Author Ted Kerasote: On home and belonging
In the middle of packing up to move cross country, I reached out to Ted Kerasote, author of the bestsellers, Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog; and Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs. If you have ever loved an old dog, you are probably familiar with the second guessing that comes with interpreting their needs. As I contemplated the move before me – a 5-day road trip I very much wanted to experience with William, my 14-year old dog – some doubts set in. I had dreamed of making this journey and my dog was always part of that mental picture: I'd imagined loading him into the packed car, turning the key in the ignition and turning the steering wheel westward. But as I watched him wobble about among the packing boxes and emptying rooms, I wondered if I was selfish or just avoiding a decision I did not want to make or get wrong. I often think people are too quick to judge (as wanting) the worthiness of life for another creature, human or otherwise. I told Ted, “To me, any day you wake up and can walk on this good earth with your own two legs is a gift," declaring further: “I would not shorten William's life by a day so long as he takes pleasure in it.”
But how did I know if William was still enjoying his life? That was the question I put to Ted.
Generous as always, Ted wrote back with some practical advice about arthritis in older dogs, then closed his email with a better version of my own words: “My take is that any day you can wake up and take pleasure in the good earth, whether you’re on four legs, three legs, two legs, one leg, or no legs, is a good day.”
With that advice, I finished packing, put William in the car, and drove to a new home in Montana. And that in turn brought me to the subject of place and belonging – and a couple more questions for Ted, who has made his home in Kelly, Wyoming for many years. An oft-repeated quote from Merle's Door touches on place and deracination: that act of tearing up roots from familiar ground and going someplace new. "How many abused souls - dogs and humans alike - have remained in an unloving place because staying was far less terrifying than leaving?"
Now, I am not an abused soul, but the words still resonate with me. It is difficult to leave a place that is freighted with memories.
"How many abused souls - dogs and humans alike - have remained in an unloving place because staying was far less terrifying than leaving?" ~ Ted Kerasote, Merle's Door
ULT: I want to talk about your sense of place and belonging, which I know is strong in you. But first, how have you and Pukka weathered the pandemic?
TK: We weathered it with far less impacts than did those in cities and towns. We kept biking, hiking, skiing, and hunting. The biggest difference was for me: I didn’t meet friends in restaurants. The biggest difference for Pukka and me: people didn’t come to our house for dinner and we didn’t go to theirs.
ULT: Are you writing? If yes, can you tell me what you are working on?
TK: Yes, a novel about a mountaineering photographer/writer team whom the Chinese have given longtime access to Tibet and who are now asked by the Tibetan government in exile to exfiltrate a high lama and political prisoner to the safety of Nepal.
I’ve also been writing books reviews for Mountain Journal.
ULT: Unless you have been writing under an alias I don't know about, this will be your first novel, right? Is it based on a true story or did this come out of your travels and imagination?
TK: I hope it is the first good one. I've written half a dozen bad ones, which I've never published. It is based on a true story.
ULT: You’ve traveled the world and made your home in Wyoming for many years. I was browsing youtube recently and was struck by something you said to an interviewer. You were talking about the foundation, I think, for happiness. You mentioned living “in a place that I feel is really home, where the landscape cares for me…” Can you talk about what “home” means to you: What does it mean to live in a place that is right for you?
TK: What I like about Kelly is that if someone said, “You’re in jail for the rest of your life, draw a twenty-mile radius around your home and you can’t leave that circle,” I would be able to happily live here. I could ski, hike, hunt, fish, ride my bikes, run rivers and have enough negative space, in other words, enough wide-open distance for my eyes not to feel crowded. And unlike the ocean, the mountains give perspective to the space.
ULT: In that same interview, you were talking about home and happiness, and mentioned living authentically. What does it mean to live authentically?
TK: To live life so your heart feels excited to begin the day, feels engaged throughout it, and goes to sleep gratified with how you spent the hours.
For more about Ted Kerasote, his books, writings and resources, please visit his website: www.kerasote.com