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1739 - If I had my life to live over . . .

This is a serious topic.  If you had your life to live over, how would you live it?

         It seemed appropriate that I started to write this column on the longest day of the year – June 20, 2017. It has taken me a few months to finish it.

         This is my attempt to define a perfect life and how important it is to aspire to live that perfect life.

         I write this as a new great-grandfather, as of three months ago, when little Hailey Renee Marie Barnett came into the world.  I am writing this for her, plus our 13 grandchildren and all those other descendants who are not here yet.

         My most important conclusion is that the greatest wealth a man can acquire in his lifetime is a healthy and loving family. Nothing else comes close.

         So just how “deep” should I make this essay? Well, here goes:

         In recent years I have been hanging out with some folks who contend your most important goals in life should be finding truth, goodness and beauty.

         Looking back on a career in journalism, it is easy to agree about the importance of truth.  Rarely is truth relative.  When all the facts are in, truth will usually rise to the top.

         When I was younger I loved the concept that all things were relative, which means just about everything was determined by the situation. After years of dealing with life, you realize that relativism is over-rated. There are absolute truths in this world and you need to find them out and then live your life accordingly. There is right versus wrong. There is good versus bad. Character and ethics are real and both will help you find the truth.

         In my life, I did not have to look too far to find real goodness. My wife Nancy of 51 years is the best person I have ever known. How on earth I ever found her is a big mystery to me.  She is the best thing that ever happened to me and let’s hope all you folks out there reading this will be as fortunate when it comes to relationships.

         Nancy is a Jefferson Award recipient for all the good she has done in raising money to fight cancer and helping the needy with the Christmas food basket program.

         When it comes to beauty, I say just open your eyes. We live in a beautiful place populated by beautiful people.

         In recent years, I have worked with 54 Wyoming-based photographers. I love their outlook when it comes to Wyoming. A great many of them love a foggy day or a hard rain or a heavy snow because of the opportunities it gives them to photograph our beautiful landscape in a new way.  Now, I try very hard to not complain about the weather.  This is difficult, as I get older.

         If I had my life to live over, I would not have squandered so much money and time on toys.  A big boat comes to mind. Sure, we had a lot of fun with it, but what an expense and what a time suck.

         For a long time I believed that whoever died with the most toys wins.  What a joke!  And it really is a joke. I think a better saying would be “he who dies with the most friends wins.”

         I should have gotten in better physical shape.  This would have allowed me to better explore this wonderful country we live in.  Sure, I have been all over Wyoming from the Medicine Wheel to Medicine Bow and from Pinedale to Pine Bluffs and from Evanston to Evansville, but there are places that are unreachable because of not being in good enough physical condition. 

         One old-timer once wrote that if she could live her life over, she would have eaten more ice cream and less beans.  I think I did eat my quota of ice cream and probably should have been eating more beans.

         If I could live my life over, I would not have been so competitive.  I was a holy terror to my business competitors and, as a result, they were hard on me.  And even way too competitive with family and friends. Bless your business competitors because they make you better. But it took me way too long to learn that I could get much more done through cooperation rather than through intense competition.

         I liken my life to a baseball game and we get to play nine innings.  If so, I am hoping this is the middle of the seventh and it is time for a stretch. Maybe time to sing the song Sweet Caroline.  Sure hope it is not the bottom of the ninth.

         If I had my life to live over, I would find more joy in everything that I did.  And I would strive to provide joy to others as a main goal of my life.

1738 - Eclipse brought out a few wingnuts

Is it any wonder that a place as wondrous and unique as Wyoming would be the site 40 years ago for the filming of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

         We traveled across the state last week in a grand loop which took us to Devils Tower, the country’s first national monument, which was the reason that movie was filmed there.

         This tower, called Bear Lodge by the Indians, is just plain odd.  It looks like a giant tree trunk (made of hardened lava) that juts out of the ground to over 800 feet high in the middle of the Wyoming Black Hills. 

It was the country’s first national monument back in 1912. And of course a huge Facebook rumor went out this year where it was claimed that archeologists discovered it really was a tree trunk with petrified roots deep underground. Alas, not true.

         But first, let me tell you about our latest road trip around the state. Our drive took us through Wind River Canyon to Thermopolis and Worland and over the Big Horn Mountains to Buffalo and Gillette before getting to Devils Tower. Our trip home was through Hulett, Moorcroft, Gillette, Wright, Casper, Shoshoni and Riverton.

         That route took me through some of the best viewing areas of the recent eclipse. 

         Melissa Neylon, who works at the Washakie Museum and Culture Center in Worland, was at Boysen for the eclipse and said 39,000 cars were counted all over the park.

         Wyoming native Alan O’Hashi, who made a video on Vimeo about the eclipse, said Glendo hit that magic 50,000 number of people, which they were expecting for the eclipse.

         Not sure Shoshoni got the 40,000 visitors they were expecting, but they did get something permanent about the event.

At the extreme northeast part of town is a unique monument built by some odd visitors who build these things where eclipse epi-centers are located.  The only other one is in Namibia, Africa.

         A fringe group with some serious money behind it built this edifice.  Members believe there are actually two moons and during an eclipse, an alternate universe comes into play. The group is headed by Eames Demetrios of Greece and quite a little group gathered at the Shoshoni site during the eclipse. Not sure if they tore their clothes off or sacrificed any animals during the event, but based on seeing this concoction of strange objects – well, they must have had a really good time.

         One of Wyoming’s greatest photographers is Dewey Vanderhoff of Cody and he was telling me about this site and he provided some of this research on it.

         He also took some wonderful eclipse photos from his vantage point in Shoshoni.

         Dewey was also impressed by the bumper-to-bumper traffic from Shoshoni to Casper. Here is how he described it:

         “Try to imagine a solid caravan of cars all the way from Shoshoni to Casper and beyond after the eclipse. This is 100 miles of unbroken, solid traffic. If each car is a dot and the space between them a dash, it spelled out SOS over and over again. Allowing for a generous average of 50 feet per vehicle, that works out to 10,560 cars at any one time during the mass exodus from Wyoming.” The real total was probably much more than this as it went on all afternoon and early evening. 

         Huge numbers of people left the next day, which were not included in the record counts compiled by the Wyoming Department of Transpiration.

         Also on the list of wingnuts, there was the report of a man jumping off a cliff in central Wyoming at an abandoned uranium open pit mine. 

         Apparently there was water in the bottom, but he missed and scratched the heck out of himself.  Luckily, a passer-by saw the leap and called 9-1-1.

         Meanwhile, the partying continued back at Devils Tower as they celebrated the 40th anniversary of the famous movie. Among the contests was one to see who could make the best replica of the tower out of mashed potatoes.  Now that could be a real test.

         With the country and the world focused on hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, there really is not much interest in what is happening here in Wyoming. But I thought it important to document some of the oddball events that have going on here in the last month.

1737 - Today is my daughter`s first day of school

In the last few weeks, thousands a little children in Wyoming have marched off to school.  Especially for those parents of kindergartners, it is a poignant time.  It sure was for me back in 1976 when our daughter Amber marched off to her first day of school.

Here is a column that I wrote about how I felt about that event. The column won a national award and was originally published in our newspaper, the Wyoming State Journal in Lander. It was included in my first book, The Best Part of America, which was published in 1993. Here is the column. I hope you like it:


   It’s been five years of diapers, dollhouses, skinned knees, pony tails, Barbie dolls, tricycles, sparklers, double-runner ice skates, Big Wheels, kittens and hamsters.

Today, I’m sending my youngest child out into the great unknown. She will leave our nest and find out there’s much more to life than just that which she has learned from her folks.

For five years now, she’s believed that anything I told her was true. That all facts emanate from Dad. I’ve been her hero as her life has revolved around her mother, two older sisters, and me.

Now it is somebody else’s turn. Today, we trust an unknown teacher to do what is right for this little girl. This five-year-old, who is so precious to us, yet is just like any of thousands of other little five-year-olds.

I suppose there are scores of other little girls with blond hair and blue eyes right here in Lander.

But, please, I’d like you to take a little extra care with this one.

You see, this is our baby. This is the one I call “pookie” when she’s good and “silly nut” when she’s bad. This is the last of my girls to still always want a piggyback ride.

And, this little girl still can’t ride a bike. And she stubs her toe and trips while walking in sagebrush. She’s afraid of the dark and she doesn’t like being alone.

She’s quite shy, but she is a friendly little girl, though. She’s smart, I think. And she wouldn’t hurt a flea.

I’ll tell you what kind of kid this is.

Twice in the past month, she’s come crying because the cat had killed a chipmunk. She buried both chipmunks, side-by-side. She made little crosses for them too.

This is the child with quite an imagination.  For example, she calls the stars “dots.”  And once when we were watering the yard, she assumed we were washing the grass.

She told us that telephone lines were put there so birds would have a place to sit.

She’s just five years old.  I’m trusting her care in someone else’s hands and I’m judging that they will be careful with her. She’s a fragile thing in some ways and in other ways, she’s tough as nails.

She’s not happy unless her hair is combed just right and she might change her clothes five times a day. She likes perfume, too.

She also likes to play with toy race cars.

This is the one who always called pine trees “pineapple” trees. And when we visited our old home state of Iowa and she saw the huge fields of corn, she said “what big gardens they have here.”

And like thousands of other little girls she’s marching off to her first day of school this week.

I know how those other parents feel.

There is tightness in their chests. Their world seems a little emptier. The days are a little longer.

And when our little girl comes home, waving papers and laughing about the great time she had at school . . . when she tells us about the stars and pine trees . . . and how the farmers raise crops, well . . . she’ll have grown up a little bit, already.

And I’ll have grown a little older, too.


FOOTNOTE: In the last few days, Amber’s old youngest daughter, little Emery Hollins, started her first day of school in a suburb of Dallas, Texas.

Amber emailed me and reminded me about this column, which she had been reading this week from a family scrapbook. She thought I should share it with our readers here. Amber is now 46 years old. Where does the time go?


1736 - Taylor Sheridan tells tales about Wyoming

Wyoming has been the home for four years to the hottest young movie and TV director Taylor Sheridan. And his love for our state has been shown recently in his movies and on TV.

         If you liked the movie Wind River, it is expected you will love Yellowstone, the new TV series.  Both projects come from Sheridan, 48.

         His new TV series stars Kevin Costner as the owner of the largest ranch in Wyoming, which borders both Yellowstone National Park and a neighboring Indian reservation. It will debut in 2018.

         Shades of the Longmire TV series, I expect it will include lots of references to Wyoming places and names.

         As near as I can tell, he lives near the Salt River in Star Valley. So why does this guy love Wyoming so much?

         I read up on him through interviews with Variety, Rolling Stone, Dallas News and Detroit News and came up with the following:

         While growing up in Texas, he was furious about his parents getting divorced, which saw his mother move to Wyoming. He was quoted in the Dallas News that he was a Texas kid and did not speak to his mother for five years. She begged him to come to Wyoming. “This place will change you,” his mother told him. He relented, and his mom was right. “It was true wilderness,” he says. “It was a place of solitude.”

Ultimately he spent part of his childhood here and grew to love the place.

         Over the years, he became an actor and lived in Hollywood. After he became a father, he made big changes in his life.  He sold everything and moved to Texas where he wrote three scripts for the movies Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River.  The first two were smash hit movies. But he wanted to direct Wind River out of his respect for Native Americans.

         He was quoted as saying: “The reservation is less then 100 miles from Jackson Hole.” Sheridan said the reservation’s county (Fremont) “is one of the poorest counties in the nation up against one of the richest counties.

         Sheridan is quoted as saying he spent a lot of time with American Indians and counts many as his friends. He wanted his movie Wind River to be honest and meet their expectations.

         “There’s no way to describe the reservation,” says Sheridan, who says he has had Shoshone and Arapaho friends and that he has spent quite a bit on time with them. “People won’t believe that it exists. They won’t believe a place with that much inequity exists in the United States, with that much exploitation. And yet, it’s a community that is fighting; they don’t give up.”

         One magazine article said Sheridan part of his 20s on the Wind River Indian Reservation, finding the simplicity as appealing as he did the social challenges distressing. He felt the reservation to be a natural spot for a story about unsolved assault.

         Because he is not an Indian himself, he felt internal pressure to get the portrayal correct. “I knew I had to be respectful with their culture,” he said. “I have Native American friends that I can turn to and say, ‘Hey man, give this a read. What do you think?’”

         Sheridan is quoted as saying: “I didn’t know if I could make a good movie, but I knew I could make a respectful one.”

         The movie is about a wildlife tracker (Jeremy Renner) and an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) hunting down a killer in the snowy mountains of western Wyoming.  The former has stumbled across the frozen body of teenage girl from the Wind River Indian Reservation. One of Sheridan’s motives for making the movie is what he calls the large number of unsolved murders on Indian reservations that involve women. 

         My wife Nancy and I watched Wind River recently and found it to be compelling and an exciting movie to watch. The movie’s portrayal of the problems of solving reservation crimes is accurate. The snowy mountain landscapes looked familiar to those of us who have lived here a long time, especially in winter.  

         Lately, Sheridan has been splitting his time between his Wyoming digs and Park City, where his new TV series is being filmed.

         When in Wyoming, he says his favorite activity is his and his six-year old son’s quest to find the biggest garter snake by the Salt River near their home. He said the biggest one they have found, so far, is just three feet long.