Searching for the Source
Each spring a torrent of muddy water raced through the ditch
and over the four-plank bridge in front of my Ismay, Montana,
schoolhouse. The strong current forced most of the seventy
first-through-twelfth-graders and the four teachers to detour to
the far corner of the playground. There, all but the boy daredevils
entered the two-story brick building from the gravel road where
the water rushed through a culvert. Most of the year the four-foot
deep ditch stood bone dry, like everything else in my corner of
One sunny April Saturday in 1949, when I was six, I put
on my white rubber overboots and teddy-bear coat with the
red trim that Mom had made me. I crossed the road next to
our first house a block uphill from the school and squeezed
through the barbed-wire fence at the base of the nearby hill.
My mission—to find the origin of the angry waters that spilled
over the school bridge.
I clambered up the hill through ankle-high grass and
stepped around mud puddles. Small piles of snow crunched under
my feet. I jumped over small streams that rushed around limestone
boulders and emptied into deep gullies. Water snaked from
every direction as if an imaginary faucet were open behind each
sagebrush. When I reached the top of the hill, I looked around in
amazement. No rushing waters.
Quiet rivulets gurgled under my boots. Tiny streams ran
together into little rivers and hurried down the hill. The muddy
waters rushing over the plank bridge that drove us to take an alternate
route into the school began as calm, clear waters from melting
snow. I took off my coat and leaned against a sandstone boulder to
take in the astonishing sight. A surge of satisfaction welled in my
chest. I had made a discovery. I would make many more as I moved
from Ismay’s small hills to the mountains of Mexico, Puerto Rico,
My Catholic religion and small-town upbringing dictated
for me a traditional future of marriage and motherhood. Ismay
girls planned for the horse and the man they wanted, in that order.
My parents, teachers, movies, and books presented me alternative
streams of possibility that led to a more independent future.
When I graduated from college in 1964, the world was in
turmoil. We were still in a cold war with the U.S.S.R. Young men
my age left to fight in the growing Vietnam conflict. Others protested
the war, and still others turned to drugs and dropped out of
traditional society. Reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique
in college reinforced my belief that despite the world’s turmoil, I
could obtain what I wanted. I yearned for a life of excitement and
adventure. I got it.
From innocence to sexual awakening to passion. The emotional
eddies that flowed through the hills and gullies of my
Montana childhood began as silent streams of religious reverence
and family protection. My social development crept along at a
slow creek’s pace when I was a teen in California, then erupted
like a storm-stirred ocean as I entered my twenties and lived in
Latin American cultures that awakened my body and soothed
my restless soul.
I found different languages, customs, and levels of emotional
openness in the Hispanic culture. I discovered how I could
contribute to the world and live a stimulating life. Idealistic and
eager to fulfill a noble purpose, I joined President Kennedy’s
recently founded Peace Corps. I believed my community development
work in Peru could make a difference for poor people
there. Little did I suspect the moral and spiritual challenges that
would confront me during my two-year experience.
I questioned beliefs from my early life and doubted whether
I had the strength to navigate the turbulent currents I encountered.
But close friendships, letters from home, and a caring environment
helped me gain self-confidence and knowledge.
In the majestic Andes, rivers rushed through deep valleys
toward the mighty Amazon. I hurried above, tossed back and
forth on precarious mountain switchbacks, struggling with the
new emotions surging within me. A desire I didn’t comprehend
compelled me to risk body and soul for country, adventure, and
love. From rivulets to streams to a torrent, the forces of nature
shaped my life—and at age twenty-two, a tsunami of passion
swept me away.