LOVE IS WHERE THE YURT IS

”I think that one of the things that you learn is that falling in love and being in love with someone is a rarity. That you don’t fall in love as many times as you think you’re going to. And when you do, it’s really special; it’s really important.” Julianne Moore

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Fifteen days. Fifteen very long, cold, snowy days, since my airport goodbye with the perfect stranger.

Even though we maintained constant communication via text, email, and phone, it wasn’t enough! I missed her and I wanted more than a friendship. Call me impulsive, may be even slightly pathetic. I didn’t care; I made my intentions known.

Regardless of the outcome, it felt like a win-win situation. I valued the sacredness of our friendship and I was committed to maintaining it. I knew romanticizing our friendship could complicate our lives. Somehow, I wasn’t worried; either way, friendship or relationship, it was a lifelong commitment.

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While many lesbians in my community joke about having U-Haul relationships, I wanted my friendship and potential romance to be different. I was invested; trading the U-Haul for the long haul!

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After receiving a positive response to my New Year’s video, the perfect stranger and I planned an immediate adventure. Consider it round two; no longer where we strangers, and we weren’t simply just friends.

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January 5, 2015 I left the snow melt of Vermilion Cliffs, bound for Prescott airport. Slightly panicked, as I had slept through my alarm, I could only hope the perfect stranger’s flight had been delayed; otherwise, I would be officially running late. 

Being late was out of the norm for me. It was unfamiliar as falling in love with a perfect stranger. Growing up in Australia, there were only two excusable reasons for tardiness. Either your mother was in the hospital or you had been killed. That was it! Any other excuses, explanations, or reasons were deemed unacceptable.

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As I looked at my watch, I made peace with the reality of the situation. I was going to be late. I had 3 hours to complete a four hour drive. Outside of refraining from roadside photo opportunities and limiting my bathroom breaks; there was simply no way to make up the time.

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Note to self – I do not recommend holding your pee on a long drive. The bladder strain and fear of peeing yourself while driving is not enjoyable. Airport entrances are not attractive when your hands are dam walling your urethra.

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After a loving embrace and an apology for being late, the perfect stranger and I headed to the Flagstaff Nordic Center. For the next few days we would be yurting in the Coconino National forest. That’s right, I said yurting!

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Like two excited kids waking up on Christmas morning, the perfect stranger and I headed into the Nordic Center for check in. As the only overnight guests, we were given free reign picking our yurt location. Still struggling with her knee injury, I suggested to the perfect stranger we ease up on the miles and stay in a yurt close to the lodge.

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She wasn’t having it! Not in this lifetime anyway. The perfect stranger insisted we hike to our yurt. Who was I to tell her no? She said she could do it and I believed her.

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After a quick lunch, the perfect stranger and I put on your packs and hit the trail. With minimal snow, snowshoes weren’t necessary; however, they were still a Nordic Center requirement.

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Less than a mile into our hike, we decided the snowshoes were more a hindrance than a help. Without adequate snow, it felt like we were dry-landing it in flippers. They had to go!!

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Celebrating our foot freedom, the perfect stranger took a selfie shot that captured the spirit of our connection. There was no denying it; we were a dynamic duo, a perfect pair, a true team. This is what happiness looks like!

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With the yurt in plain sight, the perfect stranger and I made a bee-line for base camp. Neither one of us had been backcountry glamping before; it was another shared first.

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After unpacking our gear, the perfect stranger and I took a late afternoon stroll through the forest. With less than an hour until sunset, we didn’t venture too far away from camp. We were on a mission though, in search of a pink sunset!

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During our maiden voyage, the perfect stranger explained to me that pink was not only her favorite color, it was a lifestyle!

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Can one color really inspire a way of life? Can one color determine your choice of attire, kitchenware, and car accessories? Who knew one color could bring so much joy. What better way to honor the perfect stranger than be giving her a sky of pink.

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As we left the yurt, I offered my hand to the perfect stranger. She responded by holding mine. While some may consider hand holding  a simple gesture, I consider it sacred. Out of all the people on the planet, the perfect stranger chose to hold my hand. Now that’s special!

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Patiently waiting for our pink sky, the perfect stranger and I made ourselves comfortable in the snow.

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Life for me has never been about personal milestones, it has always come down to magic moments. This was one of them!

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With her beautiful brain resting in my lap, not even the frozen ground could stop my heart from melting. I had helplessly fallen in love with a woman I had yet to kiss. How is that even possible? Is this the way love is meant to be? Could getting to know someone without fast-tracking physical intimacy be key to a long-term love affair? Our pending first kiss felt inevitable; it was more of matter of when than if. For now, my focus was finding a pink sky for the love of my life.

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Less than ten minutes down the trail, a pink hue sky appeared through the trees.

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Captivated, the perfect stranger stared into the pink empyrean as if it offered some type of cosmic healing. Perhaps color psychologists are right: pink is seen as the color of hope. Pink inspires warm and comforting feelings, creating a sense that everything will be okay.

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Pink is a symbol of compassion, nurturing, and love. It’s a color that represents the sweetness and innocence of the child in all of us. Pink is also said to be the color of uncomplicated emotions.

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I feel color psychologists had exquisitely described the perfect stranger. Perhaps she is more a pink goddess than my perfect stranger. Either way, I knew pink defined her. It made her happy and brought her peace.

Pink and the perfect stranger are my package deal in the most uncomplicated way. Here’s to pink! 

JANUARY 1, 2015 – THE SOUND OF WHITE

“The New Year begins in a snowstorm of white vows” William E Lewis

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How did you spend the first day of 2015?  Do you remember where you were and who you were with? Did you find yourself committing to a New Year’s resolution? Was your resolution realistically sustainable? Are resolutions merely good intentions that never come to fruition? Would you be willing to trade a New Year’s resolution for a personal revolution? Name your revolution, what would it be? What would you change about yourself or your life?

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My New Year’s revolution was inspired by Janus; the two-faced Roman god for which January is named. Janus is usually depicted having two heads that face in opposite directions. One looks back to the year departed, and the other looks forward to the new and uncertain year ahead.

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Channeling my inner Janus it was clear that I had fallen in love with the perfect stranger during the final weeks of 2014. Over Christmas I kept it to myself; however, it was time I made it known to her. A friendship was not enough, I wanted a relationship!

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Out of respect to Janus, I started my personal revolution on January 1st. My revolution was overcoming vulnerability. I have always struggled with vulnerability. I liked feeling strong. I’ve always had to be strong, growing up in an addictive family vulnerability felt like kryptonite to the soul. Over the years I have befriended kryptonite; still, it’s easier to wear a cape than carry around kryptonite.

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Dr. Brene Brown was right when she said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for.” I didn’t want to start my New Year malnourished. I felt a sense of urgency to tell the perfect stranger she was everything I hungered for! The million dollar question now was: how do I tell the perfect stranger who is on the other side of the country that I wanted her to be my girlfriend? I decide to braveheart my feelings and intentions via a video message. I felt protected by the spirit of Janus; he was the patron and protector of arches, doorways, and gates. There were no doors to close or gates to hide behind. The perfect stranger was one email and one click away from my New Year’s revolution: living without regrets by being vulnerable.

With my personal revolution set into motion, I decided to walk around the property and take some pictures. This storm was a once in a lifetime experience; I didn’t want to miss a single moment. I had been shooting in magical grey-white conditions for two days. According to weather reports, blue skies could be heading our way in the next twenty-four hours. Mother Nature was manipulating the mood, textures, and lighting of the desert landscape. It was undeniable, I was living a photographers dream.

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After shooting pictures for a few hours, I returned home to find Shadow passed out on the couch. Was he snow stormed out or was dreaming about his next hike? Perhaps he was contemplating his New Year’s resolution.

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I wondered what Shadow’s New Year’s resolution would be. Less anxiety? To be less fearful of men? Give up resource guarding? Finally catch the pack rat that has been hiding behind the fridge and under the bathroom sink?  Pursue his love interest, Coco? Perhaps he would have no resolution, being himself was enough!

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After a late afternoon snack and snuggle, Shadow and I headed outside for our first hike of 2015. Neither one of us could have foreseen our desert backyard turning into a winter wonderland.

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Barely a week before, this was the view from my kitchen window.

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Now, it was nothing but shades of white!

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With Shadow’s girlfriend Coco leading the way, we hiked out towards the property water tanks.

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After less than a mile on trail, Shadow traded his hiking boots for his track shoes. It seemed Shadow was committed to running himself ragged!

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I am not sure who was having more fun; me, capturing Shadow in full flight or Shadow footloose and fancy-free.

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With light conditions fading, Shadow and I took a final moment to honor the masterpiece Mother Nature created.

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This desert storm was a once in a lifetime experience: it may never happen again during my stay in Vermilion Cliffs. Fortunately, I had been able to document the storm. The million dollar question: twenty years from now, would my photos be able to transport me back to the day of this storm? Would I remember the bone-chilling winds blowing snow flurries across my face? Would Shadow remember the sensation of fresh powdery snow under his paws?

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As Shadow and I headed for home, I wondered how my friends were spending their New Year’s Day. Were they spending a quiet day at home or partaking in the shopping mall madness? How many of my friends spent their day outside? I thought about my nomadic Facebook friends who lived on the road; hopefully, they were stationed in a safe warm place.

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Since living remotely, I have found myself wondering about how other people live. Did this sense of wonder stem from no longer living by mainstream standards? Had my new way of life redefined my sense of normal? Living by mainstream standard now felt like a foreign concept. The majority of my friends seemed content with the stability and consistency of mainstream living, while I never did! Working in mental health I never felt a sense of job security. My work in high-end rehabs was contingent on client census. Furloughs were common practice when business was slow. A few treatment centers failed to make payroll on several occasions. Without union representation and a backlogged labor board, staff went unpaid.

In many ways, I feel the rehab industry has capitalized on codependency. By employing codependent staff members, companies could be assured of a one-sided loyalty.  Leaving employees feeling happy to have a job, even if they were underpaid or on some occasions never paid. Being of service does not mean working for peanuts at high-end treatment facilities. Ironically enough, the simplicity of living and working in an outpost town offered a job security that my former professional life couldn’t!

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With the sun starting to set, I snapped a few final pictures before heading indoors. On my evening to do list: sending my video message to the perfect stranger. Surprisingly, I felt no fear and was not worried about her response or the final outcome. My intentions were made clear. Here’s to 2015; the year of living vulnerable.

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THE PERFECT STRANGER- ROUND 13- AIRPORT GOOBYES

“Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting go of a little water.”   Christopher Morley

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After another conversation packed, sleepless night, the perfect stranger and I shared a late breakfast with our Canadian snow geese neighbors. Our breakfast backdrop: a river float plane, only reinforced the inevitable reality of the day. In a few hours, the perfect stranger would be boarding a plane bound for Long Beach, California and I would be returning home to a pending winter in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona.

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On paper, our worlds couldn’t be anymore different. In practice, our hearts were kindred spirits separated by a zip code. I resided in a remote community that had one gas station and a post office. The closest supermarket was two hours away.

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The perfect stranger lived in Long Beach. I had forgotten what is was like to have access to the modern conveniences of malls and medical centers.

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The perfect stranger’s recreational playground was the Pacific Ocean while I had the Paria and Colorado River at my disposal.

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I gave up a career in mental health to pursue a simple life outdoors while the perfect stranger turned her passion into a non-profit foundation.

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As we packed up camp, the perfect stranger and I committed ourselves to a round two adventure. We considered our eight day maiden voyage as round one. Where would we spend round two? If I were lucky, I would get the opportunity to show the perfect stranger around my neck of the woods.

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Our 60-mile drive to Kingman airport was a mixed bag of emotions and round one reflections. The songs playing on my mp3 player felt more like a love story soundtrack than just an indie music playlist. The genius of song writing is when an artist captures your thoughts and sentiment in a song. Seldom do I hear limbically driven lyrics in mainstream music. Thank god for artists like Garrison Starr, Lovers and Poets, Vicci Martinez, and Jamestown Revival.

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As we exited Interstate 40 for Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger called her mother in North Carolina. Surprisingly, the perfect stranger introduced me to her mother via speaker phone. Her mother asked me about our adventure. I mentioned that the perfect stranger and I were finishing our trip with a fever and sore throat. How do you tell a mother you are sending her daughter home sick for the holiday season? You don’t! Instead, you jokingly threaten to kidnap her daughter for the holidays. The perfect stranger’s mother caught me off guard when she invited me to North Carolina for Christmas.

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If I didn’t have my dog child Shadow waiting at home for me, I would have booked the first flight out to North Carolina.

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Pulling into the Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger seized upon another photo opportunity. Looking more like a country general store, the Kingman terminal possessed real character and charm.

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As the perfect stranger approached the check-in counter, she was greeted with a lecture about tardiness.  We had arrived at the airport twenty minutes before the flight. This did not make the Great Lakes Airlines staff member very happy.

sadSmileyThe perfect stranger did her best to remove the somber look from my face while her ticket was processed.  I wondered if it was possible to be happy and feel sad at the same time? My happiness I embraced; however, the complete utter feeling of loss was overwhelming. How could I fall for someone in eight days? I was not looking for romance on this adventure; a new adventure buddy would have been enough.

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As her plane landed, the  perfect stranger was rushed outside to the TSA security check. There was no time for a long sentimental heartfelt goodbye; instead, it was a rushed embrace. All I wanted was simply to hold her.

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I had no words to convey how I felt. Perhaps tears are simply unspoken words that run down your face. I felt exposed and vulnerable. Thankfully, my sunglasses created a safe haven from public view. In my twenty’s and thirty’s I seldom cried in public. I could hold back a tear like a dam sustaining a flooding river. On this day, the dam broke and I would never be the same.

My drive home to Vermilion Cliffs was one of self reflection. Is it really possible to fall for someone in eight days? The answer is, YES!! Was I hopeful that I would see the perfect stranger sooner than later? Most definitely!

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I remember when I left southern California and my friends expressed concern about my future love life. How would I ever find Ms. Right living in the middle of nowhere? My answer was very simple. I wasn’t looking for love; however, I was hopeful one day she would find me.