Wind and Wildness

I’m back home after my month-long artist residency in southern Wyoming. Besides working on my book project, I hiked its hills, painted its mountains, presented my journals to a group of its schoolchildren, toured one of its small-town museums and drove its dirt roads to the back of beyond, but I can’t say I have anything more than a passing acquaintance with the state so far. Wyoming is big, complex and different. Despite being the 10th largest state in square miles, it has the least population of all 50 states. Fewer people than Alaska, fewer than little Rhode Island, even. How can that be? Oh, you can talk about the decrease in ranching and mining, young people leaving the ranching life for jobs in the big cities, the heavy snows, the bitter winters, the loneliness of wide open spaces, etcetera, but I think it’s all about the wind.

Sketched from inside my Subaru as the wind pushed clouds over the Sierra Madre range – ink & watercolor in a Hand-Book journal, 5 x 8

I shared my observations about Wyoming’s small population with a shopkeeper in Saratoga, the closest town to where I was living, who’s been selling Western gear there for years — cowboy hats and boots, Pendleton coats and blankets, silver bracelets with turquoise stones, that sort of thing. “ Yep,” he said peering out his shop window at small dust-devils dancing down the main street, “It’s the wind. Some people just can’t stand it, even if they’ve been here all their lives. It gets to you, you know.”

I should say. The wind has been an abiding presence all month long, a big bully striding across the rolling hills, knocking, pushing, shoving for hours, then settling down for a smoke before stomping around all over again.

Sketched from inside my Subaru as the wind tore down a canyon road –  ink & watercolor in a Hand-Book journal, 5 x 8

In Edvart Rolvaag’s 1924 novel Giants of the Earth, set in nearby South Dakota, the wife of the book’s protagonist is driven mad by the wind, and her response to it contributes to the book’s tragic ending. I can understand her. The wind seems malevolent: It creeps up on you in the morning as you’re sipping your first coffee, pretending to be just a gentle breeze wafting the first sweet scents of spring into the open window. But shortly after lunch it gets irritated at your inattention; it starts dancing on the porch, tapping at the windows, whining like an insistent child, “I’m here, I’m here! Let me in!” Look out the window: Great clouds of dust rise and swirl behind the cars that move along the dirt roads; aspens already bent from constant buffeting bend some more. Step outside: Gusts slap you in the face, push their way through the door, knock you back into the room. Step out onto the trail: A prize fighter is waiting for you, punching and pausing, punching and pausing, trying to knock you to the ground. Head west and you meet the beast head on, head east and he sends you flying. Consider this: Driving home, I hardly had my foot on the gas, the wind was propelling me so swiftly down the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80.

Sketched from the driver’s seat as wind pummeled the back of my Subaru – ink & watercolor on paper, 5 x 8

You’d think in my telling you this I would hate the wind I encountered in Wyoming. Not so! The wind is something that helps keep Wyoming wild, and to me that’s a good thing. A bully it may be, but in its unrelenting challenge to human comfort, it keeps Wyoming the kind of place where other creatures still find safety and sustenance, a place where wild horses, moose, elk, bears, wolves and mountain lions can still roam free. It’s the kind of place I like, the kind of place I want to return to. So keep it up, wind; keep Wyoming different.

Comments

  1. Gail Frasier says:

    Beautifully written, Marilynn.

  2. Kent Lawrence says:

    Wow…can you write too…paint/draws a picture in words. Still remember you from Arts in the Fields in Oregon, with Barbara Ratner.

  3. Mikki Dillon says:

    I agree with Gail…quite wonderful, Marilynn. Loved your solution to painting too! 🙂 Mikki

    • Ha, ha, Mikki. I’m sure you’ve tried car painting too. I think I’ll rig up some kind of palette-thingy that will actually fit the steering wheel and/or passenger seat dashboard, as we’re planning to head back up into the windy west again this summer.

  4. Mary Osgood says:

    wonderful watercolor sketches and writing about the wind. I have to admit that I don’t like wind but enjoyed your writing anyway. If I go through WY I’ll stay in the car.

  5. Andrea Gabel says:

    I always thought Wyoming is beautiful except for the darn wind. Now I can appreciate it. Thanks Marilynn. Your paintings are super, too!

  6. Patty Hughes says:

    So nicely written, Marilynn!! Love your journal paintings too. I think you were especially inspired in the Wyoming environment!! Kudos to my artsy friend!!

  7. Sandra fisher says:

    Love this story! What an amazing country we live in with such contrasts.
    Thanks for sharing your adventure!

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