Smoke, rails, and hay bales

August 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

I got my first kinda-close look at Wyoming last week on my jaunt to and from the Black Hills. And I liked it. A lot. Most Coloradoans I’ve met rather rag on Wyoming, as Minnesotans often do of Iowa, and so I had prepared myself for a dull drive.

It wasn’t dull. The landscape, with its few scattered homes and ranches and acres and acres of wide open, felt like peace. Like a rest for thought. Like those yoga-moments of focused breathing. I looked around and watched as the mountains disappeared and reappeared briefly off to the left, as the landscape stretched out flat and rolled into hills and sometimes rocks, caught sight of windmills and hay fields and felt so happy that there are still places where you can be alone, surrounded by so much earth.

At one point I had to go to the bathroom so badly it couldn’t wait for wherever the next town might be. I left my car idling on the side of the road and stepped carefully down into the ditch.

The wind. The sound of it covered the idling of the engine and yet it seemed like a version of quiet. It tossed my hair towards me in a way that is both pushy and comforting, like a friend giving you a playful shove on the arm or slap on the back. Hello, a greeting, familiarity.

I found a sort-of hill and grasses to hide behind, but still I had an audience of red Herefords and black-baldies, two small herds on either side of the road. I laughed. “I bet you don’t see people out here much.”

It’s such a funny feeling to go from that wild quiet expanse back into the car, where you have the radio and your iPod and your cell phone. These things connect you to the wider world and yet at the same time shut out the much wider one immediately around you. For awhile I pulled out my earbuds so I could just be in this place while I drove. It wasn’t quite enough. I needed to be walking through those yellow grasses, climbing the rocks and bluffs, riding on horseback over the roll of the land.

So that is where I was. A place traveled through, not known well. Yet. Perhaps. I often think about places and if I could live there, and how I would live there. In Wyoming, I imagine a worn-wood horse barn, dusty boots and leather gloves, and a pot of herbs on a kitchen windowsill.

But that is imagination. Real sights: Smoke from, maybe, a wildfire. A slow-moving train. A small town where, at the gas station, a well-dressed man walking by asked about my license plate and if I was familiar with a certain place he’d been in Iowa. Crooked fences, dirt roads. Hay bales against the horizon.

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