I'd gone to look for America. . .
Though I’ll admit, at first, I did not want to go at all.
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 far. (I googled it.)
And the music in Moana is actually pretty good.
But like a chirpy twenty-something in Vegas whose motto is "say yes to everything," I felt drawn to this opportunity. I said yes without knowing any details about the trip.
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 was not sure exactly what this meant, but I knew it was good, a far cry from the places I went to growing up (let’s hear it for roadside motels in Amish country, woot-woot!)
I corrected my "yes" to "oh hells yes."
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!
Then came the itinerary:
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.
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?
Then suddenly found my behind traveling 12 hours across the country to be thrown into an icy, cold body of water.
I chose fly-fishing and horseback riding, thinking I could drink heavily before, after, or quite possibly throughout both.
I could be like I Love Lucy in the iconic “Vitameatavegamin” episode, only way more drunk.
I packed every sweater and cold weather paraphernalia I could think of, I went deep with the socks, and on a bright Wednesday morning, I was off.
...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.
We were lumbering up a sloping hill through gates that said The Ranch at Rock Creek, grounds I would not leave for the next four days.
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.
I was ready to be a passenger. Just sit on a horse and go. . .
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.”
Comparatively I’d been handed a horse named “Eight Ball of Speed,” but still this unfazed me. I was all, “oh hi there, fella!” I pet his long nose.
We took off single-file along a babbling creek in the snow.
I was in a Ralph Lauren ad, if the models wore sophomoric sweatshirts that said “Happy Camper” instead of suede capes and started most mornings with an anti-paleo breakfast of an American cheese sandwich.
“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. . .”
With that he was off.
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.
But I was feeling contemplative. Was the harshness of New York with its gazillion dollar crappy apartments and must-keep-moving mentality the real world, or was it the wild of Montana, where in order to survive you have to pull back?
“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. . .
. . . after horse back riding and catching two fish. . .
. . . after looking into the black chasms of a stoic creature’s eyes and saying my spirit animal is a bull in Montana. . .
We go back to our homes and sigh, well, back to reality! when really nothing around us is real.
(You: Wow, Amy, you sound so fun and cool and not a downer at all when you drink tequila mixed with 65 blood oranges.)
If you believe Baudrillard, then easy breezy, neither are real.
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…