When Emma came out west, it wasn’t like Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves, on an army wagon headed across the plains to Fort Sedgewick. It wasn’t like Jacob Wheeler joining up with Jedediah Smith’s band of backwoodsmen to carve paths in the mountains. It certainly wasn’t like Michaela Quinn boarding a train from Boston with her medical bag and her good name. It wasn’t even like Elizabeth Thatcher in When Calls the Heart, though that’s coming closer, but thankfully I haven’t blown up a wood stove yet. I don’t know why I always imagined I’d come out here in a covered wagon pulled by a team of mules, with the wind blowing my hair and the courage of the ages beneath my calico-clad bosom. Clearly I watch a lot of movies; it wasn’t anything like that. The reality was I hopped on a plane, flew over two time zones, saw the desert from the sky, landed in a big scary airport and sat there with my boots propped up on my mom’s old suitcase until the shuttle came to take me out of the city and into the mountains.
The shuttle driver, who could use a trip to the dentist if his health insurance allows, threw my earthly belongings unceremoniously into the back of his van along with the other passenger’s. For two hours I sat squished against a stranger, with a family chattering away in a foreign language behind me, all the while glued to the window trying to see what was so magical about this place. Would I feel the way those frontiersmen of old felt, once I saw it? Was there any of that unearthly beauty left after so many years and so many people? For the first half hour all I could see were city suburbs. Even when I saw the mountains spike up in the distance, I wondered: are they still the same mountains? Are they still as majestic? I didn’t feel the way I thought I would, not like they do in the Love Comes Softly movies. I felt small and alone and tired from being all by myself across the country.
The road to the ranch grew twisty and narrow, following the river. The mountains got closer, until we were actually driving right through them, and I couldn’t look over the side because, instead of being overwhelmed with the magnitude and splendor of it, I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of the very real possibility that the van would tip over and I was going to die. I kept my seat and wished for someone who spoke English to tell all these things to, but the kid sitting next to me had earbuds in.
The first time I saw the ranch was at night. I was so tired I couldn’t manage much more than “my name’s Emma, I’m from New York” and then proceed to tell them I didn’t mean New York City, let alone remember everyone’s names. I hung my hat and went to bed, still wondering where that feeling was, the one Jim Craig has when he rides his horse up on that plateau and he can see for miles until forever.
Not really having much choice, I jumped into the swing of life here. Or rather floated into it. Floated sounds like too breezy of a word; how about stumbled. This is a totally new place with a horde of unfamiliar people who all know each other (and who all packed warmer clothes than I did) and here I am still wondering why i don’t feel like Belle Starr, why I didn’t know it was going to be this cold, and why I’m already homesick to the point of tears after only 24 hours.
Go to Colorado, I thought. It will be easy; you’ll do fine. This episode so far has been a lot of things, none of them easy. For those first few days I thought I had done it for sure, and Grandpa had the right idea after all – “If you don’t like it, you can always just come back.”
To which I replied, naively and overconfidently, “I can’t do that!”
I got myself into this. I should see myself through. So even while I wondered that first week what the heck I was doing and why I thought this would be such a great idea in the first place, I knew all I had to do was stick it out. 30-odd days. Surely something a grown girl like me could do. Even if I made no friends, and the boys shied away from me. Even if I cried sometimes when it got dark and I thought of the bonfires at home.
People asked me what I thought of the first week. “I’m okay,” I said, because anything more than that was too telling. They don’t know what ‘okay’ means and neither frankly do I. By the end of the week, they were still asking. And I began to have more to tell them – “This is much better than before” or “This was so much fun” or “I feel so much more at peace about my whole entire life than I did five days ago.” Something really weird happened and I started to make friends. The girl in the kitchen who doesn’t care what other people think. The Snow White lookalike from Indiana who is just as much an angel as anyone on earth. The rich girl from up North who loves her brothers and sisters and has big plans for the future. The red headed twins who just want to find girls whose dads have good hunting land. In a place like this everybody acts like they want to be your friend, but they can’t until you decide for yourself that you’ll come out of your hidey hole and do your part, because you want it, too.
I’m still not wearing flowered calico and there is no bold musical score ringing from the mountaintop as I scrub my laundry on a washboard in a leafy clearing, but I am not sorry I came to Colorado. One day at a time. And hey, if I can adapt, then anyone can.
The mountains, even though they make me feel small and I miss my eastern plains, really are beautiful.