A Painted Canyon Proposal

We woke up in a waterbed in an apartment over the Wibaux County Abstract Company on Sunday, June 23 in Wibaux, Montana.  Hungry and ready for coffee, we traipsed across the street to the Palace Café—a greasy spoon with a breakfast buffet.  It was the right kind of place, where the food slides on the plates, the farmers all know each other, and the waitress speaks like she’s grinding gravel in her throat.

After a farewell to Jim Devine at the Beaver Creek Brewery, Rosa and I headed for Medora, North Dakota for a long-awaited stop.  I once researched Medora, the Medora Musical, and the Pitchfork Fondue for a novel I wrote about grave robbing and ship sinking.  Much of the book was set in Medora—a place I had never set foot in.  But when I got to Medora, it was nearly a perfect replica of that place I had created in my brain—a testament to the internet and Google Maps’ ability to allow us to explore a place without actually going there.

The historic church in Medora:

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Still, while you can virtually walk the streets in street view, it is always different being there somehow.  It’s like a place has a spirit of some kind, or a feeling you can’t access virtually.  That feeling, that perspective, ends up affecting the way you see the place.

Rosa at the hokey, western Medora playground:

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Rosa and I wandered the streets and shops, taking a precious hour or two there to be tourists for once on this trip.  We bought concentrated raspberry tea; a bottle of Sarsaparilla; postcards of Jesse James, Buffalo Bill, and Calamity Jane; and several books for my inappropriate cover collection.

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From Medora, we headed into the badlands, stopping at Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt State Park, where we soaked in the view and found a one mile loop to hike.  Secretly, I packed two things I had been hiding deep in the back corner of the Scamp the whole trip.  I might have been more nervous, but I knew that this was the place and the time.

In Painted Canyon, the badlands rise up in a show of color.  The soil is full of sand and clay, and it’s a landscape that changes with every rain, with every drought.  Someday, the sculpture that is the Painted Canyon will wash down and become the Painted Canvas.

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We took a short detour off the trail to an overlook, and when we were sitting down on the bench, I turned to Rosa and asked her to marry me.  After she said yes, she told me to ask her again.  I did.  “Again!” she said.  “Will you marry me?”  “Yes!  Again!”  “Will you marry me?”  “Yes!”  She turned toward the badlands and shouted, “I’m getting married!”

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For the proposal, I carved a ring sculpture called Eternal Longing.  The idea comes from Plato’s Symposium, a book I read in my first year of college in which Plato writes that the reason we create art and fall in love is because of a deep-seeded impulse to reach for the eternal.  So I started with that—the infinity symbol, which has fascinated me since I was sitting in math class in junior high.  There are two holes in the sculpture for each of our fingers, forming the infinity shape.  The top of Eternal Longing suggests two arms raised toward the sky, pulling in that big feeling I think we all feel sometimes–as though we are connected to the infinite.

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I made it out of maple burl wood from a tree in northern Minnesota, carved and shaped it for weeks, sanded it smooth, and hand rubbed it with beeswax for the finish.

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You know, I have always been in love with Rosa.  She admitted to me that she thought she was going to marry me on our first date in Berkeley.  But what surprised me about proposing was that I could love Rosa more.  It was like there was some bigger place in me waiting until I asked that question—a closed door that opened up and let out more and more.  As we hiked out of Painted Canyon, I stared at her back in awe.  How could I feel this much?  I’m going to marry this girl!


The engagement was our secret for the day, and we shared sneaky smiles on our way to Bismarck.  At Laughing Sun Brewing, we played together on a small stage to a great crowd.  And when I wasn’t on stage, I just leaned back in the little booth and watched Rosa sing.  She sang her love song to me—“I Found in You”—but she could barely look at me.  Afterwards, she said, “I could only glance at you for a second–otherwise I’d break down in tears.”

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That day was one of the best days of my life, and we topped it off by scamping, boondocking, illegally sleeping overnight in the Scamp at a lost rest area on 94 outside of Bismarck with the truckers.  And somehow, even that felt romantic.

The next day, we drove to St. Cloud, where we had a gig scheduled at the Fireside Room in the Veranda Lounge downtown.  Rosa and I planned a raffle, where we raffled off two CDs, my mom’s custom painted bumper stickers, and a “mystery envelope.”  We sold almost 100 raffle tickets.  I had the mystery envelope rigged so my parents would win, but when I read off the number, my dad was distracted, chatting away, and I had to circulate the crowd and tell everyone to check their tickets twice.  When he finally discovered he had won, he passed off the mystery envelope to a family friend.  Luckily, Rosa insisted my dad open it.  As we continued the raffle, I watched him open it out of the corner of my eye.  On the paper inside it said, “Mom and Dad, Guess what?  We’re getting married!”  He stared blankly at it for a moment.  Then his eyes lit up and he brought it over to my mom.  They both came up, hugged me, and when I read those words over the microphone to that large group of family and friends, they erupted in a scream that all of you probably heard rumbling in the distance.

On this wandering and wild American Happiness Tour, I’ve learned this about happiness: You just gotta make your own.  Those words from our first happiness submission from Ty Blackwell have stuck with me: “Give it away.”  Thank you to everyone who has given us some happiness on this tour.  I hope that we have brought some to you too.

Rosa, I will love you deep into the infinite—past it, more, all of it, big, forever.

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One thought on “A Painted Canyon Proposal

  1. what a great blog–great Nick and Rosa action actions and art art–handmade, homemade, handily unhurried happiness happens–you guys make it happen, happily–that’s for SURE! Lovely, congrats again and onward into the Excelsior!

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