During a recent northward migration, I gazed at clouds moving across landscapes for hours; watched them swirl into nebulous dust storms and disappear at the foot of mountains. I watched the world change colors while trying to figure out what John Prine was really talking about. Reaching into the backseat, I pulled out a book with a page marked at the point where I had traded literature for ski magazines. Realizing that the bookmark was in fact a student loan bill, I found myself looking at the changing landscape of my own life.
I thought of the bright morning when I had stood with friends discussing the coming winter in the shadow of mountains. It was not a remarkable situation by any means –three people and as many dogs standing in a Wyoming hay field; a hay farmer, a ranch manager, and me, just a visitor standing aside, sipping coffee, and thinking about the beauty of this kind of life. Life in a world shaped and defined by weather, landscapes, and people.
I am often asked when I plan on joining something called the “real world”. I get this question a lot because I have abandoned classrooms, I don’t not work in an office, and most of the time I don’t even pay rent. I spend most of my life outside, where weather patterns and cowboy coffee matter. I live in the open air and breathe wind. I lie on rocks and walk barefoot in rattlesnake country. In this world I sleep hard like a sandstone slab, spend nights dreaming of moving water, and wake up sucked dry from breathing the desert deeply. I rejoice at snowfall and seek solitude in silent forests. I don’t care about the sand in my hair.
In the past ten years, I have lived in nearly as many states – finding the people who shape my world. People with big smiles and huge hearts, strong hands and deep compassion. People whose demeanors say, “This is who I really am. This is what I really look like.” People who also believe that nothing is more real than stone, water, and wind. I am not talking of mystical, twinkley-eyed gypsies or austere, intellectual hermits buried in the woods. I speak of scientists, scholars, business owners, bartenders, sailors, athletes, vagabonds, teachers, artists, mothers and fathers, kings and queens. My world consists of people who are remarkable not because they are unconventional, but rather because they all lead beautiful lives.
I barely resisted tossing that student loan bill out the window, but only because I hate to litter. And I sat behind the wheel thinking of what my life is really about. It is about people and land and laughter. It is about the complexities of a simpler life. And I thought, give this up to join the “real world”? This is the real world. And this, I believe.
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