Some twelve years later, I return from Western North Carolina. I return and think of what could have been and what came to pass. Wild, eh? Just one different shake of the dice and maybe I’d have never left Teton Valley.
One different shake and I found myself in Southern Appalachia. No regrets. Never, ever. But, the idea of time and place always blinks brightly in the dreams that I’ll never be able to shake until I’ve found what I’m looking for — whatever and whoever that may be.
Earlier this morning, I packed up my rusty, musty Toyota Tacoma in Bozeman, Montana, and said goodbye to my aunt and cousin (who live there) and my parents (who were visiting and flew home that afternoon back to Upstate New York).
In the back of my truck, I meticulously put away my clothes (street casual and running), sleeping bag, pillows, towels, toiletries, acoustic guitar, ukulele, two-thirds drank bottle of Kentucky bourbon, and Coleman cooler (my late grandfather’s) filled with domestic beers and two-day-old ice (proudly held cold for over 36 hours).
Exiting the Bozeman city limits, I pushed along U.S. 191 South towards Big Sky, Montana, at a steady 80 mph. Somewhere between Bozeman and Big Sky, I decided to pull off and go for a trail run/hike. I was in need of a good run, and a good sweat. So, why not dive deep into the surrounding mountains of high elevation, hot sun and dry air?
At the trailhead for Lava Lake (via Cascade Creek), I threw my bear spray canister into my running pack. With my whistle in my left hand and switchblade in my right, I tucked the pepper spray into the side pocket of my running shorts. Better safe than sorry in grizzly bear country.
About three miles up the steady incline of the trail, I found myself face to face with Lava Lake. Surrounded by the Spanish Peaks (hovering over 10,000 feet), I sat atop a boulder and gazed out over the water. A hot western sun burned above. I started to sweat, but it soon evaporated. Such is life, right?
But, no matter. My mind was racing in the presence of calm waters. Thinking and pondering. Nothing and everything. I wondered where those grizzly bears were right now. I wondered where that girl I once loved was, too. What ever happened to her, and to us?
Bending down, I splashed some cold water onto my face. A spiritual baptism of sorts. For me, more so a moment to awaken myself into the immediate reality revealing itself before my eyes and ears. I thought of my late grandfather, wherever he was in the ether above the Spanish Peaks. I thought of my parents, wherever they were on their journey through the sky back to the North Country.
Back to U.S. 191, the nose of the Tacoma aimed for Eastern Idaho. Pass through Big Sky and towards West Yellowstone. Somewhere along U.S. 20, I found myself rocketing through Island, Park, Idaho.
Just below Island Park, a faint signal on my FM radio indicated the station being that of BYU-I (Brigham Young University-Idaho), as the tune “America” from the musical “West Side Story” blared oddly out of my truck speakers, the windows rolled down, echoing out into the vastness of nothing (and everything), “Free to be anything you choose, free to wipe tables and shine shoes.”
By the time I crossed into the small prairie community of Tetonia, Idaho, my old buddy, Dave, got back to me (cell service finally resumed amid civilization). Entering downtown, I stopped at the Tetonia Club and met Dave for a couple cold Olympia beers (aka: “Olys”).
An hour later, I paid my bar tab at the Tetonia Club and headed for Dave’s farmhouse a few miles down the road. Creaking down the gravel road, I followed his taillights until they got bright red in front of the fence with the barking dogs and the barn floodlight in front of the house he calls home with his fiancé.
Within 12 minutes sitting in chairs in his living room, Dave and I erased 12 years of my absence from Teton Valley. Laughter. Agreement. Smiles. Beers held high and saluted to days and faces long gone, but never forgotten.
And here I sit at Dave’s kitchen table. Right around 1 a.m. (mountain standard time). Somewhere in Western North Carolina, my friends and colleagues have been asleep for hours. It’s dark in here, except for the light of the MacBook Air and the sounds of whatever classic rock is on repeat within my headphones.
Side note: never forget that the Faces is one the greatest things that ever happened to rock-n-roll. So, play “Debris” every so often to remind yourself that life is good (even when it sucks, it still beats the alternative).
The domestic beer near my hand is still cold, even in the warmth of an Idaho farmhouse (some “120 years old,” Dave tells me). And yet, my fingers are warm and can’t keep from sliding across the keyboard, just like they did those many years ago, in 2008, in Teton Valley, Idaho, when I was 22 and thought I knew “what it all meant.” At 35, I still don’t know “what it all meant,” and I’m grateful for that realization.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.