Colorado

I am unaccustomed to anger. The only real fight I ever got into was in the fifth or sixth grade, with a boy new to town who had been, for many weeks, repeatedly antagonizing me to fight him. I had no idea what offense I had committed and was a little scared. I tried as best as I could to avoid him, but one day he just showed up at my house with an entourage about a half dozen strong, and I was shamed, essentially, into coming out. Ironically (I believe this is the correct use of the word), I was pretty obsessed with martial arts at that time (I am, in fact, a red belt in Tang Soo Do, though I haven’t been able to swing a round kick higher than hip height since my teens). But I wasn’t interested in real violence. My fantasies were more Clark Kent in feel, involving circumstances (read: rescuing a girl) that necessitated a controlled expression of badass skills that my profound dweebiness otherwise belied. This fight was probably my one chance to set the record straight w/r/t that hidden badassness, but in the end it was extremely uneventful. He threw punches and kicks, and I dodged them, dancing around the empty corner lot between the townhomes that functioned as a defacto park in the neighborhood (in Glen Burnie, MD) where I grew up. I planted one or two blows and eventually got him into a hold up against a tree―then I let go and walked away. I remember the other kids jeering at me (“what, that’s it?”), but I was done―scared, and really just too emotionally overwhelmed to keep going. The whole thing couldn’t have been more than two or three minutes. It turned out to be some kind of ceremony for my opponent. He was Korean (they moved from Korea), I obviously had a Japanese name, and I think his intention was to have something like an Asian hazing, a test or show of might and skill that initiated him into this new community. The next time I saw him in the lunch line, he showed me, laughing, all the bruises I had raised on him, and we were pretty much chums from that day on.

That is the most violent encounter I have ever had, and the only thing remotely close to a traditional expression of anger (though I wasn’t angry at all). I can almost count the number of times I’ve ever raised my voice. I think friends would describe me as cheerful, laid back, diplomatic, even non-confrontational. It has rarely occurred to me that a problem might be someone else’s fault, much less their malicious intent. I have been aware of despotism and belligerence and even something like “evil,” but these have all been, to me, symptoms of some deeper pain, misdirections of trauma. For most of my life, I’ve considered myself a completely unangry person, and I’ve even thought this might be some sort of deficiency. But I have gotten older. I have lived in dense cities and through flabbergastingly stupid times. Maybe about fifteen years ago, I found myself unconsciously developing a complicated set of rules of conduct. It began on my commutes, how people should behave on trains and buses. Then, how they should act in the grocery store, and definitely on airplanes and driving in traffic. When I began bicycling to work, I very quickly bought a loud bell, and I developed a system of rings to express various degrees of disapproval (four bells from me is a bona fide “fuck you”). I have started, jokingly, to describe myself as an “extroverted misanthrope” (this may be dangerously close to “sociopath”). I laugh it off, but the misanthropy is real. I find people selfish, weak, ignorant, and superficial. Kids these days? They don’t know what the fuck they are doing. Our culture? Shambles. Politics, economy? Abusive, broken, delusional. I am becoming, nauseatingly quickly, a grumpy old man. I’m not yet forty.

That said, my anger feels different from what I imagine other people’s anger is like. When I see protests, I see anger united by cause. When I read or watch a story of vengeance (Once Upon a Time in the West springs immediately to mind as a great example, RIP Ennio Morricone), I see anger shaped into narrative. Even the “white resentment” that has fueled and of course continues to fuel conservative American politics is something that has texture, that has been stacked into a recognizable (if horrifyingly manipulated) shape. Compared to these, my anger feels wildly incoherent. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a lot of experience with it, haven’t learned to tragically fix it to some obsession. My anger is rhizomatic: it just kind of pops up in weird, fruiting bodies. I’ve gotten so angry about a fucked-up dinner that I’ve punched a wall. Just recently, I broke the lid of one of our bins in a fit of rage that it wouldn’t close. A small offense a passing stranger might make will cling for hours. And of course, I’m very angry about the pandemic, and more widely, that the life I have envisioned for myself, what I thought perfectly modest, feels every day more impossible to attain. These larger, abiding angers are especially worrisome. In my worst, angriest moments, my mood is sulfurous and diffuse. It feels like a literal poison. I clench up and try to ride it out like a hangover; it is a completely annihilating experience. That’s the terrible thing about anger: when it grabs a hold of you, you can’t see anything else but the blankness of its face. Hopes, memories, they are pressed flat by its weight, their meaningfulness made inert by anger’s severe polarity. Literally nothing else matters. Anger is the ultimate void. And all I can dream is that sadness, perhaps, will return me from it.

~

I would characterize this segment of the trip as blissed-out days in Colorado’s wonderful mountain towns punctuated by intense periods of rugged early season, high elevation weather. From our hotel in Durango we headed up the San Juan Scenic Byway to find a camp at Little Molas Lake, a free National Forest campground on a bench above Molas Pass, sitting at about 10,000 feet and staring at beautiful Snowden Peak. This was the beginning of a tour, specifically, of the San Juan Mountains, in far southwest Colorado. It’s long been a favorite area of ours, though prior to this trip we’ve only spent a few short weekends in it. Our general plan was to tour the scenic byway, eventually heading to Telluride, one of our favorite towns on earth. Prior to coronavirus, we planned on attending the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and its cancellation was one of the major coronavirus losses of our trip. But we kept Telluride as a destination and developed a San Juans itinerary around it.

The lovely Little Molas Lake beneath Snowden Peak

We were a little amazed to find Molas Pass and the campground snow free for our early June arrival, and we got optimistic for our travels through the Rocky Mountains. That optimism was quickly gutted. We enjoyed one warm, clear afternoon at Molas, and then a weather system blew in. It didn’t snow, but there was thunder, hail, and a lot of rain from early evening through the early afternoon of the following day. We squatted it out. I thought we had chosen a good tent spot, but water ended up pooling pretty substantially underneath us, our sleeping pads squishing around on the tent floor with the exact feel of an old school waterbed. When the rain abated for a few minutes, we pulled what we could out of the tent, made coffee, and spent most of the rest of the day sitting in our car watching movies beneath the continuous noise of hard rain, hail, or pine debris pelting the roof. I think it was about here that I started using the term “chaos packing”―having to break camp in gnarly conditions (rain, snow, wind, or bugs), throwing everything haphazardly in the car and sorting it out when things calmed down. We would do a lot of it on this leg. The storm eventually passed, to be replaced by 20+ mph winds for the remaining days we were there. We toughed it out as best as we could, and we did manage to hike up on the Colorado Trail to a ridge beneath Grand Turk for one lovely, if very blustery, afternoon.

When we left Molas we then headed north to Ouray, where we found a nice camp with good cover at the Amphitheater Campground that sits perched above town. The day we arrived it was in the 70s with full sun, and we enjoyed beers on the patio of a newly reopened beer garden. But soon enough we saw another front coming in, and by 6pm we were back at camp putting coats on against the newly falling snow. We ate a quick dinner and tucked ourselves in for a long night of tossing and turning. The snow was very wet and heavy, and all night we had to keep knocking it forcefully from the tent walls to prevent the poles from collapsing. When we emerged in the morning there were about six inches on the ground. I used our winshield scraper to clear some space from the picnic table, made some coffee, and watched the clouds tease apart against the mountain peaks, revealing the other side of the front, clean and crisp blue skies. The snow melted insanely fast, and by early afternoon we were able to hike around the contour of the amphitheater, dodging snow bombs from high tree limbs as the sunshine penetrated the forest.

It was a heavy night.
Hiking around the amphitheater later that day

We stayed in Ouray for two nights, then drove north, out of the mountains and onto the high desert plateau near Ridgway, where we hooked west/southwest toward Placerville, where we then picked up highway 145 heading east straight toward the canyon and headwall of beautiful Telluride. If you follow 145 south where it veers off right before town, you’ll be on the western arm of the San Juan Scenic Byway (the eastern arm runs from Durango to Ridgway), finding numerous camps as you head to Lizard Head Pass. And so that’s what we did, finding a wonderful site in an aspen stand at Sunshine Campground, where we met my favorite campground host so far (and probably of all time), the acerbic but motherly Barb. We stayed for five nights at Sunshine. Most days we would go into Telluride, and most nights we would have dinner and drinks on the knoll above our camp with perfectly beautiful views of Sunshine Peak and Mount Wilson. We did one hike, from Lizard Head Pass, heading up to the Wilson Meadows and the backside of unique looking Lizard Head Mountain (where we would get chased down by yet another thunderstorm)―but most days we were in town.

Ouray (from its park), about three hours before it started to snow
The peculiar Lizard Head Mountain, seen from the Wilson Meadows. That thunderstorm over it nearly caught us.

Telluride is wonderful. In college, when I would roadtrip through the West on summer breaks, I always made a point of stopping there, and when we lived in Denver we would go there at least annually (once for a snowy but fantastic rush-seating attendance of the Telluride Film Festival (we saw a great interview and music video screening (and preview of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) with Michel Gondry). We’ve been through several ski towns on this trip―Telluride, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and (later) Jackson―and the affluence of them has been bothering me to an unexpected degree. Coming into one, you’ll likely pass enormous mountainside properties that, seemingly vacant for the summer, feel like incredible wastes of resources, fire- and mudslide-prone trophies of conspicuous consumption (or worse, “investments”). To see hundreds of them makes you feel sick. And in town there’s the packaging of rugged Western culture for a feebler consumer class: often gaudy or otherwise mediocre Western art, jewelry, “masculinity” stores (high-end fishing shops, knife shops, both fashionable (Filson) and technical (Arcteryx) outdoor clothing), shmancy restaurants with cowboy flare (Elk Bolognese, for example), and hallucinations of log cabin life in yet more feasts of real-estate porn, this time plastered in the windows of realty office after realty office. Towns were just opening up from coronavirus closures (Colorado on the A-game, free masks and hand sanitizer, service staff all over social distancing protocols (also lots of masked up statues of bears, elk, etc)―a far cry from the barely visible recognition of the pandemic in Utah), and each differed by degrees in terms of population, but all of them had a core of that affluent class, presumably staying at their ski property for the summer, poking around town, eating, shopping, and generally, I assume, trying to enjoy something away from the pandemic. If you’ll allow me to just go ahead and cement this specific misanthropy: many seemed perfectly miserable―bored, irritated with each other, distracted-by-phones, posturing (two words: cowboy hats), and/or peptic. The sense of ignorant aloofness, of a privileged sanctuary away from the dying world, sweetened this admixture yet more. Aspen was definitely the worst.

But Telluride, while not completely free from these criticisms, remains wonderful. Definitely rich people with ski properties (and a bewildering amount of teenagers, like, almost dystopian amounts), but Telluride retains its crunchy Colorado mountain town living-the-good-life-as-a-dirtbag feel (see in this category, also: Durango, Ouray, Nederland). It is also insanely beautiful, a U-shaped valley terminating at a picture-perfect headwall with picture-perfect waterfall. And the year-round locals are downright nice: chatty, carefree, but sharp-witted and knowledgeable. In Utah, a Telluride couple, hiking a few minutes behind us in Dark Canyon, followed our mudprints and caught up with us at our car, chatting with us for a long time (we were going to try to meet them in Telluride but got cold coronavirus feet about it). A server we had, originally from New Orleans, told us a remarkable story about his relocation there after Katrina (can you believe living through Katrina and ending up in Telluride?). Everything’s “brother-this” and “brother-that” and “no worries” and “this weather, right?” and you just find yourself smiling all the time. We’ve lived in two pretty antisocial, Nordic-culture cities (Minneapolis and Seattle), so friendliness is generally something we glom onto, but Colorado takes the cake, especially Telluride. And then there’s Town Park, the greatest city park in America. It “finishes” Telluride, as it were, right at the end of town, tucked against that headwall. First, you can camp there (the campground was closed up until the day we left; hence Sunshine). They have a great pool, coin showers, playfields, bandshell, a sporty enough creek to tube/SUP/swim, skate park, and, and, tennis courts, reservable, for free. We got into a routine of getting to Town Park in the morning, playing tennis, reserving a court time for the next day (my wife, always, so generous with these sorts of logistics), showering, having lunch (either at a restaurant (we are still only eating outside) or our own), and then spending a few hours on the free Town Park wifi (cell service remained poor) to Zoom and work on future logistics (a Maroon Bells backpack (again my wife for the win on scoring permits), AirBnB on the front range, rental with friends in Michigan, the Wyoming and Montana leg, Denali and Alaska travel/coronavirus stuff) while a fly-fishing class or couple-with-slackline or endless dogs-wearing-bandannas did their thing around us (okay another parenthesis: the showers + internet combo cannot be stressed enough―just enough of these two (at places like Telluride or some National Park campgrounds) has made it possible for us to camp most of the time and still feel human and able to take care of the constant planning this improvised/fucked-up-from-coronavirus leg has required). And it was god damn sunny for most of it.

Telluride, just opening up (in a few days, this side of the street would be fenced off and populated with outdoor seating and sanitation kiosks for all the restaurants); June is pride month, I’ll remind you, hence the flags
Love this! My people!
My favorite tennis court on earth, in Town Park

Yet, I got mad. One afternoon in particular, we were back at camp, and I got drunk on rosé and sat in the hammock looking at the mountains, stewing on the dark void of my anger (yes, rosé). I have been more and more prone to grumpiness on these recent legs, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I was almost desperate to get to the mountains. I consider the mountains my spirit place. We’ve been seeing a lot of them, ones I’ve wanted to see for a long time. We’ve been among marmots, in summer snowfields, spring flowers, blasting our legs on steep vertical and looking constantly up―it’s everything I wanted. But sitting in Telluride made palpable two great losses from the coronavirus. First, we learned that Wonder Lake in Denali would not open for the season. Wonder Lake sits at the end of Denali’s 90-mile park road, and it has anchored our forthcoming trip there; it was the “holy place” where we were going to connect with the tundra, socialize with other hikers, and where I would begin my three-week trip back to the park entrance. The rest of our itinerary, for the most part, has remained intact (more on that later), but the loss of Wonder Lake both created new complications/planning and ruined an emotional excitement we’ve had about that trip. Second was the accumulating anguish of sitting day after day in Town Park, picturing what it would have been like during the bluegrass festival. It was already so nice there, but then to think to be there for a music festival, one we’ve wanted to go to for nearly two decades? I could hear the mandolin light and fast in my mind, smell the fogs of OG Kush, playact all the conversations we were supposed to have (anyone, for instance, who recognized my Station Inn Nashville shirt). We were supposed to have that specific joy. In both cases, it wasn’t just the loss, but the immense imaginational volume I had built up prior to it. For months I’ve pictured both the bluegrass festival and Wonder Lake with increasingly sophisticated construction, long dreams lying in our tent or driving a highway. I’ve been excited about a lot of things on our trip, and many, many of them have happened with great presence, surprise, and satisfaction (and no doubt, many other people have way more to be angry about with COVID), but both of these were crucial “homecomings” for us. I was homesick for them. And it made me mad.

Sunshine Peak and Mount Wilson at sunset, viewed from the knoll just above our camp

~

After Telluride, we left the San Juans and made our way to the Maroon Bells (in the White River National Forest, the Elk Mountains, near Aspen; or just Google a picture of “Colorado” and that’s them) via the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, dropping down out of the mountains and onto the plateau for a single night canyon-side. It felt strange but reassuring to be back in high desert environments, walking shrub forests of juniper, pinyon pine, and gambel oak as we had done nearly all throughout Utah. The canyon itself is toweringly steep and narrow, and the light that does catch the rapids of the Gunnison River, in its only occasionally viewable presence below, glints with a special, secretive luminescence. Lingering wildfire smoke gave the sunset at Sunset Point (yup) a heady, frothy volume. Later, following our dinner in camp, I would take a drunken hike through head-high stands of oak, and down to the rim, where I had the canyon to myself in the last light (protip: night hikes from busy camps almost always pay off in main-feature solitude (see: the amphitheater trail in Signal Mountain campground in the Grand Tetons)).

A wildfire haze at sunset at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Back into the mountains the next day, north toward Carbondale over McClure Pass, then east on a zippy highway full of BMWs and Audis on the way into Aspen. Here’s another piece of camp advice: never trust a “Campground Full” sign. Couple this with friendliness toward rangers/concessionaires, and you’ve got at least a 50/50 chance of finding something overlooked or unnecessarily sequestered. And so we got a perfectly lovely site at Silver Queen just below Maroon Lake, where we prepped our packs and made friends with a retiree from Florida and a friendly young couple from Atlanta with whom we ended up drinking far too much bourbon by propane lamp and social distance. The next morning we were at Maroon Lake lickety split, taking the standard-issue photos of the Bells―beautiful in early season snow clad―then making our way a fairly easy three miles up to Crater Lake (not that Crater Lake) for a two-night basecamp. There is a popular and amazing looking loop, the so-called Four Pass Loop, but it was still pretty early with a lot of snow at the passes, so we opted instead for a more relaxed itinerary of paddling around the lake (I brought the packraft up) for one day and up to Buckskin Pass (one of the four passes) for another. It felt great to be backpacking, and while Crater Lake saw numerous day visitors there was still plenty of space to have quiet. We paddled all that first afternoon, lounging around the lakeshore. By dinner we were completely alone (not even other backpackers, as far as we could tell), eating on the lakeshore, when suddenly a silver fox appeared in the knee-high vegetation. I’ve seen a lot of animals, even other foxes, but something about this one, with her lingering winter coat glittery in the late light, felt especially fantastic, fairytale, perfect. She stared us down, pranced a few paces away, stared again, and so on.

Maroon Bells, a Colorado classic
The Bells, viewed from the middle of Crater Lake. Yes those sandals are homemade
A nice pan of Crater Lake with the Bells on the right

The next day, hiking to Buckskin Pass, was what felt like our first real entrance into alpine environments, even though we’d been in Colorado for weeks by this point. Glacier Lilies sprung from the sodden upper soils that were criss-crossed with braided snowmelt creeks, one’s breath felt clean in the air, pikas chirped, and marmots whistled. The pass itself retained a substantial, heavily corniced snowfield, but there was an obvious talus route to its edge, and we got atop the pass without major ado. It was absolutely magnificent, one of the grandest viewpoints I’ve ever enjoyed, the Bells on one side, the massive scooped face of Snowmass defining the other. We sat there for awhile, half a dozen marmots browsing casually all around us. We had some snacks, I took a ton of pictures, and we watched two people approach steadily from Snowmass Lake. In a way, we waited for them. It was a father and son from Minnesota. The son had just graduated from highschool and was off to UMN, where I had done my MFA, to study engineering. The father was himself an engineer, in ceramics, for 3M (think: sandpaper). We talked for nearly 45 minutes, about coronavirus, the college experience, Minneapolis, navigating careers, and a great deal about the West. Many, many times on the trail we’ve met parent/child duos, and every time we’ve been enamored with the experience they were trying to give to each other (sometimes the parent to child, sometimes child to parent (thinking here of the daughter/father we helped get into Peak-a-boo canyon, the father looking pretty beat up afterward at the trailhead where we sat in the car waiting out 40mph winds, him just slogging through them like some kind of self-flagellation), lamenting that our own parents weren’t outdoorsy when we were children, and that we didn’t have children to subject to our outdoor interests. And it has remained odd to connect so swiftly with strangers in remote locations; indeed, there is a bit of a formula, the more miles or vertical feet from a trailhead, the more minutes your conversation will be. When I think about my solo trip in Alaska, in very remote locations, I think often about the possibility of running into other people, and what I will say.

Views of the valley on the hike up to Buckskin Pass
Glacier Lilies festooning the upper meadows on the way to Buckskin Pass
Marmot at Buckskin Pass
A pan of Buckskin Pass, Bells on the left and, in the distance on the right, Snowmass Peak. Can you spot my wife on the pass? She’s wearing a black coat.

~

After a nice breakfast after the Bells in Aspen, driving over Independence Pass and north toward Frisco and I-70, I tried very hard to commit to my memory the particular rain that had just started falling: big, gloopy drops that hit our windshield percussively, popping like the little paper bundles of gunpowder that have a different name depending on where you grew up (from Wikipedia: “Bang snaps (also known as Devil Bangers, Lil’ Splodeys, Throwdowns, snap-its, poppers, whack-pops, poppies, pop-its, snappers, Snap Dragons, whip’n pops, Pop Pop Snappers, whipper snappers, fun snaps, party snaps, pop pops, whiz-bangers, cherry poppers, pop rocks, snap’n pops or bangers. . . .”). As we hit Frisco and I-70, the rain grew fine, and our climb to the Eisenhower tunnel was a bituminously greasy, slick-misted affair that had me pretty white-knuckled around the construction and trucks (it was also the first time I’d driven on an interstate since our first day in Utah (which was, itself, only a five minute stretch)). I don’t know what it was, but for some reason I started a personal project of trying to remember every rainfall. This one was unfun, but memorable nonetheless. It turned the I-70 corridor, something I’ve driven numerous times and was very eager to drive again (it having become a notable landmark in the weathered map of my personal mythology), into a confusing replica of the I-90 corridor over Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, which is so often wet with rain, which itself is something I’ve driven numerous times though have yet to have so distinctly mythologized. I couldn’t tell if the two mountain interstates were being married in an illuminating union―something about how home is everywhere―or if the experience of the drive that I wanted to have was simply being disallowed, not completely unlike Wonder Lake or the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

We were heading to the Front Range, specifically to Lafayette, outside of Boulder (earlier in our trip we’d had a wonderful lunch in a busy park in Lafayette, LA (birthplace of Zydeco); in Memphis, we went to a blues jam at Lafayettes in Cooper-Union), where a good friend of ours lives and runs an apothecary. We have two very good, longtime friends in Colorado who moved out there around the same time we did, right after college, but stayed. Initially we had been making plans to rent a house in the mountains with them and their families, along with a third mutual friend from Indiana and his family (he was supposed to do the Canyonlands trip with us). Coronavirus messed all of that up, no one comfortable making plans to share a space with so much in upheaval. By the time we got to Colorado, we were all feeling better about seeing each other, but it was too late to organize a rental. So my wife and I get one for ourselves, nearby, for six nights. It was the fastest six nights I’ve ever lived. We binge watched The Watchmen (free from HBO for that week in response to Trump’s Tulsa rally), ran numerous errands (finally fixing a broken arm on our roofbox; going into an REI for the first time; endless groceries), cooked and dehydrated several weeks of backpacking food, and talked, for hours, late into afternoons and even later into evenings, with our longlost friends. It was late June, and this was the first time we’d seen someone we know, in person, since February. It wasn’t that it felt strange, or good, to reconnect, but that it felt so natural. Overwhelmingly natural, if such a characteristic exists. People whom you know really well, whom you love, distance with them can often feel almost amusingly superficial: a little more gray hair, children more talkative, different car, different diet maybe, but it all feels like costuming. The core remains, the person immovable in history. This maybe bespeaks our friends’ own natural sociality, but I still found it remarkable. We just talked, no anxiety (I’ve had a hard time managing my impulse to just prattle on in Zooms and phone calls, as in these writings, about our travels), no searching silences, just a hungry, relishing conversation. Same person, different time.

And yet, of course, we all change. Or we all advance. Our friend S. is my wife’s friend from childhood. She is tall and noticeably beautiful, and she talks with a rapid angularity, constantly pivoting to make room for what you have to say (a skill that suits motherhood and its endless interruptions really well). She had a long career as a technical writer that she left several years ago. She is a trained yoga instructor but has mostly done work for her children’s school (marketing and other community engagements) since her career shift. Her husband is a healthcare worker and avid photographer. He is at high risk for coronavirus exposure, and so we did not see him (our time with S. was spent outside, in masks, personal bowls of popcorn). We talked about change. The Front Range (Denver, Boulder, etc) has grown quickly since we were there, and traffic, real estate, and culture have gotten more crowded, harder to do. Its such a widespread urban story, and its hard to untangle it from our own aging and decreasing tolerance for high-paced life, but I think it’s pretty demonstrably true that cities have gotten more difficult to live in. We talked about the hidden forces of affluence, a disgust for conspicuous consumption, and the mixed up feelings of not fitting into a place you’ve lived in for so long, that has changed beneath you. And the mixed-up feelings of your own change: that S., for instance, often forgets how committed to yoga she once was (for my part, I once played the drums, I once, it seems, wrote poems). On this trip, I’m often very far from a mirror, so when I catch sight of myself in the rare one I encounter, I’m a bit startled. That’s sort of what S. sounded like, in our conversation, startled by seeing herself in those quick, passing glances. And yet happy, or on the other side of worry, as she has always struck me.

Our friend F. moves and talks like fabric: fluid, relaxed, with an earthy fibrousness that gives her a bit of tooth. She laughs in a way that makes you feel like what you said is truly funny. She is an herbalist and owns a local body and wellness store, an apothecary of plant- and mineral-based remedies. Some of her products have become my absolute favorite: her carrot and rose face cream, her coriander under arm spray, her mint and frankincense tooth powder, and her neroli hydrosol. We spent an afternoon crawdad fishing with her family (i.e. we sat in camping chairs drinking beers while her children played around in the creek), and then they hosted us for dinner (mostly in their backyard). We talked a lot about running a small business, about growth, risk, and work-life balance, and of course about coronavirus and the small business relief funds (which she received). Her husband left his longtime career as an electrician and telecommunications technician and has just finished school for computer programming. We talked a lot about trying to enter tech in middle age. We talked about changing Colorado, too, and we talked, definitely, about our travels, about music and our disappointment with the canceled Telluride Bluegrass Festival (they themselves had plans to attend Rockygrass, a sister festival in Lyons). As with S. there was this sense of laying claim to the good things you can lay claim to in the midst of change, growing challenges, an ever more expensive cost of living. As with S. it was about the incremental process of community: helping build it, watching it shift, and adjusting oneself. During the conversation it was so apparent to me, for better or worse, that community has become very abstract to my wife and I―it’s something we merely observe. But right then, with F. and her husband, that was our community. We talked and talked, drank whisky, talked more, until it was two in the morning, a time of day I hadn’t touched (apart from tent-induced insomnia) since Mardi Gras. The quiet neighborhood on our walk home, the night, the black air, swam all around us―it felt like you could see, for a brief moment, whatever it is that has been watching you this whole time.

―Bozeman, MT, July 13, 2020