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Taking Stock | 2015

Taking Stock: A type of year-in-review, three weeks late. As per everyone's January tradition, I was streamlining my digital footprint and ran across a handful of photographs I'd never had the opportunity to share. (Many of them, admittedly, are from roadtrips taken in June and August, or, five of the best weeks of my life.) Looking at the images individually evoked memories I'd nearly forgotten, and it was the loveliest exercise to get those reminiscings on "paper."

* * *

March 13th, 2015, Drumheller, Alberta

I'm with Jacob in Calgary this weekend and we've driven out to the Albertan badlands on an unseasonably warm Friday. His arm is slung casually over the steering wheel and everything feels new and exciting. The wind blows loud through the open windows and Slow Black River sets the scene. That night we find ourselves in a town of 33 people at the Last Chance Saloon, or, the only establishment with any sign of life. The waitress shares loud banter with every table, all of which hold people she seems to know. I keep forgetting I'm in a different country and then I notice an difference in accent or mannerism and I'm surprised all over again.

June 7th, 2015, Big Sur, California

Last night there was nary an empty campsite to be found, so we picked a side road and followed the windy pavement in search of a secluded spot to pitch the tent. About three miles up, we suddenly broke through the dense blanket of night fog. The thick mist was spread below us like a second ocean, framed by shadowy mountains and the starriest velvet sky. I pinched myself at the sight and exclaimed to Jacob that it felt like we'd just entered Peter Pan's Neverland. Now it's a bright morning and as we descend the mountain, a tiniest touch of the fog remains. It seems it wasn't a dream after all. We eat yogurt and granola and California strawberries that taste like candy.

June 10th, 2015, Bodega Bay, California

We left San Francisco this morning and I took the opportunity to play this song as we drove down Van Ness. Now we're sixty miles north of the Golden Gate and the afternoon is waning. Jacob pulls off Highway 1 and we get out of the Jeep to take in the blue waters and the tiny surfers bobbing in the waves. We agree that we'll camp here tonight. We seek out the campground host for firewood, who also offers (mostly unsolicited) advice on camping in California. I put on leggings under my jeans and pull on another sweater and scarf. Jacob teases me for getting cold so easily. We wade through grass dunes to the beach, which is eerily misty and quiet save for the wind. I realize that it's been a year since I left for Kenya.

June 12th, 2015, Sunset Bay State Park, Oregon

Jacob and I set up our tent in a lush corner of the campground, and then go out to find dinner. When we return, the sun is setting over the aptly-named Sunset Bay. Racing against the clock, we run a half mile across a cliff in search of a better view. It's something of a dream: getting up there all out of breath, golden light filtering through the trees, the sea crashing and churning below. Jacob lifts me onto his shoulders so I can better photograph the salty spray.

July 16th, 2015, Tulsa, Oklahoma

I'm living downtown in a 15th-floor studio apartment this week. Looking down at the city, everything seems so quiet and orderly. In the evening heat, as I walk Sadie the dog around the block, I pretend I am in New York City. I continue my metropolitan fantasies as I ride the elevator back up to the loft.

August 8th, 2015, Santa Barbara, California

It's a Saturday morning in Santa Barbara and we've managed to come during the annual Spanish fiesta. We find a Trader Joe's and buy supplies for a picnic on the beach, and certain members of the family are embarrassed by Dad's loud proclamations that we're from Oklahoma. The sandy beaches are warm and I watch my siblings splash in the Pacific for the first time. I can't believe I'm back in California again.

August 15th, 2015, Zion National Park

Jacob shakes me awake at the first sign of dawn. I groan and roll over, then begrudgingly get out of my sleeping bag after a quiet pep talk ("you're going to regret missing the sunrise!"). Outside the air is crisp and sweet and the rocks that surround us are beginning to glow. He's right, I would have regretted missing the sunrise. In pre-coffee silence, Jeremiah, Jacob, and I set off on the trail. When we reach the top of the canyon thirty minutes later, the cliffs are saturated with color. We meet a lone hiker at the top, a man recently retired who travels the States with his wife. We never find out his name, so we name him George.

August 16th, 2015, Grand Canyon National Park

It's a Sunday and we hike to a secluded spot with a view of the canyon. Dad holds up the hymnal and we all sing together, and we even have Holy Communion in the sanctuary of nature. Later we go on a drive to different view points of the canyon and it's beautiful but somehow hard to grasp. The sunset tonight is all dusty shades of pink and orange as it slides along the rocky cliffs.

August 17th, 2015, Monument Valley

The air blows soft and hot and we're looking down into the valley that is home to so many western movies. If I didn't know better, I'd think we were in Europe--I hear more German than English from other tourists. I sit on a ledge and let my feet dangle over the edge towards the rocky desert. Goosebumps rise on my arms despite the heat and Jacob wraps his arms around me. It's our last night on the road together and I'm wistful.

September 5th, 2015, Banff National Park

It's prime bear country here, a fact I won't tell my mother until I'm back safe and sound. The fog hangs damp and thick and it only adds to the mystique. A tour bus pulls up at Peyto Lake at the same time that we do, and we opt to wait for them to leave before we get out of the car. I messily peel a tangelo in the passenger seat while the drizzle turns to the snow.

September 25th, 2015, Tulsa, Oklahoma

It is my sister Mariam's 12th birthday, and I am freshly 19. The two of us go out for chai and shopping and the sunshine is still so warm. She has changed this past year, become more friend than sister. We make a pact to live close by when we are grown with our own families, or at least get together as often as we can. I feel like myself.

Making it through

"All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life. Where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside it." 

— 

Miranda July

On Monday morning, while I am walking across campus to my first class of the day, I tell myself that I'm living the dream, and in the freshness of the day, I sometimes believe it. By Monday afternoon, without fail, I am considering dropping out of school all together. Luckily for both my career and for the University of Tulsa's Bursar office, I'm slightly more clear-headed the rest of the week.

On Tuesday I should be thinking about Aristotle's absolute kingship or the roles of stepmothers in Grimm's

Märchen

 but all that fills my mind is the crackle of fallen leaves and the pink sky. It is November—"the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the seas, passionate wind-songs in the pines"*—yet the air still breathes Indian summer and if you concentrate, you can still smell the warm scent of wildflowers in the sun. There is road construction on Utica and when I close my eyes, the exhaust of the slow-moving cars reminds me of living in Nairobi, the land of eternally balmy Novembers.

*  L.M. Montgomery,

Anne of the Island

On Wednesdays I eat lunch at my desk in the language department, the jumble of Spanish, Russian, German, and French tumbling over me. I'd like to think I can absorb the languages through some sort of magical osmosis, but German is still the only one I can understand. Despite wavering between several different possibilities every week, I'm still a German major. I love the paths it leads me down.

On Thursday a year ago, I woke before dawn and

raced out to the middle of Masai Mara

to catch the sunrise, stumbling across a pride of lions in the process. This Thursday, I also woke before dawn but raced instead to an 8am math class, and later ate lunch during a thunderstorm with my friends Mikayla and Laura and Laura's baby Emma. How things change in a year.

On Friday last week I drove out to a hill thirty miles out of town with my friend Amy and her boyfriend Dylan. It was Amy's birthday and in celebration, the stars and the skyline glowed in the distance. Amy and Dylan are dating long distance too and Amy, familiar with the ache, wrapped me in a long, consoling hug while the night air whipped into a wind.

On Saturdays I've slipped into a soothing routine. The mornings are slow and thoughtful: rising a bit later (Saturday is my only day to sleep in, after all), taking my time making myself a warm latte and some avocado toast before working out. Sometimes the mornings involve a bike ride too, or maybe a visit to the farmer's market when it's open, or sitting quietly in the sun to read a book that isn't assigned for a class, something that doesn't happen often anymore. After lunch, I slip away to a coffee shop to get some homework done. Surrounding myself with a pleasant, studious atmosphere usually tricks me into actually getting something done.

On Sundays I visit my grandmother. She moved to Tulsa last year and after so many years of living apart from so much of my family, it is always a joy to remember that I have a grandmother who now lives close by. At her apartment, I pull out the old photo albums, ranging from the time she was a baby in the 1930s to the time when I was a baby in the 1990s. It makes me want to be more diligent about printing out my own photographs and displaying them. It is usually dusk by the time I drive home and I wonder where the week has gone.

Labor Day in Banff National Park

After an ascent of roughly 1,500 feet, the trail leveled out into a meadow. No longer sheltered by the forest, a wind that smelled like snow blew across the grassy expanse, shifting the slate-colored clouds across the mountains. As we set up our tents, a drizzle began to fall, which quickly hardened into sleet. Fingers frozen and stiff, we joined the three other campers by the communal fire pit. When our wood supply grew low, the guys disappeared only to return with small trees slung across their shoulders. I huddled as close as I dared to the smoky flames as the wind increased and sleet pelted my jacket. That night, Jacob so sweetly filled a Nalgene with hot water and put it in my sleeping bag to ward off the chill. I focused on staying warm instead of worrying about the bears roaming the forest. I must have eventually drifted to sleep, but once the warmth wore off and I could evade wakefulness no longer, we unzipped the tent to an early-morning world blanketed softly in snow. As I tried to rub warmth back into my hands, I couldn't believe that, at home, just a few hundred miles south, the temperatures were sweltering.

When we hiked back down into the valley, the wind abated and the skies began to clear. We drove along the Icefields Parkway and my breath was caught in my throat the entire time: lakes bluer than you could imagine, framed by glaciers towering jaggedly above; wispy fog hanging gently over the evergreen forests; windy roads that reveal sights more beautiful with each curve. What do you do with yourself when you are faced with scenes more wondrous than you could ever conjure up in your head?

I am back in Oklahoma now, and though it all seems like a dream, the smell of smoke still lingers in my clothes and in my hair. My confused state of mind is certainly no surprise: Banff National Park is the sort of place that feels like a dreamland. I can only hope this is not my last visit.

Checking out the view at Bow Lake

Morning view at aforementioned campsite

The clouds cleared just enough in the morning to see the tips of the mountains.

It was still green back in the valley.

With my love at beautiful Moraine Lake

Jacob, Hilary, and Chad admiring Athabasca Glacier

Yours truly cheesin' on a glacier

Overlooking the Icefields Parkway