What Happens When I Don’t Write

A personal account featuring Cornish hens, doing the splits, and an embarrassing amount of trashy television

Finishing up a slew of back-to-back freelance assignments, I am literally wiped out. My heart waved good riddance to my motivation long ago, and at this point I am merely going through the motions to meet my deadlines. Plan, research, interview, write. Plan, research, interview, write. Monotony is not a good place to be, and over coffee one Saturday morning I come clean about my lackluster attitude to an editor friend of mine. I confess that although I’m not turning in poor work, I know I’m not submitting my best work either. My friend doesn’t verbally berate me. She’s too nice. However, the look she gives me does do a number on my conscience.

That night I decide a writing sabbatical is in order. Granted, I’ve never gone on a writing sabbatical before. But as of next Friday, I don’t have another deadline for 45 days. Normally such a light workload would send me into a querying frenzy, but this time around I consciously decide not to go into a freelancing tailspin. I vow to leave my assignment-seeking persona behind for exactly one month. I’ll use the respite to relax, scratch some things off my to-do list and, hopefully, return to my assignments feeling refreshed. I tell my friend about my plan. She seems pleased, which further convinces me a hiatus is the smart thing to do. I decide, however, to keep a journal of my experiment. It’s writing, yes. But it’s not writing for pay, which I rationalize is acceptable. And so…

Day 1: Unaccustomed to having so much free time, I throw a dozen break-and-bake cookies into the oven and plop down in front of the television. I proceed to watch three hours of bad TV on the CW network. I go to bed early, feeling simultaneously liberated and sick to my stomach.

Day 2: Before running mundane errands, I go to a cycling class to burn off the two trillion calories I consumed the night before. In the afternoon, I surf the Internet and end up spending an embarrassing amount of time on People.com.

Day 3: I rearrange the kitchen cupboards, paint my toenails and check out four books from the library.

Good to Grow

People are catching the flower bug Calvin Cook has had his entire life.

Everywhere you look, there are flowers. Pale and bright yellow sunflowers towering above your head. Rows of eye-catching zinnias and knee-high snap dragons. Bunches of delicate purple, white, and pink lisianthus. And, of course, dahlias. Acres of them. In every shape, size, and color imaginable: tightly curled cactus dahlias; ball, collarette, and waterlily varieties; not to mention jaw-dropping dinner plate-size blooms.

This is the scene from the heart of one of Northern Colorado’s premier flower farms, Arrowhead Dahlias. Owned and operated by husband and wife team, Calvin and Julie Cook, this niche flower farm in Platteville currently grows over 300 varieties of flowers on four acres of fields. The variety and volume of flowers Calvin and Julie are able to produce on such a compact plot of land is due, in part, to their decades-long dedication to flower farming.

The Mother Lode

Hikers and campers strike gold on Conundrum Creek Trail

I’m what you’d call a recreational backpacker. I’ve got the moisture-wicking socks, the convertible pants that zip off into shorts and the REI shirt with more SPF protection than I’ll need in a lifetime. I’ve never felt the need to own the titanium cook stove, the four-season tent or the sleeping bag that weighs less than a bag of cotton balls.

But when our friends Chris and Gabby called to plan a trip, I knew I had to step it up a notch. This is the Washington D.C., couple that spent summers trekking through Thailand, South America, and Mexico. They own the hardcore backpacking gear I don’t, plus some I’ve never even heard of.

I needed a trail to impress.

X Marks the Spot

Stephanie Powell races through the woods on a high-speed scavenger hunt.

Standing in a boulder field in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, I turn my compass in circles in my palm. According to my map, I'm supposed to see a cliff face due west and a dirt road just north. But everywhere I turn, all I can make out are rocks — no sign of the orange and white flag that marks my destination. I jog frantically from one side to the other until I'm almost out of breath. I am officially lost.

Pack Animal

Traveling light through Salida's golden-hued leaf-peeping country.

Reagan's breath, which I can feel hot on my shoulder, leaves something to be desired in the freshness department. But then again, Reagan is a llama, which means I probably shouldn't expect anything different. The fact that Reagan's attitude doesn't match his sour aroma is, however, a pleasant surprise. In fact, he makes the perfect partner for scouting Colorado's fall foliage. Patient and methodical, he lets me lead him along the trail at the pace of my choosing, and together we meander through dense autumn woods. Dry pine needles crunch underfoot while mountain bluebirds play tag in the shafts of sunlight shooting through the branches overhead. None of this appears to impress Reagan. I, on the other hand, am mesmerized.

A group of friends and I had decided to forgo our annual fall road trip to Summit County and instead signed up for a guided llama trek through the Sawatch Range. It was a conscious choice: Rather than join thousands of other eager leaf peepers on crowded highways and frontage roads, we would get to hike deserted trails and view autumn's display atop serene mountain peaks. The best part? The llamas would lug all our gear.

Super Man

I first discovered the white boxes while crouching in the closet of our spare bedroom. It was early June. James and I had been married for just over a month and I was sorting through our now-joint belongings in an effort to arrange, combine and rid our household of duplicate items. At first sight of the boxes, I sighed. More stuff to go through. But on second take, I determined the contents were probably harmless. Unlike most of the boxes I’d sorted through that afternoon, these eight boxes were stacked in neat tight rows, each topped with its own matching lid. In fact, they looked like they belonged in a law library or a museum. Like whatever was inside them deserved to be painstakingly preserved.

Even after three years of dating, I knew marriage would still teach me a lot about James. But these boxes intrigued me. Did my husband have a collection of precious museum artifacts he had failed to mention? Was he a purveyor of rare art? While my mind wandered in Fantasyland, my eyes caught sight of a logo on one of the boxes – a red and black balance scale with the letters CGC printed on the side. I was still dreaming of exotic treasure and priceless gold coins when I glanced at the words printed below the logo: www.CGCcomics.com.

Cave Inn

Head to northwestern New Mexico for a Fred-and-Wilma-style weekend

I’m standing on top of a mesa outside of Farmington, New Mexico. The plateau below me sprawls for miles in every direction before climbing into various mountain ranges: the Chuskas, the Utes and the San Juans. To the West stands Shiprock, the neck of a dormant volcano rising nearly 1,800 feet from the high-desert plain. In the cloudless sky two hawks are circling and diving. As I turn to follow their mid-air performance, I catch site of my husband, James. He’s holding a suitcase and two bags or groceries… and looking at me as if I’ve gone completely insane. I’ve promised him a weekend getaway at an out-of-the-way bed and breakfast. And right now he’s thinking I meant out in the middle of nowhere.

Before I can explain, Lindy Poole, the manager of said B&B, chimes in. For the last half-hour she’s been explaining the local flora and fauna, the history of Farmington, the oil and gas wells dotting the land and, more importantly, the specific piece of land we’re currently standing on.

“This is the roof,” she says, thumping her heel into the sandstone.

James and I scan the surroundings. Our tiny rental car parked beside a scraggly piñon tree is the only vehicle in sight. And apart from the hawks, the landscape appears devoid of life. Is Poole joking? No, she’s not. Kokopelli’s Cave Bed and Breakfast is built into the side of a cliff, seven stories underground. And the three of us are currently standing on its 70-feet-thick ceiling.