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My shadow at Swiftcurrent Lodge – Glacier National Park

Three news alerts covered the screen of my iPad this morning, all saying the same thing – people dead, wounded, movie theatre, Batman, The Dark Knight Rises….Indeed a dark night rose and I’m sure that in his mind, the shooter thought of himself as the dark knight.  Delusions, anger, paranoia, drugs, power, recognition…whatever his case might have been, the man shot innocent people – men, women and children – in a movie theatre.  Their lives ended without even a whisper.

And I am reminded of the factors that played into my decision to give up that other life for this solitary one on the road.  Suddenly I am grateful to be here, alone in a small travel trailer, watching the deer and listening to the rain and thunder.  For I can…

Nearly a year ago I was pacing around my living room, stopping constantly to look outside for something to hold me there but only seeing the stopping points at the trees, fence, road and finances.  Due to circumstances I was held there, like a caged lioness, yearning for a way to fulfill my dreams of travel, photography and writing.  Honestly, I did not know if traveling was the right thing to do because it meant giving up school, my dog, security of home and familiar surroundings.

Most importantly I would be removing myself from the grandchildren I was just finally getting to know.  The timing sucked.  All of those years of agony, wanting and longing, to know my grandchildren and finally I had met them.  Truthfully, besides not being able to figure out the finances on getting a travel trailer, there was only one thing, one phone call, one conversation that could have held me there and that was a healing in the relationship with the grandchildren’s father, my son.  But that didn’t happen and I knew better than to pin my future on the hope that things would change.  Things have gotten better but still have a long ways to go.

“To thine own self be true…”

In the end there were some real in-the-moment truths that I have been reluctant to share and that pushed me to follow this dream – which has turned out to be much less of a dream and instead a rich, raw experience of surviving alone on the road while eking out the golden moments.  A journey to discover the beauty and magic of the national parks is more about a discovery of myself – my hurts, my reactions, my realities, what I am comfortable with, my joys and disappointments and how in the heck do I get over those horrifying experiences that crushed my essence and turned me into this person who reacts in fear and runs from the pain.

Truthfully, if I had known that I was going out into the world to experience more pain and growth opportunities, I would have stayed home where there was internet and Netflix.  But, I am old enough now to know that pain is necessary and that when it goes away my world will be a better place – for myself and for those around me.

That living room that I paced around was small, as was the yard that I kept trying to escape into.  My couch, coffee table and large desk all squeezed before the massive picture window to the outside that was blocked by trees, fence and road.  And so it was a tight circle that I walked, a few feet one way, a few back.  Never going anywhere.  I was afraid to hop into the car for fear that I would just keep going and going and never getting anywhere.

The reasonable me thought that I should wait until everything was perfect, meaning money, trailer, vehicle and having the right equipment.  But another voice took over and reminded me that I had been waiting my entire life for the perfect moment and it had not come.  I remembered the day, nearly 20 years before, that I sold the car and bought a Jeep Cherokee, dog, tent, sleeping bag and camping gear and took off camping by myself in the Blue Ridge Mountains because that man to do those things with might not ever come along.  He hasn’t, not in 20 years.

Make the moments count…”To thine own self be true.”

And so I thought about how my body, my back, could fail me at anytime and I would no longer be able to hike and carry a camera.  I wondered if my eyes would stand the test of more time.  What if I lost my sight and couldn’t see the places I wanted to photograph?  I thought about sitting in the recliner couch, watching those Netflix movies and regretting that I had never taken the chance to live my dream.

As a younger woman I always felt like there would be time later but the second chances to do the things that I put off never came.  Lost opportunities.  I could learn from my mistakes.  And still, I thought about the grandchildren and missing the opportunity to see them grow up, as was the regrettable situation with their father.  And then I wondered what kind of grandmother I would be if always looking out towards the mountains and wishing to be there, never giving my full attention to the kids.  Perhaps I could travel for a few years, get some great material for a book or two, take a few nice photographs, learn more about the world and then return with my rich experiences to settle down and to say, “I did it!”

Photography, writing, travel and experiencing life was to be my job, not just a dream.

Sample images from some of the places I have visited:

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Innocent victims are dead in Colorado and I am reminded why it is important to live each moment as if it might be the last.  I am grateful to be sitting here, inside of my small trailer that is parked in the dense forest of the North Cascades, listening to rain and thunder, smelling the dampness of the air and feeling the twinges of pain in my lower back.  I can feel the pangs of loneliness and revel in the solitude…I can let failures pull me back further or allow them to teach me how to do better and to press forward until my time is up.

I would venture to guess that of those who were killed in last night’s shooting, most would say, “but I didn’t do _____ yet.”  We can honor their lives by living our own to the fullest – maybe happier people would make for a happier world.