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“The Unbearable Lightness of Being Dawn Baer” outfit

How people live without an alter ego I’ll never know. Lately, mine has been Dawn Baer. She wears vintage concert tees without bras. She wears wire-framed 70s dad glasses with thick lenses (so you can’t read her unspoken shade). She wears forest green wool berets hand-beaded with a tropical beach. She cadged her jacket during a stint in the Idaho Fish & Game. She inked her name on the label in all-caps: BAER DAWN.

When I think it’s finally time for Dawn Baer to hang up her beret, a bitter gust comes in. What’s blowing in the wind this time? Better put on your trusty Fish & Game jacket (that I found at the Antique World Mall), Dawn Baer.

Trigger warning: Bambi. I’ve now passed off a memory that involves the Idaho Fish & Game to Dawn Baer. See? It’s good to have an alter ego. Get some distance between you and you.

There I was…I mean…there she was…a dorky doe-eyed information forest ranger in her mid-20s in Stanley, Idaho. A middle-aged man came in to the station and said, “Do I have something to show you.”

Never go with a rural man to a second location, was a rule she did not yet know, so found herself standing in the parking lot beside his jacked-up, too-big truck as he opened the passenger door.

He placed a doe in her hands. Yes, Julie Andrews. A deer. “I found it on the side of the road near a steep cliff. Thought I’d save it.” Then he took off.

When the Fish & Game officer finally called Dawn back, his fury for every act of human stupidity pointed directly at her head. “The mother was probably right there,” he spit out. “I’m going to have to shoot it.”

Her fate and the doe’s fate seemed so inextricably twined. Both powerless in bureaucracy.

Dawn and the doe waited for hours in the head ranger’s office, the one with the spectacular panorama view of the Sawtooths, long after the station closed and the dusk settled in. She cradled the mewling spotted baby deer, looked into its guileless black eyes…while vainly apologizing for everything humanity has ever done and softly cooing about its mama…as it suckled the tears cascading down her cheeks.

vintage-made in USA ACT [Action Clothing Technology] Idaho Fish & Game green jacket – $55, Antique World Mall | Creedence Clearwater Revival In Concert black tee – $12, Antique World Mall | Italian wool yarn NN07 No Nationality knitted rainbow sweater – $75 (down from $400), Nordstrom’s Rack | hand-beaded forest green beret – $14, Antique World Mall | ADAY teal leggings – $120, thisisaday.com | studded Frye boots – $75, Bombshell & Blokes Salon fall boots ale

Cheep it with Dawn Baer.

“To be or not to be in Death Valley” outfit

My longstanding quest for Cheep has been to capture the look of a disinterested bohemian model in an Anthropologie catalog. She side eyes you in her cotton patchwork gown against a distressed backdrop—fingering strange, decayed objets d’art—like an end-of-times queen of leisure.

At long last, a solid decade into thick of Cheep, I finally reached my goal in a ghost town in Death Valley called Panamit City. Here’s a step by step guide to achieving this rare look:

STEP 1: Get stupid lost and stranded in the desert. Idiotically go to the entirely wrong side of the mountain to the rockiest road in Death Valley. Foolishly drive straight up it and viciously slash your tire to bits. Fail to locate a jack. Contemplate your slow, lonely demise for at least one night and one morning.

STEP 2: Get jacked. Somehow get cell service for just the tense five minutes it takes to call your dad and get him to Google where Honda painstakingly hid the jack in 2001.

STEP 3: Stress shop in Pahrump, NV. In the day-long wait for a new tire, go on a Goodwill dress binge.

STEP 4: Backtrack through space and time. Find the right trailhead. Hike seven miles straight up a canyon. Follow a brick mine stack that looks like a fallen castle to an abandoned cabin littered with bones and backpacker detritus.

STEP 5: Strip naked to air dry while you liberally spread the highlighter you (wisely?) packed in all over your sweaty face. Throw on a boutique cast-off gown.

STEP 6: Stick a rusted thingamabob in your wrecked hair. Fondle a bone. Self style a photoshoot that, even after 10 years of practice, still takes 100 tries to achieve two decent pics.

STEP 7: Repeatedly, existentially question yourself. Is this really what I’m doing with my life? (Answer: yes.)

And that is how to Anthropologie anthropology.

no label boutique cast-off bohemian black & purple psychedelic cotton dress – $8.99, Goodwill thrift store | Maasai red, white & blue beaded bracelet – $2000 Kenyan shillings (about $20) 

Cheep it when you’re ghosting the rest of the world.

“Electric Kool-Aid acid test site” outfit

Two camo jet planes flew in between the Panamit Dunes of Death Valley directly behind me as I stood for the shot. I didn’t notice until the first one passed my line of sight. Then the second came through sideways beside me before horizontally sweeping below me through the desert floor.

I’ve encountered this once before in the dead silence of the deadest of desert. Because military test sites and the bleakest of wilderness get paired up side-by-side in the US, like toxic outdoor survival buddies. You spot the stealth jet first, nearly at eye level, alarming you with its massive size and strength and speed that comes from out of nowhere. Like a whale suddenly undulating beside you. Then the sonic boom knocks you flat. The aftershock sound terror somehow more power-packed than the sight surrealism.

I imagine the pilots this day….wondering *squawk* “what the hell’s this pale woman doing here” *over*. Done up in an acid-colored muumuu in the middle of godforsaken nowhere. Giving off eccentric 80s aunt vibes. She’s lit by your like-sands-through-the-hourglass surprise visit. Jumping with electric fear/joy. Flashing a peace sign in your wake.

vintage 80s Vanity Fair muumuu dressing gown, $8.99 – Goodwill thrift store in Pahrump, NV

Cheep it like The Little Prince passing by with the secrets of the universe when your plane goes down in the all-hope-lost desert.

“Military fatigued” outfit

I was into dystopias before dystopias were de rigueur. Among the things I carried on a spur-of-the-moment exchange trip to Russia in 1998: worn-out copies of A Clockwork Orange and The Gulag Archipelago.

Dumb American style, I unwittingly landed into political and economic turmoil. The ruble was in freefall. Yeltsin’s rule…spiraling too. Putin, then head of the ruthless FSB, would soon take his place. Never to leave.

Masha Gessen best explains the crushing impact of the iron fist of Putin in The Man Without a Face. Here is the little I know: Russians love a strongman. Every town in Russia had multiple busts of Lenin. (By then the lingering Stalin statues had been exhiled.)

I wandered through the streets of Moscow wondering which ordinary buildings hid the secret prisons of the Gulag. I wondered how ordinary people could accept the state-sponsored disappearing and the society-wide gaslighting.

But no matter how bitter and cold it was outside, inside their homes, Russian hearts and minds were brilliantly warm and open. Now I understand, just as Russians were born in a totalitarian oligarchy, I was born into a capitalist oligarchy, and the illusion of choice often eludes us all politically.

How dare one (weak)man override the will of billions of souls? May Ukraine—and all of us—soon be free.

Anne Taylor army green wool dress – $3 (half off coupon), Restyle thrift store Boise | brown leather bullet carrying belt – $2, artist Erin Cunningham’s yard sale | Frye “Paige” brown leather riding boots, $120 – LUX Fashion Lounge (MSRP: $388) | copper, silver & brass braided jewelry – $50, vintage family pass-on from friend

artwork: “Strange Loop Tondo: Nesting Dolls” by Marcus Pierce

Cheep it to the brave hearts of Ukraine.

“Quitting cherry bomb” outfit

My first real quit: DirecTV call center, February 2002. Crippling social anxiety and a lifelong phone phobia had my number, so I excelled at awkward pauses, nervous laughter, and average call times.

Even if custom designed by the damned to torture me singularly, no greater corporate hellscape could exist. With its fluorescent lighting. Forced cheery attitude. And “this call will be recorded for quality assurance”s.

This “O Fortuna” doomed workplace realization hit hard on September 11th, 2001. I squirmed in a vaguely ergonomic desk chair, staring up at the reality show terror on the big screen surrounds, while numbly guiding shell-shocked midwesterners through common billing question. This, I’ve come to learn time after time, is what we do during a disaster in America. Put on our capitalist blinders. Pretend everything’s normal. Vainly attempt to blandly exist.

Blessedly, in the back of my mind, I had a plan. An Edward Abbey-style monkey-wrench one to wander in the wilderness for months on end. Every needling workaday torture concealed the tiny gem of my freedom. I put in for a two-week vacation when I finally earned the PTO. But really I put my hidden plan into motion. I disconnected my landline. Cleaned out my apartment. Departed for the desert. Never to be seen (on DirecTV) again.

This recent quit was more professional…everything wrapped up in tidy LinkedIn-approved bows. Underneath, tho, the quitting spirit is the same. You know exactly when you light that fuse. You watch the slow burn until it blows. And boom you are the smokeshow.

Poof. Cherry.

Onia Kelly black cherry one piece swimsuit – $60, Poshmark | gold studded Boy Scouts of America official uniform green cargo shorts – $5, Restyle thrift store | purple & black sarong wrap – gift | Dolce Vita sage green velvet slip-ons – $7, Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store | green agate stone three strand necklace, 8,000,000 Turkish lira (in 2004, this was like, $6), Istanbul street vendor

Cheep it at The Great Resignation on Isla Mujeres.

“Soy el amor de mi vida” outfit

I wondered as I wandered solo down the boardwalk on Isla Mujeres in Mexico… in a wave-like refrain while staring into the “where is my mind” Caribbean… who will be the love of my life?

On the next turn, in a splash of spray paint and Spanish, the concrete answer: “Soy el amor de mi vida.”

I wasted many years steeped in a bitter hate of myself. No matter which way I looked at me: I did not fit in. Anywhere. Too little. Too much. (Somehow simultaneously.) Too weird. Too black sheep. I spent many years vainly attempting to escape myself. Thus, a little wonderer becomes a little wanderer.

“Wherever you go, there you are,” my uncle (a ceramics artist-now gone from this world) warned before I left on my first wild hare of a trip to Russia at age 18.

He was right. There I am. Wherever I go. And I have been to hell and back. Routinely. Like a sick commute.

But I found that I can turn the worst of times into the best of stories. Or at least a solid gold joke. Cosmically, lo I play the Fool, I rise as the Magician.  

And, truly, I am the love of my life. I am the person of my wildest dreams. And my dreams are only growing more feral, as my love blooms everywhere I look.

handmade – no label vintage acid flower print halter dress, $3 (ReStyle thrift store) | Dovecote pink flower silk scarf, $55 – end of year sale (Rifle Paper Company) | Kenneth Cole strappy wedges, $7 (Serendipity Boutique)

Cheep it to where the Mayan women played en la playa.

“Joan of Goat (Jeanne d’Chevré)” outfit

“To believe yourself brave is to be brave; it is the only essential thing.” – Mark Twain, Joan of Arc

Sometimes, I feel the undying urge to stoically 1000-yard stare into the distance. I’ve learned that this is a sign to go into The Wilderness.

Because if you don’t stare awestruck at nature, you end up staring at the back of your skull—into the abyss and whatnot.

Insane, misguided wilderness adventures are sort of my specialty. I excel in: Late starts. Night hiking. Specious navigational skills. Getting way, way lost. Strange encounters with wild animals. Going solo everywhere because…I fucking can…and my plan is…very last minute.

This September, the 1000-yard stare urge was breathing down my neck, and so was the end of backpacking season. The where did your summer go again?#$%! I took off every Friday that month, and sojourned alone into the wilderness every long weekend.

Did I completely nail every single one of the idiotic things I excel at? I’m a perfectionist, I guess. Always crossing off those lists. I hiked miles of brutal switchbacks in the dark. I got completely mixed up, directionally. So late in the season, I was actually entirely alone, some places.

In the Seven Devils, after ascending 2,000 brutal, tedious feet, repeating to my Capricorn self as a mantra to just…keep…going: “I am a goat. I am a goat. I am a goat.” I turned the corner to encounter a family of three majestic mountain goats on the trail. Just steps away. *Surprised Pikachu faces* The dad—one horn broken off so that he looked like a unicorn—dashed off (typical male). The mom looked at me with those coal black side eyes—and walked right up to me. I could have reached out to touch her shockingly white, gauzy fur. She looked so magical. A figment from a meditation image I had earlier this year of my spirit animal. “I am a goat,” I whispered to her, holding my breath as she breathed me in, her nostrils flaring. Nodding in anthropomorphized approval, she turned to walk down the trail, the thin black line of her lips turned up like a wry smile. Now, I stood between her and her little tiny baby goat. (Holy $%#!?) Braving up, the baby goat repeated the actions of his mother, toddling over to me, but startling and running quickly to his mom when I softly stated: “I am a goat.”

Then there was the last trip on a weekend forecasting rain statewide. I combed over maps that entire week looking for the least weather-affected place. I landed in The Pioneers, at the second highest lake in Idaho. Goat Lake. The first few days were perfection. Then, on my final night, the only person around for miles, just minutes after this picture was taken, the wind blew in. And never stopped. This wind was a terrifying wind, issuing forth sounds to make your blood run cold. The rush and moans and wails of g-forces gathering all through the cliffs around you—gearing up to rain its fury down. The anticipation of doom in the sound was the most blood-curdling part. Even worse than my tent blown flat into my face the entire night, the stakes barely holding on. I‘ve slogged through a lot of self-inflicted shockingly stupid in my life, so I can usually say, “I’ve been through worse,” when really going through it. So when I couldn’t say that this time, I was truly alarmed. It was real test of mind, and meditation, to keep myself calm, to focus on what mattered, to eventually fall to sleep that night. Then to wake up in three inches of snow. Wondering if I could even see the trail. Wondering how I would make it back home.

unlabeled vintage gold accordion lampshade shirt, ? (I got this a very long time ago; it’s seen some wild times) | black Helly Hansen thermal leggings – gift from parents | cream & black polkadot silk scarf (a backpacking essential IMHO) – $1.99, Idaho Youth Ranch | Maasai red, white & blue beaded bracelet – $2000 Kenyan shillings (about $20) 

Cheep it into the wild.

“Bloom (in the desert) where you were planted” outfit

My pale flesh and potatoey filling were genetically designed for perpetually overcast and infinitely melancholy Irish scapes. Yet here I am, planted in the unblinking desert.

I had two (2) semi-disastrous / semi-humorous Sunday desert sojourns in just the past two (2) weekends. Desert misadventures…ill advised. But for me, constantly attempted. As if I am doomed to be spectacle for scavengers someday.

One misadventure ended up with me fetal-positioned beneath a sliver of sagebrush shade beneath a noontime unrelenting sun, with just 0.7 of an impossible mile to reach the Bonneville Point trailhead, once a wagon-rutted route on the Oregon Trail.

This is the place where, according to legend, the relieved French fur trappers declared “Les bois! Les bois!” pointing at the trees along the Boise River, a sight for sore just-slogged-through-the-most-hopeless-of-Utah eyes.

This is the place where, according to that 99 degree day, I would perish of sunstroke. A member of the Oregon Trail video game generation dying alongside the Oregon Trail IRL. Irony lives…at the very least. My translucent white skin flushed bright red. I ran out of water. I could not take…another….uphill…..blazing……desperate…….step. My friend heroically ran up with the key and bounced down the cow road in my CRV to save me from a rather desiccated end.

The other trip ended up here (pictured), somewhere nowhere near Reynolds Creek Canyon in the Owyhee Desert, in some waterless cliff deadend (shown).

(Disclaimer: I apologize to both of the unfortunate companions on my ill-advised, ill-guided 3 hour tours in the middle of godforsaken desert.)

vintage 80s blue flow-y empire dress with pink flowers, $22.50 – Antique World Mall (half off, going out of business sale) | pale SavageX pink halter bra, $12 (sale) – SavageX.com

Cheep it like an unexpected desert bloom.

“Ice scream” outfit

I scream. You scream. We all scream. (Dead stop.)

This would be the tagline for my nihilistic ice cream store called Waiting for Fro-Yo. (With tortured irony, we would not serve frozen yogurt. But will perpetually imply it’s coming soon.)

The sweet shop’s staff would posit in a monotone Werner Herzog droll: “Yes, we all scream for ice cream. Yet, do we also not all scream for the existential horror of our fleeting, insignificant lives?”

And: “Would you like sprinkles on that?”

For a cherry on top feel, I brought this vintage yellow sunbrella all the way up Squaw Creek (groans: racist nomenclature) for this fashion shoot at the waterfall dead end. (“No exit,” Sarte would say.) I hiked here in the early spring. The creek was ice cold and the trail upstream and underwater. No extremities had to be amputated due to frostbite however. Licked it.

vintage yellow sunbrella with cane handle with the name Candi Miller handwritten on the band, $7 – Antique World Mall | screen-printed polka dot, acid-colored lips ice cream shirt, $5 – ReStyle thrift store | Stella McCartney x Adidas black leggings, $7, Goodwill in Walla Walla, WA | Nike neon mesh trail shoes, $10.99 – Idaho Youth Ranch , (now so beat up, this was their last run)

Cheep it like a soft serve.

“Stewardess for the Galactic Federation” outfit

Put your tray tables in an upright position, and prepare for departure from 2020. On your right, a once-in-a-millennium scene of cosmic proportions and galactic significance. Though a rather shoddy photo of it (as I took it myself, handheld, shaking in the subzero temps of the Utah high desert).

In a spontaneous gambit to witness the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, I rented a magically-available yurt in the dark sky preserve of Dead Horse State Park near Moab, Utah.

We could all use a little escape hatch from the universe. A shift into a new alignment. A different perspective entirely.

Tho I imagine on the earth-bound Galactic Federation spaceship, the on-flight entertainment is exclusively limited to 1985’s “Cocoon.” Because we all know that when the aliens land—instead of delving into the timeless secrets of the universe—Boomers will just try to mine them for their next-level Botox and anti-aging secrets.

This shot’s for my cult leader LinkedIn profile.

Victoria’s Secret blue satin jumpsuit, $15 – Antique World Mall | Smithline Exclusive brown knit coat with fur trim, $55 – Antique World Mall | Frye Boots black leather with punk-rock spur straps, $75 – Bombshell & Blokes Salon annual event | Importina blue 60s stewardess-style band hat, $12 – Antique World Mall | Kenyan Maasai beaded blue breastplate – Maasai tribe near the Maasai Mara

Cheep it to end of the world as we know it. (And I feel fine.)