This is a story about my jeep. I have loved Jeep Wranglers since I was old enough to care about vehicles. And, after purchasing one, I now know absolutely that I have chosen my obsession well. There is a lot to love about Jeeps. Jeep Wranglers wave at each other. Correction — Jeepers (you know people who drive a Jeep for the love of it, not as a fashion statement) wave at each other. I love this anonymous camaraderie and I never fail to smile when fellow jeepers wave back. Another thing I love about owning a Jeep is the terminology that I have acquired with it. I gained a new title with my Jeep: I have become a Wrangler Snob. I unabashedly claim this title for my own and I truly, when it comes to other cars or trucks, if it’s not a Jeep, I am not impressed. There is also gear — a fire extinguisher (because you never know), a roll bar (because the Jeep will roll, occasionally, just for the goose pimples it will raise, that’s fun to contemplate). But the thing I love best is that the Jeep is smart enough, and talented enough, and well-designed enough that when I get myself into more trouble than I know how to handle, the Jeep can save the day.

Portrait of my Baby

My beloved Jeep — her name is Baby. She got her name the first time I went out off-roading by myself. I was at an ORV Rec Area outside of Manhattan, Kansas (a.k.a. “the little apple”). I went down a steep incline to do some exploring, not realizing as I descended that what I had crawled down was a virtually vertical wall. When I came back to it to leave I looked up at that incline and knew I was in trouble. No car could have made it out of there. A car would still be in those woods. But a Jeep, even one driven by an untried idiot who never should have gone out there alone, on a whim, can make that climb. And did. And that is where she got her name. As I put the Jeep into 4 wheel drive and approached the wall I began to pray. “Dear God please get me out of here.” As I made my way up that hill the prayer changed. “Please baby, baby, baby please get me out of this.” And she did. And her name has been Baby ever since.

Tonight, alone, on a whim, I saw a dirt path take off the road that I was driving down. I had a decent sense of where I was geographically because earlier this week I had been in the same vicinity and I had seen what I believed to be the end of this road that I was looking at tonight. Let me back up for a moment and set the scene. It’s near dark, in the middle of no-where Montana and tonight a cold storm has been brewing. Spring is here, but there are still patches of ground that are covered in snow. That is especially true for dirt roads that weave themselves through deep trees or have hills that create natural shade and protection for the snow. Roads very much like the one I had decided to try. Alone. On a whim. And yes, I still fall victim to my own stupidity on far too regular a basis.

I lived. Obviously, as I am here blogging and not freezing to death in the mountains right now. I lived because although I am still not much of an off-roader, the Jeep is. About half way in, I came to steep hill that I needed to climb. The hill faces north and is therefore protected from the sunlight. That means it’s still completely snowed in. Half way in, by the way, is past the point of no return. It took me four tries, several prayers and a few moments of terror and desperation to get up and over that thing. And when I finally did, I was treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen yet.

Strange isn’t it? Most of the time people avoid, pain, danger, risk. I know I do. But just a little of those things is enough to bring life into sharp focus and make a person realize what living is really for. I think I may need to add a touch of recklessness to my life a bit more often.

Unexpected gifts

There is a poem that I love called Evening. It was written by my favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. The translation I first read, and consequently love the most, is by Stephen Mitchell from the collection of Rilke’s selected poetry and prose Ahead of All Parting.


The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

and leave you, not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion
of what becomes a star each night, and rises;

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternatively stone in you and star.

Tonight I was granted an unexpected gift. A light in the western sky caught my eye after sunset. I looked out the windows and saw an incredible moon — barely a sliver — hanging there above the trees like something out of movie. A scene so lovely it can only be called magical. Naturally I ran to get my camera. How long did I stand out there on the porch? I can’t recall. It can’t have been too long because it gets cold fast when the sun goes down. But as I stood there looking at that sky I was reminded of this poem. I know it by heart and can recite it easily. And with an empty night and no neighbors anywhere near to hear me, why not?

This was my favorite frame out of the set. Those clouds, the ones that make the scene, they melted away as I was shooting and soon the sky was clear. It always seems to be that way in photography. Whether it is a scene in nature or an expression on someone’s face, there is just one perfect moment and then, it’s gone. The moon has set now and the sky is truly dark. One of the things I have learned to love best about life in Montana is the deep, velvet darkness of the night sky.

In Montana, we have stars. It seems like such a simple thing but in the years I spent in Maryland, in the lights of the city, I have missed seeing stars. Now when I go to sleep I do not need to cover my eyes. I look up out my window and the last thing I see before my dreams begin is a star-filled sky. This it never fails to make me smile.

Sweet dreams all.