My husband and I took our family (our son, his wife, their two children, and our daughter) back East to see family over Thanksgiving. It was the first time we’d all been together for Thanksgiving in fifteen years. It was a fabulous family reunion, and we enjoyed the chance to catch up with everyone’s busy lives.
I’ve been back East several times since we moved West in 1994, but this trip was the first one that I realized my old stomping grounds aren’t home anymore. Perhaps I’ve acclimated to the open, treeless Plains. Perhaps I need to be able to see for hundreds of miles around me in order to have the space to think.
An ad for the various Smithsonian museums in the DC area drove this home to me. My dad was a curator of invertebrate zoology at the Natural History Museum for many years before his death, so of course the ad caught my eye. It featured a contemporary woman in a sun dress facing a vast range of green but treeless high mountain hills with the caption, “Wonder More.” It made me homesick. Not for the old days, but for my home in the West.
It was an epiphany.
I’m nearly fifty years old, and for most of my adult life, I’ve been searching for my home. Seeing that ad, I suddenly knew exactly where home was. And I began to wonder when the West became my home. A friend of mine recently pointed out that I have a theme of finding home in each of my stories. I love that theme–I ought to–I’ve lived it for so many years. There’s something humbling about a character finding home, finding where she (or he) belongs.
And of course, once I start wondering, I wonder about everything. Like what it would have been like to live in a time without highway noise or airplanes, cell phones or satellites. No matter where any of us goes these days, to the remotest Plain or the highest mountain, a helicopter could come rescue us in the blink of an eye. But what was life like before our time, when leaving home meant you were quickly out of rescue range?
Give yourself license to dream, to experience worlds beyond your own. I wonder what it would have been like to heed the call of the West in the Nineteenth Century. Was it anything like the call I answered in the Twentieth Century? I doubt it. Mine took three days straight across Interstate-80. I didn’t have to travel by wagon or foot across Indian lands and rough territory, without bathrooms or medicine or any modern convenience. I didn’t even leave the States to complete my trek. And yet I was still scared, still heading for a new beginning.
I’m a hopeless wonderer. I wonder about you. What is it about your favorite western hero that made him so memorable to you? What themes are you drawn to in stories? What are your own personal themes that you would like to see handled in a story?
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