Rest & Relaxation + Nature

I love it when people visit us in Laramie, Wyoming. I love to show them our little house (on the prairie? almost), our fun frontier town, the mountains that surround us, the stark and undeniable beauty of the West.

IMG_9139

My parents waving from the pedestrian bridge to the oncoming trains that run right by downtown Laramie, just in the distance

Most of my family came to visit me this summer after a long roadtrip or flight/s. We explored Laramie as well as Fort Collins, Colorado (since that’s where I’ll spend much time next year). Thankfully the weather stayed sunny and warm for most of their visit, unlike the last time.

We went back to Vedauwoo (pronounced VEE-dah-VOO) for a little hike on the Turtle Rock Trail. My mom was impressed by how lush everything was. Most of Wyoming in the summer is like dried herbs on a cracker crisp- sagebrush, dust, sun, wind. But because the granite in Vedauwoo leads the rainfall into certain pooled areas, through June and July many wildflowers bloom in the shade of lovely aspen groves.

13653185_1212714502072413_9150014561874273241_o

Libby took this photo of my dad on the Turtle Rock Trail through quivering aspen leaves

The granite at Vedauwoo is unique for its roughness (local climbers don’t call it “Bleed-auwoo” for nothing) in addition to its unusual shapes. The Sherman Granite is thought to be 1.4 billion years old.

IMG_0696

Sam and Boone enjoying the hike through sagebrush and wildflowers

I kindly allowed Sam to struggle with walk Boone the whole hike. They both seemed to enjoy it.

Matt and I also took everyone on a more intense trail in Medicine Bow National Forest which we’ve dubbed “the ridge hike.” We originally scouted out the trailhead via online maps of the area, but it was very difficult to spot from the dirt road you take to get there. The trail eventually emerges the further you walk up the very steep hill and into the woods, and is occasionally marked by helpful cairns.

IMG_0715

Parents enjoying a break from hiking while the kids take selfies and contemplate life

We refer to this trail as a ridge hike because, at several points, you get an almost 360º view- from the Rockies down in Colorado to the Snowy Range west of Laramie, and out toward Nebraska to the east.

IMG_0705

In the distance, Sam, Libby, and Boone enjoy the eastern view

It’s also a fairly exposed hike, with few trees to cover you, despite being in a national forest. You wouldn’t want to be up there if a storm rolled in.

IMG_0709

Introspective Ben on the right

After living in Wyoming for 3 years, I still can’t get enough of its beauty. I am continually surprised by the openness, the almost silence, the skies, and- let’s be honest- the wind. I am afraid I’m now used to the practically empty trails (I’m told this is not the case in Colorado). I believe we saw one other person the entire couple hours we were hiking.

IMG_0723

Even Boone, a Kansas native, prefers Wyoming hikes

Each year Laramie celebrates Wyoming’s anniversary of statehood, July 10th, 1890, with a week-long series of events it calls “Jubilee Days.” There are concerts, a parade, a carnival, a local beer festival, and- you guessed it- multiple rodeos.

I hadn’t been to a rodeo since I moved here but, what with everyone visiting, it seemed like as good a time as any to experience the cowboy side of this state. I took my folks to the ranch rodeo which, unlike your typical rodeo, isn’t full of professional bull riders and events like barrel racing, but is instead made up of local ranch cowhands (both men and women).

IMG_9153

Almost got ’em!

They were all trying to do the same thing within a six-minute period: rope steers, get one into a fenced-in pen, and another into a trailer behind a shiny new truck which was provided somewhat riskily by a local car dealership. The announcer jokingly asked if there was anybody left in the town of Walden- a small ranching town in nearby northern Colorado- that day, and dozens of people in the audience whooped and cheered.

IMG_9149

Got ’em this time

At the beginning of each round, one participant had to stand without her or his horse on the side of the ring opposite the rest of their teammates and horses. When the timer began, another teammate on their horse had to gallop across the ring, pick up the horse-less cowhand, and they both had to ride back across the ring so the first person could get their horse. Most of the horses were okay with having two adults on their backs for that short of a period of time, but one horse wasn’t so sure. The audience began to giggle as the horse refused to go forward. Then, very slowly, the horse stepped forward in lurches, eventually bucking its way across the ring, making for a very bumpy ride for the cowboy sitting on his haunches, and uproarious laughter from the crowd.

Though the roping was of course entertaining and impressive to watch, my family was slightly traumatized by the treatment of the cattle. Sometimes the poor animals ran face-first into the metal fencing at high speeds, which resulted in nosebleeds. Despite their black fur, you could still easily see the red blood dripping from their nostrils as they fled from the horses.

After Margaret, my older sister, flew up to join us, we drove down to Fort Collins for the fourth of July.

13584856_1212731118737418_6389838976783086958_o

Old Town of Fort Collins on the 4th of July. Photo by Libby.

We walked around downtown and Colorado State’s campus, ate burgers and sandwiches at Choice City Butcher & Deli, and tried local beers at Funkwerks Brewery, which specializes in refreshing sours, saisons, and Belgian ales.

The next day everyone but Margaret departed, so we began packing the car for a trip to Ten Sleep Canyon, a rock climbing destination in the western part of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. It’s about a 5.5-hour drive, though a pleasant one, from Laramie. We were able to reserve a nice campsite (nice meaning with a picnic table and near a well-maintained pit toilet) at Leigh Creek Campground, which is at the bottom of the canyon on the banks of Tensleep Creek, for the first two nights of our trip. Though we’d never seen any poison ivy in the canyon before, the plants seemed to really enjoy living right by the creek. I’m actually surprised none of us ended up with any rashes. Anyway, after setting up camp, we went CLIMBING!

IMG_0744

Margaret on her FIRST EVER outdoor top-rope rock climb!

Ten Sleep is known for long, sustained, and really fun limestone sport climbing routes. This is kind of the opposite of what Margaret was used to climbing- short, powerful boulder problems. At first it was hard for her to get to the top of several climbs, even though she was strong enough to do every move of the route separately, but by the end of the trip she easily got to the top of a 100-foot climb. I hope we successfully convinced her that roped climbing is SO FUN!

IMG_0768

Me belaying Matt in the Lake Point area of Ten Sleep Canyon, WY. Photo by Margaret.

The approach trail to the Lake Point area, which crossed over a small CCC-built dam above Meadowlark Lake, was stunning.

IMG_0791

Boone on the trail toward Meadowlark Lake, through sagebrush and wildflowers, with the Big Horn Mountains in the distance

IMG_0813

Matt and Boone at Meadowlark Lake in the Bighorn National Forest

On our second full day in the Big Horns (our third day climbing), we decided to take a break and go for a hike instead. I’d only ever been climbing in this part of Wyoming, so I was excited to see more of the area.

IMG_0835

Margaret in front of a small waterfall just off the Lost Twin Lakes Trail

Matt decided on the Lost Twin Lakes Trail, just the portion that would take us to Mirror Lake, which was about 7 miles round-trip. We started at the West Tensleep trailhead, which is adjacent to a campground and picnic area at West Ten Sleep Lake.

IMG_0856

At two points, the trail crosses creeks in lush meadows surrounded by lodgepole pine

We didn’t start hiking until midday because we had to change our campsite to an area higher in the canyon that didn’t require reservations, but the skies were clear and the trail was practically empty. We passed a few people in the first mile, and then ran into two more on our way back, but that was it.

IMG_0857

Margaret and Matt on the Lost Twin Lakes Trail

Our hike was very quiet and peaceful, except for our run-in with a marmot. He stood on his hind legs atop a rock pile and chirped loudly to alert his fellow critters that we were entering their territory.

It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to spot Mirror Lake from the trail; it was somewhat hidden behind a low-lying area of pine trees. At first we weren’t sure that was the right way since there wasn’t a distinct trail down to the shore, so we kept walking for another half mile or so. We never once saw the lake again, so we turned around and walked toward the lake through the trees, away from the trail.

IMG_0876

Margaret at Mirror Lake

Here we drank water, ate a few Clif bars, swatted away a few mosquitoes, and basked in the cool air coming off the lake’s surface. Then we headed back for the car and to our new campsite for dinner.

There was another day of climbing and camping, and an evening of visiting the town of Ten Sleep as well as the Ten Sleep Brewing Company to escape a brief thunderstorm in the canyon. This microbrewery opened almost three years ago, and their beer is really terrific. In the summer, dirtbag climbers drive up in their dusty rigs to pay for a shower and a beer, which they drink under strings of lights and stars at outdoor picnic tables. I honestly cannot recommend this place enough. Should you find yourself in this part of western heaven, get thee to the brewery.

After driving back to Laramie, Margaret and I showered and went out for dinner in downtown Laramie during the height of the Jubilee Days festivities. Streets were blocked off for live music, dancing, drinking, and the carnival. We walked around for people-watching purposes, but were too tired to join in.

The next morning we met up with several friends to show Margaret the bouldering in Vedauwoo. Before this, she’d asked us why we don’t just go to Vedauwoo every day to climb, why we bother driving to places like Ten Sleep. After trying it herself, I think she understood why.

IMG_9194

Our friend Bart Cubrich on “Bombay Hooker,” a crazy-looking and very hard V6 boulder problem in Vedauwoo

Not to say that Vedauwoo’s climbing and bouldering are bad- they certainly aren’t. They’re just- well, different. They take some getting used to, both mentally and physically. Callouses help. Physical callouses. Although if you’ve built up some mental callouses, those could quite possibly help here too.

We especially enjoyed the start to “The Hatchet,” another V6, which was seemingly made for campusing, meaning only your hands are on the rock while your feet dangle beneath you. Yes, we do these things for fun.

After a quick shopping experience in downtown Laramie, I took Margaret to the Denver airport for her flight back to North Carolina. This past week has mostly consisted of me sitting inside at work and putting off cleaning and organizing our kitchen. It’s hard to be productive inside when the weather where you live is only this good for four months a year. Live on, Wyoming summer! Live on!

Love to all.

A Brief Stay in Glacier National Park

Last week Matt, his family, and I flew into Calgary, Alberta (Canada), drove down to Glacier National Park in Montana, and then drove back to Calgary via Banff National Park (also Canada) on one big tour of some of the west’s most picturesque snowy peaks. We only had a week to see these two beautiful places, so I tried to select some of the best hikes, climbs, and overlooks.

IMG_0324

Driving into the park

First major thing to note- this is still early season for Glacier National Park. The only road that runs through the whole park, Going to the Sun Road (an amazing name as well as one of the world’s most amazing drives, apparently), was not even completely open yet. We drove as far as we could on the park’s east side, to the Jackson Glacier overlook, which was still quite snowy.

IMG_0330

Jackson Glacier, hiding under some snowpack

Thankfully the hike I had chosen beforehand, the Sun Point Nature Trail, was still accessible. We parked along the narrow Going to the Sun Road, grabbed the bear spray, and began the relatively flat, easy hike, which approached three waterfalls and hugs the edge of St. Mary Lake.

IMG_0367

Matt next to St. Mary Lake

The trail gets a little rocky at times, though it’s also very well-maintained. Each fork is marked with easy-to-read signs. Many of the charred pine trunks surrounding the first part of the trail are what remains of last year’s huge forest fire.

IMG_0410

Wildflowers + dead pines

Though much of Glacier had yet to be opened, June is prime time for waterfall-chasing because of the increased levels of snow- and ice-melt. Montana’s rivers and lakes are all about as high as they get year-round, which made the waterfalls audible from even significant distances.

IMG_0429

St. Mary Falls

Most of the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom- beargrass, Indian paintbrush, columbine. Everything beneath the trees was superbly green.

IMG_0390

Matt’s mom walking through wildflowers

Our trip on the Sun Point Nature Trail culminated in that trail’s highest waterfall, Virginia Falls. Standing near the nadir supplied us with a continuous spray and breeze.

IMG_0451

Virginia Falls

Though our hike had thus far been interrupted by occasional rainfall, after turning back towards the rental car, the weather escalated to thunder and lightning. Since the Sun Point Nature Trail is located between St. Mary Lake and Going to the Sun Road, there are multiple places where hikers can start on the trail. Matt’s family took one of these sooner exits back to the road while Matt and I jogged back through the more exposed parts of the hike to get to the car.

IMG_0438

Matt on the Sun Point Nature Trail just below Virginia Falls

That afternoon we drove around the park (since we couldn’t drive through it) to get to West Glacier and Apgar Village, where we were staying that night, at the edge of Lake McDonald. It rained during most of the drive. We ate at a typical little national park restaurant in West Glacier, then checked into the hotel and sat slackjawed at the edge of the lake.

IMG_0481

Lake McDonald

The Apgar Village area of Lake McDonald is enveloped in tall cedars. The lake is perfectly clear, then turns to a deep blue the further out one goes on its surface.

IMG_0492

Cedars over Lake McDonald

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the nearby diner, Eddie’s (whose confidence-instilling motto was, “Almost Everyone Eats at Eddie’s”), Matt’s parents rented a 2-person kayak, Matt’s younger brother John a single kayak, and Matt and I a canoe. The morning began sunny and promising. We circled the west side of the lake, hoping to see some bald eagles. The boat company told us a small part of the lake was closed off by three white buoys on that side due to the eagles’ nests.

IMG_8968

Matt’s parents in their kayak

Most of the trees along the lake were aspen or pine.

IMG_8972

Matt paddling with excellent form & technique

We didn’t see any eagles, but we could make out their nests in the treetops. Matt’s parents decided to turn back, and we remaining three made our way out toward the center of Lake McDonald. The further toward the center we went (why is this reminding me of Heart of Darkness?) the less forgiving the previously glassy surface of the water became. The wind picked up, and gray clouds rolled over the southern mountaintops. We tried to pick up our paddling pace, but the canoe wasn’t having it. John’s kayak, on the other hand, crested smoothly over each wave. I shouted over the sound of the wind from the back of the canoe in a threatening tone, “Matt! Morale is low!”

Once we reached the east side of the lake and found a relatively sandy spot, I requested some shore leave. As Matt stood up out of the canoe to tug it to shore, the rocking of the canoe combined with some unlucky wave soaked his already damp pants. I, in search of a cheap morale boost, laughed. We took some photos. John stayed in his wave-worthy kayak and paddled in front of us, back and forth, easily.

IMG_8977

John making it look so easy

We eventually made it back to the dock, reuniting with Matt’s parents. Shortly after we stood back on dry land, it began to rain those moody, fat raindrops the mountains sometimes like to sputter.

IMG_0489

The boat rental shop on Lake McDonald

I spent the cloudy but dry afternoon sitting in front of the hotel room at the edge of Lake McDonald, still flabbergasted by the view, drinking a beer and reading. Yay vacation!

IMG_8981

Are you tired of photos of this lake yet?

For dinner we drove 45 minutes to the small but charming town of Whitefish, Montana, which is located outside the park. Two of our Laramie friends, Ruthanne and Ryan, who are also originally from North Carolina, recently moved to Whitefish, so we met up for beers at The Great Northern Brewing Company, their local brewery, and Cuban fare at Mama Blanca’s. The carne asada fries were a highlight.

IMG_0518

Inside The Great Northern Brewing Company, L to R: Matt, Ryan, Ruthanne, and me

That night, Matt and I adventurously had drinks at the West Glacier Bar, where we tried mostly unsuccessfully to chat up all the seasonal employees- raft guides, park rangers- folks our age but slightly grubbier and more tan. The atmosphere was tinged with awkwardness; it’s so early in the season there that all the workers are still getting to know one another too. We got some hiking recommendations, commiserated about the pouring rain, and eventually turned in for the night.

The next morning we slept in while Matt’s parents rented bikes and rode some of the nearby gravel bike trails. We again had breakfast at Eddie’s, I purchased some pinecone earrings, and we hopped back in the rental car for the long drive up through the Canadian border to Banff National Park.

On our next trip to Glacier (because there will be another), I’d like to go sometime later in the season, maybe August, and backpack through the park. One friendly park employee at the bar told us the best camping was in the center of the park, away from roads and RV’s and noise. One thing is for sure- wherever I go in Glacier National Park, I’ll be sure to bring bear spray!

IMG_0539

Stay tuned for my next post to learn what we did in Banff.

Love to all!

Announcement: Grad School!

Reading and writing are two of my earliest loves. My mom is fond of recalling how, on my first day in kindergarten, I read aloud Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat for the entire class. When I was perhaps 8 or 9, my dad gave me an old IBM Thinkpad that ran Windows 95. It sat like a immobile black cinder-block on my desk in my bedroom. I would either play Solitaire or Minesweeper, or compose an endless string of short stories in Microsoft Word- historical fiction, mysteries, etc. In the third grade, I hand-wrote a 40-page (wide rule, obviously) novella that supposedly took place in Europe during World War II, inspired by my collection of dolls. I remember swelling with pride at its length while I stapled the pages together; it felt like a true feat.

I don’t remember the first time I tried to write a poem. I know I played with composing lyrics for songs first. I would sing made-up melodies while pumping my legs on a backyard swing, then share the ones I liked most with my neighborhood friends. I was constantly imagining vibrant backstories for things I encountered- people, trees, animals, cars. One of my favorite recurring daydreams was, while my family drove anywhere out of town, to imagine what my life would be like if I’d had some connection to any of the little places we passed by. What would I be like if I lived behind that sandy shrimp shack? What if I’d gotten lost as a little baby and been raised by the foxes in that abandoned field? What if I’d grown up in that old farmhouse on this Christmas tree farm in the Appalachians?

In high school I was lucky enough to find a year-long elective course focused solely on creative writing. The first time I took it, I was a sophomore. The second, I was a senior, and my counselor informed me, concerned, that I couldn’t receive any credit for this course the second time. Fine by me! We were assigned powerful readings by the likes of Mary Karr and Annie Dillard. Anyone who’s taken public high school English knows how seemingly anything written after 1985 is excluded from the canon, making this all the more incredible. Literature was alive, and it was still beautiful.

During my undergraduate years, I knew I wanted to study English and creative writing, and pursued them fervently. I took a creative writing class every available semester, eventually culminating in a year-long poetry seminar with some pretty amazing folks for whom I’m still so grateful (you know who you are!). After graduation, my writing grew as aimless as a broke teenager set loose in a shopping mall. I published a couple poems in local journals, and tried writing without anyone to tell me what worked, and what sucked. I knew I needed to enroll in a MFA program to further hone my skills as a reader and writer.

All this to say that, come fall, I plan to enroll in the Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing program, focusing on poetry specifically, at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. This is a 3-year program offering excellent faculty, intensive writing workshops, courses, and many opportunities for work and studies in teaching and publishing. I am excited to be taking this substantial step forward in pursuit of my passions.

CSU

Though the details are obviously still in flux, and will be for some time, know that Fort Collins is just over a 1-hour drive from Laramie, which is in the realm of totally manageable for Matt and me (and Boone!) now that I own a car with all-wheel-drive. While it won’t be the easiest transition in the world, 3 years doesn’t seem like forever to me anymore and, moreover, the prospect of spending those 3 years working on something so dear to me is exciting.

Thank you to for your part in helping me get to where I am, whether it’s been years of work (thanks, Mom & Dad!) or a couple minutes reading this blog post. I appreciate you.

Love to all.

“Guest Post” by Boone

IMG_8289

Here is my shelter portrait

Hi, my name is Boone or, at least, I think it is. Sometimes my humans call me Abe, but whenever they do that, they’re quick to say “Boone” right after. I was a puppy in Kansas for a while, which was boring because my first home was just a basement, and there was no one to play with me. When I went to the shelters, it was still pretty boring because there wasn’t enough snow and a machine played calming classical music whenever they turned out the lights. BOR-ING.

IMG_8296

I really like the snow

They made me wear a Christmas bandana for my picture, which Katherine loved. Maybe that’s why she and Matt drove all the way to Kansas to get me. She hasn’t made me wear any bandanas in Laramie yet- probably because she knows I’d chew them all up. I love to chew.

Boone_curtain

Sometimes chewing gets me in sticky situations, like here when the curtain attacked me

It’s probably my favorite thing- except snow. I like to chew snow, too. And socks, curtains, blankets, beds, shoes, toys, the couch, balls, rugs, leashes, pots for plants, sticks, dirt, poop, and actual food. There- I think I’ve named all the things.

IMG_8292

Almost forgot the frisbee incident. Thankfully Matt and Katherine were there to help me- after they took a bunch of pictures

The people at the shelter thought I was going to be a big dog. Sometimes Matt likes to measure me with measuring tape, or take me to the nice place with treats where everything smells AMAZING like other animals to weigh me. It’s hard to stay on the scale though because I have a lot of wiggles in my system to get out.

Going to the dog park is a great way for me to get all of my wiggles out, unless I have to ride in the car to get there, which is VERY SCARY. Once I’m there, I get to play with other wiggly dogs and annoy all the ones who aren’t as wiggly. I also like to get my wiggles out all over the couch and Matt and Katherine’s laps. They are always so still and quiet on the couch- it is very BORING. Wiggling on the couch is also a great technique for me to shed some extra fur.

IMG_8291

Matt and I are both smiling on the couch in this picture, but I am doing more wiggling

Last weekend Matt and Katherine picked me up (which I DON’T like) and put me in this scary thing called the bathtub. They poured water on me and scrubbed me with this stuff that smelled very weird, like oatmeal, and not like dog at all, which I’m pretty sure is how I’m supposed to smell. I hope they never do this ever again.

FullSizeRender(3)

Me in the bathtub- yuck

Anyway, I like my new home because I get to run around in the backyard, go for walks, do some tricks like SIT, SHAKE, DOWN, and LEAVE IT, but not others like COME HERE or DROP IT. But most of all I get to chew.

IMG_8293

Here I am taking a break from chewing on a big stick

Matt says when the snow goes away, we can go camping. I don’t know what this is, but if it has anything to do with chewing, and nothing to do with riding in the car or going into the bathtub, count me in!

IMG_8297

Bye for now!

Meet Us: Matt & Katherine, a Valentine’s Day Post

I was inspired by this blog post from Free People to create a similar question-and-answer format post about Matt’s and my relationship. With Valentine’s Day coming up, it seemed like a perfect time to do it! I hope you are as uplifted by our answers as I was by Matt’s.

2011-07 NRG

At Summersville Lake in West Virginia, 2010

  1. How did you two meet?
    Matt: Katherine and I met at a UNC Outing Club meeting in the fall of 2008. However, Katherine does not remember this and thinks we met at the climbing wall about a week later. I guess I didn’t make a good impression at the meeting and it took some sending to get her attention.
    Katherine: Apparently I don’t remember the first time we met, but I do remember the second, at the climbing wall at UNC, where we were both undergraduate students. Even though Matt is older than I am, he was also new to campus because he had just transferred schools, which I think made me less intimidated by him. I liked his freckles and eyebrows, and I was impressed by his climbing expertise. And his muscles.
  2. Briefly describe one another.
    Matt: Red hair. Cold hands. How briefly?
    Katherine: Matt is very kind and somewhat introverted. He has a great sense of humor and takes responsibility for his actions (sometimes too much responsibility). He loves being outside. He has auburn hair, brown eyes, and an adorable dose of freckles.

    IMG_0032

    Goofy in San Francisco, 2015

  3. What do you admire most about one another?
    Matt: Katherine’s resilience in the face of difficulties has surprised and impressed me. She always finds a way to find joy in the little things, even when life is throwing obstacles at her. I didn’t really know this about her until we had been together for a while, because life is pretty rosy when you are in college and the whole world is your oyster. When the real world kicks in — grad school rejections, annoying or malicious co-workers, unanticipated bills — things change. I know these things are still troubling to her, but she doesn’t let them consume her and is still able to jump for joy at the prospect of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. I’m not this way at all. I also admire how dedicated she is to teaching yoga. Getting up at 5:30 am in below-zero weather for very little pay is insane.
    Katherine: His ambition- Matt has high expectations for himself, and I love to watch him meet or exceed those expectations, like when we go climbing together and he sends a hard route. I also admire his willingness to go out of his way to be kind to others, even when it is inconvenient for him. Matt is a very thoughtful, intentional person, which makes his actions very meaningful. Watching him be kind to others warms my heart-  it’s like a little validation: “Aah, this is the person I love.”
  4. What is something people may not know about your relationship?
    Matt: She is the messy one.
    Katherine: Having a dog is a great way to test out your boyfriend. I love to watch Matt play with the dog, laugh and cuddle with him, and even sing to him. Yes- he sings to the dog! This probably just means I’ve rubbed off on him. Also, Matt doesn’t appreciate throw pillows, so I know when Matt’s been on the couch because all the pillows end up stacked on the armchair.
  5. What is your favorite thing to do together?
    Matt: Taking a walk or hike with the dog.  The house can be filled with distractions, some of which are stress-inducing (clutter, bills, chores to be done) and can pollute the dynamics of our relationship.  Getting outside gives you some space and perspective.
    Katherine: Although I do love camping and hiking and climbing with Matt (I’d totally get lost in the woods without him), I also really enjoy more mundane moments- couch conversations, beating him at Boggle, playing with the dog, etc. These little moments remind me that we’re spending our lives together, which is lovely.

    2013-09 Ten Sleep

    Us + Abe in Ten Sleep Canyon, WY in 2013

  6. What is the most romantic thing she/he has ever done for you?
    Matt: She moved to Wyoming with me.
    Katherine: One Valentine’s Day Matt recited some of Pablo Neruda’s poetry to me in Spanish, which (obviously) I loved. I also like to tell people about when Matt was trying to convince me to move to Wyoming. He actually created a PowerPoint presentation with information about Laramie, including things specific to my hobbies and interests, and then pitched it to me. *Swoon.*
  7. When did you know you were in love?
    Matt: I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the word love (as used by dating couples, not parent/child, etc.) because it is very vague and means something different to everyone. To texting teenagers love means infatuation. To elderly couples it means a lifetime of understanding. As a couple in your 20’s, you are navigating the space in-between. I think this leads to a lot of disappointment for people.  How many times have you heard some variation of, “He/she said they loved me, but he/she did this!” It is possible that the offending party lied, but it is also possible that they have a definition of love which is not inconsistent with their behavior. Maybe their definition didn’t include a commitment to the relationship if the other person moved far away, but the other person’s definition did. My preference is to try to define love based on observable actions or attitudes. Love means a willingness to sacrifice your own well-being for the other person. Love means a consensus about what things are important in life. Love means physical intimacy. Love means patience and acceptance. Ideally, I would like to think that how Katherine and I define love has evolved together and that our definitions have converged, but I think this process takes a very long time. There are a lot of divorces. So, back to the question — when did I know I was in love with Katherine? Probably when we adopted Abe and started building a life together. Although, as my definition of love matures and evolves, maybe it was actually when we moved to Wyoming, life threw us some obstacles, and we found out how to still make it work and make each other happy.
    Katherine: I like to think of love as total acceptance. When people say “I love you,” they mean (or should mean), “I accept you as you are, in every way.” Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things with which I disagree, or that I would change, if I could. But to love someone is to acknowledge that person as they are, and to realize some things may change, and others may not. I loved a lot about Matt when I first met him. He was gracious, funny, and handsome (that always helps). The first time we said “I love you” to one another was the summer after we’d started dating, maybe 7 months into the relationship. I said it first (no surprise there), and he said he’d have to think about it and get back to me. I know. Was he playing hard-to-get? Probably. He “got back to me,” if I remember correctly, later that week. And the rest is history!

    2010-03 Stone Mtn

    Atop Stone Mountain in North Carolina in 2010

  8. Any relationship or dating advice you would give?
    Matt: No, I have no idea what is going on.
    Katherine: Go on trips together, and prioritize mutual experiences over material gifts. Being able to say, “Remember that time we went to x and did y?” and reminisce together is invaluable. Building these experiences also brings you closer together because it gives you common ground, and helps you think from similar perspectives. The last advice I’d give, mostly because I’ve read it and find it super helpful, is to simply be kind to one another. People have a tendency to treat others who are closest to us- our family, namely- like crap when we’re in a bad mood, or not feeling well, or when someone else has wronged us. Not only is that unfair to your partner, it also sucks them into your poor mood, and disregards their needs. What if they have some great news to share with you, or if they were feeling particularly good about themselves, and you just walked in the door and tore all that down with your bratty mood? Even if your self-pity or whatever is totally legitimate, your partner still deserves your kindness. Be polite. Be interested in what they find interesting. Listen to them. Be considerate of their preferences, just like you would to a coworker, or a stranger, or someone you just met.
2010-04 Fancy2

Being fancy in North Carolina in 2010

Happy Valentine’s Day! Tell your loved ones you love them. Love to all!

When Life Ends But Love Doesn’t

My grandmother, Anne Carter Webster, passed away at home on Tuesday December 15th. She’d been diagnosed with terminal leukemia a week prior to her death. She was 75 years old.

FullSizeRender(2)

Gammy in 1961

My mom asked if I’d write something to read for the funeral last Tuesday, the 22nd. The following is what I wrote, and subsequently read.

_______________________________________________________

A note before I begin: Anne Carter was our “Gammy,” so feel free to substitute “Gammy” with “Anne” throughout, if you’d like.

FullSizeRender(1)

From L to R, Gammy, Granddaddy (Bob Webster), my mom (Meredith), and Gizmo the 16-year-old miniature poodle

Mary Oliver writes a poem that goes: “To live in this world/ you must be able/ to do three things/ to love what is mortal;/to hold it/ against your bones knowing/ your own life depends on it;/ and, when the time comes to let it go,/ to let it go.” At some point in life, we all struggle with any of these: how to have the courage to love the transient things and beings we come to know in this world, and how to cope with loss, once death has taken away those we’ve loved. Not to mention how we struggle with our own mortality, our impending, inevitable, mysterious departure from this earth. Mary Oliver calls for us to let go when the time comes, a response that’s imbued with such trust– trust in God, in God’s plan for our lives, and the wisdom of knowing that, sometimes, fighting circumstance accomplishes no more than furthering suffering.

God guided Gammy through a beautiful life, and she knew God would guide her, through death, to a heaven of unimaginable beauty. So then, how do we tackle this paradox- to love Gammy, but to let her go? To cherish her life and memory while accepting her death? This is one of life’s great big beautiful mysteries, isn’t it?- to accept all truths- not just accept, but to let it all in; to let them “violently sweep your house/ empty of its furniture,” as the poet Rumi says– even when they tear at our understanding of justice, or love, or the fundamental laws of the universe.

The great writer Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful/ though you have considered all the facts.” So here are the facts: Gammy had terminal leukemia, and it ended her life. She also lived that life, 75 years of it, among and with us, and she loved us as she trusted God’s plan for her, and for her to be with and love each one of us.

IMG_7937

Gammy holding her two children, my Uncle Penn and my mom

I am reminded of the last conversation I had with Gammy. It was over the phone this past Thanksgiving. I’d just euthanized my dog, Abraham, after a month-long struggle with illness, and she said two things to me. The first, after expressing her sorrow, was, “Aren’t dogs just wonderful?” The second, “You need to get another one.”

What a terrific way to live- to get to say, “that was wonderful,” and, “let’s do it again.” So, if Gammy was your friend, bask in the beauty of that friendship. If she was family, continue to cherish your family now. Because, in the shadow of loss, and sadness, isn’t life still wonderful? Because, by now, I know you’ve considered all the facts- so let us now be joyful, and hold that joy against our bones as if our very lives depended on it because, in a way, they do.

IMG_7938

My mom and Gammy being joyful on my parents’ wedding day in 1985 (my dad is in the background on the left)

What Dogs Teach Us

In the morning I am careful not to step over any of the pawprints dotting the snow in our yard. In fact, I find one with particularly crisp edges, not yet touched by sunlight, and I squat down to touch the cold circles and corners. I do this because, once this snow is gone, no new pawprints of this same shape and size will ever grace our lawn again.

IMG_9101

Matt and I made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize Abe the afternoon of Monday, November 23rd. Abe’s health had been deteriorating for a month, to the point that he was no longer himself, physically or emotionally. Toward the end of this post I detail exactly what happened regarding Abe’s health, in case you are curious, but I’d like this post to be primarily about Abe’s well-lived life, not his death. So in this spirit I continue.

This past summer, at our family beach vacation in North Carolina, my aunt Morgan brought up the subject of pets. My little cousin Catalina, her daughter, had begun asking for a dog. As you can imagine, at the age of 4 she was starting to realize many of her friends had dogs at home. Morgan never grew up with dogs, and didn’t really understand the appeal. To her, it seemed like the only dog stories she ever heard from her friends were how their pets peed on the new carpet, chewed up articles of clothing, racked up vet bills, or ate food straight off the counter. So then, why have a dog?

Thank goodness there are many thousands of lifetimes’ worth of evidence in support of how awesome dogs are. I offer you just one.

I’ve already written about how I came to adopt Abe, my best friend. Matt and I are still in shock from loss but, as we continue to reflect on our time with Abe, we’ve realized how incredible a presence he was in our home and in our lives. Here are some of the lessons Abe taught us.

  1. Treasure the downtime.  During certain moments, we (people) have a tendency to take a step back and knowingly say to ourselves, “I’m adding this one to my highlight reel of memories.” These are often the big moments: college graduation, the first time I saw our house in Laramie, taking Abe from the shelter straight to PetSmart because I didn’t own anything a dog owner should. But small, subtle moments are added to this highlight reel too, and they often become more representative of our time together than the big ones. Abe loved to be in our backyard, after much hubbub about the doggy door. It was one of his favorite places, even though he allowed the rabbits to wreak havoc on my garden.
    IMG_9055I snapped this photo of him doing his typical rounds of the backyard, after which he’d lie down in the grass and fall asleep.
  2. Smell ALL the roses. Not just one, because not all roses are the same. And if you’re not going to smell them, then why the heck are you outside in the first place?!
  3. Patience is unconditional love in action. Dogs are basically the epitome of unconditional love, in case you haven’t heard, but they are also animals living in human homes. Accidents happen. Once, shortly after I got Abe and before we knew that he couldn’t handle rawhide, we gave him a rawhide bone and he subsequently had diarrhea all over my carpeted apartment. In the extra bedroom, he pooped right in the center of the room, then nosed a book from the bottom of the bookshelf over to cover up his mess. (Author’s note: I do not have a picture of this incident. You’re welcome.) I could tell he’d screwed something up because, when I came home from work, he was cowering in a corner and wouldn’t make eye contact with me. Sure, it took me the better part of two hours to clean everything up- but it wasn’t Abe’s fault. If there was blame to be assigned, it fell with me for giving him a treat his system couldn’t handle. So, to look a gigantic, terrible mess in the face and sigh, then deal with it- knowing it’s useless to be angry- that’s one thing Abe taught me.
  4. Don’t hesitate to show your affection. Smile at the people you love when they enter the room. Greet them every time they come home. Give them hugs and kisses. Be happy and grateful that you have the opportunity to love them, even if they’re not paying as much attention to you as they should.
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

    Abe in the backyard, taking himself very seriously

    Abe in the backyard, taking himself very seriously

    Stop thinking so hard about it. Take time to step away from the stressful situations in which you find yourself. We are fond of saying that Abe decompressed situations. Often Matt and I would be on opposite sides of the kitchen or living room, arguing about something we’d heard on the news, and Abe would saunter in, sit between us, and fart- loudly. We couldn’t take anything we’d been saying seriously after that. Though it’d be presumptuous of me to say that Abe took pride in his ability to dissolve our arguments, I don’t think it’s a very far-fetched assertion. When you find yourself in the midst of an intense or difficult situation, take a brief moment to step your mind out of that experience, and breathe.

  6. Take pleasure in the simple things & don’t be afraid to ask for more– mainly food and belly rubs, even if they are part of your routine. Just because you eat three times a day doesn’t mean it’s not still amazing. And don’t be ashamed of your passions and desires; embrace them. You have passion because you are alive, and because you want to be alive! Don’t rob yourself of that beauty.
  7. Life is short. Matt suggested I add this one. It’s true. I adopted Abe on Saturday, August 27, 2011; we were together for just over 4 years. Matt and I feel robbed. Four years were not enough, by any measure. It is a cliché now, but don’t take for granted the time you get to spend with those you love, especially during this holiday season. Say what you want to say. Make that time meaningful. Put away your phone or your new Christmas present so you can have a real conversation. Tell your loved ones that you love them, unabashedly, and without attachment to their potential response. Be honest, and loving.

We were so lucky to have Abe in our lives for these short four years. He converted every person he met into a dog-lover. We love you always, Abe.

IMG_9972


Here is what we know about Abe’s illness.

First, he stopped eating, and what he did eat, he threw up or regurgitated. Then, right after Halloween, he contracted pneumonia and was on IV antibiotics for several days at our local vet’s office. After blood tests, x-rays, and an ultrasound, they determined he had megaesophagus, a condition with many possible underlying causes that is characterized by failure of the muscles in the esophagus to propel food into the stomach. When food does not end up in the stomach, it is either regurgitated or aspirated into the lungs, causing pneumonia. There are special ways to feed dogs with megaesophagus, none of them quick or simple.

Abe contracted pneumonia a second time a couple weeks later, and was not recovering at our local vet, so we drove him down to the veterinary school and teaching hospital at Colorado State University. They admitted him as an emergency patient and put him on both oxygen and an IV in canine ICU. Abe continued to lose weight during this time since he was not eating. CSU is in Fort Collins, which is a little over an hour’s drive from our home in Laramie. We were able to visit Abe once during his stay, but it was hard on both him and us to be separated. After five days on oxygen, the vets at CSU determined Abe was stable enough to return home. All of our various tests for the common causes of megaesophagus (autoimmune diseases, lead poisoning, local tumors) came back negative, so there was no known underlying cause for us to treat. We left Fort Collins with an armful of medications and cautious hope. Normally 65-75 pounds, Abe’s weight was down to a sobering 51 pounds.

Saturday evening (11/21) Abe did well. On Sunday he endured considerable discomfort after eating breakfast, and Sunday night he was awake and in pain all night as he regurgitated food and had accidents throughout the house. Matt stayed up with him, and at about 6AM, with nothing left in his system, Abe was able to sleep again. On Monday morning, Abe’s weight was down to 49.8 pounds.

It is so hard to see a loved one suffer, but it is especially hard to watch him suffer and not be able to communicate. We couldn’t ask, “How are you feeling? Are you in pain? Do you understand that this isn’t your fault? That you are very sick?” Instead, we had to make the call on his life without consulting him. We believe it was the right thing to do but, of course, that doesn’t alleviate our sadness.

Love to all.