While I can’t say that I believe in reincarnation, I still sometimes wonder if it’s possible to have lived another life. That somehow, in some way, I lived in a different place. Forty-five years ago I first traveled west with a group of college friends to the places I’d only ever seen in movies. Having been a lifelong fan of westerns, I’d always longed to view those wide open plains and Rocky Mountains in person, and when we finally did it was truly a life-changing experience. Those lofty Colorado peaks were a sight to behold, and yet it was when we ventured to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming that I felt a special magic, a fascination with a place I’d never quite felt. To paraphrase a song by the late John Denver, it truly was like coming home to someplace I’d never been before. From the reflection of Mount Moran in the winding Snake River to the quiet of Jenny Lake, the magnificence of the entire area had me from the first morning I watched the sunrise reflect against the Grand. I was in love.
Then there was Jackson, at that time just a tiny western town, cradled in the “hole” between the mountains. With the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Town Square with its antler arches, Jackson seemed so unique. As college kids we had a fabulous time camping in the park, wandering through the town (which didn’t take long back then) and going horse-back riding in the shadow of the Tetons. It was sad when we had to leave, and in my heart, I knew I had to come back someday.
It was 11 years before we did, my husband and I, with our young daughter in tow. I found the fascination with the Grand Tetons hadn’t changed. It still felt magical to sit and watch the clouds drift over those craggy peaks and wonder if in another time I really had called this place home. Maybe that was what led me to write my novel, Chance’s Return, about a man who once lived here but who comes home after years away, and a woman who comes home to a place she’s never been before. Writing the book kept me in touch with the magic of the Tetons, which was good because it would be 32 years before we went back again.
Now, in a twist of fate, our son lives there, and we’re planning our third trip in the past two years to see the mountains. (Oh yes, and to see him, too!) As has happened every time we’ve visited, I will be as excited as if it’s the first time, and I’ll be sad when it’s time to leave; but I’ll be taking a new story with me to keep me in touch with a place that tells me it was my home in another time. I have a title, Tetons by Morning (to remind me of what it looks like to see them in that pink dusky glow) and a first chapter in the sequel to Chance and Casey’s love story. I’m sure the trip will be great for inspiration as well as an opportunity to do more research, but more than that, it will bring me back to where I’ve been before. I can’t wait.
Chance McCord pushed back his hat with his thumb and lifted his weary gaze to the mountains up ahead. In the past half-hour, storm clouds had amassed over the Tetons, staining the sky a violent shade of purple. Thunder rolled across the valley, setting a nearby bunch of Herefords lowing nervously and a jackrabbit scurrying for cover. In a minute, it was going to pour buckets.
Chance didn’t mind the rain. The stretch of Wyoming highway shimmered under a sun that burned mighty hot and dry for this early in the summer, and he would welcome a rush of cool mountain air right about now. He just hated for his saddle to get wet. A fine cutting saddle, it had been a parting gift from his buddy Hank, and since the truck broke down outside of Boulder, one of the few possessions of any value Chance had left in the world.
He’d thumbed the rest of the way and wished now he hadn’t asked the semi driver to let him out ten miles back. Did he think walking would make things easier? Give him more time to think about what he faced? He’d had plenty of time to think—five long years—and nothing in his mind had changed. Maybe walking was a form of retribution. A way to make amends.In truth, Chance knew it was just another effort to put off the inevitable.
He reached into his shirt pocket, drawing out a tattered photograph. He always carried it with him, right over his heart. As he studied the photo now, a memory pierced him so swift it took his breath away. Lately those memories had begun to fade, taking with them some of the pain, but today he held onto the pain so he wouldn’t forget.
Thunder rumbled again, and he slipped the photo back into its place, making sure his dusty denim jacket covered it. He lifted the saddle and rested it against his hip. The town of Jefferson Falls lay up ahead. He could sit out the storm there, but he’d never make it in time to beat the rain. He knew too well how fast storms moved out of the mountains, and this one wasn’t wasting any time. The wind picked up and sent scraggly tumbleweed skittering across the pavement. Chance raised his face to feel the breath of the mountains on his damp brow. Then with a heavy sigh he pulled the brim of his Stetson low over his forehead, shifted the weight of the saddle, slung his duffel bag over his shoulder, and prepared to be drenched.