In the back of my mind, I’ve always been antsy, itchy-footed. I’ve never been able to imagine anything more glorious or important than striking out on your own, into the unknown. Shoestring budgeting, close calls, moments of overwhelming beauty, being lost. These are the experiences that can define us, if we want them to.
I’ve always ached for that. I’ve wanted this so badly and so constantly that the feeling has become part of who I am.
(Left: Sligo, oils on canvas, right: photo of me by my wonderful friend Lauren Poor )
I grew up on my dad’s stories of rambling around West Africa and South America. I spent hours poring over National Geographics, and sent my tiny dolls trekking into the wild of my garden. I’d follow them and discover mile high trees and caterpillars like cobras.
The year before I left for Montana, the ache to go somewhere was becoming unbearable.
I’d walk around my school campus in Philadelphia and mentally be miles and miles away. Heart bursting, listening to folk music, I’d wish the gray surroundings into greens speckled with sun.
In coffee shops I’d be on the verge of tears as I read the writings of John Muir and Emerson. Every time I sat down at a computer to work on an assignment, I’d invariably find myself on google maps, going down some highway in New Mexico. Surrounded by pixelated clouds, and a road stretching ahead into the horizon. I wanted wild open spaces without a trace of humanity in them.
Even though I loved Philadelphia, and everywhere on the East Coast I called home, I wanted to be everywhere at once. And I needed to go.
I experience everything in extremes. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to collapse under the weight of existing, which oddly is not always an entirely unpleasant sensation. Like when you climb in through the window of an abandoned house, are suddenly surrounded by dust and feel like you’re decomposing into things you’d forgotten about.
I’d fallen in love with everything and everyone in Philly, spent myself entirely, burnt myself to a crisp. I’d never even heard of Glacier National Park, until a friend of a friend told me she might work there that summer.
In early spring I applied to every National Park I could find through coolworks.org— (its a great site that links you to job apps for seasonal work in amazing places). Within a month, I had a job lined up for the summer.
In May got on the train and for two and a half days, I sat and watched scenery unfold outside my window.
Country whirled past, Appalachian blues and greens and earthy reds changing gradually to the golden plains of the midwest. I thought about the people I was leaving behind, and waded through unexpected waves of nostalgia. Ramshackle cabins in woods clearings, one horse towns with rusted signs advertising DANCING, tree forts and outhouses with moons cut on the door, trailer homes painted with blue stars, ghost towns. Memories of biking down dark streets, drunk with exhaustion, saying goodbye, saying things that felt like missing a step on the stairs. I saw my dear friend Lily when I was laid over in Chicago. We ate blueberry pancakes and talked and talked and talked.
I woke up early to have the train car to myself, and plucked at my brand new banjo. I rode through sunsets that lasted for hours and hours. Going west. Gaining time. In what seemed like moments, the plains changed to mountains. It would be a summer of summiting peaks and skinny dipping in glacial lakes, running through Canadian countryside with blood blisters on my feet, making peace with being lonely, splitting wet wood with a hatchet, hitching rides up mountains, waking up in fields of wild flowers, dancing on log bridges, and watching lightning storms from mountain tops. I got off at the east entrance of Glacier National Park, and the wind whipped my hair all around and I beamed and beamed and beamed.