Where The Romance Of My Life Began

I am lying on my back in dry grass and dirt, my head resting on a huge flat rock that once served as a foundation block for Theodore Roosevelt’s home ranch in North Dakota. I drove almost two hours through grass prairies, oceans of rolling hills, and spiky cliffs striped with yellow, grey and coral bands. The last town I passed is more than an hour and a half away. Twenty miles of dirt road dead ended at a empty trail head. I opened the door to silence.

“So this is the place.” I thought, taking it all in before stepping out.

Dry gravel crunched and dust blew from beside my foot like bronze baby powder in the wind.

The clunk of my truck door shutting interrupted the soft whisper of leaves rustling in the 100+ degree breeze. Rhythmic footsteps lulled me towards a waist high metal gate, the passageway between two sagging barbed wire fences that stretched in tangles in both directions.

It opens with a creak and I walk through. As I walk a few steps towards a sign, a metal clang lets me know I’m in.

“It was here that the romance of my life began.” – Theodore Roosevelt.

These words mark the beginning of a thirsty path that is cracked with jagged crevices begging for rain. The path clicked with loud sharp snaps from grasshoppers giving way.

I walk in wonder with waves of emotion as I feel the serenity and silence that inspired a regular man. I am so grateful for a man I never met, who died well before my grandparents were born. I am grateful for this place that inspired that man. I am grateful for mountains and streams and sandy beaches and forests and deserts that have inspired me and millions more. I am grateful for foresight and possibilities and keeping untouched nature, untouched.

A week ago I didn’t know this place existed and now it feels like coming home.

I am grateful for ending up in this dusty sanctuary nestled between the Little Missouri River and tall orange and yellow striped bluffs that once were Theodore’s the front and back yards. And I’m so grateful for finally realizing the significance his legacy has had on my life.

“It was here that the romance of my life began.”

These words lie beneath every road I’ve driven and path I’ve walked or will ever walk again. Like so many spaces before and so many yet to come: In this space, in this very place… it is here that the romance of my life begins.

Just as I typed those words the wind stopped and silence flooded in. It’s as if nature exhaled in acknowledgement, and nudged me to notice the stillness that speaks louder than words ever could. And with that thought a gust of hot dry air whips in and tickles my shins with bending blades of tall grass while rustling the cottonwood leaves in a whooshing melody.

Theodore didn’t know I’d be lying in his living room a hundred and thirty years after him, only feet from where he rocked on his front stoop. Theodore didn’t know a girl lost and wandering would find herself and find it all in the lands he fought to conserve. Theodore didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, but then again we’ve always known each other well.

We know each other in gorgeous rugged landscapes that point us to who we are. We know each other in open land where we get to be with nature in that special way. We know each other in the grandiosity of a buffalo’s saunter and the simplicity of a ladybug sunning herself on a wildflower. We know each other very well and we know it all the same.

Thank you Theodore, for inviting me home.

And maybe, just maybe, by walking the paths blazed by people that walked before, my light might reflect a glimmer of possibility on lifetimes of beginnings waiting to be lived.