Summer is coming to a close, and with so much drought across the country, I am already seeing yellow leaves and faded grass. It brings thoughts of fall that much closer. It’s the time of year when I start feeling cold, even if the tempature has only dropped a degree or two, and night seems pushy, pressing us into darkness earlier and earlier. For me, this time of year is often disappointing, because I have great expectations for fall– pumpkin patches, apple orchards, beautifully colored leaves that crunch under foot, the moodiness of the lake as it changes colors and cooler waters come closer to shore, not to mention family gatherings and the sweet smell of pumpkin pie. That was the kind of fall I grew up with, living on the shores of Lake Michigan. Now I live in the desert, the great sky country where shades of ochre come from the rock around us, not from leaves. There are trees in town, because people planted them long ago, but they aren’t a natural part of the area, and their autumnal displays are pitiful at best. Nor could we find a pumpkin patch or an apple orchard without driving at least a couple hundred miles. Thanksgiving is a bit lonely, since our family and friends all live in Michigan, but we make do with the friendly neighbors we are so fortunate to have. But perhaps the strangest part, for me, is the lack of noise. The desert is so silent; there are far fewer birds here to signal the change in season. And far fewer people, as well.
Even so, the experiences we have had living in Wyoming have been quite remarkable. Just the other night I was reading a bedtime story to my little boys when the echoes of hooves outside our house drew us to the window. The boys yelled in excitement as a cowboy tipped his hat to us while cantering down the street, a not uncommon sight in the town where we live. In fact, this is the only place in the U.S. I know of that continues the tradition of the Pony Express, and each year we contribute quite a bulk of Christmas cards to the horses’ saddle bags which are ridden over 20 miles to the next town. And though I miss the beautiful Lake Michigan, so vast it is often called “the ocean” by tourists, the rock formations and buttes of Wyoming are a pleasure to the eyes as well. They, too, express their moods, flashing white and gold grins as the sun slides over their faces, then darkening into dour shades beneath passing clouds, and all of them simply glowering down on us little ants on an overcast day. From our kitchen window, we can see all the way to the highway and watch the tiny semi trucks disappear into the tunnels carved through imposing rock. It wasn’t a big surprise to me to learn that this whole area once lay far below a great inland lake, because I have always felt the ghost of water here, driving past rocky cliffs that appear as though they belong in the ocean depths. I was even fortunate enough to find the fossilized shell of turtle poking up from the desert terrain, a remnant of ancient times. Wyoming shares my memories of water, and I marvel at the red, rocky bones of the earth that lift themselves from her sands. The boys have chased lizards as quick as laughter into their camouflaged shelters among the sagebrush, and when it finally does rain, the almost minty smell of those strange plants fills the air with a pleasant aroma.
This is not to mention all the lore of the ancient west, populated by the likes of Butch Cassidy and Calamity Jane. Once, my husband and I visited the ghost town of South Pass and I was excited to find that the old mining town paid tribute to the woman who initiated the bill for women’s suffrage, which passed, and allowed the women of Wyoming the right to vote and hold office (the first state in the U.S. to do so). We bought several coins commemorating Esther Hobart Morris. I have since read that the men of Wyoming were simply desperate to get more women to move to the desolate territory, thus why they allowed the bill of suffrage to pass. The old saying here goes, “There’s a beautiful woman behind every tree in Wyoming.” I hope one day to make it to one of the two possible grave sites for Sacajawea, only a few hours from where we live. We are also planning a trip to Yellowstone so that our boys can see it at least once. Because hopefully, we will move East again someday, back to water and forests. But for now, we are thankful for my husband’s job out here, and I continue my effort to view this lonely desert with an artist’s eye and a writer’s insight.