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My Kind of Wyoming

There is a rawness here.  A kind of un-forgetting.  Where forgetting can mean the difference between life and death.  A brilliant clear day of 60 degrees can suddenly turn into a snowstorm at 20 below.   The crackling of dry leaves can mean a grizzly and her cubs around the corner.   Your car breaks down on a lonely dirt road where no one travels for days at a time.

Vulnerability is the tenure of existence.  No amount of pretense or camouflage can make up for the visibility of that fundamental truth.  The sharp edge of living with that awareness draws the psyche into deeper places.  There is no hiding from the existential quandary of our aloneness.Changing Aspens after a October snowstorm

Elk in Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

Dawn in Yellowstone

In a state as large as 97,000 sq. miles in area but with only a little over  600,000 people, this is the unspoken understanding people live with day by day.  You try and be prepared, but the truth is we are all dependent .  Rugged independence may be what is imagined by those passing through, fueled by the cowboy Hollywood image; one has to live here to know the extent of actual interdependence.

You may not care for your neighbors’ politics or drinking problem, but he’ll sure as hell be there for you when you’re broke down on the road or lost in a snowstorm.  A whole town will pitch in with a raffle or a fundraiser if you need medical care you can’t afford.  Total strangers do the unheard-of to help one another.  A young man from back east was lost in our area while hiking the cliffs.  One of my neighbors looked for him for over two years until he finally gave up.   A friend of mine risked his life to save a drowning stranger trapped on a frozen river, in an upturned truck, that he encountered while driving along a lonesome highway.Red River Canyon, Lander

The intense quiet and overwhelming geography make long gaps in a conversation comfortable, even necessary.   It is as if the Human is subsumed by the largeness of the landscape.   I stop to say hello to a neighbor.  Standing in the dirt driveway by the fenced meadow, large cumulus clouds pass over.   The sky turns brilliant colors as the day comes to a close.  We pause to watch .  There is a rightness to it, as if in church—here, we are in church.  It is the Land.Big Horn Canyon

Thoughts are telegraphed rather than spoken.   The land itself starts to breath you, in and out.  The only forgetting is what comes with leaving behind the busyness, the necessities of ‘thinking to know’ and ‘needing to know’.  The rhythm of the natural world is meditation,  awareness,  alertness.  That seems to be the nature of consciousness for it is the key to survival.Buffalo in Lamar Valley

People here watch game.  They read the weather by the movement of the deer or the seasonal shifts of the birds.  They remember a year by the large population of Unita Ground Squirrels or the overwhelming plague of grasshoppers.  Time is punctuated by rare sightings–of a wolf making a kill, a mountain lion stalking a deer, the buffalo skull found by the river.Wild Horse in Big Horns

The art of storytelling is alive, well, and resuscitated.  There are stories of breaking horses, of rodeo riding, of guiding and ranching.  The time the tourist at Yellowstone was trying to push a Grizzly into the back of his station wagon to ‘bring him home’.  The 47″ trout caught ice fishing in ’62 down at New Fork Lakes.   The 9 cords of wood “I tried to sell ’em cheap” with the house, but that fellow said “I’m putting in electric heat”, and then it got 30 below in Pinedale, the electricity went off, and he had to haul his whole family to a motel in town.  Those are the abbreviated versions.  The embellished keep you captive.

Gretel Ehrlich, in beautiful prose that reflects her love affair with Wyoming, eloquently expresses it:

“…there is true vulnerability in evidence here.  Because these men work with animals, not machines or numbers, because they live outside in landscapes of torrential beauty, because they are confined to a place and a routine embellished with awesome variables, because calves die in the arms that pulled others into life, because they go to the mountains as if on a pilgrimage to find out what makes a herd of elk tick, their strength is also a softness, their toughness, a rare delicacy.” (The Solace of Open Spaces)

This is my kind of place.  This is Wyoming.Backpacking in the Beartooths

3 Responses

  1. Nice essay, it was reminiscent of Annie Proulx’s take on Wyomin’. As you say, we’re all dependent.


  2. Beautifully written. You inspire me in this new venture, blogging.


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