It’s a funny thing when I return to Wyoming and the country where I was raised. I get even just a peak at those old, frosty, snow-capped mountains and I feel the itch, that proverbial Call of the Wild. In the quiet of the wind, listening to the snow fall, I feel an inevitable connection. I can’t deny it. I tip my hat, turn off the radio, and give salute to all of the fallen soldiers and the thousands of crosses at the Veterans Cemetery, and then begins the hunt. My eyes strain for the Wyoming sign at the border, where traditionally I’ve always given my best YeeHaw, but this time I just prayed as I crossed. I always search the sky as I pass over that imaginary line, because to me, it really is such a magical place that I expect to see some kind of sign in the sky as I cross the threshold into the Terabithia of my soul. Always I seek out some hawk soaring across the plateaus, and always I assume that he has been sent there, placed there as a sign to bless my travels. I bob and pop my head all over the car, trying to peek around the rolling hills, driving like a drunk down the interstate as I look for the Devil’s Tower, and as my dad’s friend once called them, the infamous B____y Buttes. Their real nickname considered by some to be hugely inappropriate, I won’t mention here. I will leave it to your own imagination. I didn’t make up the name, I just heard it when I was a kid, and what comment could make it’s mark more indelibly on an innocent little boy’s imagination than two somewhat irregular, yet massively large mounds standing side by side in the distance, and the burning questions of whether or not they really looked so awkward in real life. At the Tower I look for the Great Buffalo, a behemoth of a mountain overshadowing the sleepy town of Sundance. From a distance, my 4th Grade teacher Mrs. Cruise pointed out, it looks like the giant back of a powerful buffalo grazing on the plains. It always makes me think of Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox. I look for the field where we stopped to pick up shards of Mica on a field trip, but I’m always disappointed because I can never remember the spot. They used it for glass in the old days on their stoves. I’ve always wanted to grab some for my kids, and yet every year I’m denied. Finally comes that familiar smoke-stack, that man-made oasis in the middle of ranch country. I fix my eyes upon Gillette and the Wyodak coal mine dead ahead. A coal train slugs and chugs just along the next draw, and the turtle and the hare race for the finish line to the land where I grew up. I wind down back roads that I remember taking at breakneck speeds in my younger days, and fly past the ranch of a girl I used to date. I shoot through a tunnel under the railroad where once I parked on the tracks. I know the feel and tone of each cattle guard. Then off in the distance I can see those beautiful Bighorn mountains, and that’s when I know I’ve returned.
I never get to stay long. Usually just a quick camping trip spotted with fly-fishing and a short visit with my Dad, and then it’s back to the world. But always, every time, a little piece of Wyoming rubs off on me, stays with me, and changes even the smallest bit of who I am. This trip was a great time of talking with my Dad, and then the chance to see my old-friend and their new baby boy, Kelly Cody. At 3 days old, I bought him his first present. A Leatherman Wingman knife and Bible, two of the greatest tools on Earth. I told his Mom and Dad that the rest is up to them.
I shot a couple pics of the Tower on my way out, and the claw marks from where the Great Bear tried to climb up to eat the Indians for breakfast, just before they cut off his tail. Then I turned my wheels back east and began that dreadfully flat and solitary journey across the plains of South Dakota.
As is usual, I always tell myself that some piece of Heaven will always look like the creek up in those mountains, where the water glistens in the sun and the moose drift through the willows. I think about when or if I’ll see it again, and always tell myself…. Maybe next year….