My Marblehead First Time: Finding solitude and serenity in Steer Swamp and yoga

There are vast stretches of Wyoming where you go days without encountering another person. The solitude becomes the very reason to venture there. I’ve been going up into the mountains in Medicine Bow National Forest since before I could walk, and I took my own kids there from the same age. Every time I came down off the mountain back to civilization into cell phone service and my phone exploded with notifications, it felt like being wrenched from paradise. 

Court Merrigan

Now I live in the Northeast, where civilization stretches west for days from the deep green sea. More people pass by my house in one afternoon than I might see in Wyoming in a solid month, and every time I drive down Route 1A I share the road with roughly Wyoming’s entire population. By way of comparison, the population density of Marblehead is 4,656 souls per square mile. The population density of Goshen County, Wyoming? Six. (Not a typo). 

So imagine my surprise when the other day I found myself all alone in Steer Swamp. 

Now, the sign for Steer Swamp off Beacon Street indicates the area comprises 48 acres. I’ll admit my inner hiking snob scoffed just a touch. Medicine Bow National Forest encompasses 1.1 million acres. (That makes 88 Marbleheads, for those of you counting at home.) I expected the experience to be something like a stroll through a public park. Some trees, some picnickers. Carefully tended grass.  

Well, friends, when I’m wrong, I’m wrong. Within moments of stepping on the trail the street sounds vanished, replaced by birdsong and shifting branches. I followed the meticulously maintained trail down to a pond that would not have been out of place in a vaster wilderness. Brooks babbled underfoot. The trees were mature and healthy. This is a credit to the fine folks of the Marblehead Conservancy, who do the hard work of keeping our local natural spaces natural. I was particularly impressed by the wood chipping along the trails that prevents erosion and ruts.

 A perfectly groomed path in Steer Swamp.

Hard to believe, but I didn’t encounter another person during the hour that I spent traversing the trails. Talk about a truly unexpected surprise. My professional life centers on people and relationships, and I embrace the possibilities in every new person I’ve gotten to know here. Nonetheless, solitude matters too. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the feeling until I stood alone under that winter canopy.

But the day wasn’t done with me. That evening, I attended my first yoga class. 

About a year ago, my partner (she of the sea witches from my last column) asked if I’d like to join her daily hard-core fitness regimen. Just show up and hit “play” on the streaming video, she said, and she’d help coach me remotely, as she traveled for work and I was in Wyoming. The workouts would include yoga. At the time, I wore boots every day, owned farmland (still do), and drove a pickup truck. I was skeptical that yoga and I were a match. But darn sure she and I were, so I said yes. 

Now, I give my best effort to everything I do, but I am also somewhat less flexible than pig iron. You likely have a wrench in your garage that can touch its toes more easily than I can. Fortunately, my partner sticks with me as I sweat myself into clumsy approximations of yoga positions while she dives into a chaturanga with the grace of a dancer. 

Ever thoughtful, my partner thought I might like to try out a real yoga class with a live instructor, so she gifted me some yoga sessions down at The Yoga Loft for my birthday. She even promised to come with me. I do admit to some trepidation as I envisioned sleek pros pretzeling themselves into nirvana as I toppled over at the basics. But I’m nothing if not game. I figured I could hang at the rear while my partner made us both look good.  

But here again I was surprised! The lights were dim, the music was soft and my classmates were folks just like me. No one seemed to mind my struggles. An hour is a long time for me to do yoga, but the time flowed with ease as I basked in the calm of the collective effort. Much like the way the Marblehead Conservancy maintains the reservations, the Yoga Loft made the practice into something more than just a workout. 

The two of us walked out refreshed and determined to return, just as I will surely return to Steer Swamp. That’s the thing I’ve noticed about these Marblehead first-time experiences – I always want to come back for another round. Ask the Cranks. I’m now a regular with the group.

If you’ve got an idea, shoot me an email at or catch up with me on the Current Facebook page. Thanks to those who’ve reached out so far! I’ll be back soon with another edition of “My Marblehead First Time.” 

Wyoming transplant Court Merrigan is a new Marblehead resident. His column, “My Marblehead First Time,” appears regularly in the Current.

Court Merrigan
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Wyoming transplant Court Merrigan is a new Marblehead resident. His column “My Marblehead First Time” appears regularly in the Current.

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