“You belong among the wildflowers/ You belong in a boat out at sea/ Sail away, kill off the hours/ You belong somewhere you feel free/ Run away, find you a lover/ Go away somewhere all bright and new/ I have seen no other/ Who compares with you…” –Tom Petty, “Wildflowers”
And sometimes the words that stick in our minds aren’t purely coincidental; aren’t simply environmental influences. Tom Petty’s lyrics spoke directly to the core of me. They were written specifically for me, for that exact time, situation, moment. The time had arrived to accept the validity of my path, and no longer be deterred by external distractions or excuses. I owed it to myself to let go of the person I used to be, to shed that unnecessary skin. There was no more time for false pretenses.
I was no longer imprisoned. I was utterly free, grateful for the present moment, and excited for the future’s uncertainties. My mind spun with a flurry of potential. But confliction and existential crises of awful freedom were unacceptable; I had to focus. There was no time to spare, no more time to fuck around. Wilted flowers don’t come back to life; they don’t get second chances to soak up the sun just a little bit better than before. It was time for the soul-searching, solitary journey toward truth. There was no other choice.
A mere week after my late-night barfly epiphany, I was packed into my brother’s Highlander with familiar faces, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Chains were necessary on this narrow road. The sun had set and the first snowflakes began to fall. I watched as the luminescent, white speckles landed on the pine trees and surrounding cars. It seemed I was in a surreal, life-size snow globe.
The opaque dots quickly turned into Pollack-like splatter, clinging to the windows and reminding me of human fragility. We drove on toward a hazy Star Wars-like galaxy, blindly into the unknown.
At the age of 31, it was my first trip to the snow. It seems kind of ridiculous. I had been to Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, and even the Perito Moreno glaciers in Patagonia, but never a simple trip to play in the snow.
It wasn’t until morning that Lake Tahoe’s austere beauty entranced me. Just looking at our surroundings from the kitchen window, I stood in wide-eyed, jaw-dropped awe.
Entire mountain ranges, pine trees, roads and buildings were all smothered with lush purity. The power of nature is undeniable, inexplicable, and wildly uncontrollable. That deadened, abandoned something yet again murmured its existence. A slow, silent resuscitation began within me.
I didn’t go snowboarding, didn’t go skiing, and didn’t go into town to gamble. While everyone else went on the slopes, I just walked around, soaking in the overwhelming landscape, reflecting, taking pictures that wouldn’t compare to what I saw. I felt the crisp wetness beneath my sinking feet, the creeping of ice into my socks, and made awkward, childish snow angels. It didn’t occur to me, until it was too late, that I could have been sledding that whole time.
The next day arrived abruptly and it was time to return. Heading to the Sky Café for breakfast, I stared out of the car window sullenly. I already felt nostalgia for what I had barely come to know.
Inside the café, I picked at my eggplant pesto panini, and sipped on some unmemorable local brew. Half-heartedly making small talk, I became fixated with the Guayasamin print on the wall- a copy of the original I had once seen in Quito. It occurred to me: This is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, doing precisely this. This beautiful, absurd, untamed ascent into the unfamiliar called travel. Once again, my life had been set into motion.