Let the Sparkle In

The sun shines not on but in us. The river flows not past, but through us, thrilling, telling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.

John Muir

As I sit at my desk this morning I am looking out the window as the first snow falls, always a S.A.D. moment for me as it means it will be several months before the trails in the mountains will be snow free again, and I can get back to doing the thing I love most, which is hiking of course.

Readers of my post last week on Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) reminded me of how much light the snow brings into our world during the winter months, so I am savoring memories of my early years living in Wyoming. When my daughters left home many years ago I was suddenly left with an empty house and what seemed like an empty life. For eighteen years I had made all of my major decisions and most of the minor ones on the basis of what was best for my children. I felt like I had lost my compass and no longer knew how to find my way.

The only solution I could come up with was to move away to a place where I knew no one at all. I still had a satisfying career. I could transplant that in a different location and perhaps add a little more excitement to my life. I can only say that it made sense at the time. I was now free to pursue whatever adventures interested me, and Wyoming seemed like the right place for interesting adventures. I made the move in September when the days were still warm. I felt like I do when I start a backpacking trip, knowing that I was beginning a long journey and carrying a heavy load but anticipating adventures and new discoveries along the way. It was a beautiful warm day, and yet I knew that the weather would change. It did.

I had rented a small house sight unseen which had thin walls and no insulation, and the weekend after I arrived a blizzard blew an outside door to the bedroom open, and snow began blowing in my face. In the evenings I soaked in the bathtub to get warm before wrapping myself in down and getting into bed. I filled the bathtub as high as I could, and when the water splashed on the wall it froze just a few inches from where I was sitting in the tub. It was an interesting introduction to Rocky Mountain winters, and it was still September.

My new job proved to be quite demanding with sevens days a week on call and long hours. By the time I finally got some time off it was January, and I felt like I had been given wings. I had moved into a much nicer house that actually had insulation and a view of Carter Mountain rising above the south fork of the Shoshone River. I left my lovely new home on a cold and bright Wyoming day and headed south, where I had plans to meet friends for a ski trip in Colorado. It was my first opportunity to see more of my new state. I was off on my first Wyoming adventure.

I drove through the city of Riverton and turned south to start climbing the mountains. It was a typical Wyoming highway: two lanes, almost no traffic, and mile after mile of uninterrupted vistas. At some point I started to notice that I was dazzled. I drove off onto the side of the road and walked a few meters away from the highway, just enough so that it and my vehicle were no longer visible. I wanted the experience of being alone in this winter landscape. It was bright and cold. All around me was a world of mountains, trees, and snow, light reflecting off of every surface: from the hoarfrost on the trees, the layer of snow on the earth, my breath. Even the air was alive with the magic as tiny frozen droplets of water suspended in the air sparkled. For this middle-aged woman from the rainy northwest, it was perhaps the first time I remember thinking of winter as beautiful.

My life of adventure had begun, and it sparkled. I remained in Wyoming until I retired in my early sixties. During that time I had a chance to explore the Bighorns, Wind River and Beartooth Mountains on backpacking trips. I visited Yellowstone in early November after all the crowds had left and I could wander alone through the mist of the deserted geyser basins. I attended rodeos and branding events. I wore cowboy boots. I commuted through the Bighorn basin where I regularly encountered pronghorn antelope, wild horses, an occasional moose and was at times slowed down by cattle drives. I bought a beautiful home on the western edge of the Bighorns, where I looked towards the steep slopes of Shell Canyon. I made many friends. I even met my husband there, and when we got married in a meadow in the Bighorns, I wore my hiking shorts, a cotton shirt, and a red bandana. And during all those years I provided psychiatric care to several small communities and came to love that work as much as I loved the whole wild and wonderful show that is Wyoming, “like no place else on earth,” as the signs say when they welcome visitors to the state.

I retired in my mid-sixties. By that time I knew I wanted to be closer to my daughters and grandchildren. I had four of them by then, and they were growing up without me. I did not regret the decision, but we remained only a few years before moving east again, this time to the Okanogan Highlands of northeastern Washington.

It was a compromise of course. It is an eight hour drive to where my family lives, not so far that I cannot get there in a day, but far enough east that the weather and culture more closely resemble Wyoming. This snow that is falling will most likely remain until late February and will accumulate in tall drifts next to the road.

Yes, it is inconvenient, cold, messy. Driving to town to pick up groceries means checking first to make sure that west Curlew Road has been plowed. A medical appointment this time of year in Spokane requires a three hour drive over Sherman Pass, which can be treacherous. I do not mind so much. After all, the world sparkles here.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

2 thoughts on “Let the Sparkle In

  1. Hi. I agree. Real winter has a lot to offer. It is both beautiful and invigorating. This soggy Northwest is much more boring. Jan

    Sent from my iPhone



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