighorn sheep hurdle your car, you really haven’t done enough living.

So I was actually having a great time. Until about 3/4 of the way through the trail when we ran into some trouble. At this point, my eyes were closed because we weren’t in a “safe” zone. I heard my friend yell “Oh, shit!”, my enormous dog jumped into my lap, and I was jostled and jarred out of my seat as we hit what I imagined was a hole or a rock. My eyes still closed, I then heard my friend ordering me to slide as far right as I could and to take my dog with me. He told me whatever I did, to keep my eyes closed. So, of course, I opened my eyes.

Looking out the left back window, all I could see was sky and the village 11,000 feet below. I then noticed that the Jeep was not stable. The front passenger-side tire was suspended in the air over the drop-off. I said nothing, and I held my breath. My friend squeezed himself out the driver’s window (the road was so narrow, he couldn’t open his door without hitting a rock wall) and started to work on pushing the jeep back onto solid ground. He kept telling me it would be okay, that he could get us back up. I took a deep breath and let it out, chugged the rest of my beer, and resumed my breath-holding. As he and another friend worked on pushing the jeep back up, my dog and I were being tossed around the back seat like pieces of chicken in a shake ‘n bake bag. It felt like a lifetime before the tire squeaked back onto the road, and I’m fairly certain that this very experience is what started my hair prematurely turning white in certain areas. But nonetheless, we survived. The rest of the trail gave us no problems, and that was officially the last time I allowed my Jeep to be used for any off-roading excursions.

*(all pictures seen here were taken by me with a 5 Megapixel camera that was pretty damn advanced for it’s time. The photo below is a real sign in Telluride, CO. If anyone knows why there is a question mark, PLEASE explain to me…. I’ve been trying to solve that mystery for the past 8 years…)

Summer Aspirations are the new New Year Resolutions

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It’s June 2nd! Although I know that by technical standards, summer does not officially begin until the 21st, I personally consider it summer as soon as the calendar rolls over into June. That being said, happy summer! A few short months ago, we were braving the polar vortex; now, here we are! We survived, and we can finally bask in the glory of flip flops and sunshine and revert back to complaining about how hot it is.

I love the summer, not just because of the weather, but because of what it means to me. Even though I’m no longer in school, and haven’t been for quite some time, summer still represents freedom. It means staying up later (because the sun does, so why shouldn’t I?) and spending more time in nature and less time holed-up indoors. I find inspiration to do more with myself (I suppose I really should go for that jog so I don’t look like Jabba the Hutt in my swimsuit), and most of all, I see it as a great time to redefine my goals for the upcoming year.

I know that most people set their goals for the year in January, but with me the only thing I’m motivated to accomplish in the winter is waking up early enough to account for the 15+ minutes it will take me to dig out and defrost my car without getting frostbite and a face-full of snow. Summer seems like a much better season to forge a better version of me.

So….. Here are my top ten goals for the remaining half of 2014 (in no particular order):

  1. Learn how to cook new recipes using better ingredients.
    ….It’s a great time of year for produce, so I’m working on loading up my dishes with fresh fruits and veggies.
  2. Redecorate my apartment.
    ….Already half-way done with that. An aesthetically pleasing home is a happy home.
  3. Re-Train my dog
    ….Because at 6 years and 70 pounds, having him curled up in my lap is just not what it used to be.
  4. Get a tan
    ….I no longer want people to look at me and immediately think, ‘I see dead people’
  5. Finish one of my novels.
    ….I’m serious. It’s gonna happen this time.
  6. Begin strength training
    ….I was getting a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator case, and by the involuntary grunts you’d think I was bench-pressing an oak tree.
  7. Get my bike fixed.
    ….I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike….
  8. Learn to knit
    ….Why not?
  9.  Write every day
    ….The most important goal of all
  10. Adopt a rabbit
    ….I’ll write more on this later.

So those are my aspirations for the rest of the year. I’m pretty confident that I can pull it off. Does anyone else set summer goals? I encourage you to share! I also added my e-mail address to my sidebar over there  <== communication is welcome!