The Isle of Man

Have you ever traveled so much that you are all legs–no head, heart or soul?

If so, do I have a flag for you!

“Whithersoever ye throw it, it will stand.” That’s the official motto of the Isle of Man, a tiny island in the Irish Sea. Its flag is a trident of flailing limbs:


Thus it was that after a year of unforgettable, unregrettable travel, I (crash) landed in a shabby corner of a mountain city, a bundle of legs, inertially in motion like a decapitated chicken. The relocation process was as smooth as could be hoped: my partner and I were both at least somewhat employed in due time, and found an affordable, if eccentric, place to stay.

Conventional wisdom proclaims a difficult readjustment period after a long hike. I figured after two months without trouble (aside from cars filled with mold from being closed up all year) that I was home free, exempt. But suddenly I felt two-dimensional, isolated, lonely, confused, and sans identity. It had failed to occur to me that when a person changes geographic location, reboots career and culture and community all at once, that’s a lot to manage. There’s no trusted mechanic, dentist… or friend. While aware of many things that were working out fine, I still felt empty and sad. My closest Montana friends did not return calls or emails. It was definitely not the time to blog about my life. It’s not that I wished I were back on the trail. It’s that I wished I were back in the womb! At 35, I felt ancient, as if I had tried to start over one too many times. Who can imagine how it feels at seventy, widowed? Or as a refugee leaving one’s homeland?

The dismal feelings bottomed out at winter solstice. A most pleasant time to hit, actually, the darkest time of year: the seasons mirror the mental state, encouraging introspection, yet promising a gradual increase of light. The thought arrived–You don’t have to move anywhere unless or until you feel called to do so–and gave me strange comfort, given that I was none too crazy about my current location. And then it was time to start drawing a map off of the island, draw myself outta there, into the next.

Here are the directions.

Light some candles and watch the smoke curl. Make pancakes every Saturday and pretend that you have been doing so for years.

Go to a different church every week and stand in the back and watch how people interact during the sign of peace, and see if they come over if you don’t make eye contact. Crawl out of your skin at five different meditation groups. Examine the baseboards for dust instead of pining for enlightenment.

Quit being in such a damned hurry.

Go to a party where you don’t know anybody and find the most boring person, because at least you can listen to them if you can’t bring yourself to talk with anybody else. Awkwardly ask a coworker if she would like to come over for Indian food. Ask if she will also bring her dog. Pet the dog.

Feel shitty again and then pull back out of it. Feel shitty less often.

Poke your nose in some new place every day. It takes a long time to get off an island, even in a city, so familiarize yourself with the traffic. I have a map that proves my commitment to this, my fastidious and neurotic commitment. It’s a map that shows every street in this town that I have run or walked along. It is nearly 200 miles of red highlighting, a snakes’ nest of aerobic wandering:

(Note to creeps: neither the red nor the green dot are where I live.)

I know precious little about this town or even about my wearily reborn self right now. But I’ve got all these legs, I might as well use ’em.

Fellow denizens of the Isle of Man, refugees, rebooters, unite: Whithersoever ye throw us, there we stand.

6 Replies to “The Isle of Man”

  1. From someone who for over a decade moved too many times…. I found it takes about 3 years to fully acclimate to a new locale. Feelings of isolation, alienation….unfamiliar souroundings, new speech inflections and behavior patterns…all contribute to and affect the ability to feel comfortable in a new locale.

    It is really painful. My heart goes out to you.

  2. “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”
    – Pema Chödrön

    How could we possibly feel happy, joyous and free if we’re being thrown out of the nest?

    Thanks for your post. I’ll try to be willing to be uncomfortable at some point today.

  3. ah yes…well know, if you like, we have room here for weary travelers who are interested in organic farming, chickens, goats, cheese making and artist way adventures…at least come for a visit and see for yourselves…many things in the fire and choices to live…let me know and keep on writing…have missed this wonderful side ways point os view3! Love Jo

  4. Hi Ann,
    As always it was a pleasure to read of your on-going adventures. Life certainly is rich with challenges. Orienting oneself in new cultures can be hard. I anticipate that you will soon be more at ease. I was interested in your location. My grandfather grew up on the island of Gigha north of you in Scotland. Anyway you may be gone from Missoula but certainly not forgotten. Take care.

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