As I wrote last time, it’s difficult to adjust when suddenly daylight begins disappearing before dinner.
November was unseasonably cold, snowy, and depressing. I couldn’t imagine why I ever said winters here are beautiful.
Then, after we flew south to spend the holidays with family, on Christmas morning I came down with the virus I had caught from the five-year-old. The test showed it wasn’t COVID, but it was awful anyway. The cough lasted forever.
Even after returning home, when I felt better physically, I was not well in spirit. Nothing seemed worth the effort any more.
“Come on,” said my husband one evening. “Get out of this post-viral depression. Pull up your socks.”
The next morning, I not only pulled up my socks but put on extra layers before leaving for a meeting in Lander. I wasn’t looking forward to the drive: Dubois had little snow, but everywhere down-county past Crowheart had been dumped on the previous day.
Not a great day for travel in a Wyoming winter. Would drifts block the road? Would I get trapped or need to turn around? I made sure I had blankets, water, and snacks in the car. I allowed extra time, switched on the seat heater, and set off, hoping for the best.
The road was dry as I passed the red rocks. Climbing past the curves, where the highway straightens, I began to cross patches of snow, but the surface wasn’t bad. I felt safe enough to turn the cruise control on.
The highway was empty. Here and there, a few horses stood motionless at fences, waiting for their hay. As I drove, even I wasn’t moving bodily, thanks to cruise control. It felt as if my car was the only movement in a vast, flat channel of white enclosed by distant walls of mountain. I could almost see the silence.
Crossing that corner of the Reservation, I thought: This is part of the small parcel of land we gave back after taking so much more. Suddenly the smooth jazz I was hearing felt wrong, so I loaded a CD by Carlos Nakai, who plays Native American flute on a background of haunting symphonic harmonies.
Just right for a stranger in a now-familiar land. I sat back and enjoyed the sights and the sound.
Rising up from the valley after I turned right where the highways divide, I came to that long stretch across the plain that leads to Lander. This was where I most feared that dangerous or impassible drifts might rise as uninterrupted winds swept the soft snow across the highway.
But the air was still, and the road nearly clear. The only other vehicles I met were snowplows.
The sky ahead, beneath a layer of clouds, loomed softly pink and blue on the horizon. Beside the highway, the white of snow was dappled with the black-green of distant sagebrush and the beige of dried grass. On one side, low hills billowed gently beyond the wide fields. The magnificent Wind River Range rose on the other.
So silent, so beautiful, and I was alone to see it. My apprehension gave way to a sense of calm, and of healing.
Slowing before the small square houses at Fort Washakie, I wondered what life is like for the people who live there. Sharing a heritage of conflict, we certainly see the world from different perspectives. But there is one other thing that we share, I thought. We love this land. We arrived here by different routes. But it sustains us all.
Driving home later, I listened to a CD of Beethoven’s Ninth that our son gave us for Christmas. It was quite a different kind of symphonic harmony than Nakai, hardly as evocative in this landscape. But the long drive was a good opportunity to enjoy the gift.
As I turned down the switchbacks and passed the red rocks again, heading west toward home, Beethoven’s symphony was also nearing its conclusion. The sopranos kept repeating the same refrain, at a pitch that the deaf composer no longer realized that no human voice can reach without strain.
“Alle menschen werden Brüder,” they shrieked at me, over and over.
All people will be brothers. A very lofty idea, I said to the ghost of the deaf, depressed Beethoven who had basically chosen those as his last words to humanity.
Maybe, I added, but maybe not. Always worth a try, though.
It had been a very good meeting in Lander. I arrived home with my sense of hope and purpose restored.
I knew it was not the meeting or the music that had lifted my spirits. It was the drive.
© Lois Wingerson, 2023
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