Hailstorms, Fireworks

The storms out West were stark and angry. The sagebrush and juniper desert of New Mexico and western Texas allowed me to see the expanse of skies darkening out into the afternoon. Though the inside of my car was a much lower temperature, I could still smell the coming rain—the metallic scent of wet minerals and sage.

On the westbound side of I-40 a tractor trailer had blown over so that its whole long body was spread diagonally across both lanes. I could see the backed-up traffic for miles—people getting out of their cars, holding their hands like visors over their eyes, walking their leashed dogs in the tall grass of the median. At the time I felt pity for them, all these suddenly immobile people, but I didn’t know the danger that lurked ahead.

Once over a steady incline, I saw the storm. Its proudly blackening, circular cumulonimbus puffs of water vapor and electricity mounting, building, eating up space.

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Rain began to fall in fat, disparate drops, leaving quarter-sized splats on my windshield. The pace of their pattering quickened. Then their splats grew harder, little bits of ice melting upon impact. My throat tightened as I saw the cloud above and ahead fill suddenly with dark dots—hail pummeling into my line of vision. The sound was a roar. Cars around me slid off the road, their hazard lights blinking like a human’s uncomprehending gaze. I followed suit with the lights but kept on, much more slowly.

At first the hail was infrequent enough that I could still hear my music and my quickening breath, but it soon became a deafening clash of ice golf balls against thick glass and thinner plastic, so loud I could feel my lips form the shapes of curses without actually hearing them pronounced at all.

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It’s strange how one’s ability to sense time passing devolves in moments like these—I couldn’t tell you if the storm lasted for ten or twenty minutes, or more. I passed a bridge under which the shoulder was filled with cars huddled like rabbits in the rain. This, the storm’s edge as it moved over the highway, was already so destructive—what would its middle be like? I didn’t want to stick around and find out.

After countless dents all over the body of my car, I was under clear skies again. My rear view mirror was a black rectangle in the spider-web-fractured blue of the windshield. To the north (my left) I could make out another wide thundercloud in the shape of a dinner plate hovering low in the sky, menacing.

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Lightning stayed inside the cloud, flashing it red. How many more thunderstorms lurked ahead? I drove to Amarillo holding the steering wheel the way a scared kid grips their mother’s hand while getting their first vaccination. My little brother’s pediatrician once told him he could punch him if the shot hurt. My kid brother, upon being vaccinated, promptly socked him in the arm. I still wish I had something to pummel after that day.

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West of Amarillo I-40 goes right by a feedlot full to the gills with cattle. From what must’ve been a half a mile away I saw it first—tall, fluorescent lights like streetlights and steam rising up from beneath their reach. Then I smelled the steam—that distinctive stench of warm, wet fur mixed with hay cud. Then I was next to them, their bodies still wet from drenching rains, their muddy hooves, their muffled shuffling, their matted black and white mottled fur. Then I passed them, left them behind—an island of glistening light in the nighttime darkness.

I’d forgotten it was almost the fourth of July, basically was since it was the Saturday just before. As I approached Amarillo from the dark western desert expanse, I spotted blooms of fireworks low in the sky, hanging in the air like slow lightning. I’d never really deeply considered the well-deployed physics of fireworks until now—to explode as they’re still rising, but just barely, then to catch in the air like a lump in your throat before falling—slowly, at first, then going out, blown out not by the movement of air but of it through air—before you get to see the colored sparks pick up speed. From this far the displays were all silent—something I’d also never experienced. I spotted several—maybe 4? —all going on at once, and wondered which were official and which were happening in open fields or neighborhood cul-de-sacs. I saw the displays as three-dimensional for the first time as I moved through them—I suppose that’s what was so surreal about it. Quiet, static fireworks, limited to their small patch of low sky.

When the repairman pulled out my weather-worn windshield last week, it completely shattered. I’m still picking out shards of glass no bigger than the ridges of my fingerprints from the passenger’s seat.

 

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So You’re Planning a Roadtrip

Though it’s easy to make traveling purely about the destination (because we get excited about new places!), if you have the time to commit to a roadtrip, it’s an ideal way to refocus your travel around the act of traveling itself- that is, the journey. The way roads wind through landscapes, the roadside vegetation, the climate, the people-watching- these are all things I love about roadtripping. And as someone who’s made their way across the country via automobile a few times, I like to think I know what I’m talking about.

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Driving through Banff National Park in Canada

I’m planning a few roadtrips for this summer too- one from Wyoming to New Mexico, another from New Mexico to North Carolina, and then one from North Carolina back to Wyoming. Mapping out potential routes is almost more fun for me than the actual trip itself, but looking at Google Maps got me thinking: what advice do I have to aspiring roadtrippers? (I know you’re out there!) So below I have some advice organized by stages of the planning process, and then at the end I’ve included my abridged packing list to spark some wanderlust-y ideas for you!

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Southern Wyoming sagebrush prairie

Planning a Roadtrip:

  • Map out your route, starting with the quickest way between your start and end points. Are there nearby cities, national parks, historical sites, or other places you may want to stop that aren’t on this most direct route? If you’re planning on making your way quickly, try not to plan a day of driving longer than 8 hours. Though that doesn’t sound like a lot, when you throw in eating and bathroom breaks (and sightseeing!), that’s absolutely a full day. If you’ll be trading shifts behind the wheel with a partner or friend, you can of course do longer days, but even then be mindful of how cranky several full days of sitting can make your body feel. Also try to avoid large cities around rush hour– that is, unless you love traffic.
  • Get AAA! Or figure out if your car insurance company or car manufacturer offers roadside assistance. These programs are lifesavers should your car break down. In addition, AAA members get discounts at campgrounds and hotels all over the country. To note, if you’re roadtripping with a friend, only one of you needs to have AAA because they’ll provide roadside assistance to their members even if that member is a passenger in someone else’s car- of course speaking from personal experience.
  • Try to make reservations ahead of time, if possible. During the summer especially many campgrounds (both private and public) book up months in advance! Websites like reserveamerica.com allow you to search for campgrounds and pay online. If you’re considering a private campground, check for reviews on websites like yelp first to ensure the amenities you want are available, like potable water, toilets, or showers. KOA campgrounds aren’t the most scenic, but they often have laundry facilities and other conveniences available. For any campground, try to arrive before nightfall since it can be practically impossible to find your campsite in the dark. If you lean more toward hotels, consider setting up an account with a website like hotels.com, which gives you 1 free night at member hotels for every 9 nights you book through them. If you don’t want to shell out for hotels but still aren’t psyched on camping, check out websites like airbnb and couchsurfing, which allow you to stay with locals and within the bounds of your budget. If you’re bringing along a furry friend, you’ll need to check whether all the places you plan to stay are pet-friendly. Certain hotel chains are pet-friendly, but typically charge extra fees for the service.
  • If you’ll be traveling through or spending time in wilderness areas where predators like bears or mountain lions live, educate yourself about how to behave in these animals’ territories and what to do should you encounter a bear or mountain lion. For example, if you’ll be backpacking through grizzly bear country, buy some bear spray and learn how to use it. Being in bear country also affects the way you store any scented goods like food or lotions- here is a good list of tips for traveling in grizzly bear country.
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Driving through Big Sur on the California coast

Right Before You Leave:

  • Call your credit card company/ies to let them know when and where you’ll be traveling. I forgot to do this once, and when I tried to buy breakfast at a cafe in San Francisco the first morning I was there, my card kept getting declined. After a brief call to my credit card company I was able to use my card again, but only after I was a little annoyed and thoroughly embarrassed. Communicating your plans ahead of time will ensure your card works throughout your trip.
  • Get a phone charger for your car so you aren’t reliant on electricity, which is great if you’re planning on camping. This way your phone can charge while you drive!
  • Bring physical maps with you, whether you buy a road atlas or just print out copies of your directions from Google Maps. There will likely be many instances in which you won’t have cell phone service or LTE/4G to help you navigate.
  • Get a simple first aid kit outfitted with things like bandages, antibiotic ointment, alcohol swabs, tweezers, gauze, medical tape, and painkillers. You can find a complete kit like this at a drugstore or a store like Target or Walmart. You might also consider adding small packets of antihistamine medication (in case you struggle with allergies on your trip) or caffeine pills (if you get tired behind the wheel)- you can get these smaller packets at most gas stations. Obviously stock up on any medication you use regularly and bring that along, too.
  • Consider buying or borrowing jumper cables, a small jack, a spare tire, and a headlamp or flashlight. These items will seriously help you out should you encounter any car trouble.
  • While we’re on the subject of your car, schedule an oil change and get any timely maintenance your car may need BEFORE you leave, such as tire rotations/new tires, new belts, new brake pads, fluid flushes, etc. Your car can’t take care of you if you’re not taking care of it!
  • Make a fun playlist! Not only does this keep you excited about your trip, it will also prevent you from messing with your phone or iPod while you drive. Bonus: if you select songs to which you can sing along, this will keep you from getting sleepy behind the wheel (speaking from personal experience here, obviously). You can also utilize driving time to catch up on great podcasts or audiobooks.
  • Stock up on yummy snacks that won’t require refrigeration and won’t melt in the backseat like nuts, dried fruit, M&Ms, pretzels, veggie chips, granola, protein bars, jerky, little cups of fruit or applesauce, etc.
  • Tell someone you trust your entire itinerary in as much detail as you can provide including where you’ll be when, the route you’re taking, how to contact you, and where you’re planning to spend each night. Provide them with your car’s make and model in addition to your license plate information if they don’t already have it. If something happens and you aren’t where you planned on being, this person will not only know, but will be able to provide authorities with crucial information about your plans. Also tell this person where/when you anticipate not having cell phone coverage, if applicable.
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Bears Ears National Monument in Utah

On the Trip:

  • OMG you’re doing it! Take all the photos! Fill up your journal with tales of your adventure! Eat all the food! Stop at all the cool, weird, beautiful places!
  • Be mindful of possible delays on your trip like road construction, traffic, weather, and accidents. Many roads in more mountainous or remote areas close seasonally, so check the Department of Transportation’s websites for each state you’ll be traveling through for relevant information, especially if you’re traveling in the winter or spring. Additionally, if you’ll be driving anywhere at 5,000 feet above sea level or higher, no matter the time of year, bring a big coat and a warm hat. High deserts, prairies, and alpine areas and campgrounds can get below freezing temperatures even in the summer.
  • Some basic ground rules: don’t text and drive– use a friend, voice recognition software, or just pull over if you need to. In this vein, please don’t drink and drive either. Consider only drinking when you’re set up for the evening, or when you’ve arranged alternate transportation (e.g. walking, public transit, taxi, or designated driver).
  • Give yourself time to eat and move. Though it can be tempting to drive all day and eat fast food in the car, try to take a break for lunch, maybe eating at a non-chain restaurant. Websites like yelp and tripadvisor can guide you toward unique eateries. Take regular breaks not just to use the bathroom, but to walk and stretch. Our necks and shoulders can get particularly tight in the car- here are some useful stretches you can practice on your trip.
  • Only access sensitive information on secure WiFi. In other words, avoid checking your bank account balance or your email on public, non-password protected WiFi networks, like those at restaurants.
  • Trust your gut. If something seems off, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to pack up and leave because the guy in the next campsite is acting creepy, or to change your plans entirely when the motel or diner feels off. You’re not obligated to chat with or help someone if you feel unsafe or if you don’t have the time. This is your trip! You don’t owe anyone anything except to keep yourself safe.
  • Keep in touch with your trusted person! Tell them at regular intervals where you are and how you’re doing. Use a payphone or a landline if necessary. Send them amazing photos and make them jealous!
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Salt Lake City, Utah

Finally, here’s my abridged roadtrip packing list for this summer:

  • Journal + pens
  • Approximately 50 books
  • Cell phone equipped with some audiobooks + earbuds
  • Laptop + charger
  • Wallet
  • Sunglasses (maybe 2 pairs since I seem to always lose 1 on every trip)
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Deodorant
  • Face/body wipes (I like Burt’s Bees and these Yuni shower sheets)
  • Scentless lotion
  • Dry shampoo (these two are my favorites)
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Extra ponytail holders
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toothpaste & toothbrush
  • Travel towel (like this one)
  • Toilet paper
  • Sandals for driving (wearing close-toed shoes in the car? ugh!)
  • Hiking boots + wool socks
  • Rain jacket
  • Warm jacket
  • Swimsuit
  • Comfy driving clothes (aka NOT JEANS)
  • Travel yoga mat (I have this Manduka one that folds up into a little square)
  • Camera + battery charger
  • Headlamp + extra battery
  • Sleeping bag + sleeping pad
  • Pillow
  • Swiss army knife or multi-tool
  • Camp kitchen like this one (including stove, gas canister, eating utensils, etc.)
  • Sponge + biodegradable soap
  • Paper towels
  • A few plastic shopping bags to serve as trash bags
  • Water bottles + Camelbak bladder
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Wide open roads in Wyoming

What does your ideal roadtrip look like? And what would you add to my tips or packing list? Let me know! Happy travels.

Love to all.

My Summer Reads

I love that it’s summer. Seriously. Laramie is gorgeous right now – colorful, sunny, lush, and comfortable. The highs in the summer here reach the highs 70’s, low 80’s (Fahrenheit, duh), which is room temperature in the South. If that doesn’t make you want to come visit us, I don’t know what will!

I have a lot I want to read this summer, but I’m optimistic that all the time spent in airports and camp chairs will provide me with plenty of time to read. So, since there’s enough time left for a summer reading list, let’s do it. Here are the books I’ve read, the ones I’m muddling through, and the ones still out there, waiting.

Books I’ve Read:

SummerSisters

  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume is a bestselling novel for a reason (maybe the #1 of which is that it’s by Judy Blume). It’s hard to put this thing down. The narration follows the development of the protagonist’s best friendship with an enigmatic girl over the course of many years, from middle school to adulthood. Chapters alternate narrators, though the longest and most in-depth passages are in the protagonist’s voice. The friendship culminates in a dramatic and tragic end. A fun but intense read that’s perfect for summer!
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a memoir by Rebecca Solnit, a prolific California-based activist and writer. I have my sister Libby to credit for giving this book to me for Christmas. Part memoir, part essay, Solnit explores her obsession with the natural world alongside history both personal and official. One of my favorite passages: “Gravity is about motion, weight, resistance, force, the most primal experience after all the touches on our skin, of being corporeal. And so it may be that gravity is a sweet taste of mortality and our strength to resist it, a luxuriating in the pull of the earth and the pull of muscles against it, in the momentum the two create, and in how close you can cut it, just as sex for women has the twin possibilities of procreation and annihilation.” Another bit of Solnit wisdom: “…teenagers imagine dying young because death is more imaginable than the person that all the decisions and burdens of adulthood may make of you.” Lots of good stuff in here, written in beautiful prose. I especially recommend this book to those who fancy themselves writers.
  • Modern Romance is a nonfiction title by Aziz Ansari, a comedian, which delves into the world of dating after the introduction of online dating and hookup apps like Tinder. With the help of sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari looks specifically at dating cultures in America, Brazil, Japan, and Iran, and features many conversations he’s had with both couples and single adults about the process of  finding a mate. I listened to this audiobook via Audible.com and, as it was narrated by Ansari himself, I recommend listening to it over buying a physical copy. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research presented in this book, though I still enjoyed Ansari’s quips, jokes, and funny anecdotes as expected. Let me tell you- this book made me SO GRATEFUL that I am not single right now, yeesh.
  • IntotheWildI finally read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Well, to be precise, I listened to it. My favorite parts were actually not about the protagonist, Chris McCandless, but about the other ill-fated adventurers to whom Krakauer compared him. I’m on this Western lit kick, and this got me started.
  • I received a copy of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling from Birchbox for making a purchase over, I believe, $35. In case you don’t recognize the name, Kaling is a comedy writer and Dartmouth graduate who worked on the American version of the NBC show “The Office,” both as a writer and actress (in the role of obsessive, crazy, and beautiful Kelly Kapoor). She now writes and stars in her own show on network TV, “The Mindy Project.” She has recently come out with a new book, Why Not Me. This book is often laugh-out-loud funny and, as a young woman, it’s very encouraging to hear about Mindy’s early struggles as a hungry, poor New Yorker, and her rise to success.

I’m Working on It:

  • That Distant Land: The Collected Stories by Wendell Berry: I’m listening to this on audiobook via Audible.com and it is perfect and beautiful and moving and sometimes funny too. The stories follow average people in a small southern farming town over the course of several generations. Many of the same characters pop up in different stories, though each has a separate narrator. Beautifully woven together. I love listening to it on long drives and while walking Abe or doing chores. I might just have to buy a paper copy when I’m done listening, for future reference, of course.
  • angleofreposeAngle of Repose is a novel by Wallace Stegner, one of the great American writers, by whom I’m still ashamed to say I have not read anything. This is a continuation of my desire to read more Western American literature, since my education in North Carolina was so heavily steeped in Southern literature (rightly so, I think). This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, which should be enough description alone but, if you need more, know that this is another generation-spanning story featuring one family, as seen through the eyes of its aging historian narrator.
  • I am very slowly making my way through Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems, not because I don’t thoroughly enjoy them, but because reading them all at once is like trying to make a meal out of caramels- sensationally overwhelming. And kind of stupid. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I should try to read some poems written by people who are actually still alive,” then look no further than Jack Gilbert (and Mary Oliver, below). Unflinchingly honest and beautiful language are characteristic of these marvelous poems, which will remind you why you knew somewhere, deep down, that you loved poetry.
  • Mary Oliver’s New & Selected Poems, Vol. 1 has been sitting by my bed for about a year because I’m slowly making my way through it and back through it again like a trail through a wood. Oliver’s poetry is just spectacular. Each word is in its proper and most beheartidiotautiful place. She writes of everything this world is made of – feathers, sky, water, fire, skin, mist, lily petals – and writes it into life.
  • My Heart Is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart: I know, I know- my Goodreads account says that I’ve already read this one. The truth is, I started it long ago, lost it, and for several months had no idea where it was, and I was tired of seeing it on my list of “Currently Reading,” reminding me of what a loser I was. My Heart has since been resurrected in my house (I think it was living on top of the piano), so I return to this abdominal-muscles-achingly hilarious collection of essays. Rothbart has been featured on NPR’s marvelous storytelling show “This American Life,” and with good reason. Give this book to the macho guy who thinks he’s read enough books to quote Hemingway every time he orders a drink. It won’t make him any less of an insufferable nuisance, but it will force him to acknowledge your (and Rothbart’s) awesomeness.

And, Still on the List:

  • FindtheGoodFind the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende
  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
  • A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
  • Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder
  • Healing Yoga by Loren Fishman
  • The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

As you can see, I’m trying to make up for lost time with Wendell Berry. Last, but not least…

Can’t Forget the Cookbooks:

  • Plenty by Yotam Olenghetti is one of the most gorgeous cookbooks I’ve ever seen. This is enough of a reason to buy it, yes? Olenghetti is a world-renowned chef and restauranteur in London, but he is originally from Israel, and his recipes are often thus inspired. All the recipes in this book are vegetarian, but not in that boring let’s-use-tofu-to-make-this-dish-suitable-as-supper kind of way. Olenghetti himself isn’t even a vegetarian, but he values using seasonal produce and making it taste GOOD. If you abstain from meat, this book is a necessity.
  • SheetPanSuppersI was more excited about Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert before I got it in the mail. Silly me, I thought the “Suppers” in the title was indicative of the types of recipes this book would contain. Alas, only about a fifth of the recipes are full meals. The rest are appetizers, breakfast/brunch, dessert, etc. That’s not to say they’re not good, though. I’ve made several of the dishes in this book, including the cover (using salmon instead), and they’ve impressed me with how hands-off and simple they are. Plus, pulling a colorful, well-roasted dish out of the oven is always an awe-inspiring experience.
  • Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy & Wholesome by Virginia Willis was an impulse purchase. I think I read about it first on Food52. Willis is a genius- these recipes are healthy takes on everything you know from your Southern childhood (or from watching the Walton’s – no, that’s just me?). So far I’ve made biscuits, peach cobbler, collard greens, and fisherman’s stew, and they’ve all been pretty much perfect. If you’re sensitive to the vinegar or the ham normally hiding in restaurant collards, the recipe in this book will make you happy. If you’re a human being, the recipe for peach cobbler in this book will make you happy.

I’d love to hear what you all are reading this summer, or what’s still on the list. Any recommendations? Obsessions?

Love to all.

In Memoriam

Growing up in North Carolina, I feel like people always asked, “Beach or mountains?” the same way they asked, “UNC or NC State?” as if that would tell them something about your character. Beach folks like it easy, I suppose: beer, flip-flops, tan lines, maybe a boat if they’re serious. Mountain people prefer quiet and wildlife, and whiskey, stereotypically. Ballcap versus straw hat; pickup versus dune buggy; hiking boots versus surfboard.

Many people don’t have the luxury of this choice. I’ve met adult Wyomingites who’ve never seen an ocean, much less crossed one. Last week all the American Indermaurs met up at the beach, flying into Wilmington or Jacksonville in North Carolina to celebrate and commemorate my Oma’s life, to share her stories and make her recipes.

Walkway to the ocean, taken by my sister Libby

Walkway to the ocean, taken by my sister Libby

As you may recall from my previous post, Oma passed away in May after a long bout of chemo, and painkillers, and not being able to eat. I struggle to portray this accurately in writing; I hate the phrase “fighting cancer,” as in, “She fought a long, hard battle against cancer.” The word “fight” is not fitting in discussing disease; no one said I “fought mono,” or that my mother was “fighting chickenpox.” Besides, cancer is not something you beat so much as you sit with. Cancer patients aren’t doing any sort of conscious fighting. The reality is more insidious and more gentle than that: feeling tired, trying to eat, feeling weakness and loss and sadness and lack of time. Feeling useless. This is not how a warrior feels in battle.

No, Oma was no warrior in that sense. She did not waste her life fighting or being angry at the dealer of her cards, but rather spent it living, and loving.

All the Indermaur grandchildren at Oma's memorial service

All the Indermaur grandchildren at Oma’s memorial service

She was born in Germany in 1937 and grew up during World War II. She was just a young child during the height of rationed goods – no milk, very little sugar. The Nazis burned her schoolbook, and daily activities were interrupted by air raids. Her father died of cancer when she was very young, and her family was subsequently thrown into poverty. The German government was in disarray, and did not give my Oma’s mother any form of compensation (her father had been a World War I veteran) until many years later.

Oma met Opa (my grandfather) in a French language class in Switzerland. My Opa was supposed to move to the U.S. shortly after they met, but he postponed his trip twice, during which time they met each other’s families, who of course thought they were crazy. My Opa left on a boat for America, and Oma followed several months later, after they’d known one another for less than a year.

Upon her arrival in Manhattan, they were married at The Little Church Around the Corner. Their wedding party and guests consisted only of other people they’d met on the trip from Europe. Imagine having newly arrived in a country you’ve never visited, marrying a man from a different country whom you hardly know (no offense, Opa!), and starting life anew. It would be incredibly exhilarating, if not debilitatingly stressful!

Libby on the Atlantic Coast, photo taken by my sister Margaret

Libby on the Atlantic Coast, photo taken by my sister Margaret

Oma was always like this. When I was a girl, she and Opa traveled the world. They saw Nepal, Japan, Scandinavia, Patagonia, Antarctica, Costa Rica,and Kenya. And despite her adventurous nature, she was willing and able to sacrifice some of that sense in order to raise four children, my father and three uncles.

When I spoke about Oma at her memorial service, I referred mostly to her uncanny ability to see, acknowledge, and express gratitude for the beauty in every moment. Some people do this inauthentically, complementing a child on his unimaginative doodle, for example. But Oma was always forthright and honest about her convictions, particularly in what garnered her praise (e.g., she once told my coughing, sneezing sister that she had “a beautiful cold”). Oma was also an incredible giver. Her gifts were generous but, more importantly, they were little acknowledgements of the things she knew you needed, or that you loved. This winter she mailed me a package full of cold weather goodies, from scarves to hand-warmers. In high school when I was taking violin lessons, she gave me two CDs from the “Essential Violin” collection, a compilation of classical pieces featuring the solo violin performed by the best violinists of our time.

When you were with her, you were the most important person imaginable. Everything you loved, she loved. Oma was boundlessly caring.

What a marvelous way to live: always on an adventure, immeasurably generous, exceedingly humble. Oma has left me with her example of incredible living, for which I am grateful. The least I can do is attempt to memorialize the beauty that was her life.

Love to all.

Wild, Wild Iris

The past couple of weekends I’ve spent trying to get back into climbing for the all-too-short summer season up in Wyoming. And by short, I mean it snowed on us the weekend before last, and I had to come down from a climb because my fingers were too numb.

Aside from the snow and all that, little signs of summer are popping up everywhere. Big orange poppies around Laramie just bloomed and the roses are budding; my vegetables are moving beyond sprout-stage; the farmer’s market is in operation (though without much in the way of fresh produce); there are baby birds in my backyard.

Their little faces are all beak

Their little faces are all beak!

The weekend before last Matt and I drove up to Lander, WY, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and has a population of just over 7,500. NOLS (The National Outdoor Leadership School) is based in Lander. There are several extensive limestone sport climbing areas outside of town, including Wild Iris and Sinks Canyon, in addition to the Wind River Mountain Range, home to the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Since it was still pretty chilly up in the mountains outside of town, Matt and I camped in Lander City Park, which is a beautiful grassy piece of paradise among old cottonwoods, which resemble pin oaks, with little streams running through. The park has a great policy that allows anyone to camp for free for up to three nights, so it’s a great option for weekend travelers like us.

The Wild Iris climbing area is a little over a half hour’s drive outside of town, and several miles up dirt road switchbacks on Forest Service land.

Matt's Subaru in the "parking area" of Wild Iris. You can see the Wind River Range on the horizon.

Matt’s Subaru in the “parking area” of Wild Iris. You can see the Wind River Range on the horizon.

Prior to embarking on our weekend climbing adventure, Matt and I had been warned via the internet about Wild Iris’s resident grizzly bear, who has been affectionately named Waffles. This naturally led to Matt referring to the bear mace I procured as “syrup.”

Abe at the trailhead for Wild Iris's Main Wall climbing area

Abe at the trailhead for Wild Iris’s Main Wall climbing area

For our first weekend, we spent a lot of time at the Main Wall, where most of the climbing routes at Wild Iris are located. Since it was my first climbing trip of the season, I felt pretty out of shape. There was a lot of falling and me yelling things like, “It’s too cold!” and, “I suck at climbing!” and, “Auughhhrghhh!!!”

On the bright side of things, many of the wildflowers were blooming, which made for lovely hiking.

Matt at the base of the limestone cliff, and wildflowers

Matt at the base of the limestone cliff, and wildflowers

I wanted so badly to pick some! I also alternated between singing and humming Sting’s “Fields of Gold.”

As we walked in fields of gold [wildflowers]...

As we walked in fields of gold [wildflowers]…

One night my friend Larkin, whom I met during yoga teacher training in Laramie, had us over for some homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, local salad greens, and rhubarb strawberry crisp with just-picked rhubarb. YUM. Having friends around Wyoming is pretty much the best. Larkin works for NOLS and lives in Lander. She also teaches yoga at their local studio.

The day it snowed was the day it got so cold and windy I had to bail on a 5.10d. People could see from the top of the cliff that a storm system was coming down from the Wind River Range. Sure enough, right as we arrived back at the car, it began snowing.

Bye bye, blue sky!

Bye bye, blue sky!

Then it was back to another week at work in Laramie before more rock climbing (isn’t that how life always is?). Last weekend we drove up to Wild Iris again after I got off work Friday afternoon. This time we met up with our friend Andrew, an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming, and camped up at Wild Iris instead of in the town of Lander, meaning I kept the syrup aka bear mace with me at all times.

Last weekend went much better. I redpointed (meaning climbed with no falls, but after having climbed it before with falls) a really fun 5.11a (Mountain Project gives it 5.11b) at the OK Corral area called Winchester Pump on Friday night. Saturday we went to the Aspen Glades area, which is part of Wild Iris but a 2-or-so-mile drive away from the main parking area and another 2 miles or so on foot.

We warmed up on a tricky 5.10b called Sweaty Bully and proceeded to get serious. The weather was glorious: warm, slight breeze, sunshine. It actually felt like summer!

Andrew on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

Andrew on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

There was a blank-looking face at the wall with three 11d’s that I wanted to work, but they looked… hard. After failing at a long move on Fist Full of Quickdraws (5.11d), we moved on to Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump (5.12a). That route was particularly fun, but I was too tired to get to the top. Story of my life!

We had a campstove dinner and went to bed relatively early under cloudy skies. On Sunday we went back to OK Corral since it was close to our campsite. Matt had just finished putting up Tribal War, a really excellent and classic 5.11b, when it began thundering. I raced up the route on toprope and cleaned it before the storm blew in. We parted ways with Andrew and walked back to the car as the downpour began.

Matt on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

Matt on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

We threw everything in the car (including Abe, who was a little wet, but more terrified by the thunder) and drove down to Lander to refill on gas and for some burgers with guacamole at the Gannett Grill, which is adjoined to the Lander Bar. Abe was allowed on the porch.

Abe doesn't appear to be sad about not getting a burger

Abe doesn’t appear to be sad about not getting a burger

I picked up a chokecherry milkshake to make me feel better about the fact that there aren’t any CookOut (an amazing NC-based fast food restaurant) milkshakes available out here, which we used to get all the time after climbing at Pilot Mountain in North Carolina. Then we made it back to Laramie through some thunderstorms for another week in the office.

This weekend I’m headed to the beach back in North Carolina- can’t wait to see my family! I hope I can survive the heat.

Love to all.