Two cold snaps in New Orleans and I am already disappointed I’m not getting a full Fall. Does anyone else associate the overwhelming influence of weather to a person’s mood? I wonder only because I spent most of the summer melting into a puddle inside of the koi pond house. The outdoors looked enticing, until I stepped out onto the deck to let Layla out — even she has been less than thrilled to spend time in the sunshine. On top of blistering light, heat so pooling you could drown in douses you. A day’s gorgeousness is only alluring on the surface; we are kept inwards, indoors during summer days to avoid exhaustion. And I want to feel alive.
The recent trip Neil and I took to Colorado changed my mind about the way I am rooted. I have always strongly believed that I am devoutly Louisiana in a subtly obnoxious way, unwilling to give up the peculiar looks one receives when you say, “I’m from Louisiana.” Y’all know, we’re special. If you’ve ever crossed Henderson Swamp with me, you’ve been asked, “Is there anything more gorgeous than the swamp?” because I truly think it’s a masterpiece of wonder. Such weighted darkness lives in the swamp, so the contrast of the crisp, chilling Rockies pierces me, steadily present.; as if my soul reached the correct temperature. I still feel the cool air, lingering at the back of my throat. I’ve been telling myself for two weeks now that I’m not dealing with the normal sinus infection you get when you’ve been in a foreign climate, that instead it is delicious leftover mountain air refusing to diffuse in my lungs. This thought has made me sad, haunted my dreams; I don’t think I have ever fallen so hard for a place, I can’t get the feel out of my mind.
Louisiana friends that migrated northwest for longer than the winter: I get it. Colorado is a magical, sun-kissed, heaven-on-earth state and I am currently trying to figure when/how I will be able to have a small piece of it. It’s all I can think of!
When I was a kid, my parents brought me to Alaska, Maine, and all over Canada. Did I love those trips? Absolutely. Seeing a glacier as a twelve year old is definitely the dopest thing anyone in your class did all summer. Unless they got to lick the glacier, that would be different. Do I remember instantly falling in love with these places? No. Winding up and down the side of the Rocky Mountains, which seemed to be continuously growing larger as we drove…well, that is something to fall in love with, to be humbled by. — AND FEAR!!! I screamed for at least an hour going up, louder after I saw the runaway truck ramps. –Neil will tell you that the second we took off on our six hour road trip from Denver to Telluride all I could talk about was how immediately overwhelmed with inspiration I was. I sat in vocalized awe at the size of these massive, ever stretching mountains. The popping of my ears didn’t even bother me, my eyes were too busy to be bothered.
My previous encounters with Colorado-type terrain consisted of appreciating from afar, and I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve seen some beautiful places. I purposefully got lost in the Muir Woods once, a stunt my parents did not appreciate. The tour we were on wasn’t spending long enough in each area, which meant I was missing the opportunity to take an obscene amount of crappy photos (I was an avid disposable camera photographer). As soon as I heard we were loading up, I ran back to my favorite place for just one more picture, a little further than I remembered. “THE BUS IS LEAVING WITHOUT US TIFFANYJO,” my dad hollered at me as a ranger walked toward me. “IT’S A STUMP!” I could hear his frustration, I could see the ranger’s slight amusement, but was busy snapping pictures, winding as fast as I could. I needed to document this tree, dammit! This particular topiary had died, it’s stump indicating long life among beautiful friends; it devastated me. Though I honestly do not remember noticing in the Redwoods how the fresh air affected my breath and my brain, I remember feeling surrounded by friends in that moment too. I had several beautiful, refreshing, and daringly connective moments with the Pacific Ocean the handful of times we went out to whale watch while visiting British Colombia, that was life changing, yes. But never, in my adult travel experience, have I felt so nearly unhesitatingly changed.
Even on the 13,500 ft., 4 star, wildly vertical Wasatch Trail, I noticed a difference in the way I was fighting for my breath, the way I was thinking about it and physically doing it. Was I cursing Neil out in my head for encouraging a group of mostly new hikers on such an advanced trail? Yes. We endured forty-four switchbacks on shaky legs and empty stomachs. Had we taken that exact same hike under Louisiana climate conditions…..well lets just say it would have taken a considerably longer and we would have all been naked from heat and humidity by the end of it. Colorado was kinder to us. We stopped for breaks every thirty minutes or so, all willing to kept going. We would be lined up on the trail, looking forward and back at each other after someone asked, “How much further?” No-one wanted to say, “I’ve seen enough, lets turn around,” because IT WAS SO FCKING PRETTY, honestly bordering ostentatious beauty.
Thirteen miles and six hours later, we were all exhausted but so so happy. We each milled about the mountainside house, quietly reflecting on the day as we prepared dinner. What we ate, I can’t remember; I was distracted with the reel. I thought of the gold confetti that fell on us most of the way before we encountered our first patches of snow; of Layla eager to meet other dogs on Bear Creek Trail and at the rock garden; of specifically the rock garden and the reminder that so many others have walked this trail before us, for no other reason than to be close to nature, to bathe in the freedom she gives.
I spent our entire first day hiking feeling as though floating up and down mountains in someone else’s dream, only able to muster enough focus to keep from tripping constantly. Ever little leaf called to me, the snow glimmered. I wanted to touch everything. Us Louisiana kids packed for temperatures around 56*-64* and we were definitely met with winter temps, so for my rickety knees to work properly, I had to keep moving. We crossed a ramshackle mining bridge to get to the “top of the waterfall” and felt every inch of our lives possibly being risked; Neil would randomly say, “THE WATERFALL! It’s worth it,” when he could feel us all dying. I didn’t know there was a possibility that we might actually slip and fall to our death (though what a place to be buried). That night ended up being the most magical sleep of my life.
Cornet Creek Falls was absolutely the most fun hike because it was so involved (at least for me) and I was ready for it. The day of rest we took in between Wasatch and Cornet was crucial for me, and for Layla, to be able to enjoy the rest of the trip. Elevation punched me in the face in the best way! When we got to Cornet’s water fall, I went crazy wild woman and just started climbing up the rocks as fast as I could. I felt wild, totally inspired by the wild that surrounded me. I still can’t find words supportive enough to label the sensation of climbing feeling totally natural, of sliding on your bare palms and feet to just keep from seriously scuffing something up. I was a tomboy growing up, a climber…but I never dreamed at nearly 30 I’d want to climb EVERY fourteener before forty. Red dirt was flinging everywhere, I think Layla’s paws will always have a little red in them now. After playing for about an hour at the fall, we made our descent back down the trail, taking time to swing on trees and roam a bit. Neil and Zach wanted to climb a little higher than I did in an area just off the trail, but we stopped where there wasn’t much room to really rest, so I had to wedge myself in to the safest spot I could manage, and wait. It was a misty meditation, regardless of how nervous I was to be potentially, literally flying solo. Heavier rocks eventually started tumbling down and I DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO ROLL MY EYES. I had to press as far back as possible (without losing my footing and my hold on Layla) and hope that the boys weren’t about to get tangled in the trees bending around me. The real challenge came on this day when the rain arrived; we were thankful it wasn’t heavy rain but it was plenty cold which oddly motivated us to move faster on the way down! I immediately took a nap when we got home, and woke up to real, fresh, fluffy, falling snow. SNOW THAT STICKS! My mind was blown. 234567890th time in less than a week — was I dead and just reeling? No, this was tangible.
We finished up our trip with what seemed like a leisurely walk to Bridal Veils Falls, a truly breath taking experience at a pace that felt like a lazy river in summer.
Layla often led the way on our hikes, excited by each step and smell and challenge by her favorite element. It was amusing to see the retriever that normally wants to lay around all afternoon practically sprint up these trails. She pushed herself yet seemed content no matter how long we adventured. We encountered quite a few animals, though none as majestic as the giant elk that showed up in the DRIVE WAY after an afternoon house nap. Her spirit is not the same in Louisiana, and I absolutely feel her on it. Sometimes when she’s asleep and looks like she’s dreaming, I wonder if she’s dreaming of the next mountain or set of squirrels.
The continuous, perpetual summer of the south removes the presence of change, therefore, we remain the same. I will never not be completely fascinated from this experience forward with the way my surroundings moved me. Louisiana motivates you to either get where you’re going in a hurry, as to avoid a sweaty, sticky mess, or to embrace the heat and move slowly, never feeling completely dry. To be brief, this year has been a whirlwind of movement, and while I’ve had quiet moments, I haven’t spent much time mentally celebrating the beauty that’s unfolding. My spirit set its wild self loose among the Rockies and will be, from here on out, totally unsatisfied with stones unturned.
The spirit can plant roots anywhere (this we know) and while I have blushed and inwardly rolled my eyes at those that have called me “free spirited,” I think the definition is clearer now, though I still feel the term is often too blanketed. “Wanderlust” is okay, but I don’t immediately picture myself twirling in a field or ascending a mountain. — I think of Paul Rudd’s epic pep-talk in one of the funniest movies Jennifer Aniston ever pulled off. — I’m not bohemian enough to claim anything other than righteously curious and uncontrollably fascinated by the natural world around me. My continuous thought throughout the trip, a moment that pinches me just the way the cold Telluride morning would, is with me as I recount the moments now: I can climb a little longer.
And so can you.
Be affected by the world around you. Allow yourself celebration, healing, experience. YOU ARE WORTH YOUR DREAMS.