I am reading this book now that collects a number of accounts by women who settled in the Montana region at the beginning of the 20th century. The way it worked is this: they came from all over the nation (and even across the Ocean and Canada) to “lease” a piece of land (300 acres or less) from the government, build a “shack” on it, and start to either cultivate the land, or raise animals on it.
After three years of living here, more or less continuously (without hiatuses longer than a few months) and after proving they are earning a living off the land, they were allowed to file for ownership on their plot, and at that point in time, the land was theirs. They would receive papers that showed they are the owners. After three years, they would “prove up” that this is indeed their home and the government would title the property to them. And this is how The West was settled.
What I find the most interesting in this book is not necessarily the account of all the hardships, or the wicked hard life that a lone woman would encounter in the middle of nothing, or the description of the really gruesome winters, with ruthless prairie winds and unforgiving blizzards, blowing through the cracks of the shacks with no insulation at all; or the tough long years of severe drought when they had no crops at all, and no hope left. I find the most interesting their difficulty in feeling at home here; their longing for the places they left behind. After all, they picked to move across the continent. They seemingly were ready for a new life and hard work. But there is always something left behind, some anchor, that kept pulling them to their roots.
Some of them went back in the long winters, so they can retreat to calmer weather in California, or The South; some just gave up and moved back “home” before their proving up time was up. And yet some of them stayed, but wrote in the journals I am reading now how they missed their old land.
I have felt much the same way in the past three years of my life, without the actual complications of waiting for the government to call me an owner. For three years, my former house in North Carolina has been mine, and for one reason or another I could not sell it. For three years, it kept pulling me back, albeit just in thought and worry. For three years, although I have lived a new married life, I have found a better job that I had in NC, I have travelled places speechlessly beautiful out here, in the West, I have fought rough winters and planted my own gardens, I have buried my beloved cat in this land, I have also hung on to Greensboro as to my true “home”.
I visited just once, but every time life was tough here, I would always go back to my “safe” (and worrisome) zone in my heart. I was always telling myself that I can see myself going back. It was safe, it was friends, it was what I knew …
Until yesterday! Yesterday, my old place finally sold. Finally, I lost my anchor. I am still in a state of shock, for many reasons, but mostly because I never thought it could really be completely gone from my life. And now, for the first time in three years, I realize that I am fully moved. Finally.
The other day, a colleague asked me what I miss about North Carolina. My goodness, what don’t I miss?! The weather, the honey liquid air in the middle of summer, the green, huge oak trees lining the streets, the food, the mountains and Asheville and Blowing Rock in particular, the loud, noisy, beautiful sandy beaches, only a few hours away. And more than anything, I miss the people. Friends and strangers alike – just the Southern hospitality and drawl!
A piece of my heart will definitely forever be buried in The Carolinas, just like another piece is left in Romania. But now, a true new life can begin. No more dreaming about going back, as there is no physical place to go back to. After three years of a torn heart, hard winters, trying to understand this new culture and feeling uprooted and isolated, and after always, daily, feeling pulled behind … I have finally proved up.