Making Peace with Mother Nature

Jill Meyer

Three summers ago, my boyfriend, James and I took the summer off after our senior year of college, packed his Ford Explorer, and hit route 95. We had decided to take a trip across country before settling down and consigning ourselves to lives behind the walls of collapsible cubicles and spreadsheet-filled computer screens. When you're fresh out of college, picking up and leaving life behind for five weeks is simple. We had a rough idea of where we were going, but felt content to throw caution to the wind and drive, turning onto unknown roads leading to towns not found on maps. Packing was the tricky part. This was a no-frills camping trip, which meant living without lipstick, jewelry, and heels for over a month. I could leave my lipstick behind...but my hairdryer? My naturally curly hair had been seen in public only in unexpected downpours or after accidentally getting splashed in the ocean. On those occasions, I immediately reached for a hat or scrunchy, and covered my unsightly "do." No, my hairdryer would have to come along.

Our cross-country trip was an experience I'll never forget. We cooked on a portable stove that worked only some of the time, but when it did, cranked out some pretty tasty burgers. We blasted Sweet Home Alabama when we drove through Little Rock and sang along to Hotel California while cruising along the Big Sur. As we approached the Grand Canyon, the sky appeared as though it was on fire, casting brilliant red and orange hues I had only seen in photographs. And in Montana we gazed up at hundreds of stars we never knew existed. Every night, we slept in a tent barely big enough for the two of us, and in the morning we disassembled it and stuffed it in a tiny pouch before heading on to another adventure.

James knew me well enough to have the good sense to pay extra for campsites that had bathroom and shower facilities and an electrical outlet to boot. In addition to packing up our tent in the mornings, we would shower, and I would blow dry my curly hair straight while James mapped out the route for the day. I straightened my hair in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where, according to the car's thermometer, it was already 93 degrees at 8:00 a.m. and even hotter in the claustrophobic bathroom. I dried it in Sioux City, South Dakota even though it was pouring and would get wet again the second I stepped outside. James never questioned my intimate relationship with my hairdryer - he wisely steers clear of odd female behavior and the hair-straightening obsession was no exception.

Toward the end of our trip, we headed into Canada to see Niagara Falls. On the way, we spent the night in a small, rural town in southern Michigan and woke up at 4:00 a.m. so we could make it into Canada that night. As usual, we dismantled the tent and showered, only just before I began the tedious hair-straightening process, James poked his head into the ladies' room and urged me to come outside. He led me to a bench near a lake and we gazed ahead as the sun's orange crown peeked above the horizon. It was the most breathtaking sunrise I have ever seen, and by the time the sun had ascended over the water, my hair had dried in the warm morning air.

I'm not going to tell you my curly hair resembled that of say, Julia Roberts (read: I looked like Little Orphan Annie). But I packed away my hairdryer and we headed for Canada, the sunrise still fresh in our minds. James didn't say a word about my curls. In fact, when we stopped at a diner for lunch, he didn't look twice when our waitress (whose blond locks belonged in a L'Oreal Pumping Curls commercial) dropped a fork and exposed cleavage I can't produce with the aid of a wonder-bra. He did, however, snap a picture of me splashing in the spray from the falls, not caring that my hair got wet. The picture was taken on our last roll of film, which was still in the camera over two years later when I dug it out from the back of the closet during the holidays.

A couple weeks ago, I finally got around to dropping that role off to be developed and picked it up the next evening after a busy day at work. Still in my suit and heels and straight hair slicked back in a clip, I thumbed through the photos and came across that picture of me, wearing cut-off shorts, an old tee shirt, no make-up, and a toothy grin stretched from ear to ear. And yes, my curls were unruly, but James (incidentally, now my husband) agrees that that is the best snapshot I have of myself. Mother Nature may not have blessed me with the straight hair I long for, but in sharing her own beauty of the sunrise and falls, she made me smile. And a smile can transform anyone.

I keep that picture framed on my dresser as a reminder to smile more and worry about my appearance less. I no longer primp for an hour each morning and often go without make-up leaving my many freckles exposed to the world. The five pounds I could never seem to lose have become an acceptable part of my body and my A-cup chest no longer suffers behind water-infused miracle bras. As for my hair, I'm slowly coming to terms with my Little Orphan Annie curls. I no longer tote my hairdryer along on camping trips and on rainy days, I forego the straightening routine and go au natural. And, on those days, during my walk to work, I always splash in a few puddles along the way.

© Jill Meyer

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