I lived in Jackson Hole, almost full-time for a few years. Today I live most of the year in Bozeman, Montana. I’m still in between. It seems that in between is my life mantra. I am somewhere between feeling twenty-something somedays and the age I really am on other days. I am between figuring out who I am am what I really should be doing with my life. I am all days living an adventure between where I was yesterday and where I will be tomorrow. Being where I am today. I wrote this piece a little over a year ago. When I was mostly living in Jackson Hole,
It’s more than a little Intimidating if you want to be a writer and you live in the shadows of those who have inspired your life and your interest in writing. They, who have succeeded literary rapture and moved people to both action and tears. They who have inspired me along the path that has become my life.
So where does one start when it seems like all the most inspiring thoughts have been recorded? How could there be anything to add? Perhaps there is a little space to be found in the words that is simply a life more ordinary. A place with words carved out somewhere between the world class extreme athletes and the mega-rich who live in the town I almost accidentally find myself.
Depending on who meets me, and where they meet me, many comment that I am from some other place, not their place, but another place than where I am at the time. And that describes how I exist. Between places. I feel comfortable in most, but seem to make others feel uncomfortable because I am not living in their “place.”
This past year I adopted Ray La Montagne’s record, Til the Sun Turns Black, as my daily experiential sound track. Especially during those times when I am almost alone, and have time to feel around within myself, where it is that I have momentarily landed. There seems to be almost nothing else that grounds me. This ephemeral ground seems like gossamer lace instead of simple, solid, reliable dirt. Delicate to sight, feeling almost weightless.
I have dreamed of lives on sail boats, and in cabins that are not mine. I have spent nights at high mountain altitudes, on desert floors, along rushing, flooded rivers and creeks. I have awoke to snow on top of my tent fly so heavy it rested on top of my body like a winter blanket. I have slept through storms of wind and rain that raked my tent nearly flat to the ground.
I have endured my worst mosquito experience ever this last year during an overnight trip into the wind river range. An experience so heinous that afterwards I practically ran from the thought of Mosquitos and recoiled from the least notion of a mosquito landing on a my skin. The mosquitoes brought about the feeling of the need to flee that I have not felt since I was assaulted on the streets of new York city twenty plus years ago. All of these experiences are experiences of my home. That place that most of us spend our lives closing the doors and windows against.
Most recently the place where I have felt the earth lie still under me is a 19 foot Bambi airstream. I know, to most where I live must seem the opposite of “grounded.” how do we find stillness in something that is designed to move.
I think about my life along roads, trails, rivers, canyons, and ridges. Along levees and bayous. Along snow covered trails and salt crusted lakes. Along the remains of rivers, now lost to the final closing of the force of gravity and speed across the land. I hear the avalanches of spring give way from the icy cornice above, where thunder sounds like a rolling sound of a drum. Where birds call out to their lovers, their mates. And beavers slap the surface of still water and fish reach beyond the water’s surface in the chase for larvae on the way to becoming a fly. Where alligator’s tails remind me that the water in which they lie is their’s, not mine. Where ducks flying above water sound like jets racing across the open Sky. Where blue, red, and purple dragon flies land on rocks, lily pads and grass stems. Power blue moths in posse’s alight upon the puddled remains of a summer rain.
Here I sit in a cabin light on it’s feet over a lake in Louisiana that at one time was part of the Acahafalyaya river. Ray La Montagne’s “truly, madly, deeply” mirrors the loveliness and the deep sadness of life today. A box in shape, nicely accessorized to cook and sleep. But in the end, it is a box. The wall facing the water belongs to the long edge of the box. With windows and a door in the center. And though I know, I still ask myself, where does that door go to? Surely not the halting humid beauty that lies outside. Certainly no door, so thoughtlessly laid out when being framed, so banal and seemingly without true purpose, will lead me to a world that is rich beyond our ability to fully see and measure. A world that holds my passion, love and interest? How could we commit to such a shallow salutation to the beauty that is the world?
Years ago, when I led my first immersion education program to a group of willing college students I wanted to visit a place described in a Robert Earl Keen song. The question was if it was truly real, or just a fiction. Or if the place was real, but the experience described was fiction. I found the place he names on a map and decided that the opportunity to live the moment he describes in song could be real.
Off we go in two SUVs across the Texas wilderness of sand, rock, cactus, hot sun and washed out trails and arroyos. Warm earth colors bleached by the bright sunshine we head south to the border that separates Texas from Mexico. As we come close to where the Rio Grande runs the landscape changes to tall straight cane. A forest of vertical green. The air changes from arid to moisture filled. The ground is all a silty sand. Driving down a two-track path we arrive at a small beaten down clearing. Simply a hole carved in the cane to park a few cars. We leave the cars and hope they will still be in the clearing when we return. The humidity in the air is almost choking when combined with the heat. On the edge of the clearing is a small foot path heading south. It’s not far and we reach the waters edge. Even before seeing the water we can hear the voices of men calling out to us. Asking how many people we have. We emerge from the cane forest to see two men polling across the water using the beds of pickup trucks welded shut as their boats.
We tell them our count, they yell back “two dollars per person.” That is a round trip fee, paid up front in case we decide not to return to the U.S. I am wary, but also wondering. And we have just made a half day drive to find this place. I consider the fact that we can all swim, and that the current of the silty water of the Rio Grande seems slow. We pay the money and pile into the two truck beds. I watch the beds go lower into the water until the top edge of the beds are only about 2″ above the water surface. I don’t think I said a prayer, but It probably would have been a good idea.
In a few moments we were floating across the rio grande to Mexico. Once on the other side there were a few mexicans with donkeys waiting for us. For another few dollars we could have a donkey ride to the village. We preferred to walk and I asked the donkey guides if we simply needed to follow the path up to the village. They nodded their heads, yes.
Up the path we went to the village. The air changed again from hot and humid to hot and dry. By the time we made it to the little ridge above the river we were entering the village. Mostly enclosures that were open to the air. Worn and weathered the same color of the dirt. We turned a corner and there was the bar. The bar Keen sang of? Who could really know. But it was the only bar we saw, and we were thirsty. I did not realize when we left how truly thirsty we would be when we arrived at the bar. Water was not an option. So coke was the choice.
We sat at the old wooden tables keeping distance from each other so that our sweat would remain on our bodies and not drip on our neighbor’s. A young child came through selling art pieces she had made from garbage and discarded plastic. I think they were different shaped bugs. A man sat in the threshold of the back door smoking weed. This was the life on the other side of the river. The reality of the song Keen wrote about. We drank our coke and walked out of the bar, down the dusty road and back to the boats waiting to take us home. Home to the U.S. , home to the cars on the other side.
We drifted back across the silty river. We breathed the sun, heat, and humidity in. We smelled the cane as we came close to the river bank. The road goes on forever, as Keen sings….It’s always home.