13: Taking Flight

13: Taking Flight

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Taking Flight

The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.

~John Pierpont Morgan

Widowed fairly young, I was suddenly a free bird for the first time in my life. But where to fly? With two independent children and parents who still had each other, I wanted to start anew, to chance living differently. But how?

I decided to search for another place to live. My late husband’s business had always mandated living in New York — I wanted to experience something other than “big city” life.

Interestingly, though my children approved of my decision, both of my extended families were aghast. I couldn’t understand why they felt I had to remain in New York, where I’d even attended college while still living at home with my parents. It wasn’t as if we all saw each other constantly. So why all the objections when no one ever questioned my children’s decisions to attend out-of-state universities? Why shouldn’t I leave New York when it was fine for my son to accept a position in Hong Kong and my daughter to work in Washington, D.C.? Was this a generational thing? Or was moving only sanctioned for work?

Over the next three years I visited eight different states. And nothing seemed to click. Lovely though they were, Vermont, New Hampshire, the Carolinas, Florida, New Mexico, Montana and Colorado didn’t “speak” to me. All the while, my New York relatives and friends kept telling me it meant I wasn’t supposed to move. And I could just hear their unspoken “I told you so’s” loud and clear during each get-together.

But I was still hankering for a change….

So there I was checking out Denver and Fort Collins, the former too similar (albeit on a smaller scale) to New York, and the latter too similar to a New York suburb. Where next?

For the longest time a friend of mine who had purchased land in the Black Hills had been championing South Dakota. South Dakota? Well, I knew it was “out west somewhere, up there someplace.” But really, South Dakota?

Still in Denver, and still perplexed, I made a snap decision — I was going to visit Spearfish, where my friend owned land. With no computer to search the Internet, no car, no maps, no GPS, no AAA TripTik, no concept of where Spearfish was in relation to Denver, and absolutely no idea of where I was going, I marched myself into a Greyhound bus station and hesitantly asked if they went to Spearfish, South Dakota.

“Of course,” was the answer.

Surprised, I said, “Put me on the bus!”

And so the adventure began….

After an overnight journey driving north, a 3 a.m. vehicle change in the middle of nowhere, and long stretches of Colorado and Wyoming scenery, I was absolutely thrilled with my first views of Spearfish as we approached the small town. It was beautiful, it felt vibrant, and the air smelled fresh. And then there were those mysterious looking, dark, forested “black” hills ringing the area — truly, it was as if I were in a picture postcard.

The driver, upon hauling my valise out of the belly of the bus, looked around at the deserted early morning gas station “drop stop” and said, “No one’s here. Who’s picking you up?”

“Nobody,” I responded. “I don’t know anybody here.”

As the driver looked at me incredulously, I explained I’d come to check out the area without knowing anyone in town.

“But don’t worry about me,” I was quick to reassure him. “I’ll call a taxi.”

“Lady, there are no taxis here.”

“Okay, so I’ll rent a car.”

“Lady, there are no rental agencies here. Where’re you from?”

As I answered “New York,” he shook his head, laughing.

“Big city. Kinda thought so. Welcome to small town America.”

And then, “C’mon, it’s the end of my run, I’ll take you to a car rental.”

What I didn’t realize was that this angel of a man at the end of his long drive had to take me to Rapid City’s airport — an hour away — the only place where I could rent a car. And then he had to drive an hour back to Spearfish where he lived.

At the airport I offered him $50 for his time and courtesy. I was shocked when he refused the money — one of many acts of generosity and kindness I experienced during my subsequent stay. By week’s end I had decided — I would move to Spearfish, South Dakota, a town of ten thousand, from New York, a city of ten million. It was beautiful, friendly, uncrowded, reasonably priced, with good water, fresh air, and high energy. It had a few amenities, and it was forty-five minutes from a small city.

All my friends and relatives thought I was crazy.

Before leaving South Dakota it was suggested I visit Bear Butte, a nearby sacred Native American site. The Butte, a dormant volcano, rises abruptly from surrounding plains. As one approaches, there is an overwhelming mystique and sense of power. Part of the Butte is inaccessible to non-Native Americans since the mountain is still used as a site for vision quests by local and visiting tribes. Standing in the visitors’ section, I briefly meditated, asking for help regarding my imminent decision, and guidance with my upcoming move.

Suddenly, while meditating, a young Native American child appeared in a vision. About six years old, I couldn’t tell whether the child was male or female. Bare-chested, sporting two long black braids, the figure wore nothing but a piece of tanned hide wrapped around its waist. Looking very serious, this child stared at me intently for what seemed like a very long time. And then it spoke, surprisingly in first person.

“I promised to return here one day,” the apparition said, and then abruptly faded.

And that clinched the deal!

My mind raced on my trip back to New York. This had been my first visit to South Dakota. Had I lived in the area during another lifetime? Had I been Native American in another lifetime? Was there something unfinished that I needed to complete from time spent here previously? Why had I felt such an immediate connection to the area? Life suddenly seemed to have so many exciting new avenues to explore.

I didn’t discover until this past year that all my naysayer relatives back east — after I moved to Spearfish — took bets on how fast I’d return to New York City. One month? Three months? Six? One even bet I’d give it a try for a year.

It’s actually going on sixteen years now, and I’ve never been happier. I’ve never looked back, there’s never been fear or loneliness, never been remorse, and interesting opportunities have been plentiful. My perseverance paid off, and I’ve never regretted my decision to take flight. From day one this has been home, almost as if it was, indeed, a return.

~Marsha Warren Mittman

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