Wyoming through fresh eyes

Feb 26, 2016 By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

Growing up in Wyoming sometimes made me yearn to escape it.

I love my home, and I always will, but it is not necessarily an exciting place.

That's not so bad for some reasons, but it's enough sometimes to make a young person want to get away for a while. For the first few years after leaving home, that feeling figured prominently in my descriptions of the state when it came up.

How, I thought, was I to defend Riverton and Wyoming to people I met who were from New York or California? That's where the action was.

But I had an encounter recently that made me think differently.

I'm a grad student now, and it happens that the subject I study also is taught at the University of Wyoming. There aren't too many other programs like it in the country, and many serious students applied to nearly all of them.

This has led to passing familiarity with Laramie in my social circles here in Iowa.

That's something I'm not used to. It often catches me by surprise, as it did a few nights ago when one friend told me she'd almost gone to UW.

In fact, she'd been so close to going that she had paid a lengthy visit to the campus in January of last year.

Immediately, I knew the place must have made a bad impression. January in Laramie?

"A temperate paradise?" I asked.

She laughed. Yes, there was a blizzard, she said, with constant, howling wind. After the storm cleared, the temperature was in single digits.

"Don't worry," I said, "that only goes on for 51 weeks a year." Heh-heh-heh. It's the kind of comment I sometimes make almost out of habit, defending myself and my state by immediately conceding ground. Poor form, I know.

"Well, did you have a good time?"

I braced myself. My peer was from New York City. Laramie must have seemed so small, maybe even desolate. And yet:

"I had a wonderful time, yes!" she said, her response taking me entirely by surprise. "It was so beautiful there!"

Just like that, she was off: the mountains, the canyons, wonders of the natural world she was entirely unaccustomed to. The air was fresh, the sky was huge and amazing, the horizon seemed so far away.

To hear her talk, Wyoming was like no other place on Earth. It had been difficult she said, to pull herself away.

Thinking about the conversation since, I've realized that the impression I get from growing up in Wyoming often isn't the same one most people have visiting it. The occasional dreariness, the size, the chill... Things I see after living here for years, and assume others will fixate on - differences between our state's depiction on the silver screen and the reality of daily life - aren't actually what they notice.

Instead, they see the beautiful things that I forget too easily, the prairies and hills and plants and animals unmatched by anything that the New Yorkers and Californians ever experience in their day to day.

Let's keep an eye out for these little, pretty, unique things. When you live somewhere long enough, the wonderful things about it might start to seem normal, or insignificant.

With so much to appreciate in Wyoming, it would be a shame to let ourselves fail to see it.

Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck graduated recently from Yale University. He is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.