As soon as you inhale, you know you are somewhere special. I had walked in to a bustling internationally known air port in New York. Then in a matter of hours walked out of a sleepy little international air port in Montana!
I might as well have transported to an undiscovered land in a science fiction story. The air was actually sweet smelling. Fewer cars emissions perhaps? More trees, more space! Everything was cleaner, brighter, BIGGER. The term Big Sky is definitely appropriate to describe this beautiful section of earth.
Mountain ranges surrounded the view. You could easily see where the ski lifts climbed the side of the mountain range looking straight down main street in Whitefish. The shops on either side of the street were lined with raised wooden sidewalks and something like a continuous awning over your head. So smart, you didn’t have to worry about the rain or the snow, you were protected from the elements almost as soon as you stepped out of your car.
The smell of burgers on the grill filled my nostrils. Sweet onions followed and I found my mouth watering. As tempted as I was to search for those smells, the choice was not up to me. A fellow sister in words Haven guest and I had emailed back and forth before the event even began. She was driving by herself from Billings and said she’d pick me up – stop for lunch then head to the Walking Lightly Ranch. Parking spots were plentiful and were wonderfully missing meters. Looking at the passing car license plates was fun, usually I see the same three: CT, NJ, NY occasionally MA, and surprisingly a lot from FL. Well, New York is where many the snow birds go in the summer time. Yet here I was looking at Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota . I thought it was amazing, my companion watched me and smiled. She suggested a restaurant we could feast on the roof while soaking in the sun and the view.
A train slowly groaned past, a rhythmic glunk clank counted the pace of each car. You could not help but be thrown back into the time of the wild west. I was looking at the same mountains pioneers came walking across the country on foot, in wagons and on horseback. I was looking at the same mountains Native Americans called home. Hunting elk, moose and dear, fishing in the icy cold waters and living off an abundance of land. I was looking at a million acres of pristine foliage hiding several species of wild life, including cougars and bear. It was indeed as overwhelming to me as one who steps off a train and into Grand Central Station. Ha! But I actually felt safer! I knew who to be afraid of out here!
My companion kept up easy chatter. I liked her as soon as I met her. We shared notes as it were, of our lives, where we lived, how many children, how many years we’ve been married and how sometimes we think of what it would be like to not be married any more. To do what we want to do ALL the time. But we love our families, and our lives too much to “selfishly” walk away.
The food we ordered arrived and hunger over took conversation. The meat was delicious and satisfying, the salad greens were fresh from a garden, not a pre washed bag. Tomatoes popped in your mouth – so juicy you had to be careful not to squirt across the table. Roasted red potatoes crisp on the outside, soft and comforting on the inside. I swear sometimes I think I missed my calling. I would have liked to have tried to be a food critic. Or maybe a taste taster! Can you make a living tasting? Hmmm. Or maybe Yummmm is better description of the profession!
After our meal we decided to explore the town a bit, which meant driving down main street heading west, then turning around at the end and heading east. I instantly fell in love with it. Then we decided to head to the ranch. It was on the ride there I expressed how grateful I was for the ride. It was farther from town than I could tell on Google map. It was also more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. The sky was a blue you see in a crayon box. Every where you looked was a picture postcard. Horses and barns scattered in the pastures gave a little house on the prairie feel, and I wondered if I could have raised my children in the wilderness. The roads would go for what seemed like a runway straight mile, then turn so sharply you almost turned around completely before winding around clusters of tall trees to yet another runway and more curves way up ahead. I would have never been able to find the ranch by myself.
A homemade sign waited for us to find it beside a driveway and we knew we were almost there. The driveway would have been called a nature path at home – you could see where truck wheels pounded the gravel into two ribbons, but grass and larger stones outlined the edge. The compact car complained a little as its chasiss creaked at the odd positions the rocks insisted they go.
After a few minutes we spotted the first building, an extra guest lodge, then the owners of the ranch, who squinted his eyes to see if he knew us, deciding he didn’t, he still raised an arm in red plaid to wave a welcome. We continued past a small corral with several horses who also looked up – saw quickly we were not any one they knew, and went back to grazing.
Finally we saw the ranch house, there were the two swings hanging from the massive trees right outside the front door I saw online. They whispered “Come and play…” We were the first to arrive. After getting out of the car, stretching and getting lost just looking at the lake and surrounding land a voice called to welcome us. David was a ranch hand for lack of a better word. He was tall and handsome and invited us to find our rooms and take a look around.
The two of us acted like children, running from room to room,” Look at this! Look at that! Wow a footed bath tub on the second floor, a small library too! Look at this view! Check out this garden right outside the screened in porch!” Finding my room I put my bags inside and settled my belongings. The down comforter beckoned me to come lay down but I could hear other voices and wanted to meet my sisters in words.
There were hello’s and hugs from many of the ladies, we were instantly connected in this place called Haven. Once everyone was there Laura suddenly appeared. She went to each person, looking you in the eye, smiling so brightly you knew she was an old soul and you just knew her before you knew her! She gave each person a BIG hug and as I felt her warmth she whispered how glad she was that I was there. For you see dear reader, one thing I did not share with you was the panic attack I had the night before I was to begin this journey. Several years before these dreaded beasts would attack and cripple me. Cause me not to be able to leave my home, participate in things I had always loved to do. Keeping me in the bathroom retching from north and south of my navel.
For a long while I needed help in the form of a pill, just to take the edge off, just so I could function, but function in a blurr. I hated it. Yet without medical insurance there was no prescriptions for me now. No magic pill and for the first time in fifteen years I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t limping. I wanted to come to Montana and I wasn’t going to let the beast stop me. Yep, I had talked myself all the way from June to September that I didn’t need the jagged little pill; until the night before, until it was too late and I sat on the porcelain thrown crying, burning up with a mysterious fever, feeling my stomach turn over and over again.
My daughter came with a wet washcloth and put in on my head. She sat outside the bathroom in the hallway and talked to me. At one point when I couldn’t stop crying between barfing I told her to call Laura and tell her I was sick and could not attend. My daughter, almost a doctor daughter, a doctor in psychology daughter ( in the near future) kept a calm voice and said, “The pain is in your stomach, not in your head. This pain will pass and you will be fine. Let it pass.” It was a simple instruction. Let it pass. I don’t know why the beast was frightened of these words. But it was, and slowly, slowly the beast sank away into its hole.
I began to feel better. Still weak from all the vomiting, but I was beginning to feel normal. Sleep was fitful more than restful but, SO much better than when sleep would leave and I was up for hours walking around the house, trying to be quiet not to wake the rest of the house, but walking, watching tv, walking again through the entire night.
The beast was gone and I was in the wilderness of Montana. Now, where is my pen?
Continued: Part II
You know those molded seats in airport terminals that make your back ache and shoulders tender because you are in a forced sitting/slouched position? Well after standing for hours, or sitting on the floor, for more hours – those plastic seats feel like plush recliners!
God blessed me with a blue molded seat I swear has the imprint of my butt in it because I sat for so long!
I watched the carpet begin to disappear in the terminal of JFK as I watched flights being cancelled and delayed over a ten hour period the day I was to leave for Montana. More and more people crowded into the area. Eventually the carpet completely disappeared. Luckily everyone was well behaved and for the most part in a good mood knowing the weather was not the airlines fault. What struck me most was two young woman who manned the counter. Passenger after passenger came up, many asking the same question the fifty people before them asked. These young woman smiled each time and explained the situation. Never raising their voice or acting as frustrated as I’m sure they felt. They kept their cool and stayed professional for the entire length of their shift. I was so impressed that at one quiet moment I asked for their names. Looking at me concerned, they asked if something was wrong, no, quite the opposite, I told them how impressed I was with them and planned on writing to the airline to tell them how proud they should be to have such representation. Both girls gave me huge smiles and quickly wrote their names down. I tucked the note safely away.
Finally at 10pm we found ourselves boarding the plane – I was going to Minneapolis with the hope of connecting to a flight that would take me to Montana the next day at 11am.
We landed at midnight and dragged ourselves into the terminal. I was warned by another passenger to make sure it was a 24hr airport so I could find a place to safely sit until my flight. It had not occurred to me, nor did I have the money for an extra night at a hotel in a strange city. As I was heading into the main terminal, a young man in the airline’s uniform asked if I was Mrs. Young. “Yes, yes I am.” The dread washing over me – something must have happened at home, someone was sick or in an accident and this was a representative called to inform me of the situation!” My heart raced as I tried to stay calm and ask what had happened! The young man smiled and told me everything was okay, he wanted to apologize for the inconvenience of my delay and handed me an envelope. In which contained a voucher for a meal, two taxi services and a voucher for one night at the Radisson Blue along with the sincere apologies from the airline. The rest was a blur of wonderful! I was escorted to a taxi, taken directly to the hotel and shown to my room! It was amazing – a shower was one of those fancy ‘rain’ shower heads, a big soft down comforters, 2000 count sheets, stocked fridge, widescreen tv, and one of the softest robes I’ve ever worn. You can see in the pictures my delight.
Going to Montana – a place I’d never been, to ultimately find myself, my path, what adventures lay ahead had started out a little soggy, but was getting better with each passing moment. My writers journey had official begun! Chapter One…
Yes, seriously, this is really how it happened. What put me on this path of becoming a writer? What was the catalyst that made me believe enough in myself to attempt this undertaking? Who could have inspired me SO much that I would take a leap of faith and go, by myself, across the country to meet a woman and in turn a group of women, who also had the calling to express themselves in words?
It began last June. Okay, let me set the scene. I was home recovering from double carpal tunnel surgery – I do not recommend doing both hands at the same time. Anyone who has ever had surgery of any kind I’m sure can remember how simple things, like brushing your teeth or using ANYTHING in the bathroom becomes an adventure in flexibility, dexterity and balance!
I was not a happy camper.
Three months after surgery one evening in June, found me sitting in my dining room in tears. I learned my job would not be held for me, as it was impossible to lift a minimum requirement of ten pounds. Since a part of my responsibility was serving patients their meals over a thirteen hour shift, it was important to be able to lift the tray, plate with thermal weights/cover, beverage(s), side dishes, and dessert. After thirty-five years in the defense industry my husband had been laid off two years before. My job was the only income, plus provided medical benefits for the family. Losing it was horrifying.
I sat in the light of the computer screen searching – searching – and honestly I cannot tell you exactly what I was searching for, but I came upon the word Haven – which took me to a woman named Laura. She invited me to contact her and learn about her retreats. Wow, just the word alone makes you take a deep breath – retreat – a writing retreat. I took a leap of faith and wrote to Laura. I told her I needed a pearl of wisdom, a direction, a new path. After pressing send, exhaustion over took me and I went to bed.
The next morning I made a cup of tea and sat down again to search for I don’t know what again. There in my mail box was a letter from Laura. A letter – a fully written letter, not a note, not a quote of inspiration, not an ad asking me to buy anything, simply a letter.
She introduced herself, and told me whatever I was suppose to do, she learned a long time ago, comes down to three little words. “Do the work.” Plain and direct, if you want it, go figure out how to do it, do the work it takes to get to what you want. As I read her letter to the very end is when I saw just who Laura was. The Laura Munson New York Times Best Selling Author who wrote the book: ”This Is Not The Story You Think It Is”. My jaw dropped. She had not once asked me to buy her book, or purchase her mug that contains, perhaps tea grown in Montana that promotes good grammar. She reached out herself, not an automated reply, not a secretary, herself.
We wrote back and forth a few more times, we even spoke on the phone. When she invited me to come to one of her writing retreats held in Montana. I explained my financial situation at the moment, but if it changed would be sure to get in contact with her. She said, “I know you will come to Montana.”
I sat still for a moment letting it all sink in, then went into the living room. My husband and two daughters had been watching a show together, talking and laughing. Standing in the middle of the room I waited until they all looked up puzzled. I told them about the phone call, the email and how this is why you need to write thank you cards, and be nice to people you do not know, because you never know when something good is going to happen and I need to go to Montana – and burst into tears!
My daughters jumped up and came to me, hugging and dancing and saying not to worry. If I needed to go to Montana, they would help me pay for it. And they did, the retreat and airfare, but that is when the story continues in a way I did not expect at all. Although I began at JFK airport in New York – waiting for ten hours as a rainstorm took turns sitting on the US Open and then the runway – I missed all my connecting flights – that little piece of advice I sobbed to my children –“being nice to people you do not know” was about to pay off ten fold… (to be continued).