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On Love and Thunderstorms

Disclaimer: This is a free flowing reflection on love, shared in response to a question that occasionally comes our way (paraphrased here): How do you manage to work, travel and love with a business partner who is also your spouse? So for the faint of heart, look away. For the rest of you, maybe my raw honesty can speak to your own whispering thoughts.

Last night a North Dakota thunderstorm woke me in my tent.

It seemed to approach slowly, lulling me almost gently out of a sleep so deep, it left me in a delirious state. At first the flashes appeared as a bouncing flashlight, and the distant rumbles a train. Or was it really a train? The flashes grew brighter and the rumbling so loud, I felt its echo shake through the ground to my core.

The height of the storm had me snuggling closer to my love of the last four years. I remember whispering to Andres, what if one of the trees falls on us? The great cottonwoods of our suitably named Cottonwood Campground offer shade on sunny afternoons, though we’ve rarely been there to enjoy them. In a tired and vulnerable state, my weak mind amplified every fear possible. I wondered why the flashes seemed so yellow, and I foresaw them obliterating one of the trees around us. Again I reflected on how tiny we are in this vast world, a thought that has occurred so often in our time beneath mountains or in vast fields of wildflowers.

Andres on a stormy day in Glacier NP.
Andres, small beneath mountains in Glacier NP.

As the thunder shook me and pounding rain scared rather than soothed, I took comfort in the form next to me, who was reassuring me despite his own secret fears. We’ve experienced a few bumps in our road during these past three months, immersed in a lifestyle we designed but could never have fully prepared for.

Many would agree that being 24/7 with your love and business partner is both a dream and a challenge. Yes, we have felt both ends of the spectrum. We have shared the beauty of our companionship and love in dramatic landscapes, while also argued over things as silly as where to put our cooler in the campsite. Some disagreements have been a little more serious.

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Yet this quest has given us a magical gift: it’s forced us to love better.

And by love, I mean communicate.

Built up frustrations can only stay hidden for so long when there’s no other room or office job to escape to. We’ve learned there are only two options. Learn to talk it out completely, or let it all go.

And we know, there’s no letting go for us in the cards of this great game called life.

As devoted business partners, we tend to put our work first, which often puts us in a focused mode that can leave our love life lagging behind. Hey don’t forget about love, I hear the words in the back of my mind. I even remember my mother-in-law wisely advising us about this early on. So often we’re racing as fast as the storm across these plains, keeping ahead of the work we love so much.

Any husband and wife business team may nod their heads when I say that work most often wins over a romantic evening, simply because we care about it so much. In fact, our “work” is what makes us come alive, so it’s only natural to choose our computers, pens and drawing pads over frivolous drinks and candles. Even though much of our time is spent in beautiful places, we tend to stay focused on our “work” conversations. We don’t know what it’s like to have babies, but I often imagine if we had babies, they would be our business and other artistic pursuits. We usually call them so. And I’ve heard from trusted friends and family that babies can strain even the strongest relationship.

Glimpse of the only date night we've treated ourselves to on this quest.
Glimpse of the single *traditional* date night we’ve treated ourselves to on this quest.
Usually our nights are cheap dinners or boggy camp meals while feeling grungy from the long days.
Usually our nights are cheaper dinners or boggy camp meals while feeling real grungy.

Andres and I have had to face obstacles and bizarre situations we never encountered in our rooted-office-job lifestyle. Like sleeping in a Walmart parking lot when choosing between that, an overpriced KOA campground, a hotel night, or a national forest an hour off our route. We could have afforded the hotel or KOA, but where was the fun? That’s when something significant happened.

It was while facing the Walmart obstacle that I realized something important.

Laughing together in the chip aisle of Walmart, at midnight, in the middle of no where.
Laughing together in the chip aisle of Walmart, at midnight, in the middle of no where. Just because.

Our ability to agree on Walmart at midnight after a full day of traveling and skipped meals spoke volumes. Suddenly we were two kids plotting a grand adventure in that moment of agreement. We roamed the aisles of Walmart and wondered about how many years we could survive if locked in that store. (I say 100, Andres says 12 people could live three lives). We laughed about the absurdity of overnighting there, in the lot of a store I actually don’t like at all for a number of reasons. But the hypocrisy of staying there in a time of need had us laughing. It also had us appreciating the ability to make a choice, when so many people don’t have that gift. We agreed, we can’t take the choice for granted.

In the span of ten minutes we laughed together, had fun together, appreciated together, thanked together, made philosophical conclusions together, agreed on our circumstances together, and even chose dinner together (pita with hummus). That moment made all the other silly disagreements and even doubts fade away. Will disagreements and doubts reoccur? Of course. It’s only natural.

But what matters more is our desire to work it out, to become better, to grow in love. To have more Walmart moments and draw comfort in the dead of night when a storm rages. It’s in those moments that deep truths arise.

Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses. 

Those words by Ann Landers inspire and define our partnership.

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Here we are, 7 parks into our quest to visit all 59. We’re currently at 9.

A new friend recently told me that he and his wife went on an extended road-trip together before they got married. They realized, if they could survive it, they were meant to be. Weirdly, a few days later I heard the same advice in my friend’s recent podcast about a nomadic family of six. And I couldn’t agree more. I’ve learned more about my husband than I ever could have separated from him during my time working at an office. I remember a former coworker joking that our boss saw us more than our husbands. I also remember thinking, this isn’t right for me. 

Maybe that thought was just one of the many others pushing me on this quest with Andres. We travelled a lot early on in our relationship, but never like this. Maybe all couples should travel together before they get married, what do you think? I think there’s no greater gift in a marriage than sharing a thunderstorm or two and coming out stronger together after it. Maybe your challenge isn’t travel, maybe it’s something else.

Sharing one of many moments that matter most, Iceberg Lake, Glacier NP.
Sharing one of many moments that matter most, Iceberg Lake, Glacier NP.

So I end this reflection as I often do, with gratitude.

Grateful for the silly arguments, grateful for the close quarters that force us to communicate through them, the vistas that leave us in awe together, and grateful for the figurative and literal storms that scare us beyond reasonable fear. Because there’s nothing more powerful than realizing this thought:

If I die in this storm, I’m happy it’s in this tent, with him.

For that, I am grateful.

And that, my friends, would never have happened in our apartment life.

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Greetings from the little tent that survived a stormy night in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, shot with my phone.

4 comments

  1. This post touched my heart in so many ways! You two are so inspiring. I’ve been married for 3 years now, and the best moments I’ve shared with my husband are the ones where we venture outdoors 🙂 Cheers to loving better, Karla!

    1. Thank you Sassy! I saw that you recently celebrated your anniversary, congrats! Totally agree on those best moments. Cheers to you guys too! 😀

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