I remember the moment.
As I hiked along Bubbs Creek in Kings Canyon National Park, my heart began to sing. I could swear it would explode right out of my heart.
There had been moments before. When I first moved to the Sierra Nevada in California, I marveled at the ruggedness of the Minarets. The sheer granite made me feel small.
But hiking among burbling creeks, water cascading through the canyons of sheer rock faces made me feel alive. Alive in a way, I didn’t feel growing up in St. Louis, or living in a bustling big city, or even being on a beach.
I tried another way of life. Shortly after my first foray into mountain living, I moved to San Francisco. If you’re going to live in a city, that would be the one. Beautiful views of the ocean and the rolling hills of Mt. Tamalpais. Vibrant neighborhoods with diverse people and architecture. And food to die for.
But I never quite felt like I fit.
Later in my Park Service career, I moved to Cape Cod National Seashore. Many in my family loved the beach. My grandmother would rent a beach house every summer. My cousins, aunts, and uncles would gather for two weeks, building sand castles and playing the surf. They lived to go to the beach each summer.
But not me.
I tried to love the beach. I made myself go while living on Cape Cod. After an hour, bitten by green flies, and bored with watching the waves, I packed up and left.
Maybe it wasn’t the right beach. I tried again, taking the ferry to Nantucket. I enjoyed exploring the town and walking on the beach, but it just didn’t do it for me.
Sometimes you can only really know where you truly belong, by experiencing all the places you don’t fit in. After feeling like a duck out of water, a chance conversation reminded me.
“You should go to the White Mountains in New Hampshire” suggested my co-worker.
So I spent several hours driving up to Crawford Notch, camping for two nights and hiking during the day.
Yep, my heart filled up again. This is where I belonged.
Years later, I met a couple while working at Capitol Reef National Park.
“Where do you feel most connected? If you could live any place, where would it be?”
“Well, that’s easy. The mountains. When I’m in the mountains, my heart sings.”
“If you know that, why don’t you try to make choices so you can live there all the time? What could you do right now that would bring you closer to making that a reality?”
It was that moment that spurred me to action. Carpe diem! I didn’t want to wait until “some day” to find that place.
One year later, we moved to Nederland.
A quaint mountain town ringed by the Rocky Mountains
I’d finally found my place where I belonged.