As I was driving earlier today, I heard an old Dixie Chicks song, Wide Open Spaces. As I listened to the lyrics, they referred to a “place out west”, providing a “place to make big mistake” and it resonated with my own life. Since I was a little girl, going out west rejuvenated my spirit, and set my heart free. And I believe it has a lot to do with the wide open spaces, the remote places, where the land looks untouched by human beings. I remember my first foray into moving to the west from the crowded confines of the Washington, DC area. I had decided to ditch my big-paying job working with a consulting firm, and move to Mammoth Lakes, California — a small town located high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I got a chance to talk about my plans for big adventure with my grandmother, Eda Kreitz, who back in the day had her own big adventure with my grandfather, Kenneth Kreitz. I remember sitting at the dining room table with her, talking into the wee hours of the night about how she and my grandfather drove to California in the 1940s on Route 66 — yes, that Route 66 as in “get your kicks on Route 66!”. My favorite part of her story was telling me how she called my grandfather to suggest they move out to California, and by the time he got home from work, had sold the furniture! To know she had taken the risk, and had no regrets about having done so provided me with some reassurance about my own decision. Though our trips were separated by several decades, the sense of adventure she conveyed about their journey to California mirrored my own excitement.
As I crossed over the Mississippi River and drove further into the plains of Kansas, the high mountain peaks of Colorado, and the high desert of Nevada, the wide open spaces appeared. It’s hard to describe from folks back east, particularly, those in live in the urban corridors from Washington, DC to Boston, that places exist like that. I remember showing pictures of my cross-country travels to some friends who live on Cape Cod. They were looking at my photos of Nevada, remarking that there were no homes, no other cars, nothing but barren landscape in the photo — how could that be? It’s something that I marvel at each time I take a road trip, driving the little 2-lane roads that criss-cross the Rocky Mountain states.
I’ve always felt like I belonged out west, and craved those wide open spaces even when I moved back to New England to pursue a career in the Park Service. Living in Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and Maryland, I never really felt like I fit in, and it felt crowded to me. Moving back to Colorado, felt like coming home, where on a clear day, you can see for 100 miles or more. I found my mountains and my wide open spaces, and it filled up the void that had been lacking.