I live in a little red cabin, far from sight, on a creek near a wall of mountains, in the top-left corner of Wyoming, down the road from Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. In summer, lightning walks across the peaks that loom over my rented property. On winter nights, if the plowman hasn’t come, I walk the quarter-mile driveway to my house with a military-grade flashlight, scanning ahead for massive bull moose.
The cabin has a creepy room filled with vintage ice picks and axes; its bare pine walls look like those of a sauna. Inside, I wear thick-soled work boots over my pj’s while I craft product copy for companies like Tom Ford Beauty and monitor the Amazon rankings of my book collaborations, such as the detox guide Clean. Though I’ve always resided mainly in cities, I have half stepped around frontier living for years. I’ve set up temporary camps in Montana (a ranch job), Arizona (meditation training), and New Mexico (a writing retreat). But inevitably I return to the sensible centers of New York or Los Angeles. I’ve always been too timid to really live at the edges.
Now, at 37, I’ve finally cut the cord. My home is Jackson Hole, a long, oval valley, prized for its remoteness. It is among the last pristine wildernesses in the lower 48, bracingly clean and gigantic in scale. Winter can last 22 weeks, and grizzly bears, buffalo, elk, bald eagles, and wolves move around one another in unpredictable choreography. Jackson Hole is famous for first-class ski vacations and extreme wealth—the second, third, and fourth homes of America’s über elite stud the terrain, making Teton County, by some estimates, the richest zip code in the country. But the Hole’s true spirit is shaped by the mavericks, explorers, and cowboys who have, for more than a hundred years, sacrificed convenience and comfort to live here full-time.
I moved last July after I woke up one morning in my California apartment gripping the floorboards. Something was trying to shake me out of my life. I’d unhooked from New York’s fashion and media worlds some years earlier, after jobs at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and a brief dip in the dot-com gold rush had left me spent. Layer by layer, I crafted my low-key, low-tech version of the California dream. With a few favorite writing clients still on my roster, I’d also become a meditation teacher and health-book ghostwriter, and immersed myself in spiritual practice. For seven years I’d advised others on how to balance their stressed bodies and find their inner quiet. Then a rumbling started inside me that disrupted the whole picture.
I felt an unavoidable urge to live wilder, to get stronger and tougher, and to be more capable in nature. I wanted to sleep alone outside, walk barefoot on red rock, and start fires without matches. I wanted to be a riper woman—one who weighed more, laughed more, fought for things more, and was tethered to the land, not floating rootless on the surface. It was the wolfier, lustier side of my psyche stirring again. Los Angeles had temporarily sedated her, because it’s sunny and outdoorsy and the desert is within a two-hour drive. But now she was waking up, and she was pissed: You’ve become as lightweight as the city you live in. You’re too thin, too detoxed, too civilized. Too tame!