I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I am one for reflection. Contrary to popular belief, 2020 did not begin at the Elk’s Lodge or Continuum Hotel, but rather on March 13th, when my friend Jim (who does not have a television) sat in my living room watching “President” Tr*mp announce the travel ban between Europe and the United States, only further alluding to the increasing worry regarding a new virus we had been subtly joking about just weeks prior. That Sunday, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort announced its closure after some 20 odd inches had fallen over night, due to “avalanche danger.” Locals flocked to Snow King. I hadn’t skinned up once yet, but I arrived with my uphill gear to “get some exercise.” The mountain was a glorified quagmire topped with snow soaked water, or perhaps water soaked snow. In a long line of anxious, powder panicked locals, I didn’t even make it halfway up before returning to my car with a pang of uneasiness. Sunday, bloody Sunday.
The next few weeks were a mix between cookies, television, and push ups. In an effort to be proactive with all this new time on my hands, I decided to make our garage a gym, i.e, a yoga mat on a dirty floor with a backpack full of paper weights. I made it as far as two workouts over those initial two weeks, both of which were dark and pathetic. Thus began my running career, smashing local Strava leaderboards for slowest 5K time as I’d often stop by friends’ yards and garages mid run, sometimes going as far to indulge in a beer or four at mile 1.5. Day after day, I watched Governor Cuomo just as much as I watched Joe Exotic or Love is Blind. Words like quarantine, positive, and negative became a part of my (our) daily lexicon. Other things I heard; “we’re so lucky to live here,” and “it could be so much worse.” I remember wanting to slap a dear friend really, really hard after they said this to me. I sat down at my computer and wrote a lengthy instagram caption; “I wish someone would say it’s ok to be angry. No, I am not suffering. Yes, I’m palpably aware of my privilege. But I also think it’s ok to be upset by lack of work; frustrated by the unknown; saddened by goals that are now impossible; annoyed by what feels like — or perhaps just is — a robbery in the face of a public health crisis.”
With the turn of winter to spring in Wyoming comes melt and change. As Jackson began to “re-open” for the busy summer season, I cheers’d over cocktails at Thai Me Up, laughing drunkenly while a friend prematurely announced, “we’re back, baby!” Summer concert series were cancelled, farmers markets felt more like grocery shopping than a fun social event, but hey, we were still spending nights in front of the Tetons; at abandoned boy scout camps; up high on ridges with bikes watching the sky turn into a Pendleton blanket over distant mountain ranges. I took stock of those moments; returning to the notion that yes, we are fucking lucky, and in a time when being outside was all but necessary, our world was a mecca. My Spotify 2020 playlist is built up with the sounds that often played amongst these backdrops, specifically “Mercury in Retrograde,” by Sturgill Simpson. Despite the fitting title, which seemed to follow me around all summer, its scuzzy lyrics accompanied backyard hangs, slow 5K’s, and grocery store visits alike:
Mercury must be in retrograde again / But at least it’s not just hangin’ around, pretendin’ to be my friend.
As it does every year, summer just seemed to “happen,” and the onset of fall was hard. I became all too acquainted with Jackson’s everlasting toxic positivity; which warrants a separate essay in and of itself. How lucky we are to live in a community that knows how to continue to recreate despite the change of seasons. How lucky we are to know how to bundle up and do things outside when it’s below 30 degrees, if not thrive. But at the end of the day, pretty mountains — even when they’re dressed in white and purple against that aforementioned Pendleton sky — are no cure for unequivocal loneliness and the already deep mental holes we find ourselves digging deeper. Everyone seemed so busy with plans. Work aside, I hadn’t had plans in months. In mid-September I left town in somewhat of an angry frenzy for what meant to be 10 days but ended up being 5 weeks, visiting friends and locales around the intermountain west while operating on an exclusively selfish, plan-less schedule. I drank espresso martinis in Aspen and ate green chile sopapillas in Santa Fe. I told myself a lot of things on that trip; among them that I’d go home when I felt happy again. Turns out what they say really is true; you can’t run away from your problems.
I spent so much of this year in a negative headspace because, well, we’re wasting our precious time navigating a global pandemic, but as a dear friend pointed out, “staying positive feels like lowering your standards.” And so, the end of this standout year feels like an unintentional quest for the places and things that strengthen routine; things that make me feel the same, because honestly, that’s about all I’m capable of feeling. Things like chicken tenders at the Moose. Things like getting to the base of the resort on Christmas morning, alone, only to find your friends who just got there too. Things like becoming utterly consumed with the plotline of Yellowstone because yes, it’s a good show, but also because the repetitive themes in westerns feel like comfortable, romantic choreography. And all the minute moments, like the barista at Picnic who knew immediately after I ordered a drip coffee dark roast to “add just a tiny bit of half and half?” I almost started crying.
Yesterday I skied untouched, low angle backcountry snow with friends I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for a global pandemic. We drank beers afterward and laughed about Tinder dates and country music. Later, the full moon felt especially bright. But I’m not trying to make a metaphor for the optimism of the future, rather, I’d like a return — a backwards pivot — to the things that make us feel whole again.