A snow blizzards outside my window and I pull up my blind to watch the frantic flakes. It is the middle of the night or the earliest hours of the morning and I have been crying instead of sleeping. Between the sobs, I find myself utterly awake, eyes sore and mind needing a task to put it at ease.

Back in a year smelling of faint collegiate nostalgia, I found myself restless in a dorm room. There I was, lying awake in bed as I neared the end of a mountain climb, leaning against my boulder and gasping for air. All I could see was the mountain of work ahead of me, not how far I had climbed. And I had so, so much work left to do. It gurgled in my stomach, making me rotate in bed like an indecisive marshmallow spinning over the fire, never staying long enough to toast any which side. Nothing was comfortable– especially not my thoughts, fresh off a break-up and rebound I was better off thinking about the work I had to do. There was no use. I could not sleep. Not with the work I had ahead of me. Instead, I crawled out of my bed, slipped on some sneakers and strolled over to Pleasants. I lived catty-corner from this idyllic columned Virginian building, with its large and unscreened windows.  It was home to the social sciences, my small but beloved history department chief among them. Thanks to the computer lab, the building was open 24/7, the hallway lights on motion detectors and lighting up as I walked the building. I took the wide staircase up to the third floor and into the student lounge, with its large wooden bookshelves and cabinets. There in the corner cabinet with a note claiming ownership was my stash of thesis books. I stacked them all in my arms. Well-practiced at carrying too many books at once, I supported each stack with each arm leaning the books back against my body. I waddled them down the stairs, out under the column passageway and then padded back up the stairs into my room. With the books now around me, the tools I needed to finish my work at my fingertips, I finally fell asleep.

thesis books
Pictured are the books and microfilm copies I used to write my undergraduate thesis in history, “The Slave and the Sabbath”

Unfortunately, I do not have a magic stack of books to fetch and help me find rest right now. While my thoughts just as uninviting as that night in my dorm and my romantic situation is worse for wear, there is always the old reliable: work, the best kind of distraction for a worried mind and wearied heart. Thankfully, I do have some work to occupy my mind. I am in pursuit of several projects on Wyoming History, mostly concerning an indomitable woman who shaped Wyoming, Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard.

Hebard Portrait
Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard Portrait,             SUB NEG 2029 Wyoming State Archives, Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources

Through Hebard, I am working on the Wyoming State Flag with public presentations, a book-in-progress, and a campaign to honor the designer, Verna Keays Keyes. Dr. Hebard did more than give Wyoming her flag, she also fought for equality and utilized networks of women to accomplish policy change, spread naturalization programs, and to raise money for the war effort in WWI. She was a noted orator and often invited to campaign for women’s suffrage out east, giving moving speeches about the success of suffrage in Wyoming and its necessity on the national stage. In Wyoming, she marked the western trails, collected testimony from early Wyoming settlers, and wrote romanticized books about pioneers. She also collected testimony from Shoshone people and wrote equally romanticized books about Chief Washakie and Sacajewa. Hebard dominated the early years of the University of Wyoming and transformed the state through her work with libraries. This is just a fraction, an incomplete summary of a woman with endless avenues to research.

I try to remind myself that it took her a lifetime and to slow and steady it to my lofty goals. Maybe in my sleepless nights, I can catch up to her.

Meanwhile, the wind knocks the trees into my house and slaps the snow against the window sounding like sand and probably stinging the same. I see the mountain ahead of me, not how far I have climbed to get to these particular peaks. Yes, another adventure awaits me in those snowy fog draped caps, more knowledge to discover and puzzles to sleuth together.

One thought on “Sleepless

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