There is something about the American West that fascinates and enchants, something that pulls people to visit and re-visit time and again. There is something romantic about the cowboy lifestyle, even when it’s portrayed at its worst. There is some sort of ingrained desire for open spaces and prairie sunsets and mountain air that can only be satiated by wandering westward.
I have a good friend who is well-learned in the Lakota tradition. She was once telling me about the medicine wheel, which is a symbol used by Plains tribes to represent knowledge of the universe. Each of the four directions is connected with a different space. The West is linked to joy and growth in the intellect space, where you hold the things you’ve always wanted to do. In our American tradition, westward expansion is linked to exploration and adventure. Those two images of the West overlap for me, joy and growth stemming from the adventures I’ve always wanted to take.
Adventure has always been a big theme in my life. I remember spending hours as a child, poring over accounts of the Vikings, Lewis and Clark, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Edmund Hillary. I’ve always craved range to ride and mountains to explore. To me, the West always seemed like the perfect place to live, an idea which was made fact by several family vacations in my formative years. Yet somehow, I never realized that I could actually live here, until a visit to family in Montana after my first year of college.
I still remember it so clearly. I was 19 years old, and feeling burnt out and lost. I didn’t know where the next turn was, or what to do once I got to that turn. My cousin told me, “I think you need an adventure.” We went on to talk about all the things I loved, and how to make those things a part of my everyday life. How to create a life I loved. How to follow my bliss, as Joseph Campbell would say. And that’s when I discovered, adventure didn’t have to be something I dreamed about, it could be something I lived. From that point forward, that’s how I’ve tried to make decisions and live my life.
Life is too short to do things that make you miserable. Of course, there are going to be hardships and difficulties along the way. That’s just how life goes. But those hardships and difficulties are much easier to bear if you live where you love and do what you love. To me, that’s living out west and ranching in the mountains. It might be something completely different to you. But the important part is to find the thing you love, then do more of that thing. To quote Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox, “Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward.”
Adventure is out there. All you have to do is find it.
(shoutout to the movie Up for the title inspiration. You go, Russell.)