I thought we were in the great West the last time I wrote, but now that we are in Wyoming, I think we are REALLY in the West. The space between towns is growing, and the people inhabiting the land is shrinking. Desolation rules here. Unlike the Midwest, where crops showed that people care about the land, here the only indication of human life are cow fences, railroad tracks, and the roads on which we ride.
It is beautiful in Wyoming. The never-ending blue skys, the fluffy clouds rolling across the sky quickly in the warm breeze, the sage brush that reminds me of Zane Grey’s great stories, and the scorched yellow grasses all make me dream of running away and becoming the cowgirl I was born to be. The lack of humans is a shock to the system after living on the East Coast, where there is no open land.
Cycling down a gravel road today, which was open pasture land for cows, horses and bison, I couldn’t help but wonder about the people who traveled thousands of miles to live here, and the people who have stayed since those times. This land is brutal–the sun, closer than ever to the earth, bakes the ground dry and useless for farming. There are no crops to be pulled from the arid land here, and no shade to be found in these flat, tree-less acres. How did people settle here? What could they have hoped to get from this most angry terrain? And why did they stay? What kept these people here?
Arriving in the last two towns in which I have stayed for the night, I have confronted my own prejudice. I have unfounded assumptions about the inhabitants of the small towns of the West, and they are buried deep. Through nearly a lifetime of believing that New York City is the epitome of intelligence and acceptance, I have gained an unrealistic view of the rest of the country’s ability to welcome difference (thus causing me to be unaccepting and welcoming in my own right). Some of my ignorance has been dismantled by the shock of people again and again offering me pieces of their life and trusting me with their endless generosity. I have written about my deepening love of America and my countrymen in the past.
But, I am sad to report, that upon arrival into Wyoming, I have experienced a feeling of difference. With the great change in landscape, lifestyle, and population, I have felt a change in my ability to relate. Words are failing me, and fear of the other has shadowed my conversation. Our leadership team warned us that sometimes the people we meet will not share our same views, or speak in the same politically correct language we foster on this trip. This is true of anyone I might meet, but somehow the strangeness of the landscape makes the warning weigh more heavily on me.
These feelings have been confirmed by some people I have met, where conversation runs dry or hostile immediately, and uprooted by others that have treated me with the same kindness I have experienced in all of America. In summary, the West seems no stranger than every other place I might find myself, and yet the feelings remain.
As of tonight, I have no resolution for these feelings. I hope that the day after next, on our build site in Casper, I will again be able to connect with my fellow Americans on the basis of service work. For, when it really comes down to it, what speaks more firmly than words is the change a group of people can make in the world. Our service is so much stronger than language.