Thick shrubbery punctuated by cowboys leading their herds to a watering hole comes to mind when one thinks of Wyoming. Indeed, upon my return, everyone smiled when they learned where we had been—and it wasn’t a smile that promised a floodgate set to burst with fond memories and shared congratulations. It was a conspiratorial sneer accompanied by laughing eyes that said, Oh, so they dragged you there,did they? I realized that my travels had given me something that my friends didn’t have: perspective.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Our 12 passenger plane landed in the middle of the Red Desert. A blast of fresh air introduced us to a cozy ninety degrees Fahrenheit. The heat was heightened by the elevation and lack of shade-giving foliage. Rocks and tenacious vegetation were scattered amongst the exposed landscape, hilariously brittle against the deep reds of the chalky soil. When we arrived in the mountains, it was as if the heavens were trying to prove the extent of Wyoming’s varied climate: the next day I went from standing in a pile of snow to acquiring the worst sunburn of my life in a matter of fifteen minutes.
But my first glimpse of the Grand Tetons was what convinced me that I had discovered something I hadn’t expected to find—the stark and brutal honesty of nature. The snow capped peaks contrasted brilliantly with the amaranth sky; the setting sun stretched out its golden arms to entangle the periphery of a pine forest in its embrace. Homey ranches had nestled themselves into the balmy hillside as if they had been rolling amidst the prairie grass since the beginning of time. It was this cohesive relationship between the old world and the new that also characterized the Wyoming locals.
But the defining moment of our trip came as we departed. We were on the road home when we stopped and parked a safe distance away to observe a grizzly bear and her cub searching for food in the tall grass. As we watched, an SUV pulled up in front of us with a screech, a man got out, set up his Polaroid with large, vapid motions, and practically hollered, “Kids, come on out, there’s a bear!”
My family froze with fear in our car, but the bear was surprisingly calm. She raised her great shaggy head, chestnut brown with the hint of the morning sunshine. The wiry hairs on her ears stood on end; she thrust her flat nose forward and raised her eyes. The motion was fluid, characterized by the easy self-assurance that comes with knowing that the twitch of a shoulder blade and one swipe of a calloused paw can end the life of your opponent. She offered the man a stare of sagacious incredulity, of detached observance, devoid of the commonplace look some would expect from an animal. It was as if she too was puzzled by his callous stupidity.
In Yellowstone we were in the real world, where nature was still strong and death was as potent as it had been before we invented our guns. Here, nature lay untouched and beautifully independent of all modern conveniences. I appreciated the death in her glance and marveled at her simple majesty. She and her cub disappeared into the trees; the tourist unaware that he had just been spared.
Although the end of a journey is always a melancholy affair; mine was punctuated by the realization that man is ignorant because if his hubris. My mother gave us so much more than a family vacation. Wyoming gave me a perspective that I will never stop fighting for.
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