A Mystical Evening


The goose hissed at me as I stepped out of my car, turning its head before its body and focusing. It hissed again when I closed the car door, and the other geese behind it turned as well. Then it took tentative steps toward me, spreading its wings out menacingly and sauntering forward, giving off a sound like a clown squeezing the rubber horn on his lapel.

“Whoa, whoa, okay,” I muttered as I stepped quickly away, and the geese slowed their paces, backing off. I remembered a childhood story of a kid getting bit by a goose he’d been taunting at the park, and I certainly didn’t need that experience in my life.

I looked briefly around the property of Mystic Hot Springs, on the edges of tiny Monroe, Utah. I’d never been to this section of the state before, though I have been spending more time in central and southern Utah lately during my work on the documentary. Over in this little corner were towns with names like Elsinore and Koosharem, the very definitions of small-town America, the kinds of places where one has to drive to the “city”, a population center of more than 5000 people, to get groceries and gas.

Mystic was pretty in its way. Driving in, there had been a series of run-down cabins, uninhabitable, followed by a section of RVs, a small campground, then a long row of old busses that had been converted into hotel rooms of a sort. There were several buildings scattered throughout the property and, on one side, pens for goats, alpacas, and chickens, if I remember the signs correctly. Off to the right of my car was a trail heading upward, where different pools had been arranged to collect the hot springs water. To my left was the main office, where I was to register for my room for the night. I entered, after stepping over a few peacocks.

The ad for this place on Airbnb, and in local searches, used the word ‘hippie’ multiple times, a word that the few people who lived here clearly owned. The main room of the office extended off of the owner’s homes, as I could see the kitchen off to the side and doors marking private residence entrances, but the room itself was piled with ‘hippie’ merchandise, like crystals, specially blessed bags of salt, and hand-woven scarves. Signs all over the desk advertised that members of the staff could be secured for hypnotherapy sessions, table massages, couples massages, or chair massages.

A kind woman in a flowy blouse checked me in and described the property. She took payment and told me I’d be sleeping in one of the busses, all of which had been converted to camping rooms, with a community bathroom just feed away with showers and running water. She literally called it “the Grateful Dead Hippie Bus”, and told me “You’ll be staying in the white one. It’s the Ripple Bus but it isn’t labelled. It’s the one next to the blue bus.” Shortly afterward, she offered me a chair massage, and, I mean, how could I turn that down.

For 15 minutes, I sat in a chair while she worked on my shoulders, neck, and upper and lower back. She made casual small talk about growing up as a non-Mormon in Utah and moving around the state before finding a home here. She mentioned some of the quirkier corners of the Utah wilderness, like a pond where many Mormons had died seeking a buried treasure, and the Devil’s Slide rocks near where she grew up. She had surprisingly strong hands and it felt good to let the tension go for a few minutes. January had been a busy month. She informed me that the band, the Free Peoples, would be putting on a private concert that very night in this very room, and invited me to come back at 9 pm. I heartily agreed.

I left the lodge and pulled a protein bar out of my pocket, looking around. Making sure the path was clear of geese, I walked up the short hill to the hot springs, reading the signs warning against public nudity and alcohol. A few collected pools of hot spring water were on the lower edges, and slightly higher up were bathtubs (literally bathtubs) that had been placed to collect the water for a more… unique hot springs experience. There were several different bathtubs in various groupings around the hillside. A couple sat squished together in one while three women occupied three in a row on the other side. I pictured old Western movies, where the cowboy enters the brothel and sits in the hot tub in the middle of the room while the women bustle about. I walked up a bit farther to see the hot springs themselves, trickling down the hill, and I dipped my finger in it, feeling the warmth right from the earth itself. Then one of the three women cackled and began animatedly speaking.

(Warning: graphic language follows)

“Okay, so then, I’m squeezing right, but I’m not sure he’s really into it, and I’m wondering if this guy has ever even had a hand job before, he’s just there in his truck like just looking off in the distance, like he’s, like, watching something boring on TV, but I really like him, so I, like, keep going. I’m squeezing, I’m stroking, I’m pumping, and then all of the sudden, he just, like cums but, like the tiniest bit, like you could barely tell. And he never made a sound! Like not a sound! His facial expression didn’t even change! He just, like, pulls his pants up and we, like, go to the movies. But, you guys, I really, really like him!”

I made my way back down the hillside as the women continued laughing. Still wary of geese, I grabbed my bag and walked over the Hippie Bus I’d be staying in. I entered ‘the white one’ and realized there was no key and no way to lock the door. All of the many windows in the interior of the bus had been covered by hanging blankets and shawls, and I could slide a chain lock on the bus door when I was inside, but I couldn’t lock it from the outside when I left. It was surprisingly quaint in the interior, with a queen size bed against one side piled with blankets and pillows, one the blankets being electric; yellow lights were strewn around the top edges of the room; there were a few chairs, a lamp, and a small table with a game of dominos on it. A hanging side read ‘Take only Memories, Leave only Footprints.” It was cold inside, but I switched on the small space heater and kicked off my shoes, planning on reading my book on Truman Capote for a while.

Hours later, I took myself back out into the cold and walked up the hill to one of the empty pools. It was dark outside now. One pool over, an elderly couple embraced in a shadowy corner, and I could still hear the women giggling up on the hillside. It was too dark to read, so I sat alone with my thoughts. I looked up over the brown mountain ranges to a gorgeous full moon with a wisp of cloud over it, a perfect Halloween moon in January. It was stunning. The water was perfect, not too hot or cold, and I found an edge to lean into, where I could be alone with my thoughts for a time.

I learned a few years ago that I love traveling solo. When I don’t do it, I start to get uncomfortable, itchy in my own skin, and I need short getaways like this to recharge myself. I’ve discovered that I quite like my company and can go most anywhere, trying local food, seeing community theater, sampling live music, and entering storefront museums. But whenever I travel, there is usually at least one evening for a few hours where all of my demons claw their way to the surface. For just a bit, I feel pathetic. Dissatisfied. Frustrated. Furious. I grieve my past, I mourn my lost opportunities, I rage at my hardships. I hone in on unmet goals, inconsistencies in my love life, financial burdens, or family hardships. I’ve honed the ability to feel those feelings, to let them be part of me for a bit, to give voice to them. They are part of me. They are important. I need fear, anger, sadness, guilt, grief, and pain to be part of my ongoing narrative. And then, once I feel them, I release them, into gratitude and happiness. I remember the positive and wonderful things in my life. I looked up at the moon and smiled about the happy moments during my day: the phone call from my 9-year old to tell me he missed me, the morning hug from my boyfriend, the delivery of a copy of my book to an excited friend, singing sings while driving south, and a long sit-down conversation with a sheriff about my documentary. I thought of the good people in my life, the ones who show up and who mean what they say. I swished my hands around in the water and released myself into this moment, on this hillside, and everything was okay.

Another hour later, I entered the main office again, and found a five-man band playing on the stage set up on the side. They were… good. There were drums, guitars, and a saxophone, and two of the men took turns singing. They were incredible, a nice new-age electric bluegrass tone to their music. They finished a song about ‘the best 25 dollars they ever spent’, then turned to the room and said ‘thank you, thank you very much’, and I realized I was the only person there. I looked around and realized they were recording the performance. I sank back into a chair, as I wasn’t sure they had even noticed me there, and kept listening. During a break between songs, one of the band members yelled out, “oh come on, who was that?” and the other laughed back “Sorry man, I held it as long as I could!”

I took a picture of the band and sent it to my friend Meg, explaining the circumstances. She sent back an image of the animatronic band from Chuck E. Cheese, and I realized that the Free Peoples were basically in the same formation, and I laughed out loud. Suddenly, a small Chihuahua in a sweater jumped into my lap and began licking me, and I looked over to see the woman from the chair massage standing off to the side. Shortly after that, the three women from the hot springs, the girls who’d been cackling about the hand job, entered the room, still dripping wet from the hot springs, and they stood right in front of me, dancing. After one more song, a few more Chihuahua licks, and a bit too much of the wet bathing suit bottoms wiggling in front of me, I decided my weirdness level had reached its max, and I retired for the evening.

In my bed in my bus. I texted the boyfriend good night, and he messaged back that he had mentioned the hippie bus to a friend, and she’d responded “ooh, tell Chad to take disinfectant spray. They have so much hippie sex in those things.”

“I have a weird life,” I said out loud as I clicked off the light, then I went to sleep with a smile on my face.

the Shiny Show Pig

With 30 minutes to kill before my movie started, I looked around outside. It was biting cold, so I headed into the nearest store, right next door to the movie theater and in the same parking lot of the city mall in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Some sort of wholesale ranch and rodeo supply store. This place was huge! Being in Wyoming felt like being in a foreign land. I started making my way through the store with curiosity and fascination.

Rows and rows of cowboy boots. Aisles and aisles of ropes and lassos. Shelves and shelves of belts and buckles. It felt like a Wal-Mart, full of rodeo stuff.

In the book section, my eyes widened at the array.

Goats: Small-Scale Herding Book

Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chicken

Homegrown Honey Bees: Beekeeping: Your First Year, from Hiving to Honey Harvest

I moved over to the Dog Food section and started looking at the various pricing, arrangements, and labels. So many flavors! It was someone’s job to come up with and market all of these!

Salmon and Chicken Grill. Red Meat Dinner. Hearty Beef Stew. Lamb Dinner. 

And as the prices went up, the flavors got weirder.

Mom’s Chicken Pie. Backyard BBQ. Turkey Day Feast. Savory Stew with Chicken and Vegetables. 

I thought of every dog I have ever known. They rush to their food, particularly the wet clumpy stuff, and inhale it. In three slurps. What did they care how fancy it was?

Fish and Sweet Potato. Beef, Bacon, and Cheese. Chicken and Rice. Turducken. 

Turducken! Turducken! For dogs!

And for cats, it was somehow worse.

Chicken and Egg. Chicken, Pasta, and Spinach. Hairball Remedy with Real Salmon.

Okay, I gagged a bit at that one. And, as I have a natural revulsion to fish, the next flavors kept the ill look on my face.

Salmon, Tuna, and Rice. Sole and Spinach. Trout and Pasta. Beef and Cheese. Chicken and Liver: Long Coat Formula. Salmon and Ocean Fish Medley for Sensitive Skin. Sensitive Stomach Lamb. 

And then it got fancy, like reading a menu at a fancy restaurant.

Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Feline Formula with Roasted Venison and Smoked Salmon. Feline Greenies Dental Treats: Oven-Roasted Chicken. 

It only got more baffling in the food for various farm animals.

Rooster Booster Multi-Wormer Triple Action Type B Medicated Feed Concentrate. Happy Hen Treats: Meal Worm Frenzy. Premium Wild Energy Wild Bird Suet. Lamb Milk Replacer. 

I moved through the rest of the store with wonder, a delighted smile on my face. These products were sheer entertainment. With glee, I got out a pen and paper and began jotting down product names at random. Following are several of my favorites:

The Cowboy Living Western Buckle Slotted Spatula. 

The Original Mane n’ Tail Detangler: Spray-on with Friction Free Slip. 

The Equestrian Hoof Pick. 

Bovine Rhinotracheitis-Virus Diarrhea Parainfluenza 3 Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccine: Modified Live Virus Version. 

Leather Now Easy-Polishing Glycerine Saddle Soap. 

Excalibur Sheath and Udder Cleaner for Horses. 

Pink Lady Wound Dressing.

War Paint Insecticidal Paste.

Apple-Flavored Equistrength Paste. (Also came in Triple-Berry, and Oats and Honey).

Purina Premium Poultry Supplement Flock Block for Free-Ranging Poultry and Game Birds.

Y-Tex All-America 2-Pierce Ear-Tag System for Livestock Identification. 

Molemax Mole and Vole Repellant (which also works on gophers, armadillos, skunks, rabbits, ground squirrels, and other burrowing mammals).

Goat and Sheep Nutri-Drench. 

Liquid SpectoGard Scour-Chek Oral Solution for Pig Scours. 

Python Dust Livestock Insecticide. 

Purina Berry Good Artificial Raspberry Flavor Senior Horse Treats. 

Nature Wise Feather Fixer. 

Bird-B-Gone Plastic Bird Spikes.

And then I came across perhaps the most fantastic product label of all time. A giant-white bucket with a purple label and white lettering read Sunglo Bling Show Pig Supplement next to a drawing of a pig made out of shiny sequins. That was one fabulous pig.

I glanced at my watch, realizing the movie was starting, and took off with a rush. As the movie began, I was left with three thoughts.

  • I love how much wonder I have at the world around me, even in a rodeo store. It made those products downright entertaining.
  • Thank heavens I don’t live in Wyoming.
  • Someone get me some bacon.