Why am I in Wyoming?

I was reading about how there are now anthologies of “How I Came to/Lived in/Left New York” essays (indicative of our generation?) when I thought about why I moved to Wyoming, and what writing about it would look like. One of my friends jokingly referred to Matt and me as “pioneers” before the big move. Another, as I skyped him from the new house, remarked on how much more interesting it was to hear about and, presumably, to actually be living in Wyoming compared to all the cities to which our other friends had sort of retreated – D.C., New York, Chicago, L.A. Obviously there are good reasons to pack up and head out to these cities, these beacons of the young adult pop zeitgeist – and also things like jobs, public transportation, awesome take-out, and other young adults.

Not so for Wyoming, though we are living in the most young-adult-ish part of Wyoming, I guess – a college town. I recently attended a poetry and short fiction reading in the second story of a little café/bookshop “downtown” (I use this term quite liberally, like an Applebee’s line cook with a salt shaker). Matt and I went to an Indian restaurant across from campus not too long ago, and it was pretty great, except for how this was the first time I’ve ever been able to specify that I wanted my food especially spicy.

Of course some of my being in Wyoming has to be because I fancy myself a certain type of person – the type of person who can just up and move somewhere where they have no family, the type of person who spends their weekends camping and skiing and rock climbing. The type of person who adopts a mutt from the shelter right after graduating from college. The type of person who has their hiking boots by the door and a daypack full of old, squashed Clif bars, a questionable water bottle, sunscreen, toilet paper, and extra layers ready to go.

Visiting the Plitvice Jezera (lakes) in inland Croatia in 2010 - with my trusty backpack!

Visiting the Plitvice Jezera (lakes) in inland Croatia in 2010 – with my trusty backpack!

But I’m also the type of person who can be made upset by something as simple as passing a really cute-looking coffee shop in a little town, and it’s morning in this hypothetical, and I haven’t had tea in a few days because we’ve been camping, and all I want is a damn good London fog and a flaky breakfast pastry, even if it tastes like it was injected with old lumpy jarred jam that’s still kind of cold.

I love climbing, and being outside in the sunshine and the quiet, and the long, long view, but I also love taking pictures of my dog’s adorable lopsided face as he sleeps on the ground at the base of a climb while I’m supposed to be getting ready to belay.

I love reeking of campfire and sitting in a big puffy jacket under the stars outside my tent cupping the last bit of cheap beer in between my cold hands, but I also loved sitting in the café of the art museum in Hamburg, drinking white wine and sipping curried soup at what must have been three in the afternoon while reading short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald in these gorgeous tan leather oxford flats that were definitely too expensive but looked awesome with my dark indigo skinny jeans.

2010, with wine in Hamburg

2010, with wine in Hamburg

I think it’s fair to say that Wyoming is somewhat closer to the campfire and not as much to the wine/soup/art/oxfords, closer to the climbing (literally) and further away from flaky breakfast pastries, though I’ve found a good place to get a pain au chocolat in town when I need one, which is more often than I’d like to admit (Mondays are hard!).

I’m in Wyoming for the same reason I went to Bosnia, Slovenia, and Croatia. I’m in Wyoming for the same reason I started climbing. I’m in it for the adventure!

On the road in Wyoming, this December

On the road in Wyoming, this December

Advertisements

Christmas Season

If I could frame this post with a border resembling a pixelated holly garland, I totally would. It’s CHRISTMAS SEASON!

But first, it was Thanksgiving season. Since I work in the financial industry, I had to return to the office on Friday because the market was open. This prevented Matt and me from going down to Indian Creek, Utah for some long-weekend climbing with a few of our friends. Without any plans, I suddenly realized that, in order for me to feel like it’s actually Thanksgiving, there has to be lots of yummy food. That’s the best part of the holiday, or any holiday, really.

Preparing some root veggies for roasting

Preparing some root veggies for roasting (purple potatoes, carrots, fennel)

I also made a pie!

It's a masala-spiced pear pie

It’s a masala-spiced pear pie with a fancy crust

We had one of Matt’s fellow grad students over since his family is in Bangladesh, and he didn’t really know what Thanksgiving was. And no, I did not make a turkey! A roasted chicken was a better choice for us three.

Anyway, back to CHRISTMAS. Last weekend Matt and I went skiing/snowboarding and climbing, so we didn’t have a chance to pick up a Christmas tree. Here in Wyoming, most families get a $10 permit from the US Forest Service to cut down their own tree on federal land. There are several different varieties of pines and firs in the nearby mountain forests.

Some of the available trees

Some of the available trees

As you can see above, the roads weren’t in great condition up in the mountains. We got about 7 inches of snow in town this week, and the higher elevations got more. Despite Matt’s trying to concentrate on driving, I made him listen to my Christmas playlist the whole way there.

The Forest Service limits you to a tree no taller than 20 feet, with a diameter no larger than 6 inches. You also have to be at least 500 feet from any road and 200 feet from any trail when you cut down the tree, so there was a little bit of deep-snow-bushwhacking/adventuring on our part.

That’s when we stumbled upon this beauty:

The tree!

The tree!

Though she was covered in snow, we noted her nice shape and not-too-tall size. Matt took the newly-purchased saw out of his backpack and got to work. We were almost knee-deep in snow in places, and it was hard to tell if your next step would lead to solid ground or slippery fallen tree trunk.

I sawed through the second half of the little tree trunk and Matt hefted the tree over his shoulder. We followed our tracks in the snow back to the car.

Matt carrying the tree

Matt carrying the tree, back on the trail

It was amazing to us how quiet things were up on the snowy mountain. Without any wind, and with what I presume to be many creatures in hibernation, there was a peaceful stillness. Matt remarked it would be nice to just take a hike through the area one day. Most people seem to do so with cross-country skis.

The weather was almost perfect: slightly overcast, ~10 degrees, the aforementioned lack of wind.

After sawing off more of the top & bottom, we were able to fit the tree inside the car

After sawing off the top & bottom, we were able to fit the tree inside the car

We then made our way back through Centennial, a charming Wyoming mountain town with a population of 270. There are a few little stores and restaurants in town, and we stopped at the Beartree Tavern for some warm soup, chili, and garlic bread smeared with pesto.

Matt kindly pulled over for me on the way home so I could take some photos of this gorgeous frozen river scene. The ghostly orb in the upper right corner is the sun behind fog and cloud cover.

Wintry western scene just outside of Centennial, WY

Wintry western scene just outside of Centennial, WY

Finishing off the remaining hot chocolate I’d brought with me, we pulled into the driveway and began setting up our new Christmas tree! Somehow we managed to saw just the right amounts off both the top and bottom of the tree, such that it fit perfectly from floor to ceiling.

Decorating the tree! Actually, here Matt is anchoring the tree to a piece of furniture so it doesn't fall on the gas fireplace

Decorating! Actually, here Matt is anchoring the tree to a piece of furniture so it doesn’t fall on the gas fireplace

Though our tree doesn’t have the requisite fullness of the typical suburban grocery store parking lot tree, I think it’s pretty darn cute. I wonder how many years it took for our tree to grow to this size, how many winters it’s seen.

My favorite feature of the good old Tannenbaum, other than its softly lit night beauty, has to be its scent. It is, after all, the strongest sense linked to memory. Hand me a mug of hot cocoa (maybe with a splash of Goldschlaeger in it) and sit me in front of a toasty fireplace by a fresh Douglas fir, and that is Christmas past to me.

Happy holiday season from Abe & me!

Happy holiday season from Abe & me!

Tips on Staying Warm When It’s REALLY COLD

Maybe it’s a little early for me to start giving you all the 411 on staying warm, but it’s really cold in Wyoming this week, in case you hadn’t heard.

Brrrr

Brrrr

The weekend before last, Matt, our friend Phil, and I attempted to climb at the Pole Mountain area in Medicine Bow National Forest. I think we can safely say we enjoyed the time we spent there, but will not be returning any time soon. It was TOO COLD.

The trail up to the climbing area

The trail up to the climbing area

The main problem is that rock climbing requires the use of your bare hands, and when there’s snow and ice on the climb itself, your fingers get cold really quickly.

Phil mantles off of a snowy ledge.

Phil tries to escape a snowy ledge, with his awesome purple legwarmers

We got a pretty gorgeous view on the hike back down, though. Almost worth it!

Sunset reflects off settled snow

Sunset reflects off settled snow

Anyway, I feel I’m making this list of tips as much for my own reference as for yours. Enjoy!

Tip 1: The right fabric

  • Some fabrics are warm; some are made for twirling on sandy toes just short of the incoming tide (read: linen). I jump at the chance when I see the following on a clothing label at Goodwill: wool, cashmere, or silk. Some high-quality sweaters have a blend of wool and cashmere or wool and silk to tone down the itchiness inherent in merino wool. To note, wool is one of the few fabrics that will keep you warm even when you’re wet (think rain-soaked sheep!), so if you happen to fall in a partially frozen pond or get sweaty in a wool baselayer, it will continue to insulate!
  • Anything flannel-lined (these flannel-lined jeans are amazing – just ask my friend Tallie) or down-filled does the job too. Down blankets, down sweaters, down sleeping bags…

Tip 2: The right gear

  • Hats: I’ve been told but have not scientifically verified that you lose most of your body’s heat through your head, which makes it imperative to cover that sucker. If I’m going to be outside for a while, I’ve found it’s important to have a long beanie that you can pull down over your ears, since my ears start to hurt in cold and windy weather. Try to find beanies that are lined with flannel, particularly around the ears; this will keep you especially warm! Note: if you try on a beanie in the store and it seems a little tight, it WILL ride up until it pops off your head, most likely in the middle of your run. Buy the right size!
I love this wool hat with ear flaps!

I love this wool hat with ear flaps!

  • Scarves: If you lose heat via your head, then I’m sure you lose plenty through your neck as well. Knitted scarves made of wool or cashmere blends are perfect. If you’re doing something active and don’t need a long scarf tripping you up, infinity scarves, neck “gaiters” or warmers, and even balaclavas are great too. In very cold/windy conditions, you want to cover your mouth and even your nose.
  • Mittens vs. gloves: I have really cold hands. Seriously, the room I’m in will be 70 degrees and the skin temperature on my hands will be ~45. (It’s a hard life.) Mittens are always warmer than gloves. You should only opt for gloves when (a) you’re not that concerned about getting cold, (b) you really need finger dexterity, or (c) you couldn’t find the mittens. I invested in a pair of waterproof mittens that has built-in glove liners, and they’re amazing. Added bonus of mittens: you feel like giving lots of thumbs-up because your normal array of hand gestures are very limited.
  • Jackets/coats/parkas: One thing I learned the hard way is to buy a down jacket WITH THE HOOD. Hoods are amazing, particularly if they’re lined with lots of fuzzy fake fur that severely limits your peripheral vision, meaning it also limits wind exposure. Your cheeks will thank you. Also, if you can, find one with the hand pockets located underneath the insulating layer, which will help to keep your mitten- or glove-less hands warm if you’re, for example,  just trying to make it through the Target parking lot. Wool coats are great if you don’t mind the weight; down, on the other hand, is significantly lighter, but can’t get wet.
  • Baselayers: A number of brands like Smartwool and Ibex make light, non-itchy wool shirts and long underwear designed to be worn under other layers. There are also some great poly-blends that insulate and wick moisture, like Patagonia’s capilene line, and the ubiquitous UnderArmour.
  • Socks: Wool to the max! I really like Smartwool socks, and Matt prefers Darn Tough. I have never worn socks as often as I do now, in Wyoming. Thick wool socks designed for hiking or skiing are seriously essential.
Wool socks + hiking boots = my commuting attire

Wool socks + hiking boots = my commuting attire

Tip 3: The right sustenance

  • Hot drinks: I’ve discovered the following unfortunate dilemma. I wake up and, realizing it’s a cold morning, I go by the local coffee shop to get a tea latte, only to lament the entire way to work that the hand holding this disposable cup is getting really cold doing so (yes, even colder than my hands normally are!). Most travel mugs, despite their name’s implying a safe journey, leak everywhere if you so much as turn them upside-down or let them float around in your purse. My solution is the insulated water bottle, or a thermos with a very tight lid (screw-top is better than a seal). I make tea at home, pour it into my insulated water bottle, throw it in my purse, and I’m on my way. Best of all, your drink won’t get cold during the commute! And, once you get to your destination, everyone knows how awesome you feel while holding a warm drink.
  • Hot foods: Honestly, this is what I want to eat when it’s cold out – potatoes, stews, noodle or rice soups, spicy curry, and mac and cheese. Even the heartiest quinoa-kale-salmon salad won’t do when it’s single or negative digits out. Need a soup suggestion? Look no further!

Tip 4: Keep moving

  • If at all possible, don’t just stand around in the cold. Walk! Shovel the driveway! Get the mail really fast! One way I’ve managed to convince myself to go for runs in the cold is to literally warm up inside. If you spend just 5-10 minutes doing dynamic stretches (lunges, squats, high-kicks, etc.) in your living room in the clothes you plan on wearing outside, your body will be warm and ready (or as ready as possible) to conquer the cold.
Stay warm, everyone!

Stay warm, everyone!