Day one in Lander, Wyoming. People drive slowly on the roads, especially on Main Street. The dry, hot mountain air lusciously hits my lungs. The New York Times this Sunday (and every Sunday) arrives at 2:00 pm, trucked up from Denver. Ten copies for those Lander residents who need one. They don't sell out.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) gives the town life where other little towns like Riverton and Rawlins are in steep decline -- most of them cannot even keep a Mexican restaurant afloat. But Lander thrives in its own way with mountains to climb and hikes to be had.
On the road up from Salt Lake City I mention the movie Brokeback Mountain to a middle-age woman who is a clerk in a roadside knick-knack shop. The film seems to rub Wyomingians the wrong way for two reasons: 1) Men express their love physically, and 2) The damn thing was shot in Canada, not Wyoming!
Some of the outdoorsy young people here are really healthy and beautiful. All that leisure time in the wilderness strengthening minds and bodies. They're different than the outdoorsy hippies on the East Coast or in California.
Lander is one of the only places where I -- who herald from the Bay Area suburbs -- feel like some kind of "city slicker."
Did you know that cattle rustling is still punishable by hanging in Wyoming?
In South Pass, a ghost town with a tiny "museum," I learned that "The Murderess of Slaughterhouse Gulch" in the 1890s killed over 20 itinerant gold miners and stole their possessions when they passed through her way station. She was thrown in a medieval 5'x8'x6' jail cell, which is preserved for the benefit of the few tourists who venture out there. It has wooden walls and no windows, suicides and deaths of prisoners were common. The cruelties were so notorious in that particular jail that a prison reform movement sprouted up in rural Wyoming. She was shot dead through the barred little window in the door of cell number two.
One of the photographs in the South Pass "museum" shows a clearly miserable African-American mine worker staring angrily into the camera. There's not a word on any of the plaques explaining how or why this African-American man got to South Pass, Wyoming in 1890. There is only one reference to the mineworkers at all simply stating that they were "unsatisfied" with their earnings and often stole small amounts of gold to compensate. There's nothing about labor unions or the workers' struggle for better conditions.
Outside of Lander is the Popo Agie River, which miraculously disappears into Sinks Canyon only to reemerge two hours later from the other side of the mountain with more water than when it went in. There are dry mountains with sage growing everywhere, and black and yellow butterflies the size of small birds. The geology and insects are only 6,000 years old, I'm told by my home-schooled Christian nephews with whom I hiked. They don't believe in carbon dating or evolution.
After seven years of Bush regime propaganda telling me how Red States are better than Blue States because government is "not on their backs," I find myself in Wyoming, the state that spawned Richard Bruce Cheney, and I realize that there are zoning laws, litter laws, public schools, grants for teachers like my brother-in-law who teaches ceramics, etc. And you cannot carry a concealed weapon (you have to display it), and there are recycling facilities for cans (not bottles), and they have garbage collection and fire departments and police officers patrolling the streets, and even social services for needy children and mothers, etc. There are even some types of fireworks you cannot buy.
I thought to myself: this isn't the lawless state I expected to see after hearing its most famous native son, Dick Cheney, tell the world that international laws against invading and occupying countries are a joke, the Geneva Conventions are quaint, tossing out habeas corpus and torturing human beings is terrific, constructing secret gulags is perfectly legal, fouling the earth's land and water is beneficial, stealing billions of dollars in rigged contracts is efficient government, and so on, and on and on.
But even in Redder-than-Red Wyoming there are laws and regulations and a government that functions somewhat, and most everyone I spoke to told me that Cheney isn't a real Wyomingian in any case because he was born in Nebraska. Yet my new spouse's home state will forever be associated with a politician whose hubris has never been tempered or checked.
Cheney no doubt will live a long and happy life after his presence no longer darkens our nation's capital. In "retirement" I don't think he'll end up anywhere near Wyoming, he just used the state as a means to attain power.
I have already written the peroration of the eulogy I plan to give him:
"Dick Cheney was simply an awful and indecent man, who saw right and tried to wrong it, saw suffering and tried to increase it, saw injustice and tried to worsen it, and saw war and tried to prolong it."