Health & Family

A wandering spirit resides in us all

Three years ago, my then 23-year-old Ohio daughter visited a friend in the West, in the Big Sky state of Montana, a place she'd never been.

A week later, she returned home with more than polite enthusiasm for the majestic mountains and the open land of a state whose population is less than the city of Philadelphia.

A year later, she was gone.

A deep soul and an outdoors enthusiast, a mountain woman in a longtime spiritual search for something she couldn't define, whose memory included ancestors born in the foothills of the Appalachians and childhood vacations at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, she had found a missing piece to her life's puzzle in the snow-capped Rockies of the West.

She packed up her little green Kia Soul with the ski racks on top, and moved with her longtime boyfriend to Bozeman on the edge of Yellowstone National Park where she marveled at the bison and elk roaming free.

Despite college degrees, including her boyfriend's master's in economics, the two of them braved in the short term to try their hand at working to live, not the reverse.

They lived on the cheap, taught snow skiing, served in restaurants and built furniture, while focusing as much time and energy as they could on the wilderness surrounding them, climbing and biking, hiking and skiing, camping and exploring among similar people whose passions echoed theirs along the canyons.

It would be easy to characterize such behavior as so much of the wandering millennial, a much-maligned subset of American young people well-known, and often denigrated, for their refusal to settle for a life of stress, imbalance and living to work like their parents chose.

Which it partly could be.

But their behavior also reminds me of something grander and more timeless than a statistical analysis our modern times is wont to reduce things to.

I think of Emily's actions and I think of the spirit of the ancestors who came across the Atlantic in search of something they weren't finding where they were.

I think of her courage and I think of the wandering of others in Emily's and my family, my half-Lebanese mother, born in those beautiful, but convention-bound, Carolina foothills.

As soon as she could, she left for New Orleans, where she found the counter culture of her soul's longing.

I think of my own wanderings, 10 moves so far in my lifetime, most of them for work, how in all those moves, I've found something to hold onto, and yet there's been a restlessness, as if something was calling me, too.

I miss my only daughter. She is far from the Ohio she called home most of her life. But beyond the missing, I respect her for breathing into the enduring human spirit that asks us to live our convictions, even if it means leaving everything that is familiar, jobs, family, friends, landscape, the very air.

I think of all this now as I sit here in a coffee shop in downtown Bozeman, where I have come to visit Emily, at her behest.

As much as she is a mountain woman, she is also devoted to family, and within a year of moving to Bozeman, she was asking all of us to consider moving here, where she was sure closer proximity to land would feed a yearning in our souls, too.

I think of all the children all over the world who ever left the land of their births, for adventure or education, only to call back to their families to join them in creating a new life, not just for themselves, but for generations to come.

I consider the migratory spirit of human beings.

"Go back far enough and almost all of us are immigrants, despite cherished stories of ethnic and national origins," reads the lead-in to Science magazine's award-winning series, "People on the Move: The Science of Migration."

I came to Montana in early April, intending to stay for a week.

Two months later, my work and home life flexible, I'm still here, as yes, Emily, there is something here that speaks to a listless longing.

Clearly, there's much to consider: Here, a connection to the mountains, to my daughter, to the spirit of the Native Americans who were pushed here, whose blood runs in mine. There, the place Ohio where I spent the last two decades building a home and family, friendships and familiarity.

Meanwhile, regardless, I cannot deny the determinism I see in my daughter that I know is part of my soul, too.

I would argue that our children are not so much blathering millennials.

Brazen pioneers, they speak to us of courage. They remind us of our own.

(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at dlbhook@yahoo.com, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)

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