Six Reasons Living On A Wyoming Homestead Blows
It’s a cold October morning, creeping towards bitter here on my little Wyoming homestead. The sky has been grey and bloated all morning. It’s hard to describe if you’ve never seen clouds roll in that are wanting to snow, but it only takes one viewing to memorize the look and smell of impending snow in the air. The snow started spilling out about fifteen minutes ago and now the bitter wind is stinging wet with snow as well. The animals are all huddled in their enclosures. The chickens didn’t even glance out of their door. They knew what was coming.
It’s getting close to the time of year that I start to question all my life decisions that have led and kept me here, on the cold, windswept plains of Wyoming. This is the season of wind, and towering snowdrifts, and a vast beige-colored landscape that is occasionally dotted by white patches. It’s not the picturesque, snowy winter from our childhood visions. My winter snow is dirt-covered, wind-curled drifts that are draped across the prairie. In many ways, Wyoming is an empty land. We’re the least populated state in the country. There are only a few of us who call this high prairie land home. So, what keeps us here? People who love Wyoming love it fiercely. They claim their state with a ferocity rarely seen. Yet even as we love it, we all know that our old girl isn’t perfect. She has her faults that make her hard to love at times. Yet here I am. Here we all are. Us hearty, country folk.
Five Reasons Living and Farming In Wyoming Blows:
Reason 1: The WIND
Lord, help me. The wind. The wind blows in Wyoming. It blows the storms in to darken our skies, it blows in hard, side-ways driving snow, it blows in dirt, it blows over semi-trucks and small children and trees. It blows and blows, sometimes for days and you begin to wonder if it will ever stop. The winds come in the late fall and don’t leave until spring and they make me angry and I hide in my house like a hermit and try to pretend the incessant noise doesn’t exist. I dread going outside and getting caught in it. I hate driving in it, especially when it’s accompanied by its friend, the ground blizzard. You can drive south into Colorado or north into Montana, and the wind will miraculously stop at the border. And it’s infuriating. But, but. That same wind brings in the winter storms that drape our mountains in beautiful, fluffy snow. Snow that’s waist deep and beautiful and perfect for sledding or skiing. It melts in the spring and fills our streams and lakes. I may live on the prairie, but ten minutes away from me is a wonderland, and it’s there that we go to drown out our windy sorrows.
And is my forest wonderland crowded and over-congested? No. My friends from Colorado will openly say that they hate our wind. And even though we begrudgingly agree, we’re glad they hate it. Towns in Colorado like Fort Collins have ballooned in recent years, and farmland is quickly turning into housing developments. But not Wyoming. Although I would love more economic development, I also know that development is a double-edged sword. Development brings jobs and opportunities. But over-development brings congestion and an over-abundance of people. Don’t think I hate Colorado, because I don’t. We love being able to go to the big city and experience the museums, and Culture with a capital C. But all those people living together has a cost. And I appreciate being able to return to my uncrowded state. In some ways, I’m glad that the wind is frustrating. The wind blows at us, constantly biting into us. And some can’t handle it, and they return from whence they came. But those of us who stay are shaped by the wind. The wind cuts at us, reshaping and refining us. We’re no longer soft. We’re hard and strong and resilient.
Reason 2: The Cold!
Winter in Wyoming can be bitter. The combination of the wind and the chilly air make the air feel unbearably cold. Getting blasted with the frigid, windy air sucks all the warmth right off of your body, no matter how many layers you’re wearing. I can handle cold weather. I can handle bitter cold weather. But when you add that good old Wyoming wind, it’s a lot to take. Taking water inside the coop to my spoiled chickens who refuse to leave their coop when the temperatures really drop is no treat. Neither is trying to keep their coop clean when the poop is all frozen to the ground. Pretty much trying to do any farm chores that require the use of nimble fingers becomes a challenge. The cold is one of those things I have a hard time loving about Wyoming, just like the wind. I know that when my husband used to work up in Anchorage, we used to compare temperatures over the phone, and most of the time, Wyoming won with the coldest temps. Or lost, depending on how you look at it. But still, when the wind stops blowing, I layer on my clothes and I head back out in the cold, frozen nostrils and all. And I see the hoarfrost. And I enjoy the solitude of nature. And that’s okay.
Reason 3: The big, brown prairie
Come February, I’m so sick of looking at brown I can barely stand it. The bare trees are brown, the dirt is brown, all the prairie grasses are just plain brown. All winter long, our landscape is barren and plain. People who drive down our interstates wonder if anyone, in fact lives here. There’s nothing for my animals to eat and they get bored. The chickens pick on each other and I have to intervene. My goats yell at me. I admit that sometimes I only see the brown. And when I’m driving our long trek into town, it can be all that I manage to see. But sometimes, I remember to look up. And then I see the sky. The Wyoming sky puts on a majestic show almost every morning and evening. The wind keeps our blue skies sparkling clean, and she lights up with a magnitude of colors. I look up and I see the mountains in the distance. When the vast browness leaves me feeling empty, the mountains call my name and fill me back up again.
Reason 4: The Snow
Prairie snow is…different. The snow blows sideways (because the wind always joins in to play). Some places will be completely bare of snow, and other places will have drifts taller than your head. It gets hard and crusty and dirty and it feels like being stabbed by tiny little knives when it blows in your face. When we first bought out stinky little house on the prairie, we had a big snowstorm move in. My husband was at work and I was home with my two youngest kiddos. I kept looking out the windows, watching the drifts grow bigger and bigger on my lane. When it was time to go pick up my oldest child from school, I had no choice but to try to drive out. I got halfway up the hill on our lane when I got completely, utterly and desperately stuck. The wind was blowing with 60+ mile an hour gusts and I could barely stand up straight as I tried to dig myself out. But you know those Wyoming people? The ones who are hard and resilient? They are also kind. There aren’t many of us, so we’ve learned to help each other out. I wasn’t stuck there but a few minutes before a neighbor had called another neighbor who happened to have a plow on his truck and he got over there lickety-split and got me unstuck and cleared our lane, just for good measure. That’s what Wyoming people do, they take care of each other.
Sometimes, especially in the Spring, the big snows will come. These snows like to kill our burgeoning little buds on our bushes and trees, sometimes killing off the whole plant for good measure. They’re heavy and wet and deep. Trying to walk out to the chicken coop or goat barn in these snows is practically impossible. The bees need to have their opening constantly cleared of snow. The heavy snow tries to suck your boots off with every step and trying to clear paths for the animals to their water trough takes forever. But when the spring snow melts, the grass starts to grow again, and we’re thankful for the moisture, because we know that it’s fleeting.
Reason 5: Fire Season
From the news this summer, you know that Montana had a tough fire season. Wyoming has been struggling for quite a few years as well, although not on the same scale that Montana suffered this summer. We feel for our neighbors up North. We’ve always had pine beetles out West. But usually, the hard freezes of winter kept their populations down. But for the past twenty years or so, droughts have left our trees weaker and some mild winters have allowed the beetle populations to expand wildly, blanketing our western forests. Now, many of our forests are dotted thickly with red, beetle-killed trees. And looking at them, you know that they are primed for a stray spark to light them up in a huge bonfire. Fire season is tough. It chokes the air and destroys our forests. It takes away our favorite summer past-times like camping and fishing when the forest skies become unbearable. There’s not much good that comes from fire season. The forest will regrow. It will be rejuvenated. We know that. But it’s still hard to look at our favorite places covered in black soot.
We had our own fire on our property the first year we lived on our property. Grass fires are unfortunately common on the prairie. Especially when people burn irrigation ditches or fields on windy days. Our neighbor burned his garden, but the embers got under his railroad tie edging and burned slowly all night. When the winds picked up the next day, the fire kicked back up and quickly picked up speed at a frightening pace. It didn’t take long for our whole back field to get engulfed in flames. But again, those Wyoming people were there. My neighbors came out of the woodwork to help stamp out the fire and we had grass-fire trucks quickly show up from our rural fire district. Our house was saved. And my neighbor hasn’t burnt his garden since.
Even though the smoke sometimes makes our mountains hard to see, I accept it. Because when I drive down to Denver and I notice that the mountains are a bit hazy most of the time from smog, not fire-smoke, I remember that I’m lucky.
Reason 6: Nothing To Do
This is one that Wyoming teenagers love to complain about. We only have a couple of malls in Wyoming. Heck, we only have one set of escalators in the whole state. We don’t have very many fancy chain restaurants. Although you’re sure to find a restaurants that makes a mean steak, the lack of cuisine options can be disheartening at times. I wish we had more cultural diversity. I love all sorts of cuisine: Moroccan, Indian, Thai, you name it. It would be nice to have more museums and zoos and interesting restaurants. But it’s okay. I take a deep breath and I remember that I can have those things if I want them, I just might have to drive a bit. But I get to live on my little chunk of prairie with my favorite people and animals. I have a mountain lake ten minutes from my house that I can go canoeing on if I want. There are rocks to climb and explore. There are uncrowded ski hills to take advantage of. There are forests ripe for exploring and childhood imagination. And it’s fine. It’s more than fine. It’s Wyoming. And it’s wonderful.
Seriously though, Wind. I here you. Enough already.
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