A Quick Trip to North Carolina

When I was in North Carolina briefly last weekend, I tried to sit outside in the insanely nice 70-degree weather and sunshine as much as possible. This resulted in my eventual sunburn. Being comfortable outside in normal clothes? I’d forgotten what it felt like.

I ate lunch on Friday at Vimala’s, an excellent Indian restaurant in Chapel Hill, and sat outside in their little courtyard with my mom and little brother, Sam. Later I shared a beer with a friend on the lawn in front of Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. When I stopped by Trader Joe’s (how I miss you, TJ!) to stock up on trail mix and buy wine for my parents, the wine tasting guy totally recognized me and we chatted about my move out west, and winter conditions. He also noticed my sunburn.

After Trader Joe’s, I drove out to Duke Gardens in Durham, which was not nearly as brown as Laramie’s current state, but was also, astonishingly, beginning to blossom. Daffodils’ little yellow crowns were everywhere, forsythia was in full bloom, and I even spotted a little purple crocus, open just an inch above the dirt.

Daffodils

Daffodils

I met up with a friend who was sitting on a blanket in a grassy sloping field opposite shirtless Duke students. They haplessly and repeatedly tossed their frisbee into a nearby pond between drinking PBR cans, the labels hidden by koozies, and the box poorly hidden under a magnolia tree. The ducks were displeased by the frisbee intruder and flew back and forth between the water and a magnolia tree clear across the field.

Crocus

Crocus

I talked about skiing like it was the only interesting thing I’d done all winter (probably true) until another friend arrived, and we later went to Geer Street Garden for dinner to talk about books and feminism and how it can be oddly difficult to form new friendships.


The real reason I was in North Carolina was to visit my grandmother, who has just entered hospice for cancer. It’s strange, having time to prepare for death. For her to consider options like cremation or burial. What is to be done with the body that’s carried you through this life, and how will people seek to remember you after death? Even the act of spreading someone’s ashes is to literally let go, surrender their body back to the earth, to the elements. How hard that moment of letting go would be, opening your hand, loosening your grip, the wind taking over as it pleases.

Almost the whole family. Oma is the in the chair on the left

Almost the whole family. Oma is the in the chair on the left

Death is the ultimate “letting go” of our attachments, letting go of all we’ve ever known: our friends, our family, our home, our body, our passions and compassions. A yoga teacher of mine described the difficulty of letting go this way: you are swinging on a trapeze, enjoying the ride, when you realize it is time to let go in order to grab the next bar. If you hesitate, you miss it. The scariest part is not necessarily letting go so much as being in that moment where you are attached to nothing, between bars, having released the last and not yet reached the next. Complete vulnerability, complete surrender. Trusting in the not-knowing, the absolute fragility and discomfort, even pain.

We all have these in-between moments in our lives – between jobs, between relationships, moving, seeking diagnosis for disease, mourning a loved one’s passing. But facing death is the ultimate in-between and letting go. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson described facing death this way in his poem “Crossing the Bar”:

…Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

You can read the poem in its entirety here. Hope is not certainty. The flood may bear him far, but he’s not sure. From the certainty of light and “Time and Place,” death transports him to “the dark!”; that we know. Death itself is certain (death & taxes!), but everything else about it is the opposite: when it will come and how, what happens to our souls and those left behind in death’s wake.

We experience many small preparations for death in our lifetimes by graciously letting go, by saying goodbye without fear or hatred. Though we can never be fully prepared for death, I think, there is room for us to be at peace with whatever comes next, or, at least, at peace with God.

25th Annual Poker Run

To celebrate the much-awaited end of February in Wyoming, locals and ex-locals convene in the very small town of Centennial one Saturday a year with cross-country skis, snowshoes, dogs without leashes, and backpacks full of beer for the Poker Run. This was the 25th year of the annual event and pretty much the only thing to look forward to during the yucky month of February (except skiing, of course). I am already researching what flowers to plant in front of the house post-defrost. Tulips? Daffodils? Zinnias later?

Welcome to snowy Centennial

Welcome to Centennial! Normally you’d be able to see the mountains, but it was snowy that day

Centennial is about a half hour west of Laramie at the base of the Snowy Range mountains, so we drive through every time we go up to the Snowy Range Ski Area for some wintry recreation. The town consists of a church, an elementary school, a post office, a general store, a convenience store/bar, a couple other restaurants/bars, and a fire station.

Another shot of wintry Centennial

Another shot of wintry Centennial

Matt and I like to joke that the Beartree Tavern is the best restaurant in Laramie. Their pork green chili means business. Also, they’re not actually in Laramie, so there’s that. (Laramie isn’t exactly known for its fine cuisine.)

The Poker Run itself is just a crowded, slightly drunken adventure down a cross-country ski trail in Medicine Bow National Forest. Rowdy, outdoorsy Laramie folks dress up in wacky costumes and attempt to make their way down the trail from the mountains down to Centennial without tripping up on someone else’s skis or running into a tree. Also, there’s some part of the event that actually relates to the card game poker, but that escaped me entirely.

Bar decor in Centennial, WY

Bar decor in Centennial, WY

After indulging in some elk sausage-filled breakfast burritos, our group drove up to Centennial and went inside a restaurant to pay for a shuttle up the mountain. We then stood around in the light snow and played with dogs until an empty suburban stopped and invited us in. As it turns out, this guy wasn’t part of the organized shuttle experience for which we’d just paid; he was just a generous local. He said something like, “I can fit five of you.”

Someone promptly asked, “Can we sit in the trunk?” and soon there were twelve of us, plus two dogs, along with all our skis, poles, snowshoes, and backpacks. We slowly made our way up the mountain.

At the top of the mountain were snowmobilers, other Poker Run enthusiasts, and a couple of guys drawing their names in a prominent snowbank with their urine. All in all, a classy affair.

Snowshoe ninja

Me, the snowshoe ninja

I strapped on my friend Amy’s extra pair of snowshoes and put on my integral mittens. Snowtime.

Thumbs up in mittens!

Ready to get going?

This was my first snowshoeing experience. As Amy (pictured above, on the right, with her gluten-free beer chilling in the snow at her feet) wisely put it, “It’s literally walking, but on snow. It’s just walking.” That said, the only technique recommendations I have are a) not to step on anyone and b) make sure your straps are tight enough that they don’t continually fall off your boots. Oh, and c) wear boots with faux fur for an extra dose of fun.

We ran into a lot of people I recognized, and many more I didn’t. I even came across Kyle and Tallie’s pal Ray, who graduated from the University of Wyoming but is now living in Utah. Halfway through the course a woman was selling beer off the back of her snowmobile to thirsty participants.

No dogs were intoxicated in the making of this blog post

No dogs were intoxicated during the making of this blog post

We passed by some snow-muffled cabins that were, incredibly, chugging out smoke from their chimneys. So much snow! It seemed like a scene out of Narnia.

Anyone home?

Anyone home?

It intermittently snowed and shone sun all afternoon. At one point, we came upon a dwindling bonfire just as they ran out of hotdogs. I’ve never before seen a fire in the midst of so much snow. Some of the surrounding snow was stained black from smoke and ash.

The forest bordering the trail

The forest framing the trail

Upon returning to Centennial via hitchhiking, we ended up at the Beartree Tavern for a pizza and a rambunctious concert led by a band of rowdy old, gray men. Three of the five were guitarists, which was a little perplexing. A thirties-ish married couple from Denver sat at the bar, completely enamored with the scene. “This is so cool!” The husband said to me. “Is it normally like this? We’re from Denver.” 

On Sunday we went skiing and I began to experiment with taking jumps which, as Matt pointed out after the fact, is not an activity commonly undertaken by skiers. I had my first good fall since the beginning of the season trying to land a jump that was way higher than I had anticipated. I had one of those cartoon moments where you begin to realize that you’re still airborne, so you start to uncontrollably flail your arms and say things like, “Woah.”

Now I know what my friend Kevin meant when, after I went skiing for the first time, he asked how much snow I’d gotten in my pants. Rolling around in powder after literally crashing into it will do that to you. Miraculously I didn’t lose any skis or poles or mittens (a “yard sale,” as the ski bums call it), but I am glad I wear a helmet, as always!

Fun & safe adventures to you all.