Sunday, March 24, 2013

Winning Essay #3: Wyoming, 1996

Back in November, I sponsored an essay contest. The best entries submitted had a chance to win one of my handcrafted bracelets. Today, I am delighted to share the third of those winning entries with you.

Laurrie's garden is quite different from mine, and that is exactly why I like it. Her blog My weeds are very sorry...they promise not to do it again always offers an original, witty and sometimes funny perspective on gardening.

I was thrilled when Laurrie took up my essay challenge. In her email Laurrie told me:

" I wrote this 16 years ago. It is my own writing, and in fact my own experience exactly as it occurred.
Not about gardening, although there is a grand landscape. It's about keeping perspective in even the most solemn moments. Not humorous, just mildly amusing. Actually it was hysterically funny to us as it happened, but that was then, and we needed to laugh."

It is my great honour to share Laurrie's very touching essay with you here.

Wyoming 1996 
by Laurrie Sostman

I had prepared meaningful words to say, but none are said. A strong breeze blows. The sun spreads a strange golden light over everything, making my scripted ceremony seem ridiculous. Instead, I simply step forward and open the box and dump out the contents.

The breeze picks up the chunky grit and scatters it. Pebbly bits patter over the stones, while the finer grey ashes swirl away in puffs down the slope.

The boys are silent behind me, one standing off to the side with his hands in his jeans, the other holding the reins of our horses, who stand in a threesome sleeping after the long climb up the mountain. They will carry us back down through the lodgepole pines, and past the sandstone towers, and across the grassy, yellow hay meadows at the bottom.

We will ride down as three, never four again, no longer the perfect nuclear family of capable parents, handsome sons, with a smug entitlement to life's bounty--- horseback rides in the mountains, gin and tonics on the porch, hockey games, noisy family bustle, plans, futures.

Now his ashes are gone, and we are three. I turn, and hug my youngest son. He says nothing, but allows me a long embrace without squirming, an awkward gift of empathy from a thirteen year old. I turn to the other, standing with the horses, and kiss his clenched jaw, its feel hard, not yet ready to shave, but no longer soft or smooth.

Then I sit down on the rocky ground, and look out over the scene their father will see forever: the steep dip of the creek valley below pulling everything down into a green crevice, where the tin roofs of the barns shoot back twinkles of sun rays. The brown undulating hills, and the yellow hayfields, rising up from the other side of the valley into stony plateaus, then giving way to high open meadows far away.

The stern black pines reaching down from the forest at the top of the mountain, a few pines here and there sent down as an advance to pull the edge of the meadow blanket up to the forest. And far beyond, the distant Big Horn peaks with their snowy tops, like white haired old men keeping the wild splendor below them in check with the remote authority.

I think about how this vast scene must have looked to the Crow, and to the Lakota who displaced them, and to the ranchers who chased them all out, and then abandoned it themselves, run off by hard times.  Did they think they'd be able to come back to this ridge forever? Did they give it their own sacred meaning, or at least claim it to be specially theirs?

I'm oddly comforted by the impermanence of human touch on this land, having just committed my own most precious investment to the swirl of history, and the jumble of geography and air, and weather that has already carried what I loved down the slope.

Without a word I get up, turn to where the horses are, and we remount. The horses, having concluded as a group that the reason for the long, hot drag up the mountain this morning was so that they could nap fully saddled at the top of a windy ridge, refuse to move. We kick their sides, making dusty whumping sounds. We jerk their heads up, and whack their hindquarters. They doze aggressively, and won't move.

The solemn, silent, private moments just passed deteriorate into an increasingly antic scene of flailing arms, whapping boots, and an utter inability to achieve our exit with dignity. The three of us have not said a word for hours on this entire ride, and the whole time on the ridge, but now the mountain air booms with an adolescent bellow:

"Stupid, bung-hole, chickenhead horses! Fucking cement mixers. Move!"

With that, the horses mill unhelpfully, drift a little downslope, and stop again. Our ceremony concluded, the moment marked, we descend the ridge in balky fits and starts, with barking exhortations to "move it, lunchmeat" coaxing us down the trail.

The breeze riffles the tops of the lodgepoles as we go down. In its feathery low sigh, I hear a faint, husky, paternal laugh just before the wind dances away over the tops of the trees out to the plains to the east.

More Information and Links:

Visit Laurrie's Blog here: My weeds are very sorry...they promise not to do it again


  1. Jennifer, thanks so much for hosting this and publishing my story! - Laurrie

  2. Jennifer, thank you for sharing wonderful Laurrie's essay!
    Really it deserves to be winner, to obtain a handcrafted bracelet.

  3. Well written and very touching, thank you for sharing.

  4. Entertaining story, but I have to admit never once calling my horse, "lunchmeat." Wyoming is a magical place though. Nature is endless. Congrats Laurrie.

  5. Just so beautiful. Laurrie's piece made me laugh and cry. The scene that she creates with her words is a reminder to me to be thankful. Thank you Laurrie for sharing your story with us.

  6. Laurrie is such a good writer. I enjoyed this piece.

  7. Excellent choice! Laurrie paints a beautiful picture with words. I could feel the beauty as well as the sadness that accompanies such a devastating loss.

  8. A very moving story, told with honesty and great skill.

  9. This was a wonderfully touching essay, I have tears and smiles all at once.

  10. I absolutely love this! I love how honest and real it is. Very well written. :o)

  11. Very well written and deserving of the recognition. How perfectly ridiculous that the horses refused to move.

  12. It took some time to read and understand it but this is written so beautifully and very touching. Wyoming is already for a long time one of the places I want to visit before I die. Thank you for sharing this with us for Laurrie. I shall visit her blog.

  13. On a snowy spring morning ... this was not what I expected to read ... there was an initial tug at the heartstrings before I continued reading. Knowing Laurrie and her boys; I ended with a grin on my face and telling my husband - you should read this, you'll stop grousing about the snow! Thank you for selecting Laurrie's essay.

  14. I have tears in my eyes. What a heartbreaking read, yet still I managed a smile at the end.
    Beautifully written.xxxxx

  15. A wonderful, compelling and heartfelt story - I felt like I was there in the windswept landscape with you.

  16. What an elegant, moving piece of writing. Thank you, Laurrie; you made me feel your loss and the depths it takes you, even as you curse that loss. And, thank *you*, Jennifer for awarding Laurrie, and sharing her story with all who visit your fine blog.

  17. Thanks for sharing. I was there last summer and this brought back even more memories of friends and places.

  18. I'm surprised the horses gave so much trouble going back, lol.

    A very touching and well-written account, Laurrie.

  19. Mile napisana wzruszająca opowieść. Dziękuję, że byłaś u mnie i pozdrawiam serdecznie.
    Mile written a touching story. Thank you, you were with me and I greet warmly.

  20. Terrific essay - thanks Laurie and Jennifer.
    And thanks for putting me on to another wonderful blog - "My weeds are very sorry…" That will be an auto-read for me from now on.

  21. What a beautifully written essay! I am a regular reader of Laurrie's blog and enjoy her humorous perspectives on gardening and life. But I had no idea of this tragic experience in her past; thank you to both of you, Jennifer and Laurrie, for sharing this.

  22. I can see why you picked this amazing essay...such imagery and emotion

  23. I cried and then I laughed out loud at this. I love how evocative Laurrie's writing is.


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