My mother and I crunch in swift, evening walk strides down the gravely dirt road to which the swollen asphalt of Sunset Rim gives way. We set out later than we meant to. Timing is everything, and our lateness gives us this particular view of a sun setting, just now, just here, just for us.
The sky spins a swirling chiffon of rodeo pink cotton candy as we pass the barn. Carter, Cedar, Rattlesnake and Heart rise: Colossal, purple teeth looming, hankering for a bite of the sky’s burgeoning sweetness. Cedar — or, as some of us locals like to call it, Spirit — and Rattlesnake tower close, together, cloaked in cool blue, crowned in smoky pink.
“They don’t call it Sunset Rim for nothing,” my family likes to say. Neither my mom nor I say it now, because we don’t need to. The sky speaks for itself, and we’re here to listen.
As we clomp merrily on, up the rise, toward prairie flatness that spreads a sage-strewn preamble to juniper-spotted hills, a fire catches. Above us, flames melt the sky’s rosebud confection into a radiating fan of molten orange. We stop to stare, warming ourselves at the atmosphere’s hearth. We zip our coats all the way up before we walk on. The sun goes down. The sky goes dark. The air goes cold.
By the time we pass through the gaping cattle gate and turn left onto the two-track to climb Mount Catherine (she is more hill than mount), the sky waxes silken violet and dusk smudges at crisp outlines of rocks and trees.
From here — east and south of Cody on trail wending into BLM land that leads you to hills that if you climb and cross, drop you down into the rig-spotted, alkaline expanse of Oregon Basin — from this road, on this night, right now, the whole world reveals itself just for us. Eden and eternity find us, out on the BLM on a Monday night.
Wyoming sets the stage. My mom and I — and our long-legged, beard-snouted Pudelpointers, Peter and Rosie (OK, Rosie is half German wirehair) — step upon it as the players. Our role is prodigious: what will we do in such a setting? For a setting as stupendous as this, one expects deep sentiments and great acts. It is no ordinary stage.
I admit I’m biased. That’s why I’m writing a column and not a news piece. I’ll just go ahead and tell you flat-out: I think we live in one of the most epic, unsurpassed, varied, mysterious and wake-me-up-am-I-dreaming beautiful places in the world. There’s nothing objective about my love for this place; I am its subject and it is mine, and we’ve been all tied up in our subjectivity together since I was born here 27 years ago.
But I have visited and explored and inhabited other destinations — teeming cities and sweating coastlines and rolling hill country. When all the rainforested vistas and oceanic mornings and cardamom coffees of my world-flung experiences combine with my born bias for home, it only builds the fire of my passion for the Big Horn Basin higher and hotter. The more perspective I prescribe into my lens of the world, the more compelled I feel to focus my story in this setting. Or, at the very least, to be very conscious of and very grateful for the parts of my story that do unfold in such a rugged, wildly uncontainable, more-often-than-not utterly celestial, setting.
So, wherever we are, our stories are ours to take up the pen to write, to draw in the breath to live. That which we experience most fully, incorporate most feelingly — the shy smile and bright spark in a child’s eyes, the gracious and unexpected ceding of a premier parking spot at the grocery store — comprises the dynamic details of the story we each live to tell. I would also add, from my rather biased and quite fortunate perspective, that we, dear folks of Park County, see and contribute to Life’s Story from an exceptionally extraordinary belvedere, both naturally and communally.
We know when we see a sunset spread and settle over our mountains, or when we watch a red-tailed hawk dip and glide through our skies. We know when we spot a bald eagle as it flashes into view, visible for a drive-by moment, tucked into its hidden perch on bare cottonwood branches beside a stark small-town billboard. We know when we watch someone open the post office door for the stranger coming in with an armful of holiday parcels, or when we see a family out riding their chrome-flecked bikes into the sunny afternoon together. We know deep in our breast these small miracles matter.
Such moments are so suddenly miraculous they move us beyond explanation and deep into experience. These are the moments that beg us to step forward, to count them as blessings in the deepest sense of the word, to witness them and to be part of them, wholly, in this eternal instant.
From the top of Mount Catherine, on a morning that has passed and will come again, my friend Landon and I look down at Oregon Basin to see a tsunami rising up, spraying into the sky. The white tongue of alkaline dust rears and rolls across the dry lakebed below, gaining momentum and trailing thickly off into the horizon of cerulean prairie. The debris from its main swell makes the whole basin hazy and gray. He and I share a momentary look that promises to keep this scene with us always.
The story of a place is always in the telling. The end is never quite worked out. It is always vaguely visible, but never reachable, and always shifting, like the end of a rainbow. The riches are in the rainbow itself, in how it fits into the arc of your story. And yes, in having the opportunity to be a part of the story set in a place like this, I do think we’ve struck gold.