Walk

For the past three months I’ve been sick as a dog. Or as pregnant as a dog. Or just plain pregnant.

For the past three months I’ve done almost nothing. I haven’t blogged. I haven’t prepared healthy meals. I certainly haven’t exercised. It’s been all I could do to cart myself from the bed to the couch and try to make sure my daughter was safe. During this time I also took on a commercial writing gig that meant I spent 2-4 hours in front of the computer every weekday afternoon. I’ve been sleeping from 8:30 pm to 7:00 am every night. And since I still wear a fitness tracker as a watch, I can tell you that I’ve been getting between 1,000 and 2,000 steps during the day, mainly due to trips to the bathroom.

If you’ve never experienced this kind of thing firsthand, just try to imagine having an epic, soul-crushing hangover every single day for a stretch of 12 consecutive weeks. Imagine how you would conduct yourself. Imagine what foods you would to eat. It’s not healthy, let me tell you. And it doesn’t feel like me.

At 14.5 weeks pregnant, I’ve crossed the infamous first trimester threshold. I do feel better. I just don’t feel, like, all the way better. I’m still nauseous and I’m still exhausted, but I am slowly pulling myself out of the slump. Rafal has started cooking more dinners, which has helped me to eat at least one healthy meal per day. Two days ago, I actually practiced yoga. And today, against all odds, I managed to go for a walk.

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There’s something else that’s been going on here: what they call “spring” in the mountains. Spring in the mountains means that even halfway through the month of April, we get 9 degree mornings with 6 inches of fresh snow. It means that most days are gloomy and cold. It means that I’ve been spending days upon days upon days without exiting my house.

When we lived in Grant Village, I had a rule about this: I had to go outside every single day. And rain or shine, cold or warm, damn near every freaking day, I kept that promise. In general, I try not to let any kind of weather bring me down. I love my collection of outdoor gear, and varying weather conditions are just a good excuse for finding the best combination of clothing items.

As a principle, I try not to be a wimp about the weather. But lately, that is exactly what I’ve been.

I could blame it on pregnancy, and maybe that’s true, but if I don’t find the strength to lace up my boots, toss on a down jacket, and greet the day, this spring is going to take me down with it.

The truth is, once you’ve finally made it outdoors, 30 degrees feels perfectly fine.

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I walked only one short mile today, pushing my sleepy three-year-old in the stroller, but it felt great to get my blood pumping, to watch the bison scatter, to get a close look at the frosted sage brush.

I’ve got big plans for the summer ahead, and I need to be healthy enough to see them through. My writing gig is finished, my nausea is waning, and the temperatures are reluctantly creeping upward. I’m all out of excuses.

I must go outside and walk.

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Lila

Nico is not the name listed on my birth certificate. Differentiated by just two letters, Nicole is the first name I was given. It was one of the most popular names of 1983, and when I entered kindergarten, there were five other Nicoles in my class. Always needing to be different, I experimented with variations and nicknames—Niki, Nic, Pinky—but I never felt that I’d gotten it just right.

When I went away to college I wanted to reinvent myself. I spent a long time thinking about what kind of clothes I would wear and how I would style my hair. It occurred to me that I could change my name to anything. I could be Jasmine or Tigerlily. I could be anyone, because nobody knew me. I tried introducing myself this way at parties, but I felt stupid and inauthentic.

During the summer after my first year of college, I was reading the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. The history of 70s punk features the story of Nico, the German model and singer who Andy Warhol more or less forced into the Velvet Underground for one great album. (Incidentally, Nico wasn’t her real name either. That Nico was named Christa.)   

Seeing her name in print, I thought, “That’s so close to my name. I could just drop off the L and the E, and I could be Nico.” It wasn’t such a stretch. If my name were Christopher, no one would cry foul if I said my name was Chris. It wasn’t as far-fetched as calling myself Stardust. It was a fairly realistic idea.

Soon after I returned to school in the fall, I would join a student environmentalist group and meet the group of friends that I would romp with for many years (all of whom I still love, and several of whom are still close friends). I would introduce myself to these friends as Nico. They never questioned it. It has been my name ever since.

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My daughter’s name is Lydia, but Lila (lee-lah) is the name she chose for herself. When she was small and we asked her name, Lila is what she would say. In a family that respects chosen names, it held on. We call her Lila most all the time, unless she’s being scolded.

I recently discovered that the word Lila in Sanskrit means “divine play.” In the Hindu faith, all of reality and all of the cosmos were created by the playfulness of the divine. In our most playful, sometimes we are the most serious. At out most joyous, sometimes we are the most devout. This is my Lila in a nutshell: both serious and goofball, both focused and free.

It’s a bit silly anyway, naming someone before you know who they are. As she grows, I want her to know she has the space to tell me who she is, not the other way around. Perhaps she will prefer different pronouns. Perhaps she will take an entirely new name.

It is likely that one day she’ll no longer be Lila, and of course we’ll roll with that. I’m sure she will wear many costumes and titles on the long quest for who she wants to be. I’m just excited to be along for the ride, I’m hopeful that she’ll feel comfortable sharing her truth with me, and I’m curious to meet every stage of her along the way.

My own personality changes don’t happen as rapidly anymore, but I wouldn’t call myself static. I’m still wondering, I’m still growing, I’m still brainstorming about who I want to be. I’m pretty sure Nico is here to stay, though. Sometimes a name just fits.

 

Things You Can’t Quit in the Middle

“In Montana, you either love the weather or you suffer.”

–Adam Delorme in “This Is Home” 

Winter is long and hard out here at the place where Wyoming and Montana meet. Either you can succumb to the drab boring chill, or you can find a way to have fun. So I’m learning to downhill ski.

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Skiing is something I’ve always wanted to do, and yet something I’ve always feared. Through the years I’ve been variously deterred by the cost, by the danger, by my out-of-shape lack-of-skill, and by my distant proximity to mountains. This winter, Rafal and I were able to squirrel a little money away, I’ve gotten in much better shape, and we have mountains visible from every window in our home. Skiing is still dangerous, of course, but sometimes you’ve just gotta be brave.

Rafal and I each purchased a “Learn to Ski in Three” package from Bridger Bowl (just outside of Bozeman, Montana). With this, we each got three lessons, three gear rentals, and three lift tickets (one for the beginner’s area, one for the lower half of the mountain, and one for the full mountain).

My first time out—on the bunny hill—I couldn’t believe how well I was doing. I didn’t fall, I was making turns, I felt surprisingly comfortable on my skis.

My second time out was far more humbling. My lesson instructor didn’t teach me much. Rafal and I, the two other people in our lesson group, and our instructor went once down the bunny hill, and then twice down the easiest of the easy green runs. That was the entire lesson. Her only advice was “try to focus on making turns.”

Following this, Rafal and I decided to go down the next easiest green run. Within minutes, I started *flying* down the hill. The bunny hill and the easiest green run are about the same pitch (meaning they are equally steep). This one was steeper: still considered “easy” of course, but more intense than I was used to. I managed to make several turns, but I wasn’t slowing down. Before long, I fell face-first, losing my poles, glasses, and hat in the snow. I hurt my neck and shoulder, but I bruised my confidence most of all.

And I still needed to get to the bottom of the hill.

Rafal came up from behind and found me in the snow. He helped me up, and I was trembling. My adrenaline was pumping. I was really shaken up. Had a magical fairy appeared and offered to lift me down to the apres ski bar, I would have taken her up on it. If I could have quit skiing (possibly forever) right then and there, I would have done it. But instead, I got up on my feet, and followed Rafal at a snail’s pace. As we made our way down the hill, I felt my equilibrium coming back. I was knocked back down to size, to be sure, but by the time I reached the ground, I was ready to get on the lift again.

This is why I like starting things I can’t quit in the middle.

When I was a kid, I was never a fast runner. I always quit playing tag when I was stuck being “it.” I could never last in a competitive sport. I quit softball and volleyball. I would always make up excuses in gym class. I’ve even been known to storm out on a heated game of Settlers if it seems like I’m getting picked on. I’m kind of a quitter by nature.

But activities that involve travel, laboriously propelling your body your space, they need to be completed. You can go forward or you can go backwards, but your legs (outfitted with boots, or skis, or bicycle tires) are going to carry you there. Whether you like it or not.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been deep in the woods on some trail somewhere, thinking, What would I pay to be home right now? Thinking, Is it farther to go forward, or turn around? Thinking, Why do I do this to myself? I almost never want to go, but I’m always glad that I went.

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On our first cross-country ski adventure of the season—when we accidently chose a very difficult trail, and the snow was still sparse, and they hadn’t started grooming—I fell a lot. I fell down so much that tears of frustration streamed down my cheeks. I’d never done the trail before, so I didn’t have a sense of how long the loop would take. I felt trapped: there was only one way out of this situation, and it involved traveling over snow. I had to take a deep breath and keep moving.

I trick myself into biting off more than I can chew. I get myself into situations that only I can get myself out of. I catapult myself into the unknown. Sometimes I pout for a little while. Sometimes I even sit down in the middle of trail and cry. But I always find my way back.

I’m learning to be less of a quitter. I’m learning to have fun in the snow.

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Here Comes the Snow: A Recap of Summer

This morning we woke in a snow globe. Summer has ended, and fall in the mountains is here.

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I haven’t been blogging much lately (or taking a whole lot of pictures). I’ve been working on other projects and I’ve been caught up in the flow. But with the season changing I thought it would be fun to look back over the summer we’ve had, and get my readers caught up with what we’ve been up to this past month or so.

It was a summer of car camping, playing, and getting settled in Mammoth.

Nearly the whole month of June was dedicated to packing, moving, and unpacking again. But I did find time to volunteer at the Grant Visitor’s Center, perform The Interior in Grant Village, and do a bit of exploring in the park.

Then on June 23, we arrived at our new home in Mammoth Hot Springs. We hiked, we decorated our house, and Lydia joined the local playgroup.

Our first official summer get-away came the weekend of July 14. It was the first weekend of the summer that we had zero errands and zero obligations. So we traveled up and over the gorgeous Beartooth Highway, visiting the Montana towns of Silver Gate, Cooke City, and Red Lodge. We spent the night in an Airbnb tipi, and spent the weekend having fun.

The next weekend, we discovered the Boiling River–a place where steaming hot thermal water mixes with the cold Gardner river to make a delightful swimming hole. (Lydia and I would frequent this locale for the rest of the season.)

Next came a back injury for me and a visit from my pal Sabrina. Lydia turned two and a half. We soaked in the healing waters of Chico Hot Springs.

August was busy & amazing. The first weekend of August, we camped at Fairy Lake Campground (north of Bridger Bowl) and spent our days at the Sweet Pea Music Festival in Bozeman.

The second weekend we camped at the Snowbank Campground on Mill Creek. We soaked at Chico again, and hiked the trail to Passage Falls (where I stripped down and dove under the waterfall).

After that, Kristina and James came for a visit, and stayed for a whole week. During this time, we hiked, soaked, and laughed. I got to play tour guide–driving Kris and James down the whole length of Yellowstone National Park–and hostess–cooking meals and entertaining. It was great.

Then the four of us (Kris, James, Lydia, and I), plus Rafal (who was a surprise, last-minute addition) went to stay the night in Grant Village. We made pie iron sandwiches around the fire and visited with some of our old buds. Then the following morning, the five of us rose before dawn, drove down into the heart of the Tetons, and set up camp for the day. Gradually, we watched the moon make love to the sun. We felt the air turn cool, saw the mountains turn purple, and heard a flock of geese exclaim with wonder. We were witness to a breathtaking total solar eclipse.

One week after Kris and James said goodbye marked our anniversary. Rafal and I celebrated nine years together by taking a five-day road trip through Idaho. We stayed in the beautiful Syringa B&B in Salmon. The next day, we hiked up into the paradise of Goldbug Hotsprings. The day after that we explored the volcanic caves of Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Our anniversary trip fell on Labor Day weekend, and we thought this would mark the end of summer. But we were wrong!

Another visit from wonderful friends brought another delicious dose of adventure. Kelsey, Cam, and (their dog) Janis came to pay a visit to Wyoming-Montana. With them, we soaked in the Boiling River and at Chico (again), and we camped along Mill Creek. Through them I discovered that another friend, Wyatt (with whom Kelsey and I rafted the Grand Canyon in 2013), lives just up the road in Emigrant. The morning after camping, we all met for breakfast at the WildFlour Cafe, and then went for a float on calm water (Lydia’s first time in a raft!)

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The day after that–Sunday–we all met again for a whitewater adventure through Yankee Jim Canyon. This time, another friend from the Grand Canyon trip just happened to be passing through town! Tom (aka Roach), Wyatt, and I spent most of our time on the Grand on the same boat. And all these years later, here we were on a boat together again, once against orchestrated by Kelsey (and by the universe) who introduced us all in the first place. It was hot and sunny and magical. Lydia is sure to grow into a River Rat.

Here we are just one weekend later, and our lawn is littered with snow. The temperatures are looking low in the forecast and more snow is scheduled to fall. I pulled out some of my favorite sweaters and Lydia is wearing her boots. I welcome this snow, this change, and I hope it is smothering the fires nearby.

Mammoth feels like a real home to us. I have recently joined the Electric Peak Arts Council (through I’m not officially on the board yet), so I’ll help program arts events in the area. An old friend who lives in Bozeman and I got together to hike (and hope to do so again). I go to yoga class and to playgroup. I was asked to be on the board of the co-op preschool (that Lydia can start attending in January).

I’m still writing how-to articles, and I started work on a short book. I’m still exercising and keeping the house clean. Lydia is growing and learning. We both really enjoy these toddler days–she is bright, and busy, and surprisingly chill. Rafal is working very hard and finding a nice groove with his new career. Yesterday we all got flu shots.

We are doing the family thing, but also the friends thing a little bit too.

We are a little exhausted and a little excited and a little curious about what this season will bring.

In the words of Queen Elsa, let the storm rage on, Yellowstone! The cold never bothered me anyway.