Some of you may remember that I had a total I-used-to-live-in-Senegal meltdown scheduled for just after New Year's, but that so far has not come to fruition. That's so great! you might be thinking. You're really handling things marvelously, what a great transition, you've grown so much. While I'm not one to turn down a compliment, I am one to say, let's not overestimate me here, people. What I really think is that I'm just sort of simple-minded. I was there, now I'm here, so what? The English major in me and amateur psycho-analyst would like to spin this into something positive and deep thinker-esque--so rather than having a total lack of expanded consciousness, I have a unique ability to live moment by moment, to fully inhabit with every piece of my awareness the space and time I occupy each second. Take your pick. I sort of like simple-minded, actually. Less pressure. Regardless of how you break it down though, I'm doing fine. No weird crying jags, no inexplicable outbursts, no feeling overwhelmed at the grocery store. I did have one minor freak-out driving, but I think that was just because I hadn't driven in awhile and I had forgotten how terrible of a driver I really am. So yes, I have a greater appreciation for how easy our lives are here in the U.S. Yes, I have less patience for people who complain a lot, even less than I started with. Yes, I am more aware of American culture and how I fit into it. I haven't lost any of the lessons that I learned while in Senegal, but I also don't think that what I learned there and how I live here can't be reconciled. With that said, there is one thing I have missed that I didn't think I would. Well two things, really. I miss being warm. I live in an icebox and I can't say I'm thrilled about it. But what I really miss is the pace of life. I miss not having anything to do, and not just that, but not feeling like I needed to be doing something.

What are we doing today? Let's make a plan. Everyday I ask myself this here--and if I don't, Rachelle does. But here's my question: when is it that we sit? When do I slow down, when do I lose track of time, when do I sit and maybe drink some tea, maybe talk but probably not, when do I watch the world go by and get to sink into the quietness that I know will eventually come to me when I'm not running to my next appointment or visiting the next friend or digging through the next rack in search of my next purchase?

This isn't actually a rhetorical question, despite how it might appear. The answer is at the ranch.

I know I've talked about the ranch before, but I talked about it in terms of my dad. Which isn't a bad thing, as he is and always will be an intrinsic part of the place I think for everyone who visits there, but especially for me. I haven't, however, talked about how it relates to me and just me, specifically.

I see it this way: wild places, for all we try and tame them, retain a fierce ride apart from us. Nature sings her song, quietly and defiantly, sometimes subversively, if she has to. But I've found, if you spend enough time, if you prove you are to be trusted, she'll allow a snippet of melody to float down through the limbs of a Ponderosa and whisper age-old melodies in your ear---it's a song some spend their whole lives trying to hear but still somehow miss. But I am lucky, I can hear her, and the entirety of my being hums along to this harmony I have never heard before and might never hear again, but for a moment my heart beats in time with the rhythm of the deer and the cougar and the coyote and the quail, and me and the sagebrush and the mountains beyond have all fallen into time together. And there it is. There's that quiet in my mind, there's that settled feeling in my limbs. I am not incensed with passion but rather put to rest. That's all I want. I'm a simple girl.

Whether I'm sitting in front of a house in the middle of Africa's largest metropolis or sitting in my favorite spot on the porch, I can sink into this state of mind and be happy there. I've been struggling with my New Year's Resolution, because for all the ridiculous pageantry it's still something I sort of buy into, but I keep coming up with nothing. Except now I think I will make it my goal to crawl back into that settled state as often as possible, whether I'm at the ranch or in Dakar or in New Orleans or anywhere. I sound so New Age it's almost painful, I'm just about ready to roll my eyes at myself. But still. A little more peace in the heart couldn't hurt, right? The problem is, that was my resolution last year. I think I did a pretty good job, so we're back to square one. I can't exactly challenge myself with something I've already done. It's so difficult competing with yourself sometimes, especially when I prove to be such a worthy opponent. What I think I will do is to accept that which I cannot change. This I've tried in the past, it didn't work. It doesn't matter if it's the natural world or other people, if things aren't going my way I get anxious and huffy and I sleep more than I need to. I learned a lot about going with the flow while abroad, and that's one of those Senegal lessons that I'm trying my darnedest to incorporate here. So there. The gauntlet has been thrown down. I will accept that which I cannot change. I will accept that which I cannot change. I will accept that which I cannot change.

I already need to go back to the ranch.

xoxox, Lauren