Arts & Leisure

The trip of a lifetime: Sas Carey takes the long road

Sas Carey, holds her newly published memoir “Marrying Mongolia” at her home in Middlebury. Sas Carey, holds her newly published memoir “Marrying Mongolia” at her home in Middlebury. Photo by Yvette Feig

Since the first time Sas Carey stepped foot on Mongolian soil in the summer of 1994, she felt a “leading” — a calling to “support and document the traditional Mongolian nomadic lifestyle.” Originally there as a nurse, on a tour sponsored by the American Holistic Nurses Association, Carey began learning about holistic medicine and Eastern practices… and never stopped. 

“I wanted to document in every way I could,” the Middlebury author shares in her new memoir, “Marrying Mongolia,” which was released just a couple weeks ago. “Climate change, modernization, education, the political situation and mining all endanger this lifestyle. I feel an inner pressure, a leading, to transmit and preserve this lifestyle through words and pictures. My connection with Mongolian life is a precious and sacred experience and each year I go deeper in my understanding of it.”

During her time studying and absorbing life and culture in Mongolia, Carey made four feature documentaries: “Gobi Women’s Song,” “Ceremony,” “Migration” and “Transition,” as well as a short “Gobi Children’s Song.” And she wrote the book “Reindeer Herders in My Heart: Stories of Healing Journeys in Mongolia.” It’s an impressive set of documentation to say the least.

But in this memoir, we step back from Carey’s Mongolian adventures and learn about her 48 years prior to setting foot in Mongolia and how they shaped and prepared her for her life’s work.

“Marrying Mongolia” is organized into four main parts: “Pushing Limits” featuring childhood memories; “Humming with Him,” or as Carey calls it, her “hippy days”;  “The Swirl” about becoming a healer; and “Learning Mongolia” bringing us through memories of her first trip as a 49-year-old to her final visit before COVID closed the border in 2020. 

“Journeys have marked my life,” Carey shares in the preface. “There are journeys I make into myself and out — to become a healer, a teacher, a film maker.”

An early journey that shaped and continues to influence Carey’s life is swimming. She recalls an influential swim coach, Coach DeGroat, whom she interviewed in high school. 

“I asked Coach for some words of wisdom for the graduates and he replied, ‘If you want to be a part of the world, you need an education. If you want to enjoy life, you must look after your body, mind and soul. These three are the basis for a well-rounded person and there must be a balance among the three.’ 

“I must have heard his advice on a deep level because it became an important principle in my life and work.”

Carey journeyed into rebellion in her early teen years. Like the afternoon she snuck out with a friend to smoke a cigarette — which ended with a haystack catching fire, the fire department, about 30 gawking neighbors and a promise to “never tell anyone we were smoking.”

Carey’s voice is in-the-moment as you read her memoir. She guides the reader through her early childhood struggles and joy; and we grow with her into a young adult finding first love.

Carey met Ken in South Dakota where they went to Standing Rock Reservation to visit Rev. Philip Frazier, a preacher who had visited Carey’s family’s church in Newtown, Conn. “I loved a story he told about flowers being of all colors and how they look beautiful together in a garden — how people of different colors make a beautiful world.”

Ken and Carey’s relationship blossomed and they were married in the summer of 1964. 

“Ken is the perfect person to marry — harmonious, communicative, creative, and opens my heart in new ways,” Carey recounted, in the early pages of the second section of the memoir.

Together they found like-minded “hippies” and ended up moving north from Keen State College in New Hampshire to build a home together in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. 

“Starting in my childhood, I’ve always needed to touch the ground, the water, the trees, to breathe the rain and snow,” Carey described. “Experiencing nature gives me a feeling of realness.”

Life in the Northeast Kingdom — though they had no running water and the water in the cat’s dish froze regularly — came easily enough as Carey built her “cocoon” around Ken, their home and newborn son Kai. 

In less than two years, differences with their friends who owned the land on which Carey and Ken built their home, prompted them to leave their “dream place.” They relocated to what you might call a serious fixer-upper in Cornwall, and Carey got a job teaching elementary students in Weybridge. 

Carey went “from jeans, no bra, and chambray shirts to miniskirts.”

The transition was not entirely smooth. Though she loved her class and teaching, the administration made the teaching position intolerable for Carey. 

After Sas and Ken adopted their daughter, Jasmine, in the summer of 1969, the couple’s relationship hit the skids. 

Sas Carey stands with her two kids outside their home in Cornwall.
Photo courtesy of Sas Carey

“The connection is broken,” Carey writes, launching her into “The Swirl.”

“Imaginal cells are the magic that turn a caterpillar into a butterfly,” Carey explains in the third section of her memoir. “Imaginal cells hold the blueprint for all that will be, but the old form has to be completely destroyed before the butterfly can emerge. I am living this…Every part of my life is in chaos.”

Seeking direction, Carey gets a psychic reading that tells her: “You are surrounded by green. You are a healer.” This leads Carey to grow into a psychic channeler, and by 1982 she earned her BS in nursing. 

She worked one year as a medical-surgical nurse, then took a “heart job” with Addison County Parent/Child Center. After seven years working with teens, Carey wrote the manual “Life Skills for Teens: The Group Leaders’ Guide to Alternatives for Teens,” which earned her one of 10 national Exemplary Prevention Programs Awards from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1990.

“If I can see the opposite bank across a body of water, I take it as a challenge to swim across,” she recounts. “Just like my life.”

But no, really, Carey takes this to the next level, and shares the story of how she actually really did swim across Lake Champlain in 1985. 

Flowing effortlessly into the fourth section, we’re ready for Carey, at the end of her fifth decade, to find Mongolia.

“My feet land on Mongolian earth. The gazar,” Carey writes. “A bolt of energy like electricity, runs from the ground through the soles of my feet, through my legs to my heart and head… I have arrived in Mongolia, a place I never in my 49 years imagined that I would ever be.”

As a nurse, Carey toured the Institute of Traditional Medicine, where she met Dr. Boldsaikhan. 

“My heart suddenly beats… and I blurt out to Dr. Boldsaikhan, ‘Would you take an American disciple?’ The words come from beyond me,” she recounts.

“‘Yes,’ he says.

“I don’t know it then, but when he says, ‘Yes,’ my life’s real work begins.

“Everything I have learned as a wife, mother, teacher, medical-surgical nurse, potter, teen discussion group facilitator, psychic and energy healer is all needed in my marriage to Mongolia,” Carey summarizes. “I do not forget past husbands and partners… Mongolia is my husband. My relationship is with the country, not a person. I am marrying Mongolia.”

And so she began her quarter-century commitment documenting the Mongolian nomadic lifestyle.

Sas Carey on a reindeer in Mongolia.
Photo courtesy of Sas Carey

Wow. This is a life.

And now Carey has captured some — not all — of it in her memoir “Marrying Mongolia.”

“I’ve done what I need to do,” she shared in an interview in February. “There’s always more to write and to say, but it does feel like an accomplishment to publish this book.”

What does Carey hope we’ll take away from this read?

“Slow down. Meditate. Get in touch,” she said. “And follow your own path… Follow what you believe in the moment. It’s OK if it changes. Doors will open.”

Wrapping up the story — for now — Carey leaves us with a beautiful sense of gratitude:

“I am lying in a hammock in my gazebo… I think: My God, I have a gazebo, with pink and white phlox blooming and lavender wave petunias… I have everything I ever wanted and more.

“I never imagined traveling to Mongolia, falling in love with it, being able to do humanitarian work in the world, but, to do it and have my own house and yard and family and grandchildren shows that the spirit is beyond generous. There is humor, joy, and abundance, with a lavender gazebo the frosting on the cake of my life.”

Get your copy of Carey’s memoir “Marrying Mongolia” by emailing her at [email protected], visiting nomadicare.org, or find a copy at The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.

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