There are a lot of ideas/things in the world, and every day I am bombarded with new ones. Sometimes I feel like an alien, able to comprehend my life in a way our scientists have yet to uncover, would actually be unable to see me because I’d be buried under a pile of choice and things; it would look like something out of a cartoon.
I read some place that no one can ever actually be “original” anymore for two reasons. First, each of us lives within a community; our individual knowledge is the accumulation the outside ideas/experiences of each moment of our living, and our actions and thoughts are influenced by all of that knowledge. Second, humans have been around long enough to have thought of/done most things. Thankfully, I don’t have a need to be “original;” I just want to be contributing to this world, and other people’s “knowledge accumulation” in a way that is helpful and not adding to the continuous heap of “stuff.”
This desire to contribute as a creator of things or ideas has led me to constantly imagine the world with contributions from me and to evaluate if my designs would have a place in the architecture of the “pile” of some particular style of idea/thing. I know, for example, that there is no need for me to become a shoe designer, especially in the sandal division. For part of this past weekend, approximately an hour and a half (I know because I didn’t want to waste too much time on this endeavor), I shopped for a pair of gold sandals to wear at my wedding. By no means am I a “fashion-forward” person, but you’ll be pleased to know what I will be on par with current styles since gold sandals were on the shelves, or hanging on the racks, of all of the shoe-selling establishments I visited on Saturday. I didn’t end up purchasing a pair because although I saw at least a hundred options, none of them met my expectations. Most options were easy to eliminate because they were uncomfortable. It felt like I was attaching a sheet of rigid plastic to my foot with somewhat more pliable straps of colored pastic. As I tried on some pairs, Kevin would stop me in the act saying, “No, they sound horrible.” Go to a cheap shoe store, look at some sandals, and you’ll see, I mean “hear,” what I mean. They might as well include a box of bandaids in the box, because these so-called “shoes” all seemed ready to rip my feet apart. Everywhere we went there were tons of these plastic and faux leather articles, and I couldn’t help but think about the fact that stores end up with new products every season, and whether these products end up buried at the bottom of closets or sold to whoever buys unsold shoes, mountains of cheap, gold sandals are now here on this planet.
Since my shopping engagement only occupied a fraction of my weekend, I’m pleased to say that the remaining hours were spent on the other end of the spectrum. I’ll let you ponder what you think the other end may be…
The ideas I generate, the conversations I have and the things I will inevitably create are, as I said before, not original, but the product of my personal experiences reimagined. It is kind of like the adage, “You are what you eat.” Faced with the choices of lodging, food and entertainment for our trip to the Black Hills this weekend, Kevin and I opted to go for old charm versus new, overproduced monotony.
Before I paint myself as someone who spends the day reading classics and doing yoga in the woods, an important confession would be that one of my TV interests involves watching Hotel Impossible on the Travel Channel. Hosted by Anthony Melchiorri, a hospitality industry leader, the show highlights hotels that aren’t cutting when it comes to standing up to seasoned resorts and pop-up chains. We watched the episode where Anthony visited the Black Hills with bated breath, hoping that we’d either recognize locations or, if a hotel was transformed, that we would actually try one out.
Deadwood’s Cedar Wood Inn captured our attention when it caught Anthony’s. On his visit, he said it was the cleanest, most charming hotel he’d visited on the show, and that he couldn’t imagine why the hotel’s owners needed his help. (It turns out that media marketing and online presence was keeping this gem hidden.) Anyone who has traveled out of Deadwood on hwy 385 has seen the Cedar Wood Inn, or at least their awesome sign. We had, and given Anthony’s suggestion, we knew we’d find time to visit.
Leaving Pierre after work on a Friday, driving three hours without turning or letting up on the gas, we were a bit weary when we pulled in the inn’s parking lot, but my spirits were brightened as soon as I glanced through the office window and saw the cat sitting on the check-in desk. I’m a sucker for cats.
We were quickly in our cozy room and enjoying the space as much as Anthony had. The woodwork is beautiful, and the room had certainly been arranged, furnished and cleaned with care. One of my favorite touches was the clearly custom designed coffeepot mount on the wall near the door. The room had all the in room amenities offered by chain hotels without the corporate overhead. Everyone visiting Deadwood desires an escape from the modern world, and the Cedar Wood Inn allows guests to step back a few decades without sacrificing creature-comforts. And, if you’re like me, you might find something to be gained not only by a hot shower and a warm bed, but by the hospitality and hard work of these local business owners.
For lunch on Saturday, we headed to Spearfish, South Dakota to use a certificate for Smokin’ 608 BBQ that I’d purchased online. We were going to be in the area, and have learned that food decisions made ahead of time while traveling result in lower instances of hangriness, so I jumped at the chance to try someplace new with coupon in hand. Spearfish has a great downtown vibe. Flags outside small shops wave during the day while places like the Matthews Opera House entertain at night. Smokin’ 608 BBQ is easy to find, since they used the address in the name.
The ability to eliminate order regret/order envy in the face of choice was offered by the mix and match appetizer option. I went for the buffalo turds (jalapenos stuffed with cheese, topped with a little smokie and wrapped in bacon), cheese-stuffed meatballs and the ¼ rack of ribs. Everything is homemade, and so they were also willing to let me try a small dish of their cole slaw, which was simple yet had a lovely dose of celery seed; it was similar to my favorite Betty Crocker classic recipe. We’ll surely visit this lovely spot again.
Our timing in returning to Deadwood was perfect since we had another date with the past. I’ll admit that I’ve never read an H. G. Wells book, but I am well-acquainted with the titles. This fact, however, didn’t give me pause in accepting Kevin’s suggestion to attend afternoon tea at the historic Adams House to enjoy a performance by historical re-enactor Arch Ellwein. We met Wells on the front porch and proceeded inside where the period furniture had been replaced with cafe tables and modern chairs. The tables were set with colorful Fiestaware, and the room was a flutter with conversation, maids, and sweet steam curling from pretty pots. The cream cheese cookies were flavored with fresh lemon peel, and the tea steeped at the proper temperature for just the right amount of time. Selected by the folks at Rapid City’s Tea and Spice Exchange, the rep shared a brief history of tea and some present-day notes such as the fact that the tea bag was first used in the US, but is now the primary steeping style for the thousands of pounds of tea brewed every day across the pond.
We didn’t chat very much with the one woman also seated at our table, but the silence was broken within our non-retirement age camaraderie when she set her teacup down for the first time and wondered aloud why we don’t do this [pausing the day for tea] more often. We discussed afternoon tea until H.G. took to his performance and we were transported through time with his life story and lighthearted quips. The hour passed by as if it hadn’t existed, but for a many who put the concepts of time travel on paper before most others, that isn’t surprising. The rise and fall of humor and humble thought in the room was palpable; one moment we were laughing, the next we were considering the world through more profound eyes. I hated being the one who unsheathed my phone first after the final applause, but I had to record my favorite remark. Had I’d had a pen and paper on hand, I would have liked that much better. “Don’t believe in the calendar or be deceived by clocks—every moment of life is full of magic and mystery.” He left us with the idea that it is possible to travel through time at any point, saying, “We visit the past through our memories and the future through our dreams.” I hope I can invite Arch to perform for my students and to share some of his methods of getting into character.
Although our trip included a few other destinations, activities and eateries, I wouldn’t be doing a justice to celebrating things of the past that came alive for us this weekend if I didn’t mention the 1899 Inn. Kevin discovered this time portal and booked it as a springtime getaway last year (or the year before?) The idea of staying in a Bed and Breakfast was a bit new to me since my experience has primarily been with accommodations that don’t involve shared bathrooms and customary small talk. Now, I’m a convert. Over Rumchata baked French toast, we discussed with a couple from Gregory comparing the 1899 Inn to the Hampton Inn just a few streets away. I always figured that a bed and breakfast would always be more expensive, and with good reason when you consider the character of the experience. We’ve found, however, that this is far from reality. Not only is staying at the 1899 Inn more affordable than many Deadwood hotels, but the grand pocket doors, stained glass, curious books, charming background music and friendly cats (a page on the website is dedicated to them) clearly contribute more to the relaxation one desires during travel than waiting in line for powdered eggs.
Not surprising given its age, the Inn also reminds me of The Alderson Hospitality House, the nonprofit bed and breakfast I worked at in West Virginia. Both Victorian homes have characteristic dark wood floors and trim and walls that emanate the harboring of years of secrets and profound insights. Both also serve delicious meals, and have owners who enjoy playing Settlers of Catan; Kevin and I are booking a game with Dustin and Laura the next time we plan a weekend in Deadwood.
This past weekend not only served as an opportunity for me to relax and enjoy some beautiful scenery, but also as a successful mission for me to continue collecting experiences that will one day contribute to some creation of my own. As a writer, I sometimes worry that the books I work on are unnecessary. Like cheap gold sandals, there are new books published and on the shelves each new season, and many go unpurchased or end up gathering dust in closet collections. Still, even though my stories are small in the greater scheme, I believe in their importance; that belief alone gives them reason to exist. So long as I don’t give up the celebration of and wonder provided by the past, I will be able to life not as a slave to calendars and clocks, but as a purveyor of magic and mystery.