Wandering but not lost

“All who wander are not lost.”

That familiar bumper-sticker sentiment fits particularly well right now, as I write from the snug confines of Tortuguita, my “little turtle” teardrop trailer, parked next to the staff lodging at Ring Lake Ranch in the Wind River Range of western Wyoming, where I am working for the second summer in a row.

Ring Lake Ranch is an extraordinary place, tucked in the deep, glacially carved valley of Torrey Creek at 7,500 feet, bordering Ring and Trail lakes, bounded by the public land of the Shoshone National Forest (where I worked as a young field ecologist, mapping the plant communities). It’s a spiritual retreat center run like a rustic guest ranch, with educational and inspirational seminars, wonderful food, fly fishing, riding, and hiking. (I work as the housekeeping coordinator and hike leader.)

The view across Trail Lake into the heart of the Wind River Range from near where Tortuguita is parked.

The ranch is special to me personally: I drove up the long dirt road to the ranch in late August of 2019 to teach the final seminar before the ranch closed for the season, knowing almost nothing about the place, and was immediately adopted by a gentlemanly, white muzzled, stub-tailed bird dog who craftily introduced me to his person, The Guy. My life changed for the good in that instant.

Dawn creeps down the canyon walls toward the ranch.

The Ranch offers, as its website says, “renewal in sacred wilderness.” And lives up to that, though not without challenges.

This year, the staff gathered on a beautifully warm, sunny week to open up and clean buildings not used (except by pack rats and mice) since Labor Day last year. We renewed old friendships and began new ones, settled into our living spaces and worked long days readying cabins for the volunteers who arrive every year to help us with big projects before the ranch opens for the summer.

All was going well until…. it snowed. The first time.

Spring in the Rockies is notoriously fickle.

Then the crew of volunteers charged with assembling the yurts for additional staff housing (one yurt has my name on it) discovered that the yurt kits had been shipped without the several hundred pounds of steel brackets that hold the timber frames together. The yurt manufacturer promised to send a tech out with the steel the following week to help erect them. So the crew pivoted to other projects, of which there are many.

And then a volunteer tested positive for COVID. Believe everything you have heard about how contagious this variant is: By the end of the week, despite masking and vaxxing and boostedness, we had ten staff and volunteers who tested positive with COVID, including me. (Two more have tested positive since.) I moved out of the staff apartment where I was bunking until my yurt is finished, and into Tortuguita, which is tiny but quite cozy if you don’t have a summer’s worth of gear to store, which I do.

The first batch of guests arrived on Sunday afternoon, along with the second, more serious snowstorm. It snowed all night Sunday night and part of Monday morning, and then turned to steady rain. We need the moisture, but…. The mud gets tracked everywhere, and I can attest that it’s not easy to be sick in a trailer where the bathroom is a dash through the snow away. I was fiercely feverish for two days, but now I am on the mend. Weak, but improving.

A big change from the photo at the top of the post!

Getting the ranch open for the summer has been rocky, but no one has shot anyone, and we’re not being bombed. Our challenges pale against the news of the world, especially of the two most horrifying mass shootings, first the racist massacre at the supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and more recently, the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas.

I’ve asked myself what I can do to counteract the killing. And my honest answer is just this: Be a light in the darkness. Stand up against hatred, and do my best to treat everyone with kindness, respect, and love. Those every day actions may seem inconsequential. But they matter. A lot.

As I wrote in “Picking Up Roadkill,” an essay that has been included in several anthologies:

“A civilized society is created as much by our private, every-day acts as it is by the laws we pass and the contracts we sign. Our personal behavior sets the model for what we expect of others.”

It feels like humanity is wandering and quite lost, but there is something each of us can do: Be the best humans we can be. Live with love in our every days, in our every interaction. Our own behavior contributes to turning the tide of gun violence, war, climate change, racism, and all manner of other ills.

Be a light in the darkness. Be the model for the world you want to see. Be fierce in defense of the world we all love. Your individual actions matter.

Tortuguita with her canopy out before the snowstorm.

Blessings to you all from my COVID-isolation pod high in the Torrey Creek drainage of the Wind River Range in Wyoming.

16 thoughts on “Wandering but not lost

  • What a tough beginning to your summer, Susan! But you have focused beyond that, on our world full of troubles, and come up with the most meaningful response: personal kindness, respect, and caring. Thanks for the inspiration. Hoping you are soon recovered and that the rest of the summer brings you joy and renews your energy. 🥰

    • Susan Tweit says:

      Thanks much for reading the post and appreciating the shift from the personal to the political, as it were, Susan S! And for that lovely benediction. My hope for this summer is simply to survive this grueling combination of two more-than-halftime jobs, and to contribute positively to the ranch’s future. If I can do that, I’ll be grateful. <3

  • Beautifully said. May your healing be swift and may the remainder of your summer meet all your hopes and more. So much love to you.

    • Susan Tweit says:

      Thank you, Dr Kask! I wish the healing would be swift, but with Lupus, everything is complicated. Still, I’m back on the job because Friday through Sunday all of the cabins change over, so I have linens for 40 twin beds to wrangle (and we’re missing about 10 sheet sets) because we have a catholic boys school group coming in for next week. Eeek! xo to you from me!

    • Susan Tweit says:

      Diana, So would I. But since I’m living in a trailer so tiny it is simply a bed with cabinets at either end, whenever I need to use a bathroom or even stand up, I have to go outside.

  • Michael Durgain says:

    These are indeed trying times. So thankful for your words. My daily mantra is practice kindness. We recently acquired a 5 by 9 Hiker trailer, like a teardrop, very basic, and plan on spending much of the summer camping. There is so much pain in the world. Our camper is called H.D., for Thoreau: Simplify simplify.

    • Susan Tweit says:

      Michael, “Practice kindness” is a wonderful daily mantra. And it is a practice: we do our best, fail, learn, grow; try again, find new ways to fail, and so on. 🙂

      May your Hiker trailer be a wonderful refuge for you, and I’m sure Thoreau would approve! Hugs coming your way from me.

  • Susan, your post went from visions of paradise to a more sobering reality. The land depicted in your pictures looks heavenly. Seeing it made me miss Wyoming very much. But no matter where we roost trouble finds us. And living in Wyoming always has taken grit. I hope you recover soon. Thanks for your wise advice to be human however haunted we are by inhuman acts.

    • Susan Tweit says:

      Julene, Thanks for reading this. It’s true that no matter where we roost, trouble finds us (great phrasing, BTW!). Living in Wyoming definitely takes grit, and I’m just working here for the summer, so I guess I’m a fair-weather Wyomingite now. I think the only thing that will change our world is for each of us to be the best version of ourselves we can be. It’s not the fastest route to change, but it may the only thing that lasts. Be well!

  • Inclement weather will pass, your bout with illness will pass (hopefully soon), I wish the end of violence was so certain. It’s like the virus, just keeps spreading and popping up all over. Beauty and kindness won’t solve it quickly, but it’s certainly an antidote. We can’t fix this without hope, and nature provides that. Thank you for this shot of beauty. Be well.

    • Susan Tweit says:

      Gretchen, It’s true that beauty and kindness won’t solve our problems quickly, but we can only create a different world one person at a time. So we might as well start with ourselves, since we’re what we can change. May you find plenty of time in nature to give you hope, and strength to continue writing and doing what you can to create a more just and kind world. Blessings.

  • Irene Shonle says:

    I love this, Susan. I am going to hold these words close: “It feels like humanity is wandering and quite lost, but there is something each of us can do: Be the best humans we can be. Live with love in our every days, in our every interaction. Our own behavior contributes to turning the tide of gun violence, war, climate change, racism, and all manner of other ills.

    Be a light in the darkness. Be the model for the world you want to see. Be fierce in defense of the world we all love. Your individual actions matter.”
    Thank you for being a light in the darkness, and I hope you recover soon!

    • Susan Tweit says:

      Dear Irene, I am glad I had words to inspire you and give you some light in these grim times. I would say that you are a light too, and thank you for being that. Blessings and a hug, S

  • Susan, at a birthday lunch for a friend she told me I am a light in the darkness.
    Two days in a row I hear those words-sign enough to make this my mantra.
    There is enough disturbance in the world without us contributing to the unrest
    I hope to always be a light in the darkness for someone.

    • Susan Tweit says:

      That’s a lovely mantra, Nancilynn, and a beautiful aim. Quakers have a phrase, “Living in the Light,” that means doing our best to spread the metaphorical light in the darkness.

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