When I first met Karen Colclough, I wrote a few sentences documenting the occasion:
“My roommates turned out to be more than I could have hoped for … The night I arrived they took me out for a couple of beers at the Brew Pub, located only two blocks away – dangerously good beer, dangerously close to home.”
I had just driven more than 3,000 – just me and my dog – through the freeze of winter. I had left my home in Alaska to teach ski school in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I came for the skiing; I knew nobody. I had found a place to live through a friend of a friend of a friend.
Karen, along with fellow roommates Aaron and Bart, welcomed me to my new home in Jackson Hole.
In the following weeks – and years – the Brew Pub would become a 425 ritual. (Our house address was 425). At the end of a long day one or the other of us would cock our head to the side and ask, “Brew Pub?” The tone was always less of a question and more of a pronouncement. And off we would trot to debrief the day and tell ridiculous stories.
Karen and I bonded effortlessly. We immediately noticed that our food shopping habits were nearly identical. From this observation grew to the tradition of making shared meals. Our favorites included: homemade pizza, veggie sushi rolls and pesto pasta.
Karen’s mantra was “Say yes to opportunity.” She considered herself to be “solar powered.”
She relished exploring obscure peaks and valleys. She loved linking multiple spots together into one day. And she was always good humored when excursions took unexpected twists, which with Karen tended to happen with surprising frequency.
Over the years Karen and I have shared many adventures, but it’s the misadventures that now make me smile the most. This is most likely because we were never once in any real danger. When it got dark, we always had headlamps. When we got disoriented, we always had a compass. When we got cold, we always had extra layers and chocolate.
Once, on the side of Sleeping Indian, as we fought off hypothermia from a full-on blizzard, in November, I remember remarking to Karen, “Few people can actually say they need chocolate.” In that moment, the calories we were consuming were vital to keeping our energy and body temperature up.
Another poignant memory: Starting a bike and ski trip through Grand Teton National Park at 5 p.m. in the afternoon. We biked out to and skied across Jenny Lake. We laughed deeply as we bushwhacked through dense forest, and then realized it could have been avoided by entering the lake via the clearing near the boat ramp. We watched the moon rise over the Tetons while sharing a meatball sandwich. Then we returned the way we came by the light of headlamp.
When we got back to the car, we noticed the parking lot was empty. We reveled in having one of America’s most iconic places completely to ourselves.
On another day, the siren song of fresh powder led us deep into the Burbank Creek labyrinth. I distinctly remember Karen’s grace and natural comfort in the outdoors, as we navigated down the side of frozen waterfalls and over snow bridges created by fallen logs. We weren’t nervous because we had a compass, and we knew we were headed north. Eventually, we would hit Highway 22. It wasn’t a matter of if; it was a matter of when.
And, eventually we did hit Highway 22, several miles down from where our car was parked. We walked along the road to a nearby weigh station. There, an individual was weighing a trailer full of scrap metal. We asked for a ride back to our car. Sure, he said, but first he needed to sell the scrap metal to the person who had just pulled up in another car. So, we sat and watched this peculiar transaction, all the while quite mindful of the fact that Karen would be increasingly late to a meeting at church to select its next pastor.
Karen had a reputation for being late. As much as it would annoy all of us, it was also what made Karen beautiful. She was always so present in the moment, so present with the people whom she was with, she’d simply lose track of the time. And the fact was that all of us were accomplices to her being late.
After I got married, had a baby, and moved “over the hill” from Jackson to Victor, our adventures became less frequent, but no less rich.
Karen was there for my daughter’s first camping trip. She saved the day by having an extra sleeping bag, because, yes, this new mama had brought everything including the kitchen sink, but forgot a sleeping bag.
Last summer, we took it a step further, introducing my daughter to the “ways of Amy and Karen” with a bikerafting trip. We left from my house in Victor, towing the Chariot behind my bike. My daughter sat inside, perched next to two packrafts. We pedaled toward Teton River.
Despite a map, a cell phone and even a stop at a nearby fishing lodge, we completely missed our intended destination and ended up at a put-in far downstream. We called my husband to gauge his willingness to pick us up at the end of the day; he agreed. We then inflated our packrafts for a gentle paddle past abundant wildlife. My daughter slept soundly between my legs. Karen and I talked.
With Karen, the conversations were always heart to heart. She came with no pretenses and left with no judgment. She cared deeply for her friends, the natural environment and her work with people with disabilities.
She made magnificent muffins chocked full of healthy ingredients. She substituted apple sauce for butter and maple syrup for sugar. She used almond milk, pumpkin, berries and oats. Proudly, dubbing herself the “Muffin Fairy,” she’d then bike around town leaving muffins on friends’ door steps and bringing extras for fuel on the trail.
I’ve been surprisingly peaceful about Karen’s passing, even as brutal and needless as it was. Maybe it’s because I know that she “got it.” I believe that we’re all here on earth to grow in our love for each other and our love for the divine. Karen embodied this love in droves.
But, I tell ya what, I miss her. We all miss her.
The moment I felt it deepest was while watching the slideshow shown at her memorial. Why was I there watching this eulogy? Why had her infectious laugh become but a memory? What about her family? Her friends?
But then, the words of the Tom Petty song playing with the photos broke through the grief:
You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea …
Far away from your trouble and worry
You belong somewhere you feel free