This land doesn’t do many favors and it doesn’t cut many breaks. It is harsh and stark, beautiful and vast like the surface of the moon. Triple-digit sweltering heat in the summer, negative double-digit cold in the winter, all woven together with the threads of relentless wind.
Yet there are people here, a little harsh, a bit stark, “salt-of-the-earth” people, many of whom are born here, live a little while or a long while, and then die here. People who live an hour or more from the closest “proper town.” People who know where their food comes from because they hiked quiet and painstaking miles on foot to hunt it and carry it home. Or because their friend, neighbor, uncle, or grandmother raised it, cared for it, braved those extremes of heat and cold to feed it and love it. Whose animals, like their caretakers, die in the very pastures where they were born. Either way, each night these people thank the earth or God for giving them the gift of the life sacrificed to sustain them and their families. And then they wake in the morning to do it all again.
When I worked in the hospital, I wasn’t allowed to accept gifts from grateful patients. The hospital had been paid and I had done my job. Now, sometimes gifts are all I accept, trades of goods and services that are worth more than a dollar, especially nowadays. Yes, of course I accept money, but I am grateful for other forms of payment as well: food for my husband’s and son’s bellies, wood for our stove, handmade blankets or clothes to keep out the cold. Above all, I am grateful for the salve on my soul that comes from witnessing that physiologic birth still lives on this prairie, in these mountains, and among these trees. I am grateful and hopeful that my presence in these moments will help women in the wild Wyoming west birth as free as they live and raise babies who were touched for the first time not by a stranger, but by the loving hands of their mother or their father.
This land doesn’t do many favors or cut many breaks, but it is a place where life can survive and thrive, cradled by the beautiful vastness of a wilderness untamed.