“This could be a good bar joke, like when you walk into a bar and meet a girl who gives you the wrong number. Except it’s not like that: Three herbalists walk into a hot springs and exchange numbers…” I joked to a faceless stranger via text message as I tried to justify my message proclaiming my identity after receiving the ironic response, “Okay… do I know you?” I wanted to say yes, you probably do. And you definitely know the person whose number I apparently typed in wrong, given the reality that your phone numbers are one digit apart in a town with a population of just over 1,000.
We got it situated.
Ultimately, a delirious exchange of riddles and laugh-crying emoticons with God-knows-who was the outcome of my emergency trip to the mineral hot springs in Saratoga, Wyoming. That’s not quite a bad thing. And that’s not the only outcome of this 5.5 hour round driving trip, either.
On a day when most people should be either bouncing off the wall or hungover, I was in a state best described as a manic depressive anxiety attack. This, perhaps, is also what a combination of the two latter states would look like. It turns out that on this day, the day after what is considered an auspicious birthday for most, I still had no better sense of direction towards my life purpose. Instead, my mind was scattered in a thousand different directions, leaving me in a hopeless state of despair similar to the despair I’d felt the day before, and throughout the entire week.
Too many messages to respond to, too many phone calls to make, too many children and pets and flowers to care for, too many websites to create, too many options for creative living and making entrepreneurship work… and I don’t even have a job, so why even bother with any of those things I love? Do I focus on completing my novel or making music? What was the point if I can’t be part of something bigger than myself? Should I keep my current apartment, or should I migrate to New Mexico for the winter to avoid loneliness associated with frigid air? Where would I be if I hadn’t gone to college, hadn’t gone to herbal studies school, hadn’t enrolled in any other certification courses, and had focused on art instead?
Too many decisions, too many mistakes. I was tired of trying. At this point, I didn’t care about whether making the drive was safe considering my sole three hours of sleep the night before, and extreme dehydration, and the time restraint (being already middle of the afternoon). I had absolutely no other option other than to drive west and soak up these so-called healing waters, something I’d only done twice before at a hot springs that smelled so strongly of sulfur I became nauseated. If I didn’t do it now, my heart would still be racing, my head would still be spinning, and my hands would still be shaking. I was just going to have trust my instincts and take a risk before anyone could change my mind.
Whizzing past I80’s familiar dry landscape, my mind began to settle. I was able to amuse myself by gazing across the open plains while communicating with the radio; absorbing the words as though these artists were speaking directly to me. Talking to the radio, as I see it, is a skill well-mastered amongst the rare spiritually inclined only-children. This skill is sometimes the secret motive behind decision making, and it will sometimes drive you crazy. I tried to ignore it– I didn’t need any more words influencing the clutter in my mind– but as I was pulling into town, Carly Simon still made me laugh as she sang, “Well I hear you went up to Saratoga, and your heart naturally won… You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you, don’t you?”
The entrance was beautiful: cattle grazing near mineral ponds, a glistening lake to the left of the road, and elegant Western archways to ranches on the right. I couldn’t recall ever entering this magical town before, though my family says I have. I swerved into the nearest parking spot on what appeared to be the most ‘bustling’ street of downtown. I got out to stretch my legs and walked into a bar, because, firstly, why not? Secondly, I was automatically attracted to the large, brightly-colored sign which read “LIVE MUSIC” above the doorway.
There were only two people in this bar, including the bartender. They told me a man comes to sing here every night but Sundays and Mondays. I was compelled to come back when it started, but it was Monday. The man sitting at the bar described his style of music– an East coast country folk vibe– which sounded very intriguing and similar to my own style. I noted that I was also a musician, and they invited me to casually sit in with this singer sometime. Sure, I would come back for that.
I could practically feel the hot springs pulsating from there, drawing me near. Even better, I couldn’t smell them. I continued my journey along the river and followed signs to the Hot Springs. I dismounted my car and walked along the river path, bordered by aspen trees. Now I could smell the springs. There they were, populated with smiling people washing away their own worries. For free. However, I didn’t feel the need to socialize on this particular day, which was a rare occasion. I chose the smaller, cooler spring, which at the time only two people were dipping their feet into.
The late afternoon sun was still warm upon my shoulders. I waded into the clear blue water up to my neck. Immediately I felt a surge of something nourishing rushing through my pores. I was floating in a warm blanket of comfort and hope, one with the Water, one with Earth. I tuned out the conversation between the couple and simply soaked up the healing warmth, listening carefully to what the water had to say to me. Feeling with every cell what the Earth and the Sky were giving to me. I was realizing that the combination of sunshine and mineral water could probably cure anything.
Soon, two more hot springs soakers arrived, saying they were from New York. I couldn’t resist conversation if we were sharing the circle with practical foreigners. I have too much Wyoming pride to do that; I wanted to know why they were drawn here. We learned that the New Yorker ladies were boho elementary teachers, enjoying their seventh week of wanderlust. They asked the woman across from me what she did; she was an herbalist! I chimed in that technically I shared that common title, but couldn’t call it a profession. I explained I was a “foundational herbalist”. Within five minutes, five more people had entered the pool. Was it my willingness for conversation drawing in the entire surrounding area? These new people were locals and Boulderites.
The woman next to me overhead this as she walked in, saying, “For the record, I’m an herbalist too! An herbalist of personal study for twenty-seven years.”
The New Yorkers were astounded. How was this possible, that three unacquainted herbalists could end up in a hot springs on the same August afternoon? Well, this IS a hot springs, the local acknowledged, regarding the ancient magic. We rambled off the benefits of cayenne pepper, the dangers of essential oils, and common immune boosters. They were delighted when I shared the basics of making flower essences. Aspen bark is not only an analgesic and coagulant duo, as they mentioned; the flower essence is a courage and anxiety remedy. We shared the common herbal mantra, “When in doubt, use nettle!” The local shared the Saratoga hot springs history and what it is, exactly, that makes the water healing.
“You’re absorbing essential minerals directly through the pores of your skin, so it’s like taking a multi-vitamin. Magnesium, zinc, copper, etc.” I continued the conversation with the newest member while the herbalist and her husband from Denver and the New Yorkers carried on about cultural and climate differences. Soon, I revealed to the local herbalist, Tasha, my profession as a singer-songwriter and my interest in playing somewhere in town. She was elated; she was going to a meeting in forty minutes where I could meet the town’s music booking agent! She was adamant about me meeting them there ten minutes before the meeting began. When I introduced myself, she repeated my name in such a suave way that my entire perspective of introducing myself was transformed.
“So that must be the reason you’re here today, right? You didn’t just drive 128 miles for nothing.”
Well, there are other reasons. But, yes– that’s really what I was looking for. To imagine playing at The Yard, a music venue overlooking the river, during Ladies Night where other solo female singer-songwriters performed… that’s one destination I knew I belonged to. How did I never know about this location only twenty miles west off the interstate I traveled biannually? How did the world not know about this hidden, magical location? I was going to have to exit the spring before my face turned purple. There was just one issue: my face was still going to be red as a tomato by the time I met this booking agent, and I hadn’t brought any makeup with me.
The inspiring words came to mind: With creativity, I can solve any problem. I was back at my car, dressed in a maxi dress I’d luckily not had time to donate to a thrift store that day. Otherwise, I would have been out of dry clothes and out of luck. Frantically, I searched for some sort of pale concealer or powder that might have fallen under a seat three years ago. I found none. I stood at the door in distress when one of the boho teachers came walking towards me. We officially introduced ourselves. I told her about the meeting I’d been invited to. In desperation and embarrassment, I asked her if she had any concealer. To my dismay, she replied, “Concealer? No… I’m sorry. I don’t own any makeup at all. But I don’t think you look red. You look great– you look tan.”
Then, even more surprisingly, she pulled down her sunglasses and exclaimed, “Why are you standing like that? Don’t cross your arms. Have you heard of power poses?” She landed a pose with hands on her hips. “Studies show that if you do this for two minutes a day, it will boost your confidence. It’s what animals and men do naturally. Expand yourself; be expansive.” She demonstrated a few more poses. I was humiliated. Of course she didn’t own makeup; she didn’t shave her armpits or tweeze her eyebrows, either. Those were only traits of pure confidence, though, and I was also grateful for this encouraging advice. She concluded with, “Google it! You look great.”
In exchange for my tip about making nettle powder with a mortar and pestle, she’d given me a confidence resource. I thanked her as she walked away. And as I peered at my reflection in my mirror once again, I acknowledged that this is one good reason to travel. No one I know personally would ever tell me they don’t like the way I’m standing, but this new acquaintance from New York did so because she cared about my future– and she might not ever see me again.
I met Tasha at the top of the hill across from the local greenhouse, where the meeting was supposed to be held. She informed me that it was canceled, but called the ill director and made sure I would at least be booked for next year’s music events at The Yard. I was given various sites to drive past while still in town, which I did. Every car I passed waved to me, like I was one of them. I could live here to soak in the springs every day and wave to all the locals who pass by, I thought.
I drove back home off the beaten path, past the infamous mountain and the lake my existence is based upon (due to my parent’s wedding twenty-five years ago). I hadn’t dared to venture anywhere this beautiful in too long, perhaps for years. In my closed mind, I hadn’t realized 128 miles was so close. I drove with confidence and appreciation of this entire experience, beauty surrounding me in all directions. For the first time since childhood, my mind was rid of fear and anxiety, overflowing instead with a sense of peace.
This is only way I could have ever mustered the courage to finally upgrade this secret, four year old blog into a website. There was just no other option. I was also able to cross a couple other decisions off my decision-making list: I can rent my apartment while traveling for a month. and finishing my novel. Maybe the reason I bothered interning with a Mayan healed through my college study abroad and attending a separate 7-month intensive herbal studies course was to be able to converse with two other herbalists in a hot springs. Who knows?
When in doubt, use nettle… Or if you’re too anxious to even think about brewing a cup of tea, go to a hot springs. Just make sure it isn’t infested with brain-eating amoeba like what was just detected in Kelly Warm Springs this week. Glad I didn’t go there.