The potato is to Idaho as the wind is to Wyoming.
Actually, that’s not true. The Idaho potato is the way we Idahoans trick people into thinking there’s nothing to this state except miles and miles of potato crops, stretching forth to the horizon and beyond when in fact, this is one of the wildest, most mountainous states in the Union (seriously, we lay claim to the largest, roadless wilderness area in the lower 48 states) . The potato farming misconception helps us keep the population down in our state which makes for uncrowed wild spaces which is what most Idahoans truly live for. Tricked you, didn’t we! You can think about our secret wild spaces while you nibble on your Five Guys french frys this week. Spud-aluia! But I digress.
It is windy in Wyoming. Wyoming is made infamous by a gnarly breeze.
It is windy in Idaho, too, but over on the high plains and high desert flats of Wyoming where there are no mountain breaks to bust up gale force winds; the air gathers strength and it simply blows, unceasingly.
Take a deep breath right now, hold it in for a moment, now blow it out steadily with as much pressure as you can muster. How long does your exhalation last? Five seconds? Seven seconds if you have exceptional lung capacity? Imagine if you could sustain a strong exhalation for an extended period of time, say a week or a month. Now imagine you are the size of God, exhaling your wild breath across an entire state, scrubbing the sagebrush, scouring the high prairie, tearing lonesome trees up by their roots.
That is the Wyoming wind. God is bent over the state blowing His eternal exhalation across the land there; it tears at the white tufted flanks of the pronghorn as they stand with their backs to it, spooks the wild horses, causes ranch wives to curse the fact that their hair always looks scruffy and unshackled. No hairspray on earth can hold up to that kind of wind unless it is made of concrete and even then, it is slowly worn away.
Wyoming is the kind of place I love: unshackled, open, geographically diverse, spacious, wild, dry, breezy, rumpled, high, empty. It scowls with storms in the winter months, bakes like a convection oven in the summer months. It creeps with pronghorn, elk, bighorns, mule deer and of course, the courageous and tenacious mustang. I have seen moose in Wyoming and not while in the Teton area, I mean over in Wyoming. I looked out the windows as I drove across the high prairie where the ground was rolling green and wavering in the gale, I checked the altitude on my GPS system and it read 7204ft! Incredible!
Wyoming is divine.
Fact: I have never traveled to Wyoming and not seen wild horses. I am not sure if this is normal, if I simply have an eye for wildlife or if I am mustang charmed. I hope I am mustang charmed.
On this trip, between Rawlins and Laramie, while the sun was falling down into night, I parked the truck out on a lonely stretch of two track, in a tawny segment of BLM land where I had spied a mustang band and pronghorn herd from the highway. I crept about in the sage, sat down, and did my watching, felt the red of the sun on my face, stretched my legs and back. The way wild things are seems so normal to me. As I sat watching, the wind blew my hair in my eyes. I shook my mane. I felt the dust begin to cling to my skin and the perfume stink of sage stained my jeans and hands. I ceased to be the girl sitting and watching the wild ones and grew into something else. It was a small tragedy to hop in my truck and head down the highway again. I took with me the memories of a lone mustang eating the Wyoming sun and two curious antelope colts, all legs and wind and white rump.
I stopped to fill the truck with diesel at a huge truck stop somewhere out in the middle of the darkness around 11PM. I managed to lock my keys in my truck and had to ask a long armed cowboy to reach in through a partially open window to pop the lock for me. He did.
“Gee, hun. Glad to help.“
Then, I was recognized and spent a good 45 minutes chatting and sharing with a sweet couple living out of a refurbished Winnebago (hi guys!). Being recognized as The Noisy Plume in random places is always kind of hilarious and strange. For me, I’m meeting strangers. For the strangers, they’re meeting someone they kind of know. It takes a little grace to strip the situation of awkwardness and right the scales so the knowingness is balanced. I tend to ask a lot of questions of anyone I meet, which is a good social habit to have in any situation, but especially good when you get to meet strangers who already know parts of you.
I watered Tater. Had a snack. Watered myself. Drove on. Fell into that night time driving rhythm that requires glasses, music with a good beat and avoidance of swerving semi-trailers. I pulled into Laramie, hugged and kissed my sister hello, hugged my friends, washed my face and settled into bed.
Let me tell you about Cheyenne. It’s my kind of little interior West city. Charming. The old town area is laid with red brick and stone, studded with old hotels, coffee shops, Western stores and a beautiful train station. There is also the Capital building which is tall and golden domed in the heart of downtown — shining white like a beacon of political hope and surrounded by gardens, lush parks, gracious elms leaning in the sun the way gracious elms tend to. It’s beautiful! It’s a beautiful old town. We watched the Frontier Days Parade and it was nothing short of spectacular. I love an American parade, it’s a glorious thing. This one had no less than three incredible marching bands, two marching fife bands, a fiddling band (pulled by horse and wagon — and sounding superb), mounted police, a heavenly host of antique and vintage wagons, carts, buggies, coaches and so on and so forth pulled by magnificent horse, draft horse and mule teams and all the humans situated inside were in period costume. IT WAS FANTASTIC!!! I clapped and cheered for every person and horse that went by, avidly pointed out my favorites, and generally got carried away. In return, many of those parade people shouted out comments about Tater Tot who was magnificent that day and calmly laying in the shade beside me on the sidewalk curb. The only moment he got rowdy is when someone shot off a canon a few times and he started bounding around looking for something to retrieve with his ears perked up and that crazy bird dog hunting look in his eyes. Poor thing.
I had to tell him “No bird.”
And he was heartbroken.
The parade, oh Cheyenne, well done. Well done. My sister and I raved about it for days.
Then there were four girls in a big truck headed for a rodeo which is kind of a special thing, you know? We were in dresses and boots and cute looking all around. There was a Pow Wow, a little fair grounds shopping, the weird carnival night life that surrounds the rides, Lady Antebellum in the stadium, a massage chair that I did not want to get out of, a host of incredibly talented cowboys and cowgirls competing on horseback. Boy did we cheer. It was great.
My sister and I left Cheyenne and went teardropping across Wyoming beginning with scrambling and camping at Vedauwoo which is comparable to Idaho’s City of Rocks — an area rising up in wonderful heaps of granitic rubble against a wide skys. We went to the tops of things, watched the setting sun, laughed a lot, sipped gin and tonics, declined marijuana from a traveling band of hairy bongo drummers, exclaimed at the magnificence of the stars, talked about men, laughed a lot and then fell asleep and did it all again the next day.
Wyoming unfolded before us in its full and glorious dimension beneath a hot summer sun and the mad raking of the wind. We drove into space, we camped beneath cliffs, we washed our hair in waterfalls, we took a safari through a cemetery to scope out some pretty bucks and spotted fawns, ate Thai food, swerved around highway deer, set up camp again, slurped soup, marveled at the world around us, loved the rain and cherished our sisterhood.
It was the Tetons that eventually split us in two, the Tetons do that, you know; cut things into halves, divide the low from the high — the heavens from the earth, shred storm systems into quintuplet anvil clouds, slice ropes, dice swaths of land into twin states.
At the Tetons, I headed South to Jackson and Toby wound herself North to Yellowstone, Bozeman and eventually home to Saskatoon. I already miss her, sisters make the world go round and create a sort of home for one another. Seeing my sisters is like coming to roost in the nest of their hearts. Who knows me better than my sisters — my inherent faults, the way I have changed over the years, the way adulthood has carved away at me and built me up, my unspoken griefs, my celebrated life victories. There’s a language between sisters, that cannot be defined by the world, a private and untranslatable connection, a thing that taps deeper than the cottonwood root, something ageless and everlasting. I’m always so glad that I’ve got mine and that they’ve got me.Wyoming, I already miss you. You carefully own a part of me, be well until next time.