By Liza Kimberly
After bidding farewell to a quirky summer, we wound down a dirt road in the Alaskan interior, past ice age remnants and bursting fireweed, and we talked about the strangeness of saying goodbye. I said I liked to avoid it. Too mushy, too conclusive, and sometimes too insincerely expressive. Will we see those humans again? Or will they just be added to the pool of people with whom I’ve experienced enchanting and grimy life moments, but fate and circumstance have varied our trajectories so that we’ll never intersect again? We agreed we were lucky to have had paths that have meandered in ways that have allowed us to meet, grow, and then part with so many people.
Now I’m back in Jackson, Wyoming after a hiatus and I find myself at another one of these junctures. This one’s different though. I’m leaving a place that irrevocably stole my heart a while back, and instead of driving away from one or two seasons of escapades and relationships, I’m bidding farewell to three very full years and I’m parting ways with you and you and us and you and we. I’ll probably still avoid the sentimental hugs and I’ll jaunt north and coastward with minimal celebration, but I’m finding ways to grasp these past three years, and ways to say goodbye. It’s in the acceptance that I’m leaving a moment, but I am carrying a lot forward with me too. And it’s in a collection of memories that shaped me in a lasting way. In compiling these snapshots, I use the pronoun “you” to refer to many different people who pranced through my life in Jackson. There are a lot of “you”s.
I began by thinking about the ways this place stole my heart a while back. September first, 2014, I came here to be an intern at the Teton Science Schools. It felt fateful in many ways: I was immediately immersed in a community of humans for whom I felt very fond and with whom I felt very full, my work felt meaningful and challenging, and I lived in the mountains. As a child I used to squint my eyes from the passenger seat in Minneapolis and imagine my city was surrounded by towering peaks. I could leave behind some of the burdens that I struggled to escape at Carleton, and I could start afresh. Surrounded by people who made me feel wild and alive, and with new mountain adventures out my backdoor, I felt very, very free. And that lasted and grew as I discovered all the ways I could fly here.
As I reminisce, I’m overwhelmed by paintings of moments that were seemingly unglamorous and insignificant, but some subtle magic imprinted them in my memory. Sitting on the hood of my old Volvo station wagon and watching the bolts of lightning crest the Tetons just above Rendezvous Peak. Right after, you insisted I complete 23 birthday spins in the rain. Just before, we’d driven along Moose-Wilson road blasting Mr. Brightside, hands out the window and split-ends dancing in the early summer air. When we searched for scones in the Persephone dumpster and returned home with a new pair of winter boots and a bed-stand. The morning you tumbled down a ski line that you’d skied a hundred times and we realized that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single somersault. The night the battery died in the middle of a Minnesotan prairie, the night with the guitar on the laundry-room floor, the night the sprinklers soaked us while we were star-tripping on the front lawn, the night I drank too many glasses of red wine and unexpectedly fell into your arms, the night they used echo location to win hide-and-seek, the night we swerved off the icy road to avoid a romping bison, the night we slept in the back of my car and read Ed Abbey aloud beneath desert stars, the night we used the waxing gibbous light to evade a wintery overnight in the Teton backcountry.
There are other moments that I can use my fingers to trace growth: ones that revealed vulnerability and demanded trust, inevitably deepening our connections with one another and with this place. Like when you held my skis down as I gracelessly twirled 180 degrees because I barely knew how to ski and this chute off of Mount Glory was objectively outside of my ability and these weird sticks on my feet were pointing the wrong direction (little did I know that only a year later I’d gleefully fly down couloirs and glaciers and mountain summits). Or when gravity and some suppressed anguish overpowered my strength on a granite pinnacle above Jenny Lake, leaving me clinging. Later that night you helped me uncover the reasons why I froze. The time we anchored the rope to a pinion tree and lowered our bodies into a narrow desert canyon abyss. I was scared and reluctant until you asked me what Beyonce would do… and, well, obviously. The sandstone waterslide was so worth it. When I hovered at the outer edge of my growth zone above a ski rappel on a blustery February day which happened to be your birthday and you reminded me it was ok to have butterflies as long as they fly in formation (they did). When you and you and you told me I needed to follow through with my commitments and be more decisive and realistic with my whims, I worked hard to be better. And in an ongoing effort to be more emboldened with addressing conflict, I told you I needed you to give me more space to assert my opinions and to be more patient with my occasionally scattered mind. There was the afternoon that I sobbed to you on a concrete driveway beneath a New York maple tree, we walked around your childhood block to gain clarity, and then I learned to drive a stick-shift in the rain so the three of us could eat Indian food and revive our spirits on a zombie-ridden haunted hay-ride.
Like the golden aspen leaves near Coyote Rock and the eternally-fluffy snow grains in Targhee Woods, there were places we returned to seasonally, ones that endured uncertainty and change. Sunrise skis on Teton Pass, Leon Bridges’ rhythmic voice, homemade pizza, nights at the disco, my favorite floral dress, the ways you believe in me, undulating dirt trails below Josie’s Ridge, that blurry line between close friendship and romance, lessons about the five major plant communities in our ecosystem, a Thai restaurant booth. The weekends that we ran away to the desert, fell asleep with sand in our scalps and prickly pear cacti at our feet, giggling and growing as we revealed new layers of ourselves. Pick-up soccer games at the Q, sloshies after climbing, regurgitating whiskey into each other's mouths, coffeeshop mornings spent side-by-side. Long trails runs with you, where we could vent and process and ponder. The lofty and unique goals we crafted when we felt especially boundless…like the time we drove to Nevada to ski down a 13,000 foot mountain in the desert. This particular pursuit led us to set up our tent in the middle of a parking lot, fall asleep to wild turkey choruses, glide through a centuries-old bristlecone pine forest, and drive to Salt Lake City for a rock concert. There was the time you became very enchanted by urban gardening and so we walked around town-square planting beansprouts in sidewalk crevices and storefront window sills. The evening we spent celebrating the nineties with side ponytails, third eye blind, and oversized sweaters (please excuse the silly-string that still dangles from the ceiling fan), and naturally the night ended with all of us entangled, singing Wagon Wheel on that filthy pink couch. Or when dragging a pony-keg on a sled to a remote backcountry yurt seemed like the best idea ever…until the moon rose and we were on the wrong ridge and the wood stove fire had burned out.
My trajectory now is north and coastward, to grant proposals and academic literature and lush old growth forests melted by seaside sunrises. I’ve felt the heartache of departure before. It’s a heaviness in my throat and a deep fear that that was as good as it will get. I felt it during my senior year of high school with my five best friends, those wild and free months at Carleton with my frisbee team, our endless summer in New Zealand, weeks spent walking across the Alaskan tundra, and now, the days that really sparkled these past three years in Jackson.
I’ve sought relief from nostalgia with a quote from John Muir before, and I shall do it again: “May these beautiful days enrich all my life…may they not exist as mere pictures, maps hung upon the walls of memory, but may they saturate themselves into all parts of my body and live always”. My cells and dark-brown-hair and gaits and vulnerabilities and toenails and synapses and dreams are wholly and completely made up of my beautiful days (and my sad, lonely, growth-inducing ones, too, but that’s for another reflection). And I find a lot of comfort in that. Yes, this is goodbye on one level, but on another level, it’s moving forward a little more Liza, and a little more alive. And that makes saying goodbye a bit easier. So, thanks Jackson. I sure will miss ya.