From top: On the banks of the Snake River; late July in the Teton valley.
But what I learned, as fall turned the valley gold, and then winter
turned it white, is that there’s no true solitude in a place as empty as
this. Sure, you need some self-reliance, but that’s basic Girl Scout
stuff. Chop logs; shovel the car out of a snowbank; never leave home
without subzero boots. However, the deeper lesson was about
interdependence: You can’t survive winter in Wyoming without asking for
help. New friends helped me chainsaw, haul, and split an entire season’s
supply of wood in a day. They laughed at my flushed appreciation: “This
isn’t a favor. This is fun.” There’s a fluidity and trust to small-town
life in wide-open spaces—drop by, take my car, borrow my dog if you’re
sad. At 6,500 feet, fences are for cattle and horses but doors are
always open, and I fell into this net with gratitude and relief. My
neighbor said, simply, “When people are scarce, you value them highly.”
Eleven months after arriving, my daily reality has a smaller and more
intimate scale. I picture a lasso that I’ve cinched in tight: Most of
what comes into my radius is more local, less global. Experience is more
concentrated and more dense. Perhaps life has more substance when you
take responsibility for a small corner of the world.
I’m still adjusting to this new reality. While working on beauty copy,
with minus-10 temps outside, I sometimes wonder, What would it be like
to be the woman whose lips are lacquered Tom Ford Cherry Lush red and
who stops traffic with her smoky eyes? What kind of lingerie-filled
life, free of frozen pipes, does she lead? But then I notice my softer
face; my denser, stronger body; and the satisfying blisters I’ve gotten
from splitting logs and keeping vigil for ancient trees.
And then I figure, it’s not an either-or. I’ll do smoky eyes and
lacquered lips for country-swing night or sport my old Manolos to serve
up wild-antelope chili—out here it’s just called maverick style. Maybe
I’ll even rent one of the new LEED-certified houses in town to write my
stories about ghost forests—one with an even bigger wood-burning stove.
Because I still need to work on my fire-starting skills.