There is very little water here.
The plains look like ocean, and they ripple with gold and blustery wind. It’s high up here. We have an aspen in our front yard, and now in late September the first of its leaves are shivering in the persistent wind and spinning down like coins into the yard. We have rocks, and a deer skull, and potted mint.
This place is old.
Our house was built in the year 1900. The walls are three feet thick, solid stone. It’s cool, even in the afternoon, and especially when the wind blows in the gray dawn, and the bedroom air on my face is fifty degrees cooler than my body wrapped like a warm gyro in thick down and my great-grandmother’s quilt.
The outside is beige stucco. On slow rainy days I walk, and on sunny days, days when things are happening, I bike on my mother’s candy-red 1982 Univega. I walk to my office in the English building. The office is a graduate assistant office. I share it with Nick, Olivia, Kenny, and Ginger. Olivia and Ginger are poets. Nick writes fiction. Kenny studies literary criticism, I’m not sure what. The other day I saw a stray loose leaf on his desk scrawled all over in deep black ink, something about slavery, and feminism, and hegemonic patriarchy. I think he’s writing some kind of article.
I bicycle downtown. It’s close. There’s a yoga studio that used to be a ballet school, with creaky original wood floors and high ceilings and the old subtle markings of leather toes being dragged over the wood, in swirls and short stops. There’s a vegetarian restaurant, Sweet Melissa’s, that doubles as the best bar in town, Front Street. On Fridays the streets shut down all day for a farmer’s market, and I skip past the fresh bread and salsa and produce for the coffee shop, Coal Creek. When my dad (an occasionally persnickety coffee connoisseur) visited in August, he told me Coal Creek served him the best coffee he’d tasted in fifteen years.
I usually find a tiny table where I can see everything. I spread out my environmental policy reading, and watch people. Sometimes there’s a band, a couple guys with a guitar and drums and soulful voices. Sometimes there’s a girl who sings like Nashville in the sixties, up and down and strong, with true concrete details, like I try to teach my freshmen in composition.
Sometimes the streets pile up on one another and the ocean plains call, and beyond those, the mountains. On mornings like that I hop in my little blue Fit and drive ten minutes to Happy Jack, and run on the warren of trails through aspen and fir and spruce. Some days we drive west, to the Snowies, and explore the peaks and the high glacial lakes and the subtly glittering quartz boulder fields. Once we stepped through some low juniper in search of the next cairn, and stopped suddenly as twenty elk ladies silently traipsed past. They didn’t notice us, and we didn’t find the cairn.
This is a kind place. Strangers smile, and people say “bless you” if you sneeze on the sidewalk. I think it’s necessary. I think it’s late September and something is coming, a deep winter that blows hard snow into your skin and over the highways out of town. The highways shut down and this will be it, sometimes, this small western town on the plains, somehow tough and vulnerable all at once, alone in the eerie hugeness of this dry cold state. All the university and imported culture in the world cannot save a person, a town, from a Wyoming winter.
So while it’s still warm and the aspen aren’t all the way gold, I find all the pools of sunlight I can, like a cat. I chase their fleeting warmth with something verging on desperation. I bicycle to class and to meet friends downtown, making confidently tight turns on for-now dry streets. I run in the prairie, and in the hills, and spy on elk by lakes in the mountains.
I smile at strangers and they smile also.