My life is small (I get the kids on the bus, I go the library to write, and ok, fine, epically waste time there crafting stories in my head about the people sharing my table ranging in ages from 19 to 195, this guy is studying for the MCATs, this guy, a retired architect; nighttime it’s homework, then dinner, then watching something like Moana). . . going to Montana on a work trip with my husband felt really. . . big.
And then I learned them: We'd be staying at The Ranch at Rock Creek, “the World’s Only Forbes Travel Five-Star Guest Ranch.”
I can wear sweaters, I thought, and sit by a fire. I can quote "City Slickers" AND make horse puns like "let's saddle up to the bar" the entire time!
Please select your activities, Mrs. Denby.
Choose from snow mobiling, fly-fishing, horseback riding, cross-county skiing...
Thoughts of "what?!" And "oh hells NO" came to mind.
What. Had. I done.
All I wanted to do was sit in a chair cloaked in mohair while basking in the fumes of smoked birch to the backdrop of gently falling snow and quite possibly a frolicking moose in the yonder. . . maybe channel my inner Brian Fellow. . . is that too much to ask?
I chose fly-fishing and horseback riding, thinking I could drink heavily before, after, or quite possibly throughout both.
...When I landed in Missoula and met my cowboy-hat donning guide, I started with the easy stuff. "How do you say moose plural?" I genuinely asked him. We boarded his truck, set for a two-hour drive. With my chin tucked into my palm, I turned my head toward the window and asked a few more questions. About the landscape. About cattle. It was if I had never been outside. Snow began falling and silence blanketed the vehicle as we drove into the night. I became lost in the thick of everything, of beauty, of darkness, of thoughts. . .
"I feel like I'm in Jurassic Park," I finally said breaking the spell.
My first activity was horseback riding. I ponied up to the stable (lounging, no, but there would still be puns!) with nary a thought in my head. I mean, people were asking questions, will there be this, should I do that.
My brain: empty.
We were introduced to our horses. Meet Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen.
(No, sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Meet Lonesome and Shorty. Basically horses with names like “Sleepy” and “In Slow Motion.” Meet, “Xanax.”
Then came my horse, a dark chocolate beauty, “Amy, meet Dash.”
“Dash is being lazy today,” a guide explained to me as my horse began nudging and huffing. “He doesn’t want to be here.”
“Well Dash,” I leaned over and told him, trying to sway his mind with my irresistible charm (to think, “I’m big with the foals,” I could say!). “Do you know there is a type of horse named ‘My Little Pony’ whose name is Rainbow Dash? She has rainbow hair and sparkling eyes. If I showed you her picture in a coloring book, you would lose your mind. . .”
I mean galloping. . . to return to the barn, to find Rainbow Dash, who knows. . . Dash was running full speed ahead across a snow-covered field with me and all of my experience of maybe riding a pony once as a child at one of those probably illegal local church fairs.
“PULL BACK!” everyone started yelling, in terms of me grabbing the reins, “PULL BACK, PULL BACK!”
It was the only time I’d ever been told that in my life. (Go, is what is within me. Try harder. Go, go.)
The horse stopped a foot from a fence.
My eyes had been opened.
This is a land for anew:
I’ve gone to look for America, Paul Simon wrote and sang so beautifully on the album “Bookends” back in 1968.
His song a tale of two lovers on a road trip, his words capturing the sentiment of a generation in uncertain times: “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.”
It was Friday night and I was rambling.
I felt empty and aching and I didn’t know why.
Okay, okay, I’d had about 45 tequilas, mixed with blood oranges, so make that 45 tequilas with thirty ounces of fruit.
“Did you ever read Baudrillard?” I slurred in my finest. I went on to describe the philosopher’s theory from his book Simulacra and Simulation that theme parks like Disneyland exist to distract us from the truth that nothing is real. So after we visit Jurassic Park. . .
(You: Wow, Amy, you sound so fun and cool and not a downer at all when you drink tequila mixed with 65 blood oranges.)
But I feel the pull of Paul Simon, telling the story of a boy so optimistic at the start of his journey, smoking cigarettes, making jokes (his bow tie, a camera!) who then finds himself contemplative, staring out the window, counting cars on the New Jersey Turnpike as they whizz by.
He realizes, we are all on a journey.
We are all searching.
We all come to look for America.
All come to look for America.
I am home now, standing at the window, watering my plants. I am looking out into a blizzard, in these uncertain times. Usually from this view I see a sliver of Manhasset Bay, with the New York City skyline in the distance. The Freedom Tower. The Empire State Building. I love looking to see what color it will be at night.
But today, I can’t see anything. I squint my eyes into the white. And yet, I know they are out there…