Updated: Aug 12, 2021
The other day, while scrolling through a facebook group of Wyoming-lovers, I came across quite a few posts from people of all ages, dreaming about moving to Wyoming.
I threw out the question: "What makes you want to move to Wyoming?" The answers were varied, but overall pretty positive. From low taxes, to personal freedoms, to outdoor enthusiasts wanting to explore our great state.
I especially could relate to so many young families wanting to raise their growing brood in our wide open spaces and unspoiled outdoors.
Although it's been a hot minute since I was that young, the whole conversation took me back to my own childhood, and growing up in Wyoming.
I was taken way back to the crisp night-time games of "Kick the Can" through the streets of our tiny town. I re-lived playing hide and seek through the entire town, utilizing neighbors back yards, because we knew who might not mind us hopping their fence and crouching behind their lilac bushes.
My dad loves to recall coming home to a stack of bikes in our yard, from the pack of town kids we ran with, (Which was everyone, actually. When there aren't that many kids to begin with, you learn to accept what you get, and adapt to make it work.) Dad knew that if the pile wasn't in our yard, it was in someone else's and all he had to do was ask a passerby where we might be found.
It isn't with as big a smile that he remembers when his car broke down outside town and the news got back to Mama quicker than he did. Small towns are like that, with a lot of minding everyone's business. But it always seemed to work out for the best.
My family and I moved to Midwest, WY the summer before my 8th grade year. My mother grew up in this area, and my grandfather still lived in the same house she grew up in. Moving to Wyoming from a big city seemed like an adventure and a bore to me all at the same time.
Our first induction into small town life happened a bit like this: My sister and I were standing outside our small Wyoming house, being welcomed by two neighborhood boys who marveled at our Texas accent, our big city ways, and really, REALLY wanted to show us something "pretty cool". Turned out, it was a maggot-filled decaying pig somewhere out in the oilfield, but it was a precursory glimpse into what kind of grit was going to be needed to become a rural Wyoming kid.
We grew to love and loathe "going to town" because while it meant a whole lot of endless errands, it also meant we might get to eat out, which was a rare treat since our town of 300 people was a 100 mile round trip from anywhere.
Another rare treat was following Grandpa through the Big Horns, looking for his favorite fishing spot. Me, eyeing the No tresspassing signs as we crawled through some brush. "Grandpa, I don't think we are supposed to be over here." Grandpa: "Been fishing here longer than you've been around." And he had!
School in Wyoming was an adjustment. Coming from a Jr. High of hundreds of kids, to the small K-12 school was bizarre to us, and overwhelming in it's intimate, small-town way. Our classmates already knew who we were, who we belonged to, and probably a whole lot of not-so-true but interesting facts that had made their way around school before we ever got there. But we grew close, and friends and teachers from our class of less than 20 are a large part of my facebook page today.
I know I can count on them now, just as I did then.
After I graduated, I couldn't wait to spread my wings and leave behind "boring" Wyoming. I found a job in New York City, waved goodbye to my mama, and made my way back out into the big world.
I stayed gone a really long time.
A few years ago, my mama became ill and I returned home to Wyoming to help care for her. I had mixed feelings about coming back to my teeny hometown, but I felt a sense of relief, too. I had to re-learn what it meant to relax, learn to make small talk about gardens, who got the post office job, upcoming weather forecasts and most recent treks to town. I learned how to just "be" as opposed to always "doing".
I was struck by how many people still smoked cigarettes, but I was even more taken aback by how many people were still happily married. The solid, sturdy, resilient lives they led really surprised and spoke to me.
While caring for Mama in her last days, a huge storm came through town and blew down gigantic, heavy branches from my tree. In between shifts at Mom's I tried to avoid looking at the unsightly mess that stretched into the alleyway next to my house. It was huge and it was just too much.
A few mornings later, I had a text from the Mayor's wife, noting that the mayor had seen the branches outside my fence.
My stomach sank a little. I sighed but continued to read... She was asking me if it would be ok if he came over and took care of the branches for me- since our family was going through so much. I returned later to see he had mowed for me as well. I sat in my car and cried. Any larger city would have cited and fined me with no knowledge or care to what I even needed.
It didn't take long to remember all the reasons I love Wyoming. It feels safe. It feels consistent, It's enduring, and tough and tenacious and secure. The people of Wyoming are also pretty much unchanged. And there's so much comfort in that. Coming home, felt like.. well- coming home.
It's as if the whole vast state of Wyoming remembered me and knew just what I needed. The calm, unwavering quiet of when life was simpler. Room to breathe and room to be. Security in knowing mostly what to expect and timeless, reliable, predictable shelter.
So while today's families might not live my same experience - and growing up today seems infinitely more complex, no matter where you live- I can't help but think that these young parents are on to something. Wyoming is a great place to raise kids.
Even beyond the obvious, wildlife-filled outdoor paradise, fresh air, open fields, vast skies, and endless exploration; there's the comforting and steady embrace of old-time values, peace, security and plenty of room to grow.