Lessons in Colorado.

By: Jen Shoop

I spent most of the summers of my childhood in Colorado. That other, not-home place to which I returned every July during the most formative years of my life has shaped me in profound ways I am only now beginning to understand. In Colorado, I watched my father fly-fish for hours on the banks of the Roaring Fork. I learned many things about how to live well by observing him in this solitary pursuit: patience, the thoughtful cultivation of technique, comfort in one’s own company, the forbearance to try again after failure. I also learned to entertain myself while crouching on the banks in the shadow of the Aspens: I packed books and notebooks and toys, but I also improvised designs with rocks and flowers, leapt from boulder to boulder, poked around the trees and water.

My father had a shorter temper back then (sorry, Dad, but you did) thanks to a high-stress, high-profile law career and five young children at home, but the mountain air unspooled him. When I think of my Dad, I often think of him happily traipsing down Ute trail in bermuda shorts and black circular sunglasses, his fishing net jostling on his back behind him, a look of open bemusement on his face. He was baldly enamored of the Rockies and the crystalline water of the streams and the whistling silver Aspen trees, and I learned from his open-hearted proclamations of joy that it was good and right to praise nature in its presence. I also learned that nature could be a tonic, could stand as a counterbalance against or cure from the tremendous grind of adult life.

I am realizing, as I write today, that I got a lot of my father during those summers in Aspen. He worked hard, long hours during the rest of the year, but in Aspen, he was on true sabbatical. I can’t recall him doing any work while we were there; he was available to me in ways he wasn’t at home. And so those summers gave me my dad, and the many wisdoms that he carries with him and seems to share so easily, off-handedly, almost without thought. There are about two thousand I could cite but the one that seems to leap onto my page today: I was behind the wheel, and I made a snarky comment about a biker that was driving erratically through auto traffic, and my Dad said — not harshly, almost conversationally — “Don’t ever take a biker lightly. If you hit a biker, it will be the worst day of your life. You’ll never get over it.” To this day, I think of him whenever I pass a biker, and I realize what he was really saying was: “Take tremendous care with the people around you.” That is my Dad: primum non nocere. Do no harm. Give people space, a wide berth.

My one Colorado learning that is untethered from my Dad has to do with the sensation of standing at the crest of a mountain by myself. Even when I was with my siblings or parents, I felt like the last person on earth. I was standing on top of the world, light-headed from the altitude and the modest victory of making it to the summit, and the air was both thin and strident. It was a pleasant kind of vertigo: I recall feeling simultaneously solitary and expansive, a tiny tree in a forest and equally the last one standing. In those moments, I witnessed both my smallness and my wild possibility. I felt myself expand into and contract from the blue air around me. I was everything and nothing.

I think about that sensation when I need to get a grip, and it’s easiest to channel when I’m outside, even if I’m not standing amidst the majesty of the Rockies. It is healthful, I think, to dissolve yourself in this way: to fold into the world, to erase the heaviness of your gait, to remember that you are just eyes and a heart like any other creature who belongs to this earth. Paradoxically, it is that sensation of smallness that restores to me my own potential:

That I am here as I should be,

Living out my one chance in this place,

And that I must “walk slowly and bow often,” as Mary Oliver put it,

But also make something of myself: if not a flame, then a surface to project light.


+A deeper look at what fly-fishing taught me about writing.

+During our summers there, we would occasionally attend Sunday Mass at a remote monastery by Snowmass. The services were achingly beautiful. I wrote about them here.

+My Dad has a lot of great advice, but here is one of my favorites: “You’re gonna love it.” I know many of you Magpies have been repeating this to yourselves on the precipice of something new.

Shopping Break.

+This polka dot dress is a total classic. It’s giving Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. So elegant. Imagine with kitten heels like these.

+Just ordered a set of these scallop-trim towels.

+Very Prada-inspired mesh woven bag available for under $30. (See the real Prada one here.)

+Currently obsessing over everything from Alix of Bohemia. Love this top, this dress, and these pants! Truly the prettiest pieces.

+My flower pendant necklace arrived and I’m obsessed. It is going to be so fun to layer all summer long. You can get the look for less with this.

+I just recently discovered the brand St. Roche and they have so many gorgeous eyelet pieces — I’m drawn to this strapless dress, these shorts, and this LBD.

+I keep thinking about these Gucci kitten heels. Can’t decide if I prefer those are the Diors!

+This under-$100 maxi dress reminds me a lot of my Mille dress I’ve been wearing around the clock. My ideal writing dress.

+Did you get anything from the Sephora sale? I shared some favorite beauty buys for spring here, some of which are available at Sephora, and some of which aren’t, but I did buy this cleanser and this cheek color from Sephora.

+In that beauty post, I wrote about wanting a big travel cosmetics kit that can actually fit everything in one place. One other option I came across recently: this clear style. Look at how big it is and with such thoughtful compartments? Also nice that it’s clear so you can find everything easily.

+Having spent a week of last summer at the beach, it is really nice to have a covered area for your little ones. This pop up tent is clever. Could be used wherever, even if camping, on beach, etc.

+This eyelet-trim caftan from H&M is incredible! So chic with a pair of simple leather sandals.

+Love this little tennis skirt with the bright grosgrain trim.

+This enormous silicone painting mat would be clever for little children undertaking an art project.

+Love this engraveable heart necklace. So gorgeous!

+Cute swim trunks for your man!

+Love this little jewelry box.

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8 thoughts on “Lessons in Colorado.

  1. I grew up in Colorado (my parents still live there, bouncing between Boulder and Breck) and I always love your writing on what a special place it is. Rocky mountain magic! Also funny to think that as a kid growing up in Boulder I was obsessed with the idea of life on the East Coast and wanted nothing more than to have grown up in Boston (a la Beacon Street Girls, the Sarah Dessen books) or Bethesda (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) or Manhattan (Gossip girl) and bolted there after graduation. I came back west after college. You either come back or constantly battle a yearning for it — I hear that in your writing! It’s been one of the most complicated and meaningful push/pulls of my life.

    1. This is SO interesting! I remember you writing about this and specifically wanting to participate in the East Coast prep school scene (if I recall correctly). I guess the grass is always greener? Or…?


      1. YES haha great memory!! All I wanted in my teenage years was to be shipped away to prep school. When I arrived for college at Villanova I realized how different I was — they could smell a rat, I couldn’t figure out how to fit in/who I wanted to be. Maybe just teenage angst and rebellion and attempt to individuate myself from my peers and family? Who knows! It was certainly a mystery to my parents, ha.

        1. Aw – I think my teenage years were similar but less focused on one vision of who I wanted to be. I was just trying on lots of versions…


  2. I’m visiting CO for the first time this MDW (besides the airport) on a trip with my college bffs to Breckenridge! Excited to hike (hopefully) and experience CO.

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