“Motion improves any day for me — the farther, the faster, the better — on a plane, a boat, a dogsled, a car, the back of a horse, a bus, a pair of skis, in a cabbage wagon, hoofing it down a trail in my well-worn hiking boots,” writes Pam Houston in her memoir Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country. “Stillness, on the other hand, makes me very nervous.”
But decades ago, after Houston had sold her first book of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness, her agent advised her not to spend all the money on hiking boots. So she drove around looking for a place where she might feel comfortable sitting still.
A ranch nested at 9,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains captured her attention. “It was the third week of September, and if you can’t fall in love with Colorado in the third week of September, you can’t fall in love,” she says. “Because the aspens are changing in giant, undulating swaths of Tequila Sunrise colors all over the hillsides, and the sky is blue and the air is crisp. And here was this place, with this hundred-year-old barn with a big, beautiful mountain behind it.”
She decided to trade her North Face tent for a mountain meadow. Her $21,000 down payment represented a fraction of the ranch’s price tag. But the real-estate agent told Houston that she thought the widow who was selling the property was going to like the idea of her.
Houston, 57, has often traveled far from her beloved ranch to write the stories that allow her to pay for it. But her daring act was worth it. She learned to care for the land — and it taught her what it means to feel at home.
Experience Life | Some of the things that stood out in your memoir were the acts of kindness you’ve received from strangers. We’re often taught to fear people we don’t know. How did you come to be so open and trusting of strangers and people different from you?
Pam Houston | I happened to be born to parents who didn’t want to be parents, and they acted that out throughout my whole childhood, which was really unfortunate. The way I was raised, I learned to distrust the people who were closest and to look to the outside for support. I learned that the person I didn’t know always had a chance of being kind, and more often than not they are.
In the essay “Kindness,” I write about how this total stranger — Martha Washington — came into my life when I was 2 days old and how I basically survived my childhood because of her. She taught me to read…