Where Lies the Long Road’s End?
Is Montana the Final Destination, or Only the Beginning?
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Decades ago, early 1980s, a Nat Geo spread displayed tipis on the Montana prairie. What a sight—though likely contrived for no one lives in a tipi anymore except those who do so to capture some lost sense of primordial existence, albeit in a fenced meadow. That image though, impractical as it was, awakened a boyish dream and a longing for freedom that prompted several visits and an eventual move into what is by comparison the middle of nowhere, yet a vast somewhere.
Prior to that, before having settled into a small business for six years, the urge had propelled me to don a backpack and live, mostly outside, in places like southern France, Corsica, or along the Appalachian Trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia. We’re traveling back in time now, yet prior to such adventures, still in the dream stage, it was Bali, where I believed I would settle and write. Never made it there until recently, and the novel seems to have become real life—a dream realized, and still being dreamt, as I envision a return.
Long before any of this, as a teen, a friend and I fantasized about parting out for Mexico on motorcyles, inspired by images drawn from Stevel Miller’s Goin’ to Mexico and the classic made-for-TV-movie Then Came Bronson—a dream unrealized.
Dreams, though, like freedom (they’re related) need to be realized. Leaving the business behind, selling it in 1986 along with the house, was a crazy leap of faith and I can’t say to this day that it made sense, certainly not economic sense. Nor can I say it’s been dreamy, all roses, that I found paradise in a promised land. One may though, indeed, discover such places in Montana, such a state of mind, the kind the rest of the world longs for but can’t manage to find while struggling under the weight of modern commitments—mortage, taxes, insurance, a nine to five existence. So that particular dream, realized, took me somewhere, to a place, to new experiences, into a different life surround by an exalted, beautiful and often desolate landscape—the land of the soul that is the longing of all dreaming, and therefore the reason dreams need fulfilling in the first place, for without trying, without taking a leap in whatever form (not necessarily travel), we slough off the best part of ourselves, the one that would have us grow, take risks, live on faith, and delve deeply into the wonder of life and self.
Freedom, though, is another challenge. Even with money, it does not come easily, if at all, and of course one’s dependence upon money bears the same toxic fruit as any other dependence (though it’s great for travelling, real estate…fine dining). Freedom is, rather, a state of being acheived within one’s internal laboratory. Hitting the open road, crossing borders and transcending boundaries is the physical ritual by which we learn about the internal freedom we desire as evolving specimens, as children in a school room, if you will, the end result of which is the mastery of space and time acheived through transcendent (even transcendental) experience, the place where there’s no need to keep score, to be thought well of, to fear anything, even the end, because one’s self-containment resonates universally with the subatomic quanta, the essence of all material wealth, liberty, fulfillment and compassion. Now, that’s a road trip (for more on such things, consult one such as the Dalai Lama—see page 9—who hopes to visit Montana later next year).
We are though frequently slaves to convention, minutia, normalcy, security, habit. Freedom ought not to be held hostage to these things, to circumstance—meaning that regardless of how we dream (whether of riches or of a deeper connection to nature, even one’s own nature, or how readily we accept the passing nightmare from which we seem always to awaken with a sense of relief) internal obliviousness to passing events as a result of inner peace and profound equanimity represents true freedom.
A mouthful—yes. And words may fail to capture the experience as ocassionally acheived. The secret lies in patient self-examin-ation by means of attention upon the breath, one’s easy and continual awarness upon it, in a certain subtle way, and the abdication of passing notions, until the bonds of the mind loosen their grip upon the world of form, a liberation so near yet seemingly so far. And then that sensation of unfettered limitlessness may be applied to daily life. Internal freedom, what’s more, though it may not be readily accessed through a boarding pass, and requiring regular practice, subsumes all others kinds (try this at home).
Still, regarding the pursuit of happiness (an American ideal), dreams, freedom, and life, a Jackson Browne lyric comes to mind: Don’t know when that road turned on to the road I’m on, for the relentless impulse endures, the same impulse resident in all living things (even amoebas). Mexico, though, is a bad place these days, certainly near the border in Ciudad Juarez—yet many Americans live in other areas contentedly—and so one ought to reassess one’s dreams from time to time. Having looked into the state of affairs there and in various countries recently, from the viewpoint of a certain web-based Yankee exile, most places including those that rekindle the aforementioned allure present both serious drawbacks and the prospect of spectacular fulfillment—an idyllic beach in Thailand, the mystical highlands of Ecuador, or some preposterously inhospitable but nevertheless untouched place like French Guiana. Part of the tantalization involves the potential to live on $600 a month or so, allowing plenty of time for dreaming, freedom, adventure, trekking, contemplation, and assorted exotica. Would take some uprooting though, and Montana still offers so many dreams to realize.