Five new books arrived on my doorstep yesterday, two on Utah, two from Wyoming, and one, a new novel about India. Even though my road trip begins in New Mexico and eventually travels through a corner of Nebraska, much of South Dakota and up to northwest Minnesota, the states I’m most excited about traversing are Utah and Wyoming. Utah because I’ve only been in and out of Salt Lake City and Wyoming because…well because…I simply love that state.
There’s just enough time before next Saturday to somehow get through four books…and it helps if you realize right away that one can be skipped—that would be The Executioner’s Song (Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize winner which all takes place in Utah). Gary Gilmore, the executed murderer of the title was a completely unlikeable person whom I choose not to spend a perfectly good week with at this point in time. I know (Pulitzer Prize!) it’s a brilliant book; it’s also 1,086 pages long which will require at least a two-week illness to read which I hope not to experience for a long time.
I also have Massacre at Mountain Meadows, a tale of Mormon mass murder, which should make me feel all warm and fuzzy as I drive on up to Moab. The only other book I’ve read about Utah is Under the Banner of Heaven (Jon Krakauer) which doesn’t put Mormons, at least the fundamentalists among them, in good stead either. I think it’s best if I just listen to the soundtrack of the wonderfully raunchy Book of Mormon as I head north to my motel in Moab and beyond.
What I am looking forward to is yet one more drive through Wyoming, this time on some new highways. The spaces of that state are appealing on so many levels. I’m almost through Gretel Ehrlich’ The Solace of Open Spaces, her lyrical descriptions of Wyoming’s wide-open territories are beautiful beyond my ability to articulate. (Ehrlich is also the author of one of my favorite books of all time, This Cold Heaven, about her time in Greenland.) I will share some of her words about Wyoming.
“Most characteristic of the state’s landscape is what a developer euphemistically describes as ‘indigenous growth right up to your front door’—a reference to waterless stands of salt sage, snakes, jack rabbit, deerflies, red dust, a brief respite of wildflowers, dry washes, and no trees. In the Great Plains the vistas look like music, like Kyries of grass, but Wyoming seems to be the doing of a mad architect—tumbled and twisted, ribboned with faded, deathbed colors, thrust up and pulled down as if the place had been started out of a deep sleep and thrown into a pure light.” (p. 3)
My love affair with Wyoming began at about age ten when I started reading My Friend Flicka, soon to be followed by Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming. I was a scrawny bookish little girl living at the end of a gravel road in the far north of woodsy Minnesota. I had little interest in dolls or pretties, my only childish passion being animals and, even more than the animals themselves, books about animals.
I wanted to be on that ranch in those books—in Wyoming with all of the horses and the young boy named Ken, with whom I could play since my brother was too much younger to have any buddy-value. Even though Robert was only six at the time, he has managed to remember enough of my story-walking for a lifetime of jibes. You see, I made up endless stories of my own Wyoming ranch and horses and friends and, according to Robert, as I walked up and down the lane to our house telling myself these tall tales, I shook my hands up and down in sort of rhythmically regular, but nevertheless, oddly spastic movements. Shut up Robert. Wyoming and I have history you see.
On my travels I drive in silence, stopping often for requisite photos of crumbling cabins, cattle gathered for a drink ‘neath the picturesque windmill, and the two-lane meandering on up ahead as far as I can see. I think about cowboys and Indians and settlers…I look for Flicka and Thunderhead and now I will treasure Ghost (my new white car) and my job and my health for letting me out here on the road!
Also on the reading list—Annie Proulx’ Close Range. She’s another Wyoming lover, the author of Brokeback Mountain and many other fine books.
“The country appeared as empty ground, big sagebrush, rabbitbrush, intricate sky, flocks of small birds like packs of cards thrown up in the air, and a faint track drifting toward the red-walled horizon. Graves were unmarked, fallen house timbers and corrals burned up in old campfires. Nothing much but weather and distance, the distance punctuated once in a while by ranch gates, and to the north the endless murmur and sun-flash of semis rolling along the interstate.” (“The Bunchgrass Edge of the World, p. 121)
I cannot leave Wyoming without acknowledging one of my favorite writers, Alexandra Fuller, whose books about her African home and life I’ve come to love (Don’t’ Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight…). Fuller moved to Wyoming and a marriage and a divorce and wrote Leaving Before the Rains Come. The book is and isn’t about Wyoming. It’s really deeply and soulfully-impactful about Fuller and her heart. However it happens in Wyoming and here’s a description from that time and place.
“By the beginning of April 2010 in Wyoming, the earth’s orbit had tipped enough to allow the sun’s warmth to penetrate layers of tree bark and snow. Redwing blackbirds had returned to the willow bottoms along the river where I walked Dilly most days; our horses over in their field in Idaho had begun shedding their winter coats in salt-matted chunks; the snow was receding in a series of white high-tide marks from the south-facing wall of our house. Grape hyacinth and crocuses speared pioneering shoots out of the freshly thawed ground. Spring in the Rocky Mountains was a time of everything up and out and forward. Last month’s winter, with its blizzards and below-zero wind chills and torporing chickadees, was something that seemed to have happened to other people in another world.” (p. 63)
Why do smart literate women love Wyoming so much? Can I be one of them please?
Category: AROUND THE WORLD, NORTH AMERICA Tags: Alexandra Fuller, Annie Proulx, BOOK OF MORMON, books, Close Range, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Green Grass of Wyoming, Gretel Ehrlich, Jon Krakauer, Leaving Before the Rains Come, Mary O'Hara, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, My Friend Flicka, Norman Mailer, ROAD TRIPS, The Executioner’s Song, The Solace of Open Spaces, Thunderhead, Travel, Under the Banner of Heaven, Utah, writers, WYOMING