At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

This must be the place: I wanna be an American cowboy, and I ain’t never moving away

Every-so-often, I’d look around the crowd and wonder if I’d have known any of these folks, perhaps called them dear friends, if I had stayed all those years ago.

Standing in the middle of Teton Village, in the shadow of the Grand Teton Mountains, just outside Jackson, Wyoming, this past Sunday, I immersed myself in the raucous sounds of rock act Futurebirds. I thought of who I was and what I wanted out of life when I was 23 years old and living in this part of the country. 

This rollicking trip back to where it all began came, somewhat serendipitously, at the exact time I’ve found myself at a crossroads, once again questioning where I’m currently at, and what’s the next step moving forward. 

You’re either a participant in the whirlwind of life or you’re watching it from a safe distance, high atop your physical or emotional mountain, soaking in a serene silence only found in the depths of a soul at peace. 

I lived and worked on the backside of the Tetons, just over the Teton Pass in the town of Driggs, Idaho. The Teton Valley News. A tiny newspaper that covered all of Teton County, Idaho, though there were only three small towns with populations varying from 400 to 1,200 residents. 

From January to September 2008, I roamed the high desert prairie of this vast landscape, interacting with multitudes of farmers, cattle ranchers, ski bums, and whoever else was just like me — young and seeking their fortunes out West, hell or high water, like our ancestors before us.

By that fall of 2008, I grew weary of where I was. Not the landscape or the people, but the creative fulfillment in the early stages of my career. That feeling of hitting your head on the ceiling, where I figured I could head east, maybe gain more experience, only to circle back to my beloved Tetons. 

Skip ahead exactly a decade later. I’m living and working for this fine newspaper you’re holding. Six years and counting in Western North Carolina. What I’m doing day-in-and-day-out with The Smoky Mountain News would have seemed like some wild dream back in those early days in Idaho, where I was covering endless planning and zoning board meetings or snapping some photos and quotes from a retirement party for a pillar of the local business community.

Since I left the Tetons those many moons ago, I’ve always questioned my decision to leave. Not to leave that newspaper, but leaving behind all my new friends and the roots I’d spent months planting and cultivating in the West. And returning to the Tetons this week really brought a lot of those deeply-held thoughts and emotions to the surface.

I’ve always followed my intuition. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I use it as my guiding force, though there have been lapses in judgment where I didn’t listen to it, and things seemed to fall apart. Though it all, I’ve been able to see and realize why things are and that, in the end, well, it is what it is, you know?

Thus, it was a truly full circle moment watching the Futurebirds perform in Teton Village. After I left these mountains in 2008, I came back in 2009 for a visit, just passing through, maybe even scanning for some prospects to once again come back and reignite my western intent. But, there was a girl back in New York, one who I loved, that wildly enough seemed to love me, too. 

So, my heart said to go back, give it a shot and pursue something with this girl. I did. It went great, but eventually went nowhere several months later. Back to square one, back to hitting the pavement in a downward economy, trying to scrap out a meager living as a freelance writer roaming up and down the Eastern Seaboard for a few years. 

There were other meaningful relationships, other people I loved and continue to love. Other journalism gigs that came and went, mostly because I was a square peg and the job was a round hole — you can’t force the creative process into spaces it won’t be able to flourish in. 

But, that all changed in June 2012, when my publisher, Scott McLeod, gave an underemployed writer a shot. And yet, I’ve never forgotten how grateful I was, and remain, for this opportunity, a career footing I spent numerous sleepless nights hoping would someday emerge. 

It can be fun sometimes, or cathartic, to think “What if?” when you reflect on your steps to where you’re currently standing. The thing is, though, that after those thoughts and that simple, unanswerable, question become exhausted in your mind, it is then that you finally realize your journey is all one sweeping movement — up, down, left, right, maybe in a circle — until it reaches its final, poignant conclusion somewhere down the line. 

Never question the steps taken, only seek what the heart wants. It’s a simple notion that has recently put my perspective in check, my soul at ease.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

 

Hot picks

1 The 49th annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival will be held Aug. 31-Sept. 1 at the Stuart Auditorium in the Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center.

2 The 112th annual Canton Labor Day Festival will be held Sept. 2-3 in Sorrells Street Park in downtown.

3 The P.A.W.S. wine tasting and silent auction will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, at Lands Creek Log Cabins in Bryson City. 

4 The Concerts on the Creek summer series will conclude with Dashboard Blue (classic hits) at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Bridge Park in downtown Sylva.

5 To conclude this year’s “Summer Music Series,” the Marianna Black Library is proud to present The Pressley Girls at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, in Bryson City.

Go to top