Leaving the West

I was born back east.

Anyone with an ordinary understanding of the geography of the United States will, upon hearing I was born Iowa, immediately wonder about my grasp on reality, and they might be right: a lot of people here question the grip on reality of the greater population of Wyoming, where I used to live. You see, out there, “back east” means anything east of Cheyenne. I lived there for five years, and the sky over the Big Horn Basin shook me loose from my previous understandings of time and space and a whole lot more. I don’t live there any more, but I will never be the same.

I moved back to Iowa to be closer to my family, and, as it turns out, to have a kid, although that wasn’t part of the initial plan. I’m unwrapping the dishes in my house now and getting the news of seven months ago in Wyoming, when I packed them up in the pages of the Casper Star Tribune, the Billings Gazette Wyoming Edition, the Powell Tribune, the Cody Enterprise, and the Northern Wyoming Daily News (sadly no longer called the Worland Grit). I have a canister of bear spray and boots with Wyoming dirt engrained in them. I have a calendar of pictures from the Shoshone National Forest and enough topo maps to paper a room in my new house. I still subscribe to High Country News. But I can hardly bear to look at these things.

Outside my window now I see giant maples, and crickets sing all night, loudly enough that it keeps me awake, loudly enough to drown out the memory of the trucks on WY120, the calves crying for their mamas, the coyotes laughing. I say that word with two syllables now: cuy-yote, not cuy-yote-ee. I don’t look up at the sky at night because I can no longer see the Milky Way. People at work tell me they’re going hiking this weekend, and I’m baffled. Where? How? There is no wilderness here. I keep leaving my car windows rolled down and then riding home with my skirt getting wet, because I forgot that back east, it rains.

Everything is smaller here except for the parking lots. The sun isn’t as bright, and the people all move close together. Only the Amish use horses for work.

It sounds like I hate Iowa, and that’s not true. I was born here; my son will be born here. We will eat tomatoes with our hands in the summer and grow them in our backyard without a greenhouse. We’ll canoe in lazy rivers and dance to music downtown all summer long. We’ll have excellent medical care and all the books we could ever want. But we won’t have stars, or lodgepole pines, or cabins miles from anywhere, or encounter moose or elk.

Some people are born in the place they are meant to be from: it’s as if they got to skip the step where they are merely half a person, floating around waiting to meet their other half. They were made from whole cloth, and they root where they are planted. Others of us, though, are more like the sea creature fossils you can still find here in Iowa (and in Wyoming). I imagine they are dug up from underground and face the light of day and wonder where the water is. They are dried out and at home now on the ground, but surely they remember the ocean.

2 thoughts on “Leaving the West”

  1. Having spent a great deal of my early life believing that I did not actually belong in the place where I grew up, and then living in places different from that place (some of them very different), and then realizing that I actually did belong where I grew up, but was unlikely ever to get back there, and then not entirely unmiraculously winding up back there, I find this fascinating.

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