Wyo :: Notes From The Road

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For I have seen the wild horse and now belong to a higher cult of mortality.IMG_6866 IMG_6833

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.

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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.
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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.

Delightful.

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.
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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.

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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.IMG_7002

[Sisters, exactly as we are: she is the calm in the eye of the storm I create everywhere I go.]IMG_7073

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. IMG_7181 IMG_7219 IMG_7224IMG_7186

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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.IMG_7508IMG_7521IMG_7515IMG_7533Wyoming, I already miss you.  You carefully own a part of me, be well until next time.

Sunday Night

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[...brushed him for so long but could NOT get those spots off!]IMG_7695 IMG_7691 IMG_7679IMG_7703 IMG_7708IMG_7735IMG_7662I went to the barn with Jade tonight and we rode.  It was a perfect summer night under a beautiful sky, in the splaying arms of a cool night breeze with one of my best friends;  there were barn cats wrapped around my ankles and I had a grin plastered on my face the entire time.  Yup.  It was perfect like that.

Sometimes I don’t realize how badly I need my own horse until I am sitting on one, smelling those sweet old hay farts, neck reining, side passing, sitting a trot and rocking into a canter divine.  I’m ready.  I’m ready for my horse now.  I’ve been ready for ages.

My favorite thing to do horseback is drop the reins, put my arms in the air by my sides (not touching, but not totally relaxed); I close my eyes while allowing my hips to fall into perfect rhythm with the gait of my horse, I move my arms along with, as though I am walking — if you have ever ridden with me, I’ve shown you how to do this.  It feels like what it must feel like to be a centaur.

When I do it, I imagine I am a centaur walking up a mountain slope, step by step, steady and strong, serious and beautiful;  I am going to look at the stars to see what the future may hold.

Saint Amisk

IMG_7586IMG_7588Saint Amisk Necklace :: sterling and 14 karat gold

Patron Saint of the waterways –may your paddle and oars always be keen and bright, flashing with silver.

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Dip, dip and swing.

*Italicized lyrics borrowed from a Canadian folksong that every loon loving Canuck can sing along to.

*Amisk is the Cree word for beaver.

Winning

IMG_7569I’ve reached the point wherein I am very, very fire season tired.  I’ll get a second and third and fourth and fifth wind.  I always do.  But for the moment, I am tired and waiting on that breeze, that thing to loft my wilted feathers and carry me skyward.

I stayed in bed this morning until 10AM simply because I felt ill equipped to face the day, the week…the month.  This month and August were not supposed to be like this.  I was supposed to relish spacious living, room to roam the backcountry with my fly rod in hand and my dogs at my heels, daily ten mile runs, watering the gardens in the cool of 9PM while sipping a gin and tonic after a decent day of work…

That moment when life takes drastic turns in a thousand different directions is when we fire wives (and otherwise) prove our fortitude, when we prove what we are made of, as humans; I’m in the thick of a proving ground right now.  I feel undignified, savage, scrambling, scruffy, exhausted.  I told a friend today that I just have to keep on doing everything I’m doing because if I let everything come to rest, I’ll never get it all up in the air again.  That loss of momentum is such a killer.  I’m sure some of you can relate, fire wife or not.  I just keep telling myself, “Don’t stop.  The burden of it all will thin out eventually and then you’ll see the benefit of hard work.  Keep pushing through it all.  Fix what is broken.  Make what you can.  Feed yourself good food.  Relax as deeply as you can once the sun goes down.  Answer the emails with authentic joy.  Keep saying yes.”

I simply must keep it all up in the air, orbiting and swirling at lofty heights.  I’ll break a thousand fecund sweats keeping it all there, but the effort boasts a greater result than the alternative.

I made it into the studio around 4PM today.  I didn’t get much done, but I was there, I made it.  I fought the chaotic trajectory of the day with all my might and I won.  I’m going to do it again tomorrow and then the day after that, because in the summer, this what I do, I fight hard and I win.

The Office Above My House

Above my house there is an office space that operates on a first come first serve basis.  Which is to say, if you get there first, you get to use it for as long as you like to, and everyone who swings by (and no one ever swings by) can find a space of their own, elsewhere, on a different mountain peak.

I arrived by 4×4 around sunset the other night, just as a blood red forest fire sun was sinking through the clouds over the Snake River Plain.  I had the dogs with me (you can take your dogs to this office no matter how rowdy they are) and they galloped through indian paintbrush and fireweed hunting for marmots as I sat with a stone for a backrest, balanced my sketchbook on my knees and poured black ink over six pages, front and back.

I live, quite literally, on the very edge of one of the biggest cities in Idaho (there are about 50 000 humans in Pocatello) and the only reason I can live in town like this is because this space, THIS SPACE, is directly across and above the street from my house.  I can be on a single track trail in thirty seconds if I run out my front door.  The West Bench feels like an extension of my property, and in a way, it is, since I pay my taxes to the United States government.  Public lands are mine, and they’re yours too if you also render part of your income to the government here.  That’s cool to think about, isn’t it?  Here in the USA, we are rich in so many ways.  I saw Utah Phillips play in a tiny venue in Grass Valley, California once with Robbie.  Something he said between songs has stuck with me for ten full years now, it’s something I share with others regularly and I’ll paraphrase the heart of what he said here because the truth of it is sure to resonate with you.

One of the most special things about the American West, the American interior West to be even more specific, is the huge sum of land that is held in trust as wilderness area and public use area.  I’m talking about Beaureau of Land Management lands, Forest Service lands, National Parks and National Monuments.  By the nature of the fact that your tax paying dollars go towards the care and preservation of those lands, you OWN them.  They are yours to explore, to keep, to treasure, to adore.  They are yours to escape to, ride your horse on, graze your sheep and cattle on.  If you are a meat eater and you believe in eating clean meat and you choose to hunt wild animals in order get that clean meat, public lands are the lands you take your meals from.  They are yours to draw your water from, if you own water rights to a spring, creek or river like Robert and I do.  They are yours to glean peace, comfort and inspiration from.  They are yours to love, cherish and keep clean.  They’re yours to fight for, to represent, to speak on behalf of.

One of the reasons I go out, so often, to explore the land around my home and the land directly up from my house here in Pocatello is because I own it as a taxpayer, but I’m also beholden to it.  This is the dirt, forest, sagebrush, water and moonrise that informs my work, inspires my pen and claims my heart.  I walk, run, ski and hike the mountains here because I need them and because they need me, too.  When I write about the land and sky here, I write for myself, but also on behalf of the space I call home, the space that owns me back, the space that has been entrusted to me.

This space outside my front door is entrusted to you, as well, if you are a USA citizen or greencard holding permanent resident (like me).  You may not live here, but you still own it.  I share it with you through my writing and photographs so you know it exists, so you can believe in it and cherish it, so you can be a part of it when you are on holiday driving cross country in your mini-van with your kids and dog in tow, so you can feel the spaciousness of our wild lands through your computer screen when you sit in your office cubicle and secretly check out my blog between coffee breaks.  We humans are going to seek out the wild places more and more often as life and technology begins to overwhelm us to a greater degree.  The wild spaces are our redemption from the synthetic, fast paced nature of our culture and lives; they will become increasingly important to humanity in the years to come as they are dissolved and are taken from us, foot by foot, mile by mile.

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IMG_6587 IMG_6596 IMG_6606-2IMG_6653 IMG_6674 IMG_6689 IMG_6693 IMG_6764 IMG_6780 IMG_6813 IMG_6819A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post on a similar topic and I want to take a second to direct you to his blog.  I have been a fan of his writing for well over a year now.  He is an avid bird hunter and angler and I believe, a passionate, straight shooting advocate for the interior West and her shrinking wild spaces.  Plus, to be perfectly honest, he writes like a son of a gun.  He’s going to publish a book one fine day in the future and I’m going to buy a hundred copies of it and hand it out on street corners to perfect strangers.  I encourage you to head on over to read his most recent post.

Long live the West and may her wild and free spaces remain unchained, unexploited and cherished (though it’s already too late to hope for such a thing, in some places) for years to come because I dearly love an office space at 8000 feet.