“I’m Not Afraid”

Cheryl Strayed at Concordia College

Cheryl Strayed at Concordia College

Saying “I’m not afraid” over and over got Cheryl Strayed from the Mohave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State – over an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I tried it myself this week–the mantra, not the hike–and it worked. I got through another moment. Cheryl Strayed had many moments on the trail with dangerous animals, a snowstorm, and misery.

Monday, October 20th, I was with over 2,000 people listening to Cheryl as she spoke from the lectern at Concordia College.

She dropped bits of wisdom throughout the night.

“Don’t make fear my God.”

Her book reading was different from all others that I’ve attended in that she never read a word from Wild. She talked to us. We could have been gathered around a very large coffee table.

I had her book, Wild, for as long as it took her to do the hike – a summer–before I read a word. I was resistant because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I thought the praise for her writing might be because she was a local girl done good, and if I picked up the book the story would fall apart in my hands.

Enough people recommended Wild that I finally opened to the first page. Whoa.

I looked around the gymnasium at Concordia. A couple thousand people, including me, could relate to her story. How did she do that?

“It’s the only book that spoke to me,” said my friend sitting next to me. Her husband passed away eight months ago. “People know that I like to read. I got a lot of books, but this was the only one….”

“How can I bear the unbearable?”

October 22, 2014 091Cheryl called her hike a universal journey. A journey of finding who we are and then coming to peace with that. “Grief is love,” she added.

Therein lay my answer. Universal truths. Truths that apply to all people.

“Love is the nutrient that we need.”

“Alone with something I couldn’t lift but I had to lift it.”

December 5, Wild will be coming out in movie theatres.

Cheryl invited me to the after-party. She invited all of us. How did she make me feel included in her trajectory?

Her author page on Facebook has 105,627 likes. She’s been accessible, not losing herself in her climb.

In my research of her many interviews and talks around the country she didn’t lose herself in the publishing process or the making of a movie.

“In a heroic battle to make my way back to myself.”

During the evening Cheryl spoke about refusing to allow herself, her writing, or her story to be pigeonholed. Wild isn’t just for women. 50 percent of her correspondence is from men.

She left me with a ‘how to’ for when my book sells: Go in expecting respect and politely inform others. An artist shouldn’t defend his or her work.

Her book is powerful but she is even more powerful.

“I’m not afraid,” I can imagine her … me … and all of us … continuing to say on our own personal hike.

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What’s In Arkansas?

The Movie Shoot

The Movie Shoot

Thanksgiving dinner, good company, excellent hiking trails, a movie shoot, and 50 degree weather.

The second question to arise in the ten-hour drive from Minneapolis is why is Arkansas pronounced AR-ken-saw?

Our van ride was more docile than the fight in 1881 over the State’s pronunciation.The pronunciation of Arkansas was made official by an act of the state legislature in 1881, after a dispute between two U.S. Senators from Arkansas. One wanted to pronounce the name ar-KAN-zes and the other wanted AR-ken-saw.

Hobbs State Park Conservation Area

Hobbs State Park Conservation Area

I hadn’t done any research on the inlaws or the state of Arkansas prior to visiting. I returned to Minneapolis after our 4-day stay delighted in both. So much so, I thought about moving.

Prior to our visit, I had not given any thought to the geography of the state. I pictured it as a small postage stamp. What I found was surprisingly different.

The state’s geography ranges from mountains to densely forested land to  lowlands along the Mississippi River. Arkansas has 52 state parks.

Hobbs State Park Recreation Area, where we hiked has bluffs, rocky outcrops, limestone bedrock, caves, sink holes, and a fault line. Crystel has lately been in the habit of cartwheeling everywhere she goes and can now say that she has done it on a trail in Arkansas.December 4 2013 196

December 4 2013 186Signage in Arkansas could be an issue. In this picture if you look at the sign it clearly says that the War Eagle Valley Loop is straight ahead. That is actually Little Clifty Creek – the difference being a 9 mile hike instead of the 6 mile hike we envisioned ourselves on. I shouted after the mountain bikers and horse back riders what trail they thought THEY were on. And we weren’t thinking the same.

Orange tree where the oranges look like brains

Orange tree.

One just needs to keep in mind the earlier dispute in 1881. There was obviously confusion there too and they even made it a law to keep it confusing.

Near our home base was a wonderful backyards trail in J.B. Hunt Park. The park covers 105 acres and was a beautiful hour walk that included a path around a  lake, a spring, and orange trees. The oranges looked like brains. December 4 2013 172

The children received their first ‘real’ paycheck in Arkansas. They were paid to be in a movie shoot with What’s Up, Que Pasa.

Ozark Video needed two 11-year old children that knew a bit of Spanish for a quiz show. Fortunately, we were available and Antonio and Crystel had the right December 4 2013 093complexion.  This could be the start of something big.

Arkansas is definitely a place to visit. Don’t skirt around it. Stop, if you are in the area.