Tag Archives: Wyoming

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.



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?

Dream House

It all starts with a dream . . .

You or your spouse or both gather the fragments of ideas that when fashioned together build your dream home. In your mind’s eye you can see everything, the setting, the style, the garden and landscaping, even the color of the walls. So it begins, your quest for a dream home – if it could be, the term is tossed around as if any four walls could fulfill the definition. Off you roam, through the for sale listings, wandering the streets for “by owner” signs, searching for the place where you will plant your family and watch it grow.

In a very small rural town like Kemmerer, Wyoming the choices are nearly non-existent. Although the market at the time provided over a dozen properties for consideration, only half were of sufficient size and of these most were highly priced and needing improvements, the others (a couple) were true considerations. After an offer fell through, and other possibilities were looking less desirable, my husband phoned with the following news, “I have a house for us to look at while you’re here this weekend.”

“I thought we had seen everything.”

“This isn’t on the market, the bar owner here said he would like to sell his house outside of town. It has some land.” In the recesses of my mind I thought it odd . . .  it should have set off alarms and flashing lights. WARNING – your beer-buoyed husband is making deals with the local barkeeper. But in my anxiety over having a place to move our family to, I bit, “OK, I’ll look at it on Saturday when I get to town.”

The imagery that I produced for this “place in the country” developed during the four-hour drive to Kemmerer. As I approached town I could “see” the lovely sprawling brick ranch in the pines, or maybe a smart log home surrounded by golden aspen. I have to admit my heart sunk quite a bit when I finally approached the driveway of the dingy cedar-sided saltbox style house that jutted out of a sagebrush covered hill. “OK, maybe just well worn.” I thought. My husband had been waiting, chatting politely with Barkeep in the driveway. His warm smile and sparkling eyes were so missed that I’m sure I looked very happy and excited.

I didn’t get a word in before we were off on the grand tour. I followed in the rear through the back door into the garage, it was bursting with stuff – floor to ceiling, so much that I couldn’t see the walls, but I could smell the oil, grease, and dirt – all of the smells of mechanic work done at home. Up a step raggedly assembled from cinderblocks and two-by-fours to the kitchen door. We squeezed inside between the refrigerator and a too-close cabinet, over a muddy assortment of various sized shoes, and on to the 70’s patterned linoleum.

“Can you believe I have NEVER waxed this floor!?” the lady of the house chirped with pride.

My mind replied – Yes, I can. I kept my lips pressed together, terrified that I would actually blurt out the discourteous retort. She joined as we cruised from room to room, merrily chatting away every scuff and bruise evident in the house.

The tour ended in the master bedroom, where the four of us could barely negotiate our way around the furniture to peek into the bath. By this time my mind was screaming, “NO!” I attempted to move from the back of the room to follow my husband, who was now exiting at a lively pace. Chirpy cut me off at the pass, providing a soliloquy on the wonderfulness to be found in the home. I could feel the panic welling up inside as the men’s heavy footfalls counted down the stairs. Ten, nine, eight . . . I practically trampled over Chirpy getting out the door. Five, four, three . . . I had just topped the stairs when the men turned the corner into the living room. I knew, in my gut, I knew that if my husband shook Barkeep’s hand, the deal would be struck and there would be no turning back. I lunged into the living room, wild-eyed, stumbling, and stopped sharply to be rocked back at the scene.

Sure enough, they were shaking hands – my husband was closing the deal.

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.

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 http://www.oysterridgemusicfestival.com/index.html 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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GT7sXYiO9Bk

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: http://www.cfdrodeo.com/home

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.


It didn’t rain yesterday. This is only notable because it had rained for the previous ten days; some days more, some less, but rain all the same. Having come from the water-starved west, I rejoice at the rain while missing the blue sky and sunshine. In other words, I’m still getting used to it.

Getting in the groove of a wetter climate has been a bit of a stretch for our family. It was most evident much earlier this season when we planted new grass seed and shrubs. We dutifully watered every day to “establish” the new plantings. Our neighbors would walk by the house watching our antics in amused curiosity. Of course, our activity all stems from past experience. Back in Kemmerer, Wyoming we would have never neglected to water the lawn. (Item number 2 on the “Never” list.)

My husband has done better at adjusting to the weather than I have. Our patio conversation from a month ago confirms –

“We should water the lawn.” I stated while nervously shifting in my patio chair.
“No, it’s gonna rain.” He responded.
“We’ll at least my roses, they’re wilting.”
“No, it’s gonna rain.”
“There’s not a cloud.”
“Sit down, it’s gonna rain.”
“No way.” I remarked confidently.

By the next day at noon almost ½” of rain had fallen.

So I’ve worked very hard at restraining myself from the daily watering addiction. The garden hose has stayed rolled up on the keeper with the exception of a couple brief moments when I used it for the flower pots on the porch instead of hauling a watering can around. I don’t know if this was out of convenience or the melancholy of walking by the lonely looking garden hose every day.

However, I haven’t even looked at the garden hose for the past two weeks. Our unofficial rain gauge, tea light holders on the patio, have filled to about an inch and been dumped out three times in that period. Three inches of rain is impressive to this Wyoming girl. I came to West Virginia quite unaware of the precipitation. My ignorance was demonstrated when I recently remarked to my spouse, “well at least it’s not as wet here as in Seattle.” WRONG – upon brief research the truth was revealed that Morgantown is wetter than Seattle – MUCH wetter. Morgantown averages almost ten inches per year more rain than Seattle, Washington.  I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut on “intelligent” climate remarks to my spouse since it’s causing him to believe that he is often right.

Remarks on the extensive gloom and rain were a brief topic in my Father’s Day chat with dad. I lamented on the grey sky and tempered the woe with light-hearted discussion of the many beautiful blooms that we have been graced with. He listened patiently, interjecting a knowing “yes” and “you don’t say” every so often to be gracious. He eventually wearied of my doleful conversation and cleverly concluded the subject with the following:

Dad, “You know the old-timers have a name for the weather you’re describing, don’t you?”

Me, “Really, what’s that?”

Dad, “Spring.”


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.