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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    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.
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Being fancy in North Carolina in 2010

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

Homefront Update

Spring is on its way to Laramie. A couple weeks ago we saw over a foot of snow over the course of several dreary days. Thankfully with this “warmer” weather, the snow doesn’t stick around for very long. Since we’ve had some rain, which is wonderful. I’d forgotten about the lovely persistent sound the rain makes on our skylights and against the window pane, which is kind of inevitable with this Wyoming wind.

Most of the local deciduous trees and bushes, aspen and cottonwood, lilac and crabapple, are still leafless, though you can see a hint toward leaves in the emerging buds. My tulip buds (which I can’t claim to have planted) have fully emerged but have yet to bloom, likely put off by the recent snow.

The week before last, Matt and I learned that Abe, our sweet dog, has cancer. He had a large tumor removed from his right side, along the ribcage, which came back as soft tissue sarcoma grade I. The grade scale is somewhat similar to the stage scale you hear people discuss, as in, “He has stage three lung cancer,” except that there are only three grades for dogs. The first level means there is no metastasis, so the cancer, at this grade, will not spread to other areas of the body. Soft tissue sarcoma is a fairly common cancer in dogs, so we are just monitoring the site of the previous tumor for future growth, as the biopsy indicated the veterinarian did not remove the entirety of the cancer.

Abe endured fairly invasive surgery (the tumor was located below a layer of muscle), was sealed up with over 30 staples, and has been recovering with the assistance of his Thundershirt, painkillers, multiple t-shirts, a cleanup crew (there’s been lots of leaking fluid), and many, many treats.

Poor guy!

Poor guy in our kitchen

He has been a little slower than usual which, if you know Abe, is quite slow, but he seems to be in good spirits generally. Matt and I are optimistic and hope we can remove any future growth in its entirety via a second surgery, before the cancer advances to any further grades. Matt’s family sent us an adorable “sick as a dog” get-well card which, of course, I read aloud to Abe. He licked it, which I take to be a sign of approval.

Slower-than-usual Abe

Slower-than-usual Abe

I don’t want to gross out anyone with pictures of, as the veterinarian described it, “Franken-Abe,” so here’s a picture of Matt visiting Abe shortly after his surgery; he had to spend the night after his surgery at the vet, so we stopped by to bother the staff/visit him before nightfall.

Abe shortly after surgery, still on morphine

Abe shortly after surgery, still on morphine- you can see the bandage from his IV too!

Poor Abe obviously doesn’t understand what is happening to him, or why he has to wear a ridiculous layer of shirts and velcro to keep pressure on his wound, but he is so sweet, as ever, and ready to shed his clothing as well as winter fur. Please keep Abe in your thoughts and prayers as he recovers from this surgery and, likely, prepares for the next one.

Love to all.

Christmas in North Carolina

Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday – smell of balsam and pine, clove and cinnamon; sharing food and drink with loved ones; watching a child’s face light up with joy upon opening a long-desired gift; huddling around either a lit Christmas tree or a crackling fire in the fireplace out of both reverence and a wish for warmth.

Log cabin Christmas

Log cabin Christmas

These things all have a special meaning for me now that I live across the country from my family. Coming back to visit is so special. I get to put Sam, my ten-year-old brother, to bed every night – sometimes via a game of Boggle, sometimes a game of soccer between two puppets ensues, and sometimes I start reading paragraphs of an educational book on cartography in a Liza Minnelli voice.

North Carolina was rainy, which was strange, as I hadn’t seen any rain in several months. In fact, just before I left Laramie, it snowed enough that, on the drive down to the Denver airport, the pines in Medicine Bow National Forest were covered in dustings of snow.

Frosty forest

Frosted forest

The wind hadn’t yet had its chance to strip them free of frost.

Landing in Raleigh, I could immediately detect the difference in temperature. My older sister Margaret picked me up and I requested we stop by CookOut, a North Carolina-based fast food chain with dank milkshakes.

On Christmas Eve, my mom made a delicious vinegar-y bratwurst and red cabbage stew while Sam and I attempted to assemble a gingerbread house. We learned icing is very sticky.

Even blinking Sam is adorable

Even blinking Sam is adorable

That night my uncle and grandparents came to town for Christmas festivities. Dark beer and bourbon-spiked egg nog were had while we caught up and opened presents. Because there are six of us Indermaur kids, to save us from the problem of needing to find gifts for each sibling, each year we are secretly assigned one sibling for whom to find a gift. Otherwise, Sam would probably give us each a pack of gum or something.

On the morning of Christmas Day, Sam appoints himself the sorter of presents under the tree and stocking deliveryman. We each have our stocking, full to the brim with candy and other small goodies, personally delivered to our beds.

After partaking in cinnamon rolls, coffee, and candy, we drove to Greensboro to meet up with the Indermaur side of the family. We had lunch at a delicious Thai restaurant (after all those sweets, savory curry was a welcome change) and went to Opa’s house afterwards for dessert, caroling, and presents.

Uncle Tom, Aunt Morgan, cousin Catalina and baby cousin Maxime couldn’t join us from their home in California, so we sang Christmas songs to them over Skype. We were all wearing the matching T-shirts Tom and Morgan gave us.

The Incredible Indermaurs!

The Incredible Indermaurs!

The next day we headed to what my mom has dubbed the “Creekside Cabin” in rural central North Carolina.

Ben fuels up on the way to the cabin

Ben fuels up on the way to the cabin

Mmm nothing like a fresh jar of pig foot

Mmm nothing like a fresh jar of pig hooves

The cabin is a restored tobacco barn plus a newer addition surrounded by some wooded acreage and fenced-in areas. We’re trying to convince our parents to get a pet donkey. Or some goats. Really, anything will do. Rabbits?

The cabin

Welcome to the cabin!

There is a tire swing, a little creek (true to its name) – perfect for crawfish hunting and splashing and panning for gold – random abandoned treasures (an old tent? mason jars?), and a neighbor with a donkey and llama farm.

Sam enjoys the tire swing

Sam enjoys the tire swing

Sam panning for gold

Sam panning for gold

The old chinking and pine walls in the main room are just lovely.

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Cabin living room

But of course, the best way to experience the cabin is to wander around the woods.

And the best way to wander is via piggyback

And the best way to wander is via piggyback atop your younger but taller sister

We spent the night at the cabin, wandered and played a little more, and made s’mores around Dad’s campfire before driving back to Raleigh through beautiful little Chapel Hill.

Will chomps down on his half-charred marshmallow

Will chomps down on his half-charred marshmallow

Libby, Will, and I saw the excellent movie “Wild,” based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, about a young woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo. IT’S SO GOOD AND YOU NEED TO SEE IT. NOW. YES, YOU. YES, NOW.

I wish I’d had more time to see all my friends in North Carolina, but I’m so glad I was able to catch up with my family and to warm up a little before returning to Wyoming just in time to experience several days of negative double-digit temperatures.

Happy New Year, readers, and may it be a beautiful one.

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Christmas Preparations

It’s been unseasonably warm for December here in Wyoming. We were almost afraid there wouldn’t be any snow to speak of in the mountains when the Snowy Range Ski Area opened.

Matt and I went up to the Snowies the weekend before last to get our Christmas tree, just like last year. We stopped by the ski lodge to pick up our passes, have my skis and Matt’s board waxed, and go up the lift and down the the slopes a couple times. The lodge has a little bar upstairs overlooking the slopes, and we had a draught beer from Sheep Mountain Brewery, basically a guy outside of Laramie who makes great beer in his oversized garage. I believe it was a red IPA – really delicious! The bearded man sitting next to us introduced himself as a foreign exchange student from Tasmania studying at the University of Wyoming. I drank a free additional pint of the red IPA because the bartender messed up a pour. You know, typical Laramie-area happenings.

A semi-frozen creek up in the Snowies

A semi-frozen creek up in the Snowies

I was pleased that I hadn’t completely forgotten how to ski and that neither of us fell while getting on or off the lift, which had proved more difficult than I had anticipated last year. It was warm enough that I hadn’t been dying to get off the lift by the time we reached the top of the mountain, and sunny too.

Sometimes, caught in a turn, the view obscured by pines, you forget that you’re not completely alone with the trees and the snow. You feel small and a part of something wide and deep and beautiful in the almost-silence of the wind and the sshhhh of your skis against the snow.

The road between Laramie and the ski area

The road between Laramie and the ski area

After skiing, we drove up the road a ways to find ourselves a tree. We walked by a family on snowshoes carrying their own tree on the snowed-in trail. If you stayed on the cross-country ski trail you didn’t need snowshoes, but we eventually had to wander off the trail to find our tree, as per Forest Service regulations. I believe the word “trudging” was invented to describe one’s slow, labored walk through over a foot of snow. If you’ve never had the good fortune of needing to trudge through so much snow that it’s a small miracle every time your boot reappears, whole – just imagine a small child so bored they’ve grown exasperated with the feeling, chin to the ceiling, eyes rolled up in their sockets, shoulders sagging, walking away from you. That, too, is a trudge.

Matt in the forest

Matt in the forest

To ease your sadness about severing forever a pine from its roots, the Forest Service informs you in their handy brochure, which accompanies the $10 permit for the tree cutting, that your act assists the growth of the surrounding trees, and thus the forest as a whole (I admit it would be better here if I quoted directly from the pamphlet but, after a ~30-second search through my recent mail, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably threw it out). Harvesting the tree, then, is like giving the grove a haircut. Mowing the lawn. Holding two or three kids back a grade. You know, science: not everyone wins and gets to become a magnificent Christmas tree – just the pretty ones.

Got it!

Got it!

We picked a more suitably-sized tree for both the inside of the car and our house this year, though its much skinnier trunk repeatedly rebelled at our positioning it in the Christmas tree stand. It remains crooked but only if you look at it from either the perspective of the gas fireplace or the dusty corner behind the couch which likes to collect tumbleweeds of dog fur. From the front door it looks very nice. We only broke one ornament wrestling with it and the stand.

Christmas is fast approaching! I’ve already watched “Elf” once, and listened to probably 50 hours of Christmas music, so I’m prepared. I’ve wrapped all the presents, created plenty of online wishlists at various outlets in anticipation of the receipt of gift cards, and made at least one Christmas-related dessert item, though I have yet to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which I have on DVD – yes, it’s that important. I’m looking forward to seeing my family in North Carolina, but I’d gladly skip over the whole shuttle-to-the-airport/plane-from-one-airport-to-the-next thing if I could. I think this is a sign you’re officially an adult, when the prospect of traveling via plane exhausts you and causes you to go out and buy crystallized ginger and anti-nausea pills instead of giving you boundless, exuberant joy.

Unless the drive looks like this. JOY!

Unless the drive looks like this. JOY!

But after all that sitting and wondering which ridiculously expensive dry sandwich or stale burger to order and weaseling your way into public bathroom stalls only to find there is no toilet paper – after all that mess comes FAMILY. And old friends, and presents, and free food, and all those wonderful, wonderful things. This is why I love Christmas.

Happy holidays and safe travels, everyone!

There Are Still Leaves!

Dear reader, I admit to taking a month-long hiatus from this blog, in case you hadn’t noticed. So, Things That Have Happened:

We’ve been in Wyoming for over a year now, which is hard to believe. (We’ve survived!!) My car was inoperable for over a month, Abe got diagnosed with hypothyroidism, Matt’s back in school, I’m taking a class at the University of Wyoming this semester – you know, the usual.

Back when it was decidedly summer, on a solo hike up in the Snowy Range (on the way back from this, my car broke down the first time)

Back when it was decidedly summer, on a solo hike up in the Snowy Range (on the way back from this, my car broke down the first time)

The weather has been surprisingly terrific these past few weeks, aside from the two times it’s snowed. Don’t worry, the second time it didn’t even stick, but it still zapped my zucchini plants. The grass is staying green, and there are still leaves! Up in the mountains the aspen have lost their leaves to the wind, but here in the valley all the deciduous trees are a shimmering yellow. Even some of the hollyhocks and rosebushes are still blooming, which is hard to believe.

I just can't get over the beauty of these mountains

I just can’t get over the beauty of these mountains

The Snowy Range is quite snowy right now, as I can see from town. Walmart has sold out of all its chrysanthemums, and pumpkin season is in full swing. I triumphantly wore shorts under a dress today, which is almost not cheating.

I call this one, "Pumpkins in Love," obviously

I call this one, “Pumpkins in Love,” obviously

Mostly it’s the little things right now. Last night I roasted a goat leg for the first time (oregano, garlic, crushed red pepper, white wine). I’m forcing myself to write more, which really means I’m just writing poems titled ridiculous things like, “Wasabi Peas Say No to Complacency.” We try to get outside and/or go climbing every weekend. Last week I upgraded and bought a real ski jacket, which feels a little like over-commitment. Does this mean I have to actually wake up early to go skiing this winter? Do I have to try the black diamond runs now? Do my skis need to get “tuned up” or whatever? So long as I can still order the hot chocolate with whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles every single time.

Why do I bother raking in a state famous for its wind? Because grass that's still GREEN!

Why do I bother raking leaves in a state famous for its wind? Because grass that’s still GREEN!

It’s easy to get complacent (to which wasabi peas would say, “NO!”) about the nice weather we’re currently having. In North Carolina, I was complacent about nice weather because the weather was almost always nice, so it became acceptable to spend a perfectly sunny Saturday morning inside eating oatmeal and watching Netflix, because odds were the next Saturday would be lovely too.

Abe is always complacent

Abe is always complacent; it’s kind of his lifestyle

I remember a bouldering trip Matt, our friend Kyle, and I took in the winter. The Winter. In the mountains of North Carolina – Rumbling Bald, to be exact. I wore my down jacket and a hat, and it was excellent. We stayed in a motel (you know, because it was “cold”) and borrowed a bizarre and murderous movie from the front desk that scarred us all for life. Bouldering here in the winter is out of the question unless you don’t mind packing in a broom and shovel to dig out enough room around the boulder for your crash pad, but there are many other adventurous options, such as cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowshoeing (see my post about the Poker Run).

And, if all else fails, there’s always our sweet little house to keep us not-cold and not-windy.

Just before sunset, the golden hour

Just before sunset, the golden hour

Love to all.

Summertime

I much prefer Laramie this time of year. All the flowers bloom at once as the season is so short; the zinnias I planted out front have been at it for almost a month.

I'm posting this picture of the best-looking zinnia, obviously

I’m posting this picture of the best-looking zinnia, obviously

Hollyhocks grow around Laramie like weeds

Hollyhocks, perennials, grow around Laramie like weeds

I can leave all the windows open at home, day and night. Train brakes and whistles, like a chorus of upset piccolos, wail a little louder through open windows (we’re five blocks from the train tracks), but I don’t mind. The first thing I do when I get to the office each day is to open all the windows. I also leave the front door wide open for the better part of the morning. The wind is less of a constant nuisance, as well as a reason to keep my hair short, and more of a pleasant breeze. Cool evenings and early mornings feel quaint, unlike the harbinger dawns of the summer south: “Ugh, it’s this hot already? Let’s just go back to bed.”

It’s also tourism season in Wyoming. Parking lots are full of cars with license plates from places like Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and California. People wander around downtown Laramie, staring wide-eyed at passing trains and licking ice cream cones which, in all honesty, would probably be beers if that were legal.

R.R. = Railroad, duh

R.R. = Railroad, duh. Photo by Libby

My parents, my younger sister, and two of my younger brothers came to visit me in Laramie a couple weeks ago. I did a lot of cleaning to prepare: mopping, scrubbing, vacuuming, chasing devious tumbleweeds of Abe fur across the kitchen floor and under the table. Matt washed all the dishes, per usual.

It had only been a few weeks since I’d last seen my family as I went home at the end of June, but it felt like longer. I was excited to show them this little world in which I now operate. Unfortunately, their time in Laradise began with two full days of almost constant rain. Though the locals call summer the “monsoon season,” rain like that is highly unusual. We’re used to the typical afternoon thunderstorm or weekday blizzard, but rain is a different animal.

First, I’m not the only person to write about “the perfume of sagebrush after rain,” (Edward Abbey was in Arches National Park) but it’s absolutely lovely. Sagebrush is a bleached mint color and covers the prairies of Wyoming.

Sagebrush in Wyoming, photo by Getty Images

Sagebrush in Wyoming, photo by Getty Images

If you rub a bit of its leaves between thumb and forefinger, the aroma is like sage, as the plant’s name suggests, but more peppery. This is the same scent that wafts up into roadways while you coast across the state after a rainstorm, a glorious earthy smell.

Second, there’s not much you can do outside while it’s raining (kayak, raft, get wet?), and there’s not much to do in Laramie when you’re not outside.

So we hit up a lot of museums. Two ten-ish-year-old boys in matching T-shirts and white gloves led a tour of the Ivinson mansion, like a much smaller, local version of the Biltmore outside Asheville, NC. (If the Vanderbilts had a house in Wyoming they needed to heat during winter, they would’ve had a smaller house too!)

It seems like the dark ages of Laramie were from the ’60s through the ’80s, or what the two boys referred to as the “vandalism period.” During this time many historical buildings in Laramie became derelict, were graffiti’d and ransacked and looted. Handmade stained glass windows were shattered; irreplaceable light fixtures were removed and sold. The Wyoming Territorial Prison, a federal institution that once housed Butch Cassidy, became a university-sponsored home for cattle and livestock. When a group of Laramie citizens rallied to purchase the property in 1989, I’m certain there was much cleaning of manure and things. No manure there now, I assure you!

Sam and I with Butch Cassidy at the Territorial Prison

Sam and I with Butch Cassidy at the Territorial Prison. Photo by my dad

Visiting the territorial prison sparked a family discussion over dinner about how the prison system in America largely fails at its primary objective, which is to rehabilitate criminals into functional, productive citizens. If this is a topic in which you have any interest, I highly encourage you to watch PBS Frontline’s “Prison State” episode about incarceration in the US (and its sister episode, “Solitary Nation,” about solitary confinement in the US). You can click here to watch it for free online.

Tuesday morning before the rain started, Matt took my family up to the Happy Jack area of Medicine Bow National Forest about 10 minutes’ drive east of Laramie while I was at work. They went for a leisurely hike up to a small sport climbing area known as Brown’s Landing or Beehive Buttress, which sits at the edge of an aspen grove.

Matt helps Libby saddle up at Beehive Buttress

Matt guides Libby through wearing a harness at Beehive Buttress. Photo by my dad

Aspen are like birch trees with their stark white trunks and small, heart-shaped leaves that yellow come fall. My favorite aspect of aspen (see what I did there?) has to be how the underside of their leaves is a slightly lighter shade of green than the top of the leaf, which means that every time the wind blows (if you haven’t read much of my blog, the wind blows here often), the leaves appear to shimmer as they pivot back and forth on their stems, flashing in the sun. Appropriately, the Latin name for aspen is Populas tremula. In this Forest Service video, you can watch some footage of beautiful aspen, and at the 3-minute mark, the narrator discusses the exact phenomenon I mention here.

Libby climbing a 5.8

Libby climbing a 5.8, “Back to Bucket Country.” Photo by Dad

Anyway, after they came back from their morning hike to meet me for lunch in Laramie, it rained for two days. C’est la vie *shrug*.

Thursday morning we made the most of the good forecast and drove up to the western section of Medicine Bow National Forest to hike Medicine Bow Peak, a two-mile trail to the summit that sits at about 12,000 feet above sea level. The first mile of the trail is mostly flat and circles around Lewis Lake before heading to the base of the mountain. The second mile is almost entirely switchbacks up about 1,000 feet or so. The last bit of the trail peters out into loose rock piled upon loose rock, which necessitates all-fours-scrambling.

Nice views on the way to the summit

Nice views on the way to the summit, photo by Libby

Sam and my parents looked after Abe while Matt and I took Libby and Ben to the top. The wind was fierce at the summit and we had to walk through a snowfield (between areas of loose rock) to get there. Some of the snow was stained pink from, I think, the minerals in the granite around us. The view was magnificent – lots of crystal clear alpine lakes and lush green areas, fed by snow-melt. The tree-line was clear below us.

SUMMIT!

SUMMIT! Photo by random guy.

SUMMIT again!

SUMMIT again!

We’d taken a walkie-talkie to the summit with us, and my dad had its twin. Ben, corresponding with Dad, tried to stand at the edge of the summit and wave for Dad to see him. They were a long way away. We took some pictures, talked about how awesome we were, and made our way back down over the slushy pink snow and cracked granite chunks, following cairns and wooden posts to mark the trail.

We stopped for lunch in Centennial, a small town west of Laramie with fewer than three hundred residents, though we wondered how often they update their sign. The weather was nice enough for us to sit outside and eat at the picnic tables behind the Beartree Cafe. A black and white, medium-sized mutt named Memphis, according to her tag, trotted into the restaurant’s backyard to beg from customers susceptible to her cuteness. At one point we heard a distant whistle and the dog ran away, only to return several minutes later. My mom remarked that it was a good way to keep the place clean. I remarked that Memphis probably enjoyed her secret social life.

We mostly ate out for dinner, but on a couple of occasions we had dinner at our house.

The whole crew in our kitchen

The whole crew in our kitchen

The first night we had bison sausage (poor vegetarian Libby), green chili polenta, tomatoes with oregano and olive oil, and sauteed zucchini with mint, basil, and walnuts. There was lots of leftover polenta for our second at-home dinner, which included sauteed homegrown kale with onions, Mom’s yummy Indian chickpeas and stewed tomatoes, more tomatoes, and watermelon for dessert. Ah, I almost neglected to tell you about the ginger beergaritas I made for my parents – the recipe can be found here.

I made sure we stopped by some of my favorite Laramie curiosities, including Night Heron Books & Cafe, the co-op grocery store, our local chocolatier’s shop, Murdoch’s (a ranch supply store), our farmer’s markets, Coal Creek Tap (a self-described nanobrewery), and Atmosphere Mountainworks (where a local man sells his handmade jackets, pants, backpacks, and bags). I think everyone found at least one Laramie memento.

On Friday we went hiking up at Vedauwoo, where Matt and I occasionally go climbing when we feel like punishing ourselves in uncomfortably abrasive cracks and tape gloves.

Me, climbing up at Vedauwoo last month. Photo by Evan Martin

Me, climbing up at Vedauwoo last month. Photo by Evan Martin

We avoided all of that mess, but enjoyed seeing climbers struggle up granite mounds from afar. The Turtle Rock trail we took goes from dry and rocky to lush and swampy (snow-melt again) and back, which is a pretty incredible thing to witness if you’re from the generally lush South. We were a little more careful about sun protection on this hike; I think Ben actually put sunscreen on all of his face this time, instead of just the part below his eyebrows.

On Saturday morning it came time for them to head back across the country. Everyone was sad to say goodbye to humidity-free air as well as Abe, primarily. Abe was extremely happy to have 8+ hands petting and hugging him all at once while Dad loaded all the luggage plus acquired Laramie goods into the back two rows of the minivan with Tetris-like skill.

With much waving, the minivan eventually got to the end of the street and turned the corner, leaving Abe and me in the driveway alone. I spent the rest of the warm, sunny day mostly doing nothing, a.k.a. cleaning out the refrigerator, reading, and painting my nails. Abe spent it also doing nothing, a.k.a. napping. However, this is what he does most days.

It was wonderful to share my little slice of Wyoming with my family. Next year – REAL SUMMITS! Just kidding. But maybe Jackson and/or Colorado too? Libby – don’t get a summer job anywhere but Wyoming!

Photo by Libby

Photo by Libby

Love to all.