I have always had a turbulent relationship with Wyoming. Each year since I was three, my family would pack us up and head to Wyoming for summer break. This was all fine and dandy until I became a teenager and the prospect of spending 30-60 days away from friends (boys), TV (MTV) and fun (fun) was simply unacceptable. We would drive to a place called ‘Nowhere’ and then drive 50 miles north to make sure that we were really in the middle of it. Once we could no longer see paved road, phone lines, humans, or anything human made, we would park the car and unload.
In my teen years I would spend those lengthy days sobbing to my friends on our avocado green rotary phone, plotting ways to escape and just generally being an asshole. Much to my family’s delight, things have vastly improved since then and I now willingly visit them even though I have my own car and driver’s license – something I vowed I would NEVER do at the age of 15.
To be perfectly honest, now that I am an adult and much more easily entertained, I thoroughly enjoy spending time off-the-grid. The only problem is, I have no idea where I fit in. Psychologists and professional coaches talk about ‘belonging’ as one of the most fundamental human desires. When I arrive in Wyoming, I feel like a panda in the Rocky Mountains. I somewhat resemble the others but the difference is a clear black and white.
For starters, I never ever know what to wear. My closet has never housed any designs conceived by the likes of Carhartt or Wrangler, nothing I own is appropriate for, say, a rodeo, and the thought of wearing plaid flannel or anything bedazzled makes me breakout in hives. Usually the closest I come is a pair of dark wash jeans and a silk Equipment blouse with a snakeskin pattern. From afar this is ok, get any closer and you’ll know that I would rather die than get anywhere near an animal who has his nuts in a rubber vice.
Next, how the hell can I add value to a fully functional cattle ranch? I watch my sister proudly march out the door in her boots and gloves to help out with the yearly cow pregnancy testing – let’s just say that she actually does stick it where the sun don’t shine. And the closest I come to this is sidling over to a lady cow and saying ‘honey, you look like you’ve put on a couple. Pretty soon the boss is gonna know. May I ask who the father is?’ I make sure to ask this discreetly, away from the other cows, as not to cause embarrassment if it turns out that she is not, in fact, with calf.
Lastly, my extra-curricular activities are more suited for the Maldives than the Wild Wild West. I love to watch my mother putting on her fly-fishing gear. She looks so excited and happy! Almost as happy as my Dad gets when he decides to explore the perimeter of the ranch on horseback. For me, I enjoy settling in on the back porch for a long day of writing while listening to the birds and the river. I would rather pick up a pen than a gun and a walking stick than a fishing pole.
I’ll never forget the time when we were at a big gathering at The Hotel Wolf (THE place to be on a Friday night, they have an unlimited salad bar and an even more fully stocked actual bar). I was feeling a little anxious because I didn’t know how I would go about making conversation with the locals. Rex Straight, possibly the manliest man on the planet, walks up to me to say hello.
“Hiya, Ms. Short”
“Hey Rex, nice to see you”
“I’ve been really good, living in Boulder and working for a non-profit running leadership…”
Rex’s eyes glaze over, I have already lost him and we haven’t even gotten past hello! In a panic I blurt out the first question that comes to my mind:
“So, Rex, what brings you joy these days?”
He looks shocked, I feel my face turn bright red. Suddenly his lips curl in a little half smile, he looks up at me devilishly.
He nods his head, pleased with his honest answer.
“Ya, me too.”
I verbally vomit. He looks surprised. I take a giant swig of my drink.
“Oh, ya? What you shootin’ with? ”
” Well, I guess I’m not shooting so much as I am eating what’s been shot. I really love a good bison burger.”
He shakes the ice in his glass.
“Well if ya ever get tired of those damn yuppies in Boulder, come on down and we’ll shoot somethin’.”
I salut – SALUT!?!? – him and practically sprint to the bar.
It’s hard to say what it is about Wyoming that makes me feel so out of place. Perhaps it’s the knowing that I don’t really want to fit in, that I’d rather be an appreciative observer than an active participant. Perhaps it’s knowing that I have and always will live two very separate lives. The one in the city and the one in the wilderness. Whatever it is, I know that, if all else fails, I can always aspire to being ‘that crazy hippie writer lady that never leaves her cabin’.