+ By Alexandra L. Hostetter + Illustrations by Ila Davies

Her name was Amanda Ford. Or so I was told. Lady of the Night or Woman of the Streets are the other names she went by.
Night after night, she frequented the same Telluride watering hole. Something about the establishment’s dark mahogany paneling and lead glass windows must have suited her. Or maybe it was the only saloon to be found in the once-forgotten corner of 1800s Colorado. Whatever the reason, her naked likeness is immortalized in a life-size oil painting hanging high above the bar on those same wooden walls.
It could have been the disorienting snowstorm raging outside, spinning the world like a kaleidoscope. Or, less poetically, it simply could have been the heavy-handed pours of red wine, a gift from the bored barkeep. But, that night, staring up at Amanda’s watchful, all-knowing eyes, I was inspired to have a baby.
Now, those that know me well would say that being inspired to have a baby while staring at a long-deceased brothel madam is not the most bizarre part of this story. The most bizarre part of this story is that I was contemplating having a baby at all.
We had been married for years, and many assumed that babies were to be the next chapter of our story. But my husband and I adamantly and unapologetically responded to all who asked, “We are not having children.” It was nothing against the kids, it was us.

Our independence and autonomy were precious gems that we guarded against all thieves. They were how we found ourselves tearing up our marshy roots and moving to Colorado in the first place. Having grown up on the Eastern Shore and moving back to Annapolis after college, we grew restless. The once-beloved familiarity of life at sea level began to pale in comparison with the allure of unknown sky-high mountaintops. And so, we went.
Jobs were quit. Bags and the dog were packed. Our childless nonconformity fueled our drive cross-country. Like an old Western film, as soon as we passed the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado!” sign, we collided with a giant, dusty tumbleweed. We were an inconsequential nuisance in its own journey across the plains.
For years we rambled, paying homage to that welcoming tumbleweed. We hiked terrifying ridgelines, skis strapped to our backs, addicted to the weightless rush on the way back down. We camped. By pebbled-bottomed rivers, deep in aspen groves, on top of canyons, in the back of our truck in the pouring down rain. The dog, always beside us, usually wet or covered in mud. He was our courageous companion, including the morning a bear with cinnamon-colored fur wandered into our campsite. Ever the hero, the dog slept through the entire incursion.
We fell asleep at the last light and woke with the first, never ceasing to yelp in delight at the absolute brilliance of the high-altitude stars. Always seeking that next yonder range.
Within Colorado, Telluride is about as far as you can go. You’ll find it wedged in a beautiful box canyon, surrounded by steep forested mountains, at the end of a long, twisty road, after a six-plus hour drive from Denver. If the weather gods cooperate.
This trip had an inauspicious start. Midway through the drive, we pulled off the road and into the gravelly parking lot of a hot spring. It was only after we donned our bathing suits and squeezed into the Lobster Pot—the smallest of the springs, about four feet in width—that we realized the operation was clothing optional. Any confusion about the matter quickly disappeared when an elderly gentleman, saggy skin and bones abundant, decided he preferred his birthday suit that day and joined us. Proclaiming this wasn’t the Thanksgiving turkey he was looking for, my husband quickly ushered us out of the Lobster Pot and back on the road.

Eventually, we arrived in Telluride in the late afternoon. The dumping powder almost claimed our truck (and dog) twice, but the reward for surviving was several near-perfect ski runs in a blinding white landscape so pristine it could have been a mirage. Closing roads, slipping tires, and near-frostbitten fingers and toes eventually kiboshed our outdoor plans, making holiday libations the next best escape.
Shaking the snow from our hair, we plopped down on a small couch in front of the fire in the lobby of our inn. A mountain dude played dated melodies on an old guitar as small plates and cocktails were shared by the front desk staff. Other travelers joined us, and we quickly learned that most were either retirees or college kids visiting family from out of town, wasting time before their real Thanksgiving plans began. Instead of après, it felt more like the end of a party, when you suddenly realize you’ve stayed too long and you start panic-plotting the quickest emergency exit in your head.
“A change of scenery is what we need. I’m sure the bars will be festive, it’s a holiday!”
Which brings us back to Amanda.
Saddling up in a cozy seat by the window, we tried to reset the night. But instead of the regular slew of lively conversation that typically followed our days, reliving the best parts, laughing at the worst, planning, and plotting our next stop on the map, tonight, we were oddly quiet. The sound of silence grew as we realized, apart from Amanda and the help, we were the only ones in the bar. It wasn’t that we didn’t still love our adventures or each other, but something that was never there before felt missing. Maybe it was the oddness of being lonely in a bar on Thanksgiving or the lack of feeling in our extremities, but our foreign thoughts and feelings finally breached land.
“I might want more.” “Would we be happy, just the two of us, forever?” “Can we do both—be adventurous and have children?” “Will we regret this?” “What do we do?” For the first time, our treasured gems had a little less shine.
We bid Amanda adieu and stepped back out into the blistering cold night. The snow had piled high, covering sidewalks, forcing us to shuffle down the middle of the street or risk the drifts swallowing us whole. Walking, dark block by dark block, the only lights were the ones peeking out from the frosted, half-frozen windows that lined the streets. Giving us a clear view of why the bar lacked merriment. Families hanging early Christmas decorations, dinner tables being cleared, dogs barking, kids shrieking. Doors quickly opening and closing for more firewood, letting in a little chill from the night and out the sounds of laughter and music. The kind of nostalgic chaos that can only occur after too many hours spent pent up in a holiday house. We felt like Ebenezer Scrooge, the spirits showing us glimpses of our could-be future and offering us a chance at redemption.
Two years later, our first daughter was born. Two months ago, our second. And the siren’s song of life at sea level eventually called us home.

Independence and autonomy are strangers to us, now. Distant friends we catch glimpses of now and then. But what we’ve temporarily lost seems hollow when compared with our gains. Boundless love, chaotic family escapades, the indescribable joy of raising two spirited girls who, even at a young age, already know and love the moon, rocks, sticks, trees, snow, and that same golden dog. Our tumbleweed rambles look a little different, these days. Shorter and closer to home. But day by day, they become more exciting to our tiny tots. Exploring puddles, walking in the woods, chasing salty tides, scrambling rock tops, hanging bird feeders. The start of the bigger wild to come.
On that fateful night, we took a picture of Amanda so we could always remember. The photo is off-center and has bad lighting. You’d probably skip over it if you happened to be scrolling through my phone. If we have kids, we said, we’ll show them when they are older and tell them this funny story.
In the wee hours of the morning, delusional from being the providers of bottles and bedtime stories, we go a step further and dream about a future family journey to Telluride. We’ll drive with the girls down that long, twisty road on the heels of a huge storm. I’ll convince my husband to give the Lobster Pot another chance, and then we’ll all share in that weightless rush as we charge down the gnarliest mountain we can find. Cold and hungry, we’ll shuffle into town. Our own family laughter and music will drift behind us, thawing a little bit of the night chill.

And there, the girls will finally be graced by Amanda’s presence. If they are lucky, she will share the same simple lesson that she taught us. In life, it’s never too late to change your mind. No matter how seemingly permanent and ingrained your convictions and path have become. While it’s such an elementary lesson, it’s often the hardest to master. It takes courage to transform. To step across the line to the other side. To act when that mysterious nudge creeps up, whispering for you to change.
But if you do, it is freedom you will find. 