My childhood home, an eighty acre dairy farm, was nestled in a valley at the foot of the Selkirk range in Northern Idaho. Those mountains held great fascination for my brothers and me, and we were allowed often to include them in our rambles.
The trail we followed led to a series of cliffs which we named, with a colossal lack of imagination, first cliff, second cliff and third cliff. Getting to the top of the third cliff, a great granite bluff, was quite an accomplishment. The trail was steep, full of brambles and loose rocks. In the spring we had to watch out for ticks. In the summer there were flies the size of babies' fists. It was always worth the climb.
From the very top of the third cliff we could see our home - the house and the barns and the fields - along with the highway that led to town, the railroad tracks that led to worlds unknown, and another range of mountains far to the east. Our farm, Sunburst Dairy, was named for the spectacular sunrises that exploded over those mountains every day that wasn't cloudy.
The view I was most interested in on those carefree summer days, however, was the one to the west. The mountains looming gently over us as we rested on the third cliff called to me. I wanted to know where they led. The Selkirks are technically part of the Rocky Mountains, and I believed I might find greater beauty and grandeur if I hiked up and away. I had no real sense of geography in those days - only a sense of longing for something more, for adventure, for following without restriction something my heart longed for.
I even started to search for a trail deeper into the mountains one day, to the voices of my three younger brothers hollering at my back.
"Mommy's gonna be really mad. You're gonna be in so much trouble. We're going down now. You'll be alone."
It wasn't their threats so much as my total lack of preparation - no food or water or extra clothes - that convinced my feet to turn around. It was the pull of pleasing and safety and being a girl that ultimately kept me from finding out what was over the next ridge, and the next and the next.
More than forty years later, I am on the verge of trekking away from the familiar territory of home and the third cliff. I will travel light, but not completely unprepared. And I will not be alone.
Last week I shared my intention with my principal, my third grade teammates and a couple of close friends at work. I've been slowly telling people in my life of my plan to set out on this adventure, to mixed reviews. But telling my principal made it official and real in a way it had not been before. Her support and enthusiasm for my new journey was stunning.
I'm taking a leave of absence from teaching next year. It's a baby step that I hope becomes a giant step away from public education. This is my chance to be a writer, and nothing else, for a year. I have a book to get published. I have stories to tell. I have unexplored places in my heart to visit. I need to know if I can make a living doing the thing I believe I came here to offer.
Whatever I find over the next ridge, the traveling will be adventure enough for now. I will journey with amazing people. I have strong direction without a clear destination. I have a newly discovered compass that's been waiting for decades to be followed. Who knows. Maybe I'll find the real Rocky Mountains with all their majesty and miles and mystery.
photo from Flickr