Live like Karen Colclough, say yes to opportunity

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (10)

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 Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (12)

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (5)But above all else, Karen and I connected most through our kindred sense of adventure.

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.

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (7)

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (11)

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.

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (8)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 Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (6)

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (9)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.

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (2)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.

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (4)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.

Karen Colclough - Garage Grown Gear (3)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

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15 Comments on "Live like Karen Colclough, say yes to opportunity"

  1. Beautiful. Crying now. For you, for your friendship, and for joy of what she knew to love!
    What gorgeous photos too!!!

  2. Heartbreaking. What a beautiful tribute to your friend… and obviously a precious loss to the world. So sorry for you and all who loved her.

  3. beautifully written, by a beautiful person, about a beautiful life so well lived.

  4. I always ask myself…why? Why must something so horrible happen to such wonderful people. I get angry and sad all at the same time. She seemed like a wonderful person and friend who definitely “got it”. Wonderful tribute. Thanks for sharing with us!

  5. thank you for putting your thoughts into a beautifully written piece.

  6. Angie Meahan | April 28, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Reply

    You have been given a beautiful gift, in the sharing of Karens life. Here’s to peace.

  7. Amy,
    Thank you for sharing this…..I think knowing how much love Karen had in this life is comforting. I knew she was awesome….but what I knew was only a couple of facets of a truly amazing life. I think most that spent time with her knew that at her core she was someone special, thank you for conveying that so well.

  8. What a tribute. I never met her, but feel like I have a good sense of her extremely loving, adventurous spirit! May it live on in all she met, and those that meet her through words like these!

  9. So sorry for the loss of your friend. Wonderful stories of her life and accomplishments.

  10. Thank you Amy! I’m crying after reading this but am full of my own awesome memories of her. We are so lucky to have known her.

  11. Erin Klasen | May 1, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Reply

    I was grateful to come across this! Thanks so much for writing it. I think it captures her spirit so well – an article I will pass along to my family and friends. Thanks, Amy.

  12. Lea Marie Orr | May 2, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Reply

    Thank you Amy for putting your heart into words. I never met Karen , yet I cry every time I Iearn more and more about the absolutely amazing woman that she was. Those of you who share the joy of all these incredible memories also share the worst of the heartache . She influenced, by example , —– Live Like Karen —- is so well deserved. I hope to be a better person by having her philosophy of life influence mine. I will always keep her in my heart. Lea , Erin’s friend and Nathan’s mom.

  13. Amy, as your mother-in-law, my heart breaks for you and Cory. Moms want to protect and prevent hardship and woe. But your peace surrounding Karen’s passing is beautiful, and just what I would expect from you. Loving another remains in our hearts forever. I remember Karen. I knew, when I met and talked with her at your wedding BBQ and at a get together in your home a year or so ago, that she had a special presence. Reading about and learning more about your friend, knowing that you and she had wonderful adventures and memorable moments, makes my protective “mommy heart” quite, peaceful, joyful, and respectful of your wisdom and your insight. So much love Amy. What a beautiful tribute to your forever friend. Suzi

  14. Nancy Schenck | May 8, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Reply

    Amy, You have always been an amazing writer and every time I read this tribute to Karen that you wrote, I feel a deeper sense of love and trust and joy in how Karen touched and continues to touch you and all of us who knew her. Much love to all.

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