Wit and Wisdom in Wyoming

“Ah, Wyoming. It makes Nebraska look picturesque.”

Dismissing both Wyoming and Nebraska with one practiced parry, the wit represents the confluence of heritage (Italian), upbringing (New Jersey), and training (courtroom litigation). But, as we find to our sorrow the next day as we drive from Utah to Nebraska, the comment is not just witty: It’s true.  

Indeed, driving along a seemingly endless stretch of Interstate 80 through southern Wyoming, we find only two redeeming aspects to the scene laid out for us.

First, the top. As in Saskatchewan, the sky is half of what we see, and seems like more. Blue skies are smiling on, umm, us, but somehow the effect is still less than whelming.

Second, the edges. Along Wyoming’s borders the scene briefly becomes scenery, as some actual landscape slops over the respective state line. From an embarrassment of riches, Utah contributes red, rocky cliffs, Colorado offers snow-capped mountains, and Nebraska shares gently rolling farmland, curving rivers, and (gasp!) trees.

But most of our traverse of the Equality State looks not like Utah, Colorado, or Nebraska, worse luck. Most of it looks like this.

Wyoming's Great Basin Valley from (cough, cough) a Viewpoint

Wyoming’s Great Basin Valley from (cough, cough) a Viewpoint

And so, with not much to look at, I have a bit to think about. Mostly how to scrunch Wyoming, preserving its make-your-neighbours-look-good contribution to the Union, while minimizing its make-your-tourists-feel-like-a-patient-etherized-upon-a-table effect. I am confirmed in a view I first developed in university: My day-to-day has no need of T.S. Eliot.

Home again, I begin to investigate what I’m sure must be numerous online rants about Wyoming (“Scrunch it Now!”), engineering analyses (“Three Feasible Options for Scrunching Wyoming”), and literary criticism (“Iconic Wyoming Imagery in T. S. Eliot’s Mature Work”). Imagine my surprise when my search turns up nothing of the sort.

Curious, I Google “images of Wyoming” in an idle moment, and a State entirely unlike the one I was just in bursts into view. What the heck? Over.

The Tetons and the Snake River, by Ansel Adams Used with permission, through Wikimedia Commons

The Tetons and the Snake River, by Ansel Adams
Used with permission, through Wikimedia Commons

A quick review of the map helps. Along yet another edge—one we did not drive along—Wyoming is graced by Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Apparently this counterbalances a whole whack of truly tedious landscape; presumably it also explains the online forbearance, otherwise inexplicable in our “gotcha, flame ‘em” times.

We could find deep meaning here, I’m sure. Intellectual musings about not jumping to conclusions, not judging the whole by one part. Moral musings about the importance of what we look like, when pushed up against our neighbours. Philosophical musings about personhood, when we are defined in part by our boundaries with our neighbours. Even poetical musings (non-T.S.-Eliot-type, by preference): “They also serve who mostly make their neighbours picturesque.”

Me, I just hope that I give—to myself, others, and life in general—the same forbearance Wyoming gets: tolerance of some boring and even ugly bits, in light of some beauty, here and there.

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10 Comments

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10 Responses to Wit and Wisdom in Wyoming

  1. Dave

    I can attest you missed the best part of Wyoming. Not to mention the great elevation changes. And to miss “Jellystone” too.

    • Isabel Gibson

      Dave – I realized, belatedly, that although I visited Yellowstone as a child, I didn’t know what state it was in. (Yet more evidence that one needs to be driving to know where one is.) Anyway, Wyoming – the NW corner, at any rate – is on the bucket list for sure. And the Big Guy tells me that the interstate-highway system, wonderful as it is, was built quite deliberately in places as flat and unremarkable as they could find. Speed: It has a lot to answer for.

  2. Perhaps what I was told about Nebraska could apply to Wyoming…
    “…it’s not as flat as pee on a plate.”

    • John and I went to Nebraska for a week (after months of research for Vol I of NEBRASKA BY DUMMIES). It seemed beguiling and surprising!

      It did not disappoint, but then we travelled mostly on B and C roads, many of them unpaved through rolling hills and many trees! We happened on Surprise, NE — a little treed town of 21 people (and an Opera House) and was even invited by newlyweds to have a looked around their 2 bedroom, 125-year old house by a river… Purchase price 2013: $3,000.

      • Isabel Gibson

        Barbara – I know what you accomplished for Nebraska – maybe Wyoming needs the same attention? As we drove across Nebraska, I saw a sign for a runza (and had a vague idea of what that was!), and saw hundreds of sandhill cranes near (where else?) Kearney, sandhill crane capital of the world, adjacent to the North Platte River. Very exciting. Not just the cranes, but to have read about something and then to see it.

        • So you can imagine how J & I felt being there. Despite 104º F every bloody day…it was the best trip ever. I had always thought not knowing anything about a place was better. Live and learn. Wonderful, generous, happy people. Anyone with any ambition leaves.
          Like Penny (no last name…) on The Big Bang Theory.

          • Isabel Gibson

            Barbara – And Johnny Carson? I think so. And yeah, it’s fun to see things as a surprise, and as a fulfillment – both/and.

    • Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – Yes, that’s one good thing that can be said about it.

      • Joyce Schuman

        Wait a minute! Wyoming is my home state and those barren plains burrow deep in your soul. I love ’em! Have to say that the northern part of the state is spectacular, some of the prettiest country in the US.

        • Isabel Gibson

          Joyce – I know what you mean. I grew up in prairie and foothills country, and I know lots of folks (those who grew up with trees and water, for example) who think those are both too stark to be beautiful. Little do they know! I’d like to give southern Wyoming another try, but at a different time of the year (spring, maybe) and a different time of the day (late afternoon, maybe, with the slanting light).