By Jennifer Welch
It’s difficult to describe exactly what led me to this valley in the first place. I had never been west of the Mississippi prior to making the trip to Colorado in my early twenties. I left the only home I had known with no real plan other than to follow one road after another and see where I ended up. At the time I couldn’t admit it, but in hindsight I can say that I had lost something in that place, something for which I thought I needed to search. So I slept in a sleeping bag under the stars, listened to coyotes howl in the distance, ate salsa mixed into macaroni and cheese at every meal, and woke up at the foot of mountains and rivers and wilderness like I had never known before. It was a time in my life when I needed nothing but to express the wilderness within myself, to lose myself in an honest attempt to find myself all over again. Then one day, out of nowhere, I dropped down Trout Creek Pass into the valley and felt the sudden urge to stop running. The best way I can tell to put it in words is that it felt, quite simply, like home.
What makes a place a home? Is it a feeling? A smell? A person? A magnetism? I may never be able to answer what drew me to this place initially, but it’s safe to say that a big part of what has kept me here are the people in it. Aside from finding great love and building a family, I have found great friendship as well. I don’t habitually form close bonds outside of those I consider to be family, nor was I particularly looking to do so at the time. Perhaps that is why this friendship is so strong, because we are more like family than anything else. Maybe we became family when our two middle children were wed in a casual backyard ceremony which was sealed with a kiss. Maybe we became family when we discovered our shared love for growing food and nourishing each other and each others’ lives. Maybe we became family because we laughed off the unimportant things and nurtured the essential ones. Because we wanted to. Because we needed to. Because we honored the wilderness in one another. Whatever the reason, we chose to love each other … and, I guess, love is part of what makes a place a home.
The wilderness within me has not gone away. It is not sleeping. It is not subdued. Nor does it gnash its teeth against the confines of my ribcage, waking me in the middle of the night, telling me to run. It is as much a part of me as my right hand, and I have learned to love it as such. Perhaps that is why I came to this place; because it has a wilderness of its own. I no longer need to go off in search of the things I have lost or the things I am bound to lose. Here, I can just be. With or without them. Happy or sad. Whole or in pieces. Laughing or howling at the moon, my breath a cloud of smoke against the cold night air, my wilderness in the peace and comfort of where it belongs: at home.
Jen Welch lives and writes in the Upper Arkansas River Valley, which she still calls home, even though half of her heart now lives in Price, Utah.