Tuesday, March 13, 2012


For the first few years Doug and I were married, our family traveled. Our crew of six crawled all over the mountains within hours of our home, in the Great Smokies and on others in Virginia and North Carolina. We camped and camped some more, or spent long, full days under the South Carolina sun, swimming along beaches, seining the tide pools, or dropping crab buckets off the piers. Most significantly, on a professor’s salary, we packed up and moved the whole household operation out West for two summers in a row. 

Horseback riding i n Colorado.
WhileDoug taught as an adjunct professor or volunteered for the National Forest Service in Wyoming, the rest of us tooled around New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming. Since our living expenses mostly came with us, the trips were surprisingly affordable, and we had a grand, spiritually and intellectually luxurious time. One of the summers, our 16-year-old twins worked their first jobs as lifeguards at the Saratoga Municipal Swimming Pool, within sight of the magnificent Medicine Bow mountains on WYO 130, while the two younger girls ran wild and free on their bikes through every nook and cranny of that small Wyoming town. On any night, all of us girls might lie down in the back of Doug’s pickup truck under the breathtaking explosion of Western stars, while he slowly drove along endless miles of dirt roads. Daily, we drove or hiked out to where we could see wolves, herds of elk, deer with two or three brand-spanking new babies, eagles, beaver, otters, trout — more wildlife than I could ever list here. Days and days we spent in native ruins, the cave dwellings at Mesa Verde, the Anasazi Great Houses in Chaco Canyon. Horseback riding and hot springs, and wildflowers — how to describe the wildflowers? The world a family of six could reach by minivan or in hiking boots was a wonder, and we basked in it all.

Hiking in Mesa Verde  --  and yeah, that's a bonafide cliff!
Alas, since we’ve moved onto the farm, those kinds of dreamy extended excursions have seemed over  for two years now, at least for Doug and me. Three of the girls we imparted with wanderlust are women now, and they still roam the world, for work and for fun — Mexico, the Honduras, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand and Tasmania, the Caribbean, Canada and Alaska, and always and repeatedly, the Western United States. Doug and I, meanwhile, have been tied to feeding horses, tending chickens, mowing, planting, putting up food. Responsibly leaving the animals has seemed an impossible specter.
One of our views.

Finally this past weekend, the two of us got away for one precious night in Knoxville, Tennessee, about two hours from home. We planned the short trip around a concert, and slept in the executive suite of a fine hotel, feeling strangely “1 percent” as we swiped our room cards in the elevator before it would even take us to our floor. The spring weather was beautiful. We walked the sleepy streets of old Knoxville in the sunshine until concert time on Sunday. We had a terrific time. Yet, afterward, we kept taking each other’s pulse.
Doug on top of the Medicine Bows.

“Did you have a good time?”
“Yes I did. You?”
“Why yes, yes I did.”

The answer was yes — really.

And no.

What was wrong, I wondered? Too much anticipation?

One day after we returned from our two-day trip, my three oldest daughters flew in from a 10-day vacation in Puerto Rico. They were thrilled with what they found here — a picture-book of rain forests and sapphire beaches and reefs. We laughed to hear about how they snorkeled amongst the fishes until their guide startled them with the order, “My friends! Wait right here!” They treaded water on a shallow section of reef looking around for sharks’ fins until their guide informed them of the problem:  “The boat!” he yelped, then dove into a 20-minute swim, to catch the drifting craft that would take them back to land …

They had a terrific time. And yet …
Holly, Tessa and Devon in front of the Medicine Bows.

What exactly was all this my extraordinarily lucky daughters were complaining about, I wondered?  Puerto Rico was awfully touristy, they said, and expensive  for the kinds of travelers who carry all their needs slung over their shoulders. The local people were westernized in a way that transcends “westernization” — bearing the overzealous quality of wannabes. They all had new cars, iPads, most were overweight. They wouldn’t allow my daughters to converse in Spanish with them, as though the local tongue were anathema. “Gluttonous,” one daughter said, and living in such a small place, homogenous — no escaping either Americans, or the relentless march of America on the native people. McDonalds, Burger King, KFC. The daughters, it turned out, had traveled to what they already knew all too well.

Then I realized:  the complaint was the same for Doug and me. We hadn’t gotten away. Our short stay in Knoxville took us right smack dab into the heart of our very own culture, with no nature and no change in the landscape of our everyday lives to distract us from — whoopee! — bars and restaurants and the touristy shopping on Market Square. Our brief taste of the 1 percent was rather flavorless. Little cabins in the middle of nowhere have served us so much better than that 18th floor suite.

On the upside, we are making strides back toward balance, slowly finding the ways we might be able to travel again. I now have a horse-savvy friend who can feed my horses while I am away, and I will do the same for her. Doug, meanwhile, is planning another month-long hike out west for this summer, when I will be the sole animal caretaker, secure in the knowledge that my turn to hit the road will come.

And from now on, we’ll be sure to get away, whether we drive two hours or twenty or take a flight.

Taylor getting photographed (and checked out) after we'd been in the Saratoga, Wyo., Fourth of July parade!


  1. Wonderful story. I understand completely. For many of us getting away is, like you said, getting away from what we know every day.

    This is becoming more difficult to do as globalization wraps the world in mini-malls of Victoria's Secrets and McDs.

    But, that's urban. You are so right, the rural and outback areas are where we can experience difference.

    Your family is lucky to have spent summers so wonderfully engaged. It's no wonder you've got Park Rangers in the bunch.

  2. I'm busy researching how to keep myself alive on a two foot wide swath of dirt deep in the mountains because it seems I may not be able to do the same inside the walls of this house (powered by Walmart).

  3. We met other gypsy families much like us, taking risks to live away from home for months and making it on a wing and a prayer. Everyone letting their children be wild and free in those small, super-safe towns -- it was SO good for them. We rented a house for next to nothing per month and then "filled it" with yardsale buys -- a GREAT way to meet your new neighbors. We had folding lawn chairs in the living room and most of us slept on air mattresses on the floor. When we were finished for the summer, everything got donated back to the local Salvation Army.

  4. well, better visit Cuba before the Malecon looks like the San francisco warf..or any other seaside sticky trap for buzzing flies. past the disappointment of meeting yourself in too familiar a strange setting. the 1% can afford to evade their elements..the rest are the fortunate ones who can remake theirs.with their familiar ones.