Category Archives: WV and WY

Out of Hibernation

The sun has come out, briefly. Its light bounces rainbow colors off of the heavy frost that lingers at mid-morning. The snow has left all but the shadiest spots and green grass shoots cower flatly on the still cold ground. It’s not over – yet. Winter holds on as the temperature hovers around 30 degrees and a brisk wind shifts the shivering branches on the trees.
“It feels like Wyoming.” I converse with our mutt as we walk around the block. “Let’s get back home and warm up.” He seems to understand and agree since he doesn’t even look toward the long route we usually take.
I’ve come to enjoy winter less and less. I appreciate the change of season, understanding the need for winter’s sleep, but I can’t recall the last time I felt the childlike excitement in seeing the snowfall. Maybe I know my frosty foibles too well – the thump of pain and humiliation as I fall on the ice; the ache of joints and muscles from what seems like endless shovel loads of snow tossed off the walks and drive; most likely what dampens my enthusiasm is the inability to warm up after even the slightest chill – the cold sticks to my bones.
Winter walloped us this year. I can’t say that I blame him since he has been rather silent for a while. I hesitate to complain too much, relative to the winters I experienced in Wyoming, this has been only average, and fortunately, not nearly as cold. Reports from home have come in with ambient air temperatures way down to minus 20 and that is WITHOUT wind chill factored in! Old Man Winter knows how to consistently sock it to Wyoming.
Winter proves that you have to be strong to reside in Wyoming, physically and mentally. A new local friend spent a week hunting with my husband near Kemmerer in late September. When he returned he commented, “No-one is soft out there.” I agree, Wyoming people are tough and strong, but I’ve never encountered kinder hearts. I think that’s the only way that everyone stays warm.
For the past three months I’ve cowered from the winter like the grasses laying low. I cocooned myself in a blanket by the fireplace and stopped. Maybe it’s better said that I’ve been in hibernation, popping out rarely and only as needed. In that time I’ve allowed something worse than physical hibernation to transpire. The bout with winter turned into total mental stagnation – brain freeze. The imaginative production of words slowed down around Halloween, and finally froze up solid sometime in early December – frustrating.
But the sun has come out again. I am like a grumbling bear waking up, (still a bit foggy from the drowse.) Rubbing my eyes, seeing the light, I brace myself against the still sharp chill. I reach inside for the warm heart of the tough Wyoming girl to awaken. Like the daffodils beginning to reach up out of the soil I need to stretch up to the light. I see the trees have fuzzy buds – I know that West Virginia winter won’t go on much longer. I thaw the ice from my stored ideas and go out into the world of words again.

Autumn

My “winter” coat came out of the closet today; it hides in there the better part of the year since the weather here in Morgantown usually doesn’t require that kind of outerwear. My husband cringes when I wear it; he doesn’t like the color. I, however, love the granny-smith-apple color; it boosts my spirit. So part of me was happy to emancipate it from the closet. My other side was taunting, “You’re just giving in, it’s not winter – yet.”

In West Virginia the seasons roll languidly one into the other and I enjoy the passing. Like a stroll through a familiar field, I walk the hills and valleys of the seasons breathing the change in the air. Each breath from mid-September through November imbibes the soul with an accumulation of chill and damp and scent, the harbingers of nature’s frosty sleep to come.

Autumn has always been at the top of my list, even in Wyoming. The crisp morning air would give way to warm sun-drenched afternoons. The evenings would bring a welcome escape from the Wyoming wind and the chill would settle in again. Although the weather was lovely, the dreaded approach of a long and stern winter would create an anxious haste to gather wood and fell wild game before the first big snow. The seasons didn’t meld quietly into each other in Wyoming. The onset of winter was often more of a slap in the face. So a drawn-out Indian summer would unsettle my spirit to the point that I would crave the true onset of winter just to get it out of the way. Old Man Winter would pounce down in an attack of wind, cold, snow, and ice, usually in late October, and hold the landscape hostage until June. – Yes, really, it would typically last that long.

I have come to realize that life imitates nature. Maybe this is as it should be so that we can take the lessons from nature and weave them into our days before they get away. I hope to gracefully move through my autumn years with vibrant color and warmth then gently glide into the hush of winter. I certainly prefer the way winter settles over West Virginia with a sparkling accumulation of frost and occasional snow. Could I be so blessed to experience this kind of chilly-soft departure into the long winter sleep?

Written Wanderings

It seems I’ve always been a writer. Expressing through a pen thoughts, feelings, dreams, making up stories, this was all part of living. Then came adulthood with real work, family, community – and the writing took a back seat to all that seemed important at the time. I was the same person, but part of me was contained in unexpressed prose. I’m happy that this new life gives me time to be a writer again. I have the blessing of words back; I can speak in a familiar way and take you, my reader friend, along for the journey.

So where should we journey? Back to a time not so long ago when I was a child? Living a summer adventure in the Ohio valley, running in the heavy air and damp grass, watching fireflies glow and then disappear in the twilight. Or maybe we will go to Parsons and walk by the river with my tiny hand in the firm grasp of my father’s and listen to the stories of his youth and a simplicity of life that has flowed away like a single drop of rain in the ocean of time.

We could take a journey of the senses – a romp through sights and smells and sounds. Each etched in a memory for me and an experience for you. We can travel together on a textural quest and feel the wild Wyoming wind sharp and bracing against our skin or breathe the hot, dusty, sagebrush summer air.

Come along with me and we can revel in being young and reckless, bouncing around in the back of a pickup truck. Or join me in contemplating the passing of youth and the heft of raising a child – or four – to become young citizens of an ever more complicated world. We may venture to lean on each other in loss and wander the cold, dimly lit paths of grief to reappear in the warmth of humor that was tucked under a memory.

Maybe we will begin along a well-worn road and take a detour to something unfamiliar. It is probable that we will trek along only to careen off of a cliff and fly away to something new. (Oh, that happened today.) Wherever we go, it will be made joyful by a companionship of words.

Where shall we journey, my reader, my friend? So many places to experience together, so little time in our lives to take the quest. Come with me and see new places, or view the familiar places through new eyes, just take a moment – you’re invited, and I am ready – to write.

The Rules of Golf

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There is a commercial on TV that features a popular professional golf player chastising a casual golfer who has just kicked his ball away from a tree. This cracked me up the very first time I watched. That commercial goes through my head every time I go out on the course. There are several beautiful golf courses here in Morgantown. I’ve had the pain and pleasure of playing three of them. Pain because I am a beginner and they are difficult for me to play and pleasure because each is lovely and I enjoy playing golf. This is a surprising phrase as I “never” thought I would actually go out and play the game. Rule #1: Never say “never”.

My first attempts at using a set of golf clubs came in high school. I was not an athlete; so when the choices available for our P.E. class were coed volleyball, field hockey, or golf, I determined that golf presented the least likely scenario for broken bones and signed up. Week 1: learn to grip the club and practice swinging at an imaginary ball – wow; I was pretty good at this already! Week 2: place a REAL ball on a rubber mat in front of you and hit it. This was my downfall; no matter how hard I tried I simply could not hit that little ball. Week 3 came and went; my classmates were learning different clubs and perfecting their swing, I still hadn’t hit the ball. Week 4: field trip to the local golf course to apply what was learned. I, however, was left behind at the school to continue to attempt to hit the ball. So, as you may have deduced, I never hit the ball. In the instructor’s words, “Maybe you shouldn’t play this game.” Rule #2: Learn in the right atmosphere with someone who can give you valuable insight.

In all my years in Wyoming I never attempted to play golf again, but I didn’t feel that I was missing too much. The weather was usually prohibitive and the courses that I was familiar with were not very scenic. My husband liked to play and enjoyed the game with his many friends all over the state.  So when he bought a golf glove, I wondered why; when he bought shoes, I thought he was going a bit overboard; and when he shelled out “big bucks” for a new driver and 3-wood – well you can imagine my dismay.

About a year ago I tried again to hit a little white ball off of a tee on a West Virginia golf course. This time I used a club from my youngest son’s junior set and had a few tips from my ever-patient husband. The club face came down and actually connected with the ball, it didn’t travel far but I was as giddy as if it had gone several hundred yards! Each consecutive attempt drew me further into a pastime that I hadn’t considered pursuing. Soon I had clubs (shared with my youngest), a hand-me-up glove (also from the youngest), and a good pair of golf shoes. Rule #3: Buy the correct equipment.

My husband and I play a few holes nearly every evening and we truly enjoy this activity together. I’m learning the rules and when scoring must take extra strokes for balls lost, hit out of play and into the pond. The game is a sine curve of ups and downs for me, but the challenge of developing my game within the rules is enjoyable.  Rule #4: Follow the rules and have fun.

As you can see these rules of golf apply in pretty much any situation. Take a chance and try (or try again), get good guidance and tools, and maintain integrity for the best experience. I consider this life lesson while looking down on my ball in the tall grass of the rough.

“Go ahead and fluff that ball up a bit, everyone else does.” My husband suggests as I pull my 5-iron from the bag.

I reply, “Rule #13 – The ball must be played as it lies.”

 

A Prayer for the Farmers

Saturday morning dawned clear and pleasant, a lovely day to do something outside. I dragged my husband out of bed early to experience the local farmer’s market. He was more enthusiastic than I anticipated, likely due to the two large cups of coffee that had been delivered to him hot and strong while he sat in bed.

On arrival to the marketplace, we wandered like lost sheep through the multiple vendors. As neophytes to the experience, we were overwhelmed by a sea of color and choices. Even this early in the season, the stands provided a bounty beyond expectation. Upon the tables were spread multiple varieties of leafy greens, onions, beans, and herbs in overflowing piles. It took us over an hour just to decide on a course of action, which was the proposed menu for the next few days as well as the list of fresh edibles to build the entrees.

Farmer’s markets are not uncommon in the west, but you will not find one in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The growing season there seldom goes beyond about 30 days, which is the average of frost-free days in the area, and the main reason that the primary farming that goes on around Kemmerer is of livestock. Livestock farming can be moderately successful barring any “unusual” circumstances of weather or disease or market fluctuation which are all too common. The ever-burdened timeworn look of the Kemmerer rancher is deeply chiseled into my memory. These men and women, truly Jacks and Jills-of-all-trades, were the backbone of every aspect of their operation from before sun-up until well after sun-down every day of the year. I didn’t know of a rancher who rested (unless under anesthesia) and vacations were all but unheard of. They poured their very soul into the ranch – it wasn’t just a place or an occupation, it was their life.

I worked with the Kemmerer ranchers for over 13 years and I truly miss these denizens of the range. They would come into the office briefly, usually under great difficulty of time or disposition, to manage paperwork and accounts. Sometimes (rarely) they would stay for a bit and discuss matters other than concerns with business. Most often they would meander in, pay a bill, grumble a little about the weather or costs or changes, notice that their cow dog was now ¼ mile down the road, and hasten off leaving but a puff of range dust where they once stood.

One particularly poignant memory is the good-bye from a rancher who was not only a community fixture, but also someone who was more of a “regular” in our office.

“So, what do you think you’ll do when you leave this place?” He softly questioned while sharing a gentle hug.

“I was thinking about doing some writing.”

“Well, don’t you forget about us, OK?”

Saturday I looked into the eyes of the market farmer and didn’t see the red from the western dust and sun, or the wrinkles from worry, or the hunched shoulders from years on the back of a horse. I saw a robust man with a round-cheeked smile and thought of how I hoped his years on the farm were showing in the glow on his face. He helped me remember, so I said a prayer for all farmers that this year would bring them something to smile about.

Pageants

The Miss USA pageant was on last weekend. I only know this because I saw a photo prompt on a news website the day before the pageant was to air. I didn’t watch. I haven’t watched any of the televised beauty parades for decades. There are probably many good reasons for not buying into the beauty pageant scene, but the real reason that I stopped watching was that the great state of Wyoming NEVER won. (I stopped watching before the one and only runner up ever occurred.) OK, so Wyoming did have one “Junior Miss” winner, but in the long list of women who held title to any of the notable pageants the states at the end of the alphabet (WV and WY) contain goose-eggs next to their names.

I speculated for a while on why and came up with the following possibilities:

1)      West Virginia and Wyoming state names occur so far down in the alphabet that by the time the judges actually get to see a contestant from these states they are so burned out and bleary-eyed they would not be able to discern whether the figure standing before them was even female. I can hear the judges’ conversation, Judge1 to Judge2 “What is that melody? It really reminds me of a buzz saw.” Judge2, “The contestant is not singing; Judge3 has fallen asleep.” The end-of-alphabet excuse fell through on further research when I found that other W states have had success in at least one pageant.

2)      Young women vying for a beauty title are limited by the top talent in both states, hunting prowess. I have never heard of a Miss Beautiful winner who was able to pursue a deer (or antelope or elk or moose) aptly shoot it down, field dress the animal and tote it back to the admiring crowd in New Jersey (or other venue). However, this is a talent that will hook up the lovely field-roaming lady with her knight in shining camo in either state. I actually overheard this to be true from two young men who worked in my office. Real Guy 1, “I’m in love.” Real Guy 2, “No way, where did you find her?” RG1, “I was on the mountain huntin’ on Saturday and heard a shot nearby; when I looked over the ridge, there she was, blonde hair in a pony-tail field dressing her elk. Man that girl looks good in orange.” RG2, “You’re SO lucky.”

All of this is really of no serious consequence in the spinning of the earth, but it did give me pause. I’m sure that there are many bright, beautiful, talented young women in both states that are serious contenders for the title, but when they come home they will still need to know how to hunt and chop wood in order to survive the winter.