Much is made, these days, of the role of place in our lives. For contemporary authors like Terry Tempest Williams, William Stegner, and Annie Proulx, place is a literary character. I’ve reflected on the significance of place in my own development and ascribed much credit to the landscape of my youth. “Laramie, Wyoming: it’s a great place to be from. It’s a place that builds character.”
Without doubt, my life would have been dramatically different had I grown up in Manhattan rather than in Laramie. My childhood was busy, not with play dates and soccer, but with the business of life. My early memories are filled with birth and death and all that comes between. I lugged buckets of water, withstood the battle between the wind and the hay, broke ice in the winter and scooped poop in the summer. The chores were relentless. The consequences of being scatterbrained were devastating. An unlatched barn door meant a night of walking, coaxing, comforting, medicating, and praying for the survival of a colicked horse. The kittens and puppies and lambs and foals were fun. But on the other side of birth was death, which was frighteningly inevitable. And ranch life comes with built-in sex education.
The capricious Wyoming weather taught me to dress for survival, to expect the unexpected, to unconsciously lean into the wind. The only weather I am ill-equipped for is heat. During my letter-peddling career, my colleagues grimaced at my snow dances as I waited for winter to cool the sweat from my brow. I am most confident out of doors. That confidence has buttressed my struggles to deal with what goes on in doors, where grace and etiquette are tools I’m not so good with.
|Neighbor kids checking out latest batch of kittens.
Washington Elementary in background
When I lived there, Laramie’s small-town atmosphere felt like a strait-jacket. My history and background preceded me everywhere I went. I was the kid who had lived with the menagerie in the house across from the school. I was the kid-sister of a brilliant and beautiful sibling. I was the child of one of the three single mothers in town—that weird lady from back east, who dressed and talked funny and caused the male gaze to wander. My first summer away from home was a revelation. I discovered the power of reinvention. I could be, just as my mother had tried to tell me, anything I wanted to be. Back in school that fall, I fell back into my coffin. But I’d seen a light on the horizon.
Yes, the landscape of my youth helped mold my character. But individuality requires a more internal sculpting. My next post will explore my take on individualism.