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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back to Laramie

The first snowfall, for me, has always marked a season of forgetting.  The snow wipes the landscape clean, covering each groove and bump of topography with the same agnostic blanket of white.  The snow hides the comforting marks of law and order painted on the roads and masks the threshold between surfaces, lawn, sidewalk, street, or gravel only discernible by the press of your boot when it strays off the path and into the pale.

As we peer through the falling snow, we are no longer allowed a context to know where we have been or where we are going next; all it offers us is the trace of where we have been just a few steps before and the nagging suspicion we're actually just walking in circles.   We cannot turn back, retrace our steps in this season of forgetting, this season of snow.  In seasons like this, we can no longer look without to make the world make sense; instead we have turn our gaze within, retreat into the den of our minds for introspection until the storm breaks.  Perhaps that's the reason I have loved the snow all these years: this season of forgetting is a good excuse to look within and explore a different landscape.   

 I came back to Laramie a couple of days ago, but this is the first snowfall I've seen since I arrived.  In an attempt to beat the storm front threatening to crawl through the Shirley Basin, I left for here two days early to stay with my brother Coyote.  I haven't seen him in six months.  He's gained some weight and is doing okay, but I've seen him look better.  Coyote abandoned the lease on his old den behind somebody's garage in west Laramie for a different apartment just south of the campus, but that doesn't mean he's in a nicer place.  His new digs have the peeling plaster and musty smell of a flophouse, but, hey, at least he has a bed now-- and at least I can wear flip-flops in the shower while I'm his guest.  As I've watched Coyote over the last few days, he seems to be wrapped in the same forgetful snow as the rest of Laramie; after a raft of health problems, he cut his semester of school short and has to wait before he can apply for more college funding in the fall.  I look at his woes and feel helpless to do anything: he needs a secure income.  He needs to eat more protein.  He needs to stop concealing whatever-it-is that makes his hide twitch with fright when I look him in the eye. I boil with frustration, but I can't see through the static field of this snow around us.  Whatever it is he needs, I can't help him find it.   

For a different group of students I see downtown, the snow allows a different kind of forgetting.   At the bar and grill across Grand Avenue, a rambunctious group of coeds were doing "train shots" every time they hear the rails rumble just outside their window.  (At that rate, they're not going to remember anything by morning when their classes start.)  For them, the snow's amnesia brings no need to withdraw into the self; they know their present circumstances, the warmth of liquor in their bellies and the press of friends on their shoulders, and for the present, that's enough. 

Forgetting has come to community as well, but for the town it comes in different forms.  According to yesterday's Boomerang, the definition of marriage statute which failed in the Wyoming legislature in 2008 will be resurrected for a new vote in the upcoming session.  That didn't take too long, unfortunately, and I'm disappointed.  On the bright side, Dr. Connolly is still in there to lobby against it, and hopefully we can expect a similar result as the "no" vote on the statute which she witnessed two years ago.  It's a shame that this particular bill didn't die and get covered up in the snow. 

And, on another ambivalent note, it seems that yet one more bar has succumbed to the Fireside curse.  A couple of different establishments have sprouted up and died at the old Fireside in the last ten years, but now it seems that the doors are closed for good.  A "For Sale" sign sits in the window of the old building, and the once-prominent vintage sign jutting up from the roof has been removed, too.  That sign may have been repainted, but it was the last recognizable vestige of the old Fireside and now it's gone.  Nor will this building ever likely be a bar again; Coyote told me that they sold the state liquor license from the old Fireside property to Wal-Mart.  

But not all forgetting in the cold midwinter is permanent, damaging or sad-- just melancholy.  For instance:

Hiding somewhere under that snowdrift is Matt Shepard's memorial bench.  Every winter, the students must forsake the benches in Prexy's pasture and around A&S for a warmer places to study, and for a time the snow makes them forget that the benches were ever there.  When the snow melts and all are ready for spring, however, the students will seek this place out, as they have for the last couple years, to feel the warmth of the sun on their faces again.  The snow can't really make anybody forget-- not forever, at least, and not unwillingly...

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