A farewell to Wyoming

POSTED IN | 11:41 PM
Note: Though it's about a month old now, here's my farewell column that ran in the newspaper the week of my departure in August. I'll miss writing columns, as they were basically blog posts guaranteed to be perused by about 4,500 readers. That's pretty nifty. I doubt I'll ever have that many reading on here.

Bidding adieu on wave of change

John Stuart
Out my back door (the name of my column)

They say change is the only constant in life, the only sea upon which we venturers set sail.

And for some, this idea represents a veritable quagmire of fear and angst, as one contemplates the vast unpredictability that is life.

And yet for others, the advent of a morphing societal canvas represents a challenge and a delight — an opportunity for learning; an opportunity for adventure.

But what does this have to do with Wyoming? Well, I’m getting to that.

You see, friends, whether you know it or not, my professional hourglass is nearly expired in the fine Jackalope City. That is, Aug. 19 is my last day at the venerable Douglas Budget newspaper and soon the words “John Stuart” aren’t ones you’ll see each Wednesday. The name will be as mere vapor of yet another reporter gone by.

But I’ll return to this point shortly. Back to my starting line. . .

I changed schools 12 times from when I entered kindergarten till I wrapped up high school. Although I lived in the same town, the winds of change seemed to accompany me like a bad habit.

Despite dwelling in the same house throughout my childhood, the school audibles were ones I lobbied for to my parents — swallowing a scholastic cocktail in the form of home school, private and public institutions during my K-12 tenure.

Thus change was often my norm, bolstered by a solid family life, as I even bobbed from school to school between semesters on occasion.

I loved the contrast of personnel. The difference in rules and the fresh breath of perspective at each change. Some years I tucked my crisp shirt in and wore a belt. Others I simply rolled out of bed and could slouch to my heart’s content.

When it came time for yearbook autographs the vanilla adage “Have a great summer. See you next year” wasn’t always the truth.

But I had amigos at each school and above all I loved the science of human interaction and how social groups functioned — an interest I carried into my adult life.

Not even my unsuccessful bid for fourth-grade school vice-president (dang teacher’s kid stole the election) allayed my interest in the undiscovered.

Side note: You’d think a flawlessly delivered speech to the 500-person student body and Beach Boys “409” entry music would cinch the deal. Seriously.

End side note.

But this interest in humanity is what brought me to Douglas from my native Oklahoma soil. A blatant curiosity in the unknown. And that’s certainly what I’ve gotten these past 12 months.

When I first arrived in town there were several bits of advice and warning offered in my direction:

1) There are “lots” of “single ladies” at the church I was attending. The message was uncanny.

2) Winter will be COLD. I might shrivel up, develop unhealthy addictions or die.

3) Everybody knows everybody else, so don’t say nothing about nobody.

And these are wise tenets to be sure, particularly that No. 3...and how.

But the most notable thing I’ve observed is the sheer spectrum of life in this small community, as observed in my sundry assignments. From sex offender court proceedings to local government rumblings to stories about charming, 104-year-old grandmas, it’s been a well-rounded year.

I traipsed the barren expanses of the North Antelope Rochelle Mine and snapped photos of children at the Glendo Fourth of July Parade. I wrote stories about deceased, beloved community members — the hardest ones I would write — and about people sacrificing their lives for the betterment of their neighbors.

And I don’t write this as self-serving banter, but as means to portray the vibrant city that is your Douglas. The strong community that is your home.

There are blights on her countenance, as every city — as an extension of humanity — has, but I see many twinkles in the several thousand Wyomingites gathered here on the high plains together. And the real truth is that you all need each other, for worse and for better.

I’ve also learned there are often two truly valid sides to an argument (regardless of what your news editor proclaims ex cathedra). And the one with more power or prettier words ain’t always right.

In the book “The Survivor Personality,” the author states a truth that is seminal to human survival. I’ve returned to these words throughout the year (especially in the cold, hibernating winter months when I was resisting the aforementioned shriveling urge).

“In most homes and schools, asking questions is not viewed as a skill or talent to be cultivated, not nearly as much as learning answers. This, even though life’s best survivors ask lots of questions — good questions, impudent questions, disruptive questions.

“People who adapt and thrive well are like curious, playful children who never ‘grow up.’ They retain from childhood a curiosity about what exists. . .They enjoy playing with situations, people, and their own experiences.”

These words have guided me these months and could perhaps bring some clarity to your own lives, if not a desire to do something different, if only for experiment’s sake.

Go ahead.

I dare you.

So with these principles in tow, I take my leave from Douglas and Wyoming, in lieu of my Okie homeland. I’m contemplating several options for future employment and hatching plans of the next venture, in the same way as Douglas was magically (and thankfully) born. I’d go into more detail about my future plans, but as we’ve proven, life is about change and you might just end up calling me a liar in the end.

Thank you, Douglas. You’ve been very good to me and taught me much of what I didn’t know, even if it meant I learnt it with a rap on the knuckles. I hope I’ve helped more than I’ve torn down. Survivors are, after all, supposed to ask the ‘disruptive’ questions sometimes, too.

Have a great summer, friends, even if I won’t see you next year.



A glint of the 'Treasure'

As promised (see how faithful I am?), more fotos of that great beyond which has oft captured my imagination but ne'er registered on the senses. I don't know when I would go back, but it wouldn't be for lack of appreciation. Golly.

Behold, the Treasure State! Looks are deceiving though. You're still 450 miles from Canada when driving in from Wyoming. Ol' Mont...she's a behemoth. By comparison, 450 miles is the distance between Boston and Washington, D.C...

No wonder marse William Clark said this about the great Western expanses while pursuing an elk on that famous trek:

“Came Suddenly into an open and bound less Prarie, I Say bound less because I could not See the extent of the plain in any Derection…This prospect was So Sudden & entertaining that I forgot the object of my prosute…”
-July 19, 1804

Beauty, Clark. Bee-you-tee. That's what I say.

Nice place to pull over for a picture, eh? So picturesque and remote.


The place where your tire goes flat...aka...the middle of nowhere.
Sweet mother. Thank you, Toyota for your full-size spare tires! Would've been up a creek six ways from Sunday without such Asianic brilliance.

“This is truly a desert barren country…”
Meriwether Lewis on the Missouri River Breaks, Chouteau County, Montana, May 26, 1805

No joke, Brother Lewis. But pretty spectacular too.

My two impeccable hosts. Friends of friends you see. Quite nice of them to let me alight in their acquaintance for a time, having never spoken before. So glad I visited.

More Hyalite Reservoir, just south of Bozeman. Perfect pooch placement right there.

Out for a pleasure cruise, in eel infested waters.

Simply delightful.

An amusing kind of bumper sticker.

Hail, L & C. I want to start one called the Sacajawea Motel. Would you come visit?

Montana State University...home of the Bobcats. If you can tell me what conference they're in (without looking it up) you are either from Montana, went to school at MSU, or need some hobbies.

Nice campus though. Soo much cool stuff to do outdoors it's almost sickening.
Hope you like winter though. By thunder! They say there are two seasons there...July...and Winter.

Here's to you, Ol' Mont. If I hadn't been taking this picture I would've given you two up. Way up.

The End.

Montana Drifting

POSTED IN | 11:43 PM

My recentish Western wanderings took me on a solo trip to the vast expanses of the Treasure State. That is, the legendary Montana. My hosts were superb where I crash landed near Bozeman during a quick-fire, 36-hour, 1,000-mile tour. Certainly one can't go so far as Wyoming and not venture all the way into her northern neighbor, right? That's what I thought anyway. And I'm so very glad I went.

More pics forthcoming, but for now enjoy a view of Hyalite Reservoir in the Gallatin National Forest near Bozeman. Doesn't that look nice? Well, it really is, friends. Let me tell you.

Baby Love

POSTED IN | 12:13 AM

One of the more poignant highlights of my return OK-side has been meeting my newest niece, Genevieve. I got this privilege only several weeks ago, shortly after my reentry to the Sooner Nation. Genevieve (aka "Vivi" or "G"...see also "Lil' G") leads a life of simplistic beauty, with a mainstay trio of activities engrossing her time: eating, poohing, grubbing. Repeat.

They say retirement is bliss, but those AARP roustabouts can keep their golden years. Baby life is the life to have, people. Seriously.

Lil' G, I reckon you're a keeper my dear. Grub long and prosper.

Way to go...Idaho!

Some more shots from the recent road trip with the rents through CO, WY, ID and UT. I'm reminded once again how flippin massive the West really is in that we drove thousands of miles and only saw five states (I left out Kansas above for obvious reasons). Last summer's road trip to the north east spanned a similar distance and featured 12 different estados.

But I've whittled my been-to state list down significantly for the western US. Only Nevada, Oregon and North Dakota left! To be honest, I'm not certain I'll ever see North Dakota, and I'm really okay with that.

But let us get on with the photo documentation.

Grand Tetons in western Wyo. Still coolest mountains I've ever seen.
No bear sightings, contrary to warning signs.

Grand Teton peak (13,770 ft. - 4,198 m) from Colter Bay.

Pristine drive.

Our tent cabin in Grand Teton Nat'l Park. Cheapo to rent and really a good time. Great family camping action right here. Wood stove included, to combat nightly lows in the 30s at the end of August.

Bear box included!

Ol' Faithful. Slightly overrated but pretty good nonetheless. Maybe Sesame Street has also ruined this like it did my attention span. :(

Ma and Papa Stu at the Lower Falls of Yellowstone River. AMAZING.

Lower Falls panoramic.

Checking out Yellowstone's geyserific features. We learned that the western United States are S.O.L. in the event the whole thing erupts. Not sure how Oklahoma would fare...

Mr. and Mrs. Otter swam up during our kayaking. They were so curious and let us get within several yards. Funny animals, with their huffing and puffing and intelligent stares. Won't see this action on Sesame Street, kids!

Kayak power!

They say eight seconds on a Jackalope is like 80 on a bronc. Papa Stu saddled up this specimen in Dubois, Wyo. The whole state of Wyoming has a curious obsession with the Jackalope. I'm still figuring it out. Never got many solid answers on this one...

On to Idaho! Paragliders in Sun Valley. Pioneer Mts. in distance.

Cousin Miles with his aptly named "Bear."

Merrily we rolled along. Whole valley is laced with bike trails. Thankfully rich people love cycling too!

Idaho wheat harvest.

Good to know.

More ID wheat near Twin Falls.

ID spud farmer.

John Colter has grit

POSTED IN | 10:42 PM
The rents and I toured western Wyoming and Idaho recently, on my way back Oklahoma-side (nothing like a 3,000 mile detour vacation in the wrong direction).

I can only imagine what trapper/adventureman John Colter thought when he stumbled into what is now Colter Bay in the winter of 1807 and discovered the lake and what would come to be known as the Grand Teton Mountains. Hory Mory. Hands down they are the most impressive as ere I saw.

Can you imagine what it would be like to come upon those beauties for the first time?

"Oh, what'd you do today at work, honey?"
"Oh you know, just discovered the bombest mountain range in the United States."
"Ah...that's nice, dear. Dinner's on the table. Dried venison and hardtack again..."

It's amazing to me that something as impressive as those jagged-toothed peaks were discovered (by the modern world) scant more than 100 years ago. Certainly the West is but a blushing bride.

And a tougher man than I is the one who traverses Wyoming's back country in the dead of winter in the early 1900s. Move over John Wayne. Colter's got the True Grit here.

At any shake, I have a mind to post more pictorial bloggery soon but here's a little snack before supper if you will.

Colter's iconic Bay. Something tells me the high-dollar V-cruiser vessels weren't around in his day, but they're picturesque all the same.

Just your typical Teton family. Ma and Pa Stu posted up for the road-trip revelries. They can't squelch their gypsy roots of old. A sign nearby read "Bear Active in Area."
Still haven't seen one though. Lame...

We saw Yellowstone too (just north of Teton Nat'l Park). Here's a Lower Falls panoramic of about 40 photos. Really magnificent, Mammy. Glad I made my parents hike the half mile down to see it. They were glad too.

More to come...