Altitude Adjustment
by Mary Beth Baptiste

TwoDot, 2014. ISBN 978-0-762-79134-7.
Reviewed by Denise McAllister
Posted on 04/22/2015

Nonfiction: Memoir

What do you do when you realize that the neat, conventional life you find yourself in is not the life your heart of hearts has always yearned for? Mary Beth Baptiste has written about an epiphany in her life, which may resonate with some of us as we question our own life's purpose and direction.

Married for 15 years, the author was on the same path her mother had taken—cooking and caring for a husband who at times was unappreciative, uncaring, and downright rude, while taking a backseat to his plans and desires for life. Baptiste is pulled between two worlds: "If I were a real feminist, like I pretend to be, I wouldn't wait for Bill. I'd just do it. I'd live my own life. I'd do as Louisa May Alcott did and 'paddle my own canoe'. Then I'd head inside to start dinner."

Ever since Baptiste was a little girl she had felt a calling to the West, specifically the Grand Tetons. Was it in her blood from her Portuguese dad whose job once took him to Jackson Hole, Wyoming? Upon his return, he enthusiastically showed slides on the projector of the breathtaking mountains and suggested to his wife the possibility of moving there. Baptiste holds her breath, hoping they will go, but her mother shoots it down saying they could never leave family. The father gives up on his dream. Or was it the childhood book Baptiste loves and remembers as Dot and Dash on the Dude Ranch.

Baptiste's husband, family, and everything she knows is in Massachusetts. And it seems as if everyone is against her. Her mother tells her: "You expect too much from life. These dreams of yours are too far-fetched." Her husband pleads, "My God, Mary, are you never going to let this go? This...this...this obsession with the West? I don't get it. I've told you again and again, I'm not moving out west."

Baptiste feels this wilderness calling early in her marriage, and can't let it go. But she stays for eleven more years. She's torn and wonders, "What's wrong with me? Why couldn't I be happy tearing recipes from Women's Day, spooning out Gerber's, and writing occasional checks to environmental organizations?"

But she can't. So before turning 40, she changes her life and heads west. There she finds 20-year-old co-workers and tons of snow. She has her bouts of heartache, realizing that life is hard without a partner. She had loved her husband since the early 70's in college and worried about him when he was called up for the draft. Early on, she had hoped he'd get on board with her environmentalist beliefs and love for nature; she thought they'd split the housework, she'd keep her maiden name, and some day they'd move out west.

She wants to be a woodswoman and use her wildlife biology degree. So she divorces her husband, heads to Moose, Wyoming, and gets a seasonal job at Grand Teton National Park where lodging is at best rustic—but she feels rich and can finally breathe. She's blissfully happy and writes, "I'm drunk on the Tetons." Her husband thinks she's selfish for leaving, but she feels she has her life back. In the Tetons she has found "like-hearted people." She's finally home—out in nature, surveying ducks, bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife, and goes hiking, skiing, and rock climbing with her colleagues.

For me, some of the biology measurements and technical terms are a little tedious but I admire the author for her credentials, professionalism, and attention to detail. She also provides a few photos to give us a glimpse into her world.

This is a thoughtfully written account of how one woman changed her life and went after her dreams, and I commend her for that. In a perfect world, her husband would have been the woodsman to share her dream with but we all know that life sometimes throws us curves. We're all on a journey, and for Baptiste, that journey beckoned her to the West.

Mary Beth Baptiste is a two-time winner of the Wyoming Arts Council's Doubleday Award for Creative Writing, as well as a 2014 winner of a Literary Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction. She's completed writing residencies at the Jentel Artist Residency Program and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Newsweek, Vermont Literary Review, Stonehill Alumni Magazine, Wyoming Wildlife, Wyoming Fence Lines: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry, and in the national anthology Permanent Vacation: Twenty Writers on Work and Life in Our National Parks. She lives with her husband in southeast Wyoming. Visit her website.

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