I lived in a lot of places when I was a kid: Colorado, Wyoming, and even Texas. I’m sure many of you can relate. However, I spent the majority of my childhood in a place in Eastern Wyoming where the cattle outnumber people, the snow comes down horizontal and coal mining is a way of life. It’s taken me several years to appreciate this rough lifestyle. I’m in awe of those who still live in my hometown, battling the unforgiving Powder River Basin winters, the boom/bust economy, and even the hard choices that stem from the loneliness that the geography can create.
Before we lived in the Powder River Basin, we lived in central Wyoming near the Arapaho reservation. My paternal Grandmother was half Arapaho and all smiles. It’s funny how some people want to be remembered for the money they make, the books they write, the great things they can achieve, or even the car they drive. Then there are others (many of them Grandmothers) who you remember because of their captivating smile and laugh, or by how comfortable and safe you felt in their presence; which, in my opinion, is the greatest thing one can be remembered for.
Today, when most people think of the west they think of “Big Sky Country” and vast mountain ranges. They tear out glossy travel ads from TIME magazine as they sit at their dentist’s office in high rise buildings. Their eyes glazing over at the promise of all play and no work. Better yet, they see a couple movies starring Brad Pitt and are hooked like a brown trout during the salmon fly hatch. Then it’s out west for a week in July until they realize they can’t get cell service in a drift boat.
Still, in my travels away from the western states, I am amazed by the way people cling to the myth of the west. For example, I was in lower Manhattan, NY buying a bagel, I started talking to the man behind the counter about where I was from. He said, and I quote, “You are originally from Wyoming? You know we have a saying out here: Have you ever really met someone from Wyoming? Does that state even exist?” “Yes”, I replied with my eyes downcast. I think he could tell that I was a little sad about the comment. (Aren’t we all a little proud of where we are from?) He laughed really loud and said, “Well, now I have a story to tell, Miss!”.
It is from these experiences that I see the west as it really is, rather than the romantic notion of what is idealized about it. It’s open space and fresh air. It’s the sense of freedom that comes from getting in a car and driving with no particular destination in mind. It’s people working hard to make a life in a sometimes harsh environment. It’s an honest days work and learning to appreciate warm, sunny weather. It’s natural scenery that truly takes your breath away—but you have to remind yourself to appreciate it, because when you see it every single day you sometimes forget it’s there.
I am grateful that I grew up in the west and still call this place my home. I love how calm, quiet mornings are perfect for writing and thunderstorms make a great soundtrack for painting. Snow falling gently outside my window is all the light I need to read a good book and that a solitary stretch of road is sometimes the best therapy.
I have such a renewed appreciation for the spirit of the land and the people, not only from traveling outside of the western states, but also by opening my eyes to what is right outside my front door. Through this awakening, I have come to realize that I am proud to be part of a new generation, following our individual dreams . . . right here, under western skies.