As the dark and the cold continue to seep through my leaky windows, I have finally accepted that it will be winter in Colorado for another three months. I’m making the best of it. Sinking into books and soup pots and down comforters and films.
This week, my online and library explorations have uncovered the unusual lives of three women.
I’ve always been fascinated by people and their un-told stories, and do believe that everyone—even the seemingly most rational and mundane—has some incongruent or impulsive detail in his or her past. Everyone has a bit of crazy in them. And I mean that in the best way possible.
These three women grabbed my attention, in particular, simply because the unusual roads that their lives took seemed so natural, so obvious. As in, why would you consider living any other way? It’s not that any of them intentionally set out to be different, to shun the normal or accepted route—they seem to have not even known that route existed.
Why would anyone want to sit around and gossip at cocktail parties? When there are horses to wrangle and animal herds to be stalked, streets to be walked? I admire the confidence with which they each flung themselves into the unknown, or followed their creative impulses, without asking or waiting for anyone else’s permission. Moreso because all three grew up during an era when women were praised for their modesty, rather than their spunk or ingenuity.
It’s no coincidence, I think, that each of them grew up either straddling two cultures, or on land that was wild and and far from any city or finishing school. For Beryl Markham and Lily Casey, their fathers were their main role models and encouragers of all adventures. They did not go to school in their youngest years and had parents who encouraged them to take failure gracefully, rather than trying to shelter them from risk. (Future notes for raising children?)
Whether or not my descendants choose to tell stories about me, I’d like to know that I am living life on my own terms, guided by my own interests and instincts, and not limited by anyone else’s ideas about what’s possible. That I’m squeazing from each day, each place that I live or visit, the maximum amount of experiences and stories that are possible. Sometimes this means sitting still—I know that I absorb more, notice more when I am quiet. And sometimes this means driving a 17-year-old Honda over mountain passes and sleeping in the backseat. Either way, it requires being pushed to the edge of what I know.
And so, I pass you off to the lives of these three women who have landed in my lap this wintery month. Lives to investigate and be inspired by—to fuel your own schemes and raise your heart rate. I’m sure if we each do a little digging, we can find other lives like these, in our own families, our own towns. Or—why not—ourselves? Lives that remind us of what is possible:
Hunted gazelles in Africa at the age of 7, trained and raced horses, became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, from England to Nova Scotia.
Even Hemingway admitted that she “has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.”
“Night flying over charted country by the air of instruments and radio guidance can still be a lonely business, but to fly in unbroken darkness without even the cold companionship of a pair of ear-phones or the knowledge that somewhere ahead are lights and life and a well-marked airport is something more than just lonely. It is at times unreal to the point where the existence of other people seems not even a reasonable probability. The hills, the forests, the rocks, and the plains are one with the darkness, and the darkness is infinite. The earth is no more your planet than is a distant star—if a star is shining; the plane is your planet and you are its sole inhabitant.”
(as told by Jeanette Walls in the true-life novel, Half-Broke Horses)
Rancher, schoolteacher, mother.
“I crossed into Arizona at the painted cliffs, red sandstone bluffs that rose straight up out of the desert floor. After another ten days of steady riding, I reached Flagstaff. It’s hotel advertised a bathtub, and since I was feeling pretty ripe at that point, it was mighty tempting, but I kept going and two days later arrived at Red Lake.
I’d been on the road, out in the sun and sleeping in the open, for twenty-eight days. I was tired and caked with dirt. I’d lost weight, my clothes were heavy with grime and hung loosely, and when I looked in the mirror, my face seemed harder. My skin had darkened, and I had the beginnings of squint lines around my eyes. But I had made it, made it through that darned door.”
Nanny, street-walker, dedicated and un-discovered genius photographer.