We got to talk on the phone for the first time in a month on my birthday. Thanks for calling! I get so excited to see the 13-digit satellite phone number pop up. Our lives felt so starkly different in that moment—you on the Southern Ice Field in Patagonia and me wearing a sundress, eating chocolate strawberries and drinking a yellow beer in the desert. I’d just come back from a day of climbing on Mount Lemmon and had wonderfully tired forearms and giddiness about celebrating my birthday with my Tucson family. I had a hard time hearing you with how windy it was in Chile, even from the shelter of your tent.

I want you to know I’ve been thinking of you and I miss you. Luckily I get reminders that you’re with me even when we can’t talk for two months. Here are five things in my life that keep you present when we’re in different hemispheres.

1. Your sleeping pad. I love your 1988 green Therm-A-Rest. I think it “packs down” to the size of a bed pillow and there’s almost more Seamgrip repairing holes than there is nylon of the mattress. Remember that time we were going to Indian Creek and I said I didn’t need a sleeping pad? That I’d be fine on only the plywood bed of the truck? You were skeptical and generous and brought it “just in case.” After the first night I had my tail between my legs, asking if “you happened to bring two mattresses.” Thank you. You wrote your avalanche class for teaching ski courses on it. Thanks to you, I can study the avalanche awareness triangle and slope evaluation acronym each time I fall asleep on a rock climbing trip.


2. Sal. Your truck. Our truck. Sal takes care of me when you’re gone and I her. She’s looking proud right now on freshly rotated tires after a Teton Pass to Joshua Tree to Cochise to Lander road trip. I guess she’s always proud, standing in her 2004 Toyota Tacoma glory with the perfect pullout wooden drawer and secret storage compartment and covered cab for sleeping. I haven’t changed the oil yet, but I’ll do that after this next climbing trip in the desert. Maybe I’ll be brave enough to try changing it myself this time.

3. Trout. Most climbers love living in Lander, Wyoming, for the year-round sport climbing. In the summer, we get to try hard in the foothills of the Wind River Range at Wild Iris and in the winter (because of an inversion and south-facing wall) we get to climb in Sinks Canyon in tank tops. But you, I suspect, love living in Lander because of the trout. Nearly every day you pull on pockets in Sinks Canyon, you insist on stopping to look at the feeding pool full of 12-pound brown and rainbow trout. You marvel at them like a child seeing snow for the first time. When I jokingly suggested we get married there, your eyes lit up as you exclaimed “Why not?!” Your sister painted a picture of you holding a cutthroat trout that now sits on our bookshelf. Even though I visit the fat trout far less often without you in town, please know that I remember them and you thanks to the watercolor.

4. Our curtains. We’re renting a house now that’s our very own. It feels exceptionally grown up and luxurious, especially after years of calling the truck or my sister’s basement or friends’ couches home. I’m grateful that it’s furnished, so we can keep our personal kitchen appliances to the cast iron, French press, and bialetti (because coffee). Every evening when I pull our makeshift curtains shut, made of your 2014 International Climbers’ Festival t-shirt and my favorite cotton dress for rest days in Cochise Stronghold, I think of you. I appreciate your commitment to simple living and ingenuity in making free curtains out of clothing connected to memories.

5. Letters on the backs of maps. I am verbose and emotional and wear my heart on my sleeve. I told you that I loved you three days after kissing you and told you I wanted to marry you after only three months. All of the letters filling the truck tell the same story. I love that you’ve kept them all. And that when I went under the bench in the backseat to find jumper cables I had to swim through at least 30 letters from me to you over the years. Your letters to me tell the same narrative, only in succinct, elegant prose. Honest, playful, and straightforward, just like you. The one you wrote to me on a topographic map from a glacier in New Zealand last year sits on my desk. I read it this morning before I started to write, and my watery eyes are making it hard to see the computer screen. Only 37 more days until we talk again, but who’s counting. I guess I’ll have to keep writing lists and letters until then.

Photo by Bernd Thaller

Kathryn Montana Sall is a freelance writer, artist, and educator living in Lander, Wyoming. kathrynmontana.com
Kathryn Montana Sall is a freelance writer, artist, and educator living in Lander, Wyoming. kathrynmontana.com

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