Category Archives: Wyoming

O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

The rain stopped just long enough for the family to gather in a tidy half-circle around the hole. The remnant parts of the age-old ceremony were completed with the punctuated thump of dropped handfuls of dirt. We solemnly turned and moved off in different directions and back into the rhythm of individual lives.

So the good-bye is performed over and over again.

Later, I expressed my sentiments to my beloved husband in my usual manner without any sense of decorum, “Don’t plant me up there when I die.” This, of course, was in reference to the local cemetery.

He responded with some indignation, “So, what am I SUPPOSE to do with you?”

“Just put me up by my dog.” This has been my patent request from the day my dear golden dog was buried on the mountain outside of Laramie. However, the U.S. Government would likely frown upon the practice of interring human remains on the same plot of land (no matter how remote.) I did suggest at one time that my cremains could be scattered there, my husband was not a fan of this idea; “But where will we go to visit you?” He is tethered to the idea of visiting a grave marker, flowers in hand, where he can pray and speak, in some way, to the deceased.

This sounds to me much more like an eternity of solitary confinement than spiritual peace. As I told my sister, “If I can actually hear you when I’m in the grave, then I have a lot more problems than being dead.” She swiftly commented, “You have never been a conventional person.”

It’s possible that what bothers me more is considering a stone on a hill the place of memory. Really, what is it that the marker conveys? A few sentimental words, a start and end date, maybe some ornamentation. Most of this depends on finances, and even the best memorials wear away in time. Are the stone and the grave the memory?

Much more, I believe, is all of the life that is signified by the little dash placed in between the dates. That line should be so much more. The line is where the life breathed, smiled, and giggled. The line is where the first words were spoken to the delight of “mama” and “dada”. That tiny line represents everything from an aversion to peas as a child to making pea soup as a poor college student. A tiny line is a life that touched other lives in home and church and school. That little line signifies a life that made new life, nurtured it, and then let it go. The line is uproarious laughter, silliness, sorrow, and tears. It is story after story from countless souls.

So, I don’t really think that a dash between two dates or even a single granite stone on a hill is enough to tell the story. The single location doesn’t account for dust in the pages of human history, but it contains a literary encyclopedia of a life to those whom it touched. What should be the memorial? Where is it kept?

The physical remains all weather away and eventually become something else, soil, a leaf, a goat . . . nature recycles. Remembrance is kept in word and song; this is where the memorial exists.

So when I go on, I want those who’ve known me to take a trek to where we made a memory together, linger there, breathe the air, reflect, and then write it down. If it was a good memory, share it in joy. If it was a hurtful memory, share it in truth and learning or burn it and leave it to be recycled into something beautiful.


Night Sky

The patio is our refuge from the world, a place where the background sounds of the neighborhood mix comfortably with a quiet personal spot for perfect relaxation. Late in the evening, you may find us chatting languidly over a glass of wine enjoying the dance of fireflies in the trees that surround our backyard.

“Beautiful evening.” The man of few words, my husband, succinctly observes.

“I miss the stars.” I sigh.

In nearly every way our lifestyle and living conditions here in West Virginia have made this new home “Almost Heaven” – yes, just like the song. However, most of the stars are missing from the sky.

I knew that the vast western sky was going to be something that I would be leaving behind. As moving day from Kemmerer was drawing near, I would gaze out with awe and wonder at the huge aqua palette that God used for the day, and feel a melancholy ache in my heart. But looking up at the night sky would instill a sense of regret; I knew that many of the stars in the sky were going to disappear with the density of humanity in the east.

If you have ever visited the remote places of the earth you may know the sight. Wyoming’s starry night sky defies description. Your view of the sky in Wyoming is unobstructed – seemingly even by the air itself. No humidity, no pollution, and at night, no light. As you look out toward the horizon on a moonless night the velvet-black sky hosts a sparkling veil of stars too numerous to count.  On a night when the Milky Way pours its shimmering white blanket across the sky, you can imagine walking up into the heavens along its path.

Some time back I met up with some women who were trekking across Wyoming. They were from the eastern states and were taken breathless by the night sky.

“I won’t be able to describe this to my friends.” One woman said to the other. “They simply would never believe that there are so, so many stars.”

Her friend replied, “And a sky so big, dark, it really is very empty.”

Yes, even though the sky was bursting with stars, she described it as empty. I do know what she is saying, and I came about it back shortly after my college years.

As a summer hand for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, I spent many weeks in a remote spot at the south end of the Big Horn Mountains. This central Wyoming location was a full two hours away from the city of Casper, and an hour from any evidence of civilization. I studied and mapped the ecology of the area by day and spent the nights alone with only my dog and a campfire for company. As the fire would dwindle, I would look up into the vast Wyoming sky and feel the closeness of millions of stars; almost near enough to touch. Even so, the black sky was empty, a lonely expanse. I felt very tiny, no more than a speck of dust in the turning of time. Truly, it was the most humbling experience I had ever had and one that will never be forgotten.

I see that big Wyoming sky in my mind’s eye and hope to visit it soon. Until then, I will miss the stars.

Kemmerer’s Music Festival – Oyster Ridge

Are you looking for a barrel of fun for the weekend? Not much money? Need a break where you can be yourself and feel perfectly comfortable? If you are in or near southwest Wyoming the Oyster Ridge Music Festival is the place for you beginning Friday, July 26. This weekend marks the 20th year of the festival that swells the host area to nearly twice its population and gives the music lover an opportunity to sample the up-and-comers of  bluegrass, folk, blues, country and rock – most of it a mish-mash of many combined styles – musical bliss and it’s free!

Early on the going got pretty rough for the free music festival. The little town of Kemmerer, Wyoming is a sleepy haven of coal miners and ranchers speckled with a smattering of public service and government workers; not folks that typically engage in social musical entertainment. I recall driving by the Triangle Park in the late ‘90s, knowing that the music festival was in “high gear” with nary a soul in sight, the lonely band on the stage singing into the empty space. I looked on feeling sad and guilty, sad that yet another local celebration seemed to be dying before my eyes and guilt that I wasn’t contributing with my presence. I returned home after some errands to announce to my husband that we should be in the park supporting the musicians and the community.

“Maybe next year.” He said and went on with the work at hand.

“There might not BE a next year!” I retorted with some desperation.

Lucky for us there was a next year. We spread a large quilt on the grass of the park and positioned the family around to partake of the music. We delighted in the entertainment as we whiled away a Saturday in the summer sun. By evening everyone was up dancing barefoot in front of the bandstand. We went home with dirty feet and singing souls . . . we were hooked.

In the following years, we dropped all projects and plans so that we could wallow in the “Oystergrass”. It wasn’t long and we were volunteering, my husband at the beer booth and me at an information booth. When family came to visit we would drag them along drawing them into the musical revelry. Over the years we eagerly awaited ORMF saving back vacation days to fully enjoy the three days of music and merriment in the park – with an extra day off to recover on Monday. We watched as former residents would return for the community celebration, and always delighted in the many friends that gathered together over blankets and beer.

I brought Oystergrass to West Virginia with me on a bumper sticker that went the way of the dodo when my car was rear-ended several months ago. (Heidi, I need a new bumper sticker!) I also found a way to reuse those music festival t-shirts that had become ragged around the edges from so much wear – pillows. Leaving behind the people of Kemmerer and especially the Oyster Ridge Music Festival was more difficult than I could have imagined. There is a big blank space in my calendar for this coming weekend, an emptiness that I long to refill. Hopefully next year I can revisit and revive, but until then I will need to get by on the spirit of Oystergrass that I brought in my heart, the friendly spirit that gathering around music can bring. I hope to sprinkle it around the neighborhood a little and watch it grow.


Sights and sounds of ORMF:

Frontier Treasures

Today was the first full day of the 2013 “Daddy of ‘em All” a title that probably means little to those outside of rodeo fans and the populace in and around Cheyenne, Wyoming, or maybe I don’t know the popularity of this annual extravaganza. The western celebration of rodeo, night shows, parades, pancakes, and a miscellany of carnival and hoopla is Cheyenne Frontier Days and it becomes part of your life in southeastern Wyoming. This ten-day event marks the middle of summer and it blisters with action nearly 24-hours each day.

As a child I eagerly awaited Frontier Days each year. It was a time filled with activity and wonder. I excitedly watched the parade from the downtown sidewalks admiring the trove of beautiful horses. I scrambled for bits of “gold” and “silver” thrown from the mining floats and thrilled at the mock outlaw shootouts. Every year we would stand waiting, for what seemed an eternity, to savor the sweet taste of free pancakes, ham, and juice served up by the local Kiwanis Club.  I have a few memories of watching the rodeos; these consist of dust flying and blurred images of legs – horse legs, cow legs, and legs of cowboys.

A child’s memory is a funny thing; it focuses on the immediate field of vision. That limited vision often gets a kid in trouble. My most striking childhood memory of Frontier Days is the visit to the “Indian Dance” which took place in the downtown streets. The tribal members would set up in the round and entertain the crowd with traditional song and dance. As the culminating event, the children in the audience were invited to join in the round and dance alongside the tribe members in their beautiful beaded costumes. I couldn’t have been much more than five-year’s old when I ventured into the swirling cloud of fringe and feathers. The drums thump-thumping, the women’s voices in high, hollow chorus and the throaty chant from the men filled my ears. I stomped and spun along with the crowd. When the dance was over I looked around for my parents, but they were nowhere in sight. The drumming continued, but now it came from my heart as panic ensued. I felt breathless and confused, the world was spinning, but I was standing still. My eyes welled up with tears. All I could see was the blurry figures of the tribe members, the beauty of their beaded costumes washed away in my frightened confusion.

Suddenly I was swept up in the arms of my father, who had never taken his eyes off of me. He came to my rescue and brought me back to the safe grasp of my mother’s gentle hand.

I don’t remember ever joining the dance again. I remained satisfied with the safe sideline activities, especially the parade. I loved horses and dreamed of riding one in that parade one day. I never did ride a horse in the parade, but I got something much better.

“Oh, look at that cute little boy on that great big horse.” My mom pointed out to the street at one of the boys from a local riding group. I didn’t think much of the boy at that time in my life, but the horse was great.

Many, many years later my mind’s eye looks back on the parade and the little boy who became the love of my life and is my husband today. Little did I know what treasure existed at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Parade.

See more about Cheyenne Frontier Days here: