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Life on 'Planet Wyoming'

Nov 15, 2012 - By Betty Starks Case

The holiday is past, but I'm remembering a small boy about age 5 who rang our doorbell on Halloween. He sent my thinking into an orbit of its own.

I always try to respond to the kids' Halloween costumes, knowing they've given a lot of time and excitement to choosing them.

So when I heard, "Trick or treat," I said, "Your costume looks like you're from outer space. Which planet are you from?"

"Wyoming," came the quick reply.

Planet Wyoming? I'm sure the child was responding to what he'd learned about where he lives. But his answer to my question spoke far more than he knew.

My mind rolled like Google Earth to the area where Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the U.S., where powerful winds and ocean waves washed over the lives of millions of people, leaving them homeless, fearful, hungry and cold.

The little boy was right. In contrast, it seemed we were on a different planet - one called Wyoming - where we had only a shortage of moisture and approaching winter to deal with.

While we were certainly not trained or equipped to respond to a storm such as Sandy, many of us in Wyoming have by choice experienced living without indoor water, bathrooms and heat, waking to frost on our eyelashes, and cooking food over a campfire in the wind, rain or snow. Many, including my mate and I, have hiked the long hill to Jade Lake and other high country places where one might be confronted by a mad mama moose or a grizzly. A hurricane might offer the better chance of survival.

Then there are those of us who grew up healthy and able without any of the modern conveniences in our daily lives. We'd never known the difference, so how could we see what we were missing? Or that some might view our circumstance as unlivable?

Following Hurricane Sandy, I read of an elderly Brooklyn man who said, "I grew up in a cold-water flat with no heat at all. And this hurricane experience is just for a week or two. So boo-hoo."

Seems to me this man's view was a bit crass and uncaring for all those unfortunate hurricane victims, even though he was one of them.

My mate's and my past experience did not prevent our eyes from welling with tears at the horrible situation of our fellow humans back East, or our throats from closing around the huge lumps that formed as we watched their struggle on television.

Many, if not most of them had found themselves suddenly dealing with the harshness of nature head-on for the first time. We'd been toughened by an earlier life experience we'd known as normal, and later, by our chosen life on Planet Wyoming.

Thankfully, the hurricane survivors' situation is temporary, though difficult. It's not a lifestyle as it was for we who are old enough to recall years of deprivation through most of our childhood. Yet we now believe that living in tar-papered shacks and working hard to get fresh milk, eggs and garden vegetables made us strong and able to cope with whatever the world brought to our future.

That, in fact, is how the West was won, as the 1962 movie of that name suggests. And Planet Wyoming, determined to travel its own path as independently as possible, believes such toughness can keep it that way.

When would-be participants of the annual New York City Marathon fussed that their famed event had been called off, we saw the answer.

"Why don't they just run down the streets of those needy citizens and ask what they can do to help?" we growled.

We were happy to learn that some of them eventually got the idea.

According to British writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley, "Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him."

I'm sure the people who lived through Hurricane Sandy will never again take for granted the conveniences that make their lives more comfortable -- or simply possible.

And way out in Wyoming, where we do live on a planet pretty much of our own design, we'll continue to deal with nature's unpredictable ways day to day, to love the surprises in Halloween's trick or treaters, blink back tears when "Taps" is played on Veterans Day, and give Thanksgiving gratitude for the life we live here.

The simple life isn't always as simple as is sometimes portrayed. But the tough-tender spirit of Planet Wyoming survives -- and we move in our chosen orbit wherever we can.

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