I took my love, took it down.
I climbed a mountain and I turned around.
And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills . . .
— Stevie Nicks, b. 1948
Laramie, like most towns in Wyoming, began as a rough-and-ready railroad settlement. In 1886 the land-grant University of Wyoming was established. Today, U-Dub is the heart of the town, and its 10,000 students are fully one-fifth of the population.
I like universities. I’m at home there. Every campus has a bookstore, a library, a food area, and, more often than not, public access to computers equipped with high-speed internet access. So I spent much of the morning on the U-Dub campus. I bought a notebook and some folders (all my hand-written journals are in notebooks from various universities) and a t-shirt and a book about Wyoming for a friend’s young son. (Yes, that’s “an English teacher present.” But the friend is an English teacher. And his wife is a librarian. They’ll like it.)
Loop tours, driving routes that make a circle through scenic areas and return to the starting point, are common in Wyoming guidebooks. Just before noon I set out on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. The route proceeds from downtown Laramie out across the railroad tracks. Like any city’s industrial outskirts, the area is bleak and congested, and I couldn’t help thinking that I didn’t need to come all the way to Wyoming to sit in traffic like this.
It didn’t take long, however, for the surroundings to change. As I climbed toward the town of Centennial I noticed that the air was getting clearer and the colors of the trees and the sky deeper and truer.
Centennial was established in 1876 when a vein of quartz-rock gold was discovered nearby. A town quickly sprang up around four mines, but the mother lode was never found and the town’s boom period was over before long. Today Centennial supports itself with restaurants and saloons and overnight cabins that cater to visitors’ fantasies about the Old West.
I had lunch at the Mountain View Hotel, a place fitted out with wooden furniture and wash stands and wanted posters, giving it a bit of the flavor of a Gunsmoke set. I was the only customer. I had a long conversation with the young woman who prepared and served my grilled mesquite chicken salad. She grew up there, went east to Princeton, but returned not long after graduation because the pace of life and the cutthroat competition to outdo everyone wearied her. For a while she worked in Laramie, making the fifty-mile round trip each day. Though the commute is, by my standards, an easy one over a nearly deserted road rather than the stop-and-go congestion I experienced at home, it tired her. She finds life in this small town satisfying.
After lunch I continued up the mountain. The climb became steeper and the change in the scenery more dramatic. I stopped at the Libby Flats observation point and climbed a stone stairway to a deck that offered magnificent panoramic views in all directions. But I took not a single picture of the scenery. What I took a picture of was the stairway to the observation tower. Back in February, when I started planning this trip, I couldn’t have made that climb.
Beyond Libby Flats the area became an alpine tundra. I slowed to a stop to let a deer cross the road in front of me. I saw it step onto something gray and thought it was a concrete parking area. I pulled over and got out.
And beyond, a lake, the water so still it made a mirror of the trees and the sky and the mountain peaks. I could hear the wind, and bird calls, and the sound of my own heartbeat.
Oh mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I undertook this trip in part because in February I felt mired in a slough of bad habits and counterproductive attitudes. Nothing was working, not my writing, nor my reading, nor my program to improve my physical self and my surroundings.
Standing at the edge of Mirror Lake in the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming, I began to feel that all things were once again possible.
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