We are all confronted with life situations that carry us to a crossroad, but a litany of experiences led me to the moment where I knew I had to take action, to make the Big Move, to retire from teaching, to leave family and friends and my life in Western MA where I’d lived for 12 years, in order to get back on the road, to return to the gypsy that I was, the gypsy that remains.
The steps that pointed me in a new direction began long before this past summer’s ants and mice (see Blog #1). It began during a conversation with my friend Leah Nielsen on our way to Salem for the 2012 MA Poetry Festival. Leah described a trip she had taken to Yellowstone and the Dakotas when she was in her 20s. As she painted the landscape for me: the mountains, the wildlife, the ochre hills, a longing flooded my veins, a vista opened up in my heart, my mind ran through forests of wildness. I knew I had to get myself out there, knew I was ready for a true adventure into unknown territory.
My first trip to Montana was pure exploration. I began the vacation in South Dakota: loved the Black Hills, though they were cold and rainy; watched baby buffalo romping through Custer State Forest; was mesmerized by the wild, longing, heartbreaking winds of the Badlands, with its bruised and broken sky. The Tetons left me wide eyed with the majesty of the peaks, grizzly prints in the snow, and a moose wandering around downtown Jackson at dusk. I didn’t fall in love with Yellowstone that first visit. In fact the day I arrived, it snowed steadily. I had to make it to Old Faithful, up over Craig Pass, to a small cabin I’d rented. Had I waited another hour, I would have been shut out; they closed the pass due to the snow. Over ten inches fell that day. I woke to raven tracks outside my bedroom door. I spent the next day driving back and forth through the Lamar Valley, a place I would grow to love as much as Paris or the Catskills. I didn’t see any wolves, but I encountered grizzlies up close and personal.
My second trip West the following summer, I found myself asking over and over: How and when had I lost my gypsy ways? Through the heat of the Utah Arches, the snow and the green rivers of Glacier National Park, through the Tetons again, and Yellowstone, I never found an answer. I spent nearly a week in Silver Gate, MT, waking every morning at 4 am, stopping for coffee and cinammon rolls, and then, as the sun rose, driving the Lamar in search of the elusive wolf. I never saw a wolf that trip, but I fell in love with the Valley, with Druid Peak and Soda Butte, with the snow peaked mountains, the river, and the wild hope that a black or grey might run across my path at any moment. It wasn’t until this past June, my third exursion to Montana, that I was gifted with wolf sightings…thanks to Doug Mc Laughlin, Rick McIntryre and Jon Trapp.
I also received a personal epiphany…..not in the shadow of the wild, but on the New York State Thruway on my way to Columbus, OH to visit friends Jesse and Michael before I left for Montana. The question I’d been asking for a year was answered. On the highway I was recalling the year I’d lived in Columbus. The year I first began teaching college English. The year of 9/11. Chills raced through my limbs as I realized the fear I’d experienced from 9/11 was what brought an end to my wandering nature. On 9/11 I had a brother living in Manhattan and a sister just outside DC. When those hijacked planes burst into flames, I was petrified. Unknowingly, I stayed scared for years. I decided then that I needed to be closer to my family, so at the end of that academic year, I accepted a job offer to teach at Springfield College in MA, locating myself 30 minutes away from my brother Michael..and not so far from the rest of my siblings.
I created a good life for myself: worked with wonderful students, inspiring colleagues, joined a writing group, wrote a draft of a novel, started painting and exhibiting my work. Family and work helped ground me with a sense of safety in a crazy world. But I could feel a huge part of my spirit slipping away as I watched my feet solidify into cement. The wildness of Montana taught me that there is no true safety. And that I don’t have to be afraid anymore. I learned that we pay a price for everything. And the price of fear is way too high, because the price of fear is freedom.