A Change of Pace

NaBloPoMo 2007November 28, 2007

I took a day off today. When the Jentel van took us into town for our regular weekly errands and grocery shopping (necessary, but also designed to get us out of the way while the cleaning crew comes in), I asked to be taken to the Avis counter at the airport. There I took temporary possession of one very snazzy silver Toyota Prius with a scant 1500 miles on it.

For my first trip to Wyoming in 2005 I flew to Denver (much cheaper than flying into any of the small airports in Wyoming), rented a car, and drove myself hither and yon across the state from Cheyenne to Jackson, over the Togwotee Pass, and back again to Denver. That trip lasted two weeks. For this trip I made a decision to fly directly to Sheridan and refrain from renting a car, at least at first. It would cost a great deal to have the car for a whole month, and I knew that since the Jentel facility is so remote, going anywhere would require huge amounts of time in travel alone. It would be all too easy to gallivant my time away and have little to show of what I came here to do.

I have been working hard, working steadily, working effectively, for two solid weeks. Except for the trip to the Mint Bar last Saturday and our jaunt to Ucross yesterday, I have been moving from house to studio and back to house again every single day. I’ve been alone with my writing and with my own thought processes for hours at a time. I’ve slept when I’m tired and eaten when I’m hungry and have not really kept anything like the 9 to 5-like schedule I keep at home.

But although it’s true I am an introvert, and sometimes shy and uncertain around people, I am not a hermit. I am interested in people, in their lives, in what they do. I’ve enjoyed and made use of this time apart without obligations to anyone else. But I took a break today from all that scenery and all that solitude, and went gallivanting.

Sheridan, Wyoming is a town of about 15,000, about the size of the township I live in. But while my area is a bedroom community, with small shopping centers tucked here and there, Sheridan has an old-fashioned downtown. The chain stores — Blockbuster, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, the Holiday Inn — are all on the outskirts. Downtown there are locally-owned businesses, and the flavor of the town is so different from what I am accustomed to that I could not wait to walk around in it.

Dan's Western Wear

I parked my silver Prius in front of Dan’s Western Wear on Main Street because the sign is so big I knew I could always find my way back to it. I didn’t buy anything in there, although I do anticipate another visit to a pair of red and gold leather cowboy boots on sale for 50% off. At King’s Saddlery and King Ropes I walked among spurs and other metal objects whose use I am completely ignorant of. I saw leather chaps and chinks and belts and saddles and ropes and other items that are not decorative but useful and necessary to life on a working ranch. In the back of the store a man was hand-shaping a cowboy hat with steam.

In another store I bought “Git along little cowgirl” socks for a very young friend about to turn one year old on Sunday, and a rubber duckie with a cowboy hat for Lynn, who’s all grown up now but still has a love for the whimsical things of her childhood.

Up the street farther at a bookstore I bought post cards and a pack of paper with a mountain border for my year-end letter. I bought yarns the color of the Wyoming sky (made from wool bred and spun and dyed in Montana). I stepped into an art gallery and looked at landscapes by local artists, dozens and dozens of ways to interpret the mountains and the creeks and the grass hills of the grazing lands.

My eye was drawn to one painting in a corner. From across the room I could see that it was of a barn with some figures in front. “That’s a Pennsylvania barn,” I thought.

Almost forty years ago, as a last term senior informed she lacked three credits in the social studies to qualify for graduation, I took a class in American geography. The professor was working on his dissertation about American barn architecture and every single class included slides of the barns he’d visited and a long discursion about the type of barn found in whatever region we were looking at. “You’ll never see a barn like that outside of Nebraska!” he would exclaim.

That came back to me as I approached the painting, which looked more and more like a Pennsylvania barn the closer I got. And when I finally stood close enough to see the detail and read the title, I had to smile: “Amish Children at Play.”

I circled back then to the Dan’s sign, visible like a polestar everywhere I’d walked. You can probably tell by the quality of light in the picture that the day was overcast, and getting increasingly so. I started back along I-90 the twenty-two miles to the Lower Piney Road exit. I climbed into the hills and suddenly, one mile before the exit, as if a curtain had been dropped, I was driving through snow. “Turn sharply left,” said my GPS’s authoritative voice. “Drive 5.5 miles.” That was 5.5 miles over an unpaved dirt road that was rapidly becoming covered with snow.

I don’t know how much snow has fallen. I’ve been in my studio with the shade drawn for almost four hours, getting back to the work neglected today. I feel terrific, restored, ready for more solitude. My silver Prius stands ready to take me away to other scenery, at least a few more times. 

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