Fall has arrived. The trees lose their leaves, outdoor activities die down, and the vitality of summer begins to fade. It seems like a fitting time for my internship to end. Like many endings, this one is bittersweet. In less than two weeks I’ll be leaving the charming town of Lander, Wyoming to make the long haul back to Cleveland, Ohio. I am excited to see family, and friends, and to move on to something new. Despite the stigma that has stuck with Cleveland since the Cuyahoga River caught fire…multiple times, it is a pretty great place (the watershed is much cleaner now). Anyway, I will certainly miss Lander. There are many places that I would feel some resistance to leaving after five months of creating memories, and building bonds, but Lander will always be special to me. As I first set eyes upon this storybook small town I felt a nostalgic, comforting warmth sprout inside of me. A handful of old buildings, historic landmarks, and a view of the Wind River Mountains provide the town with an unnecessary, yet welcomed boost in charisma. The weathered and wild appearance instill a sense of wonder about the events; proud and profoundly sad, that have shaped this place. Lander has just enough people to have a “Main Street”, a small strip of downtown. Most businesses, a few restaurants and bars, and a movie theater provide just enough excitement to pull people out of their cozy living rooms when the weather is not cooperating, or the vast swath of natural beauty that extends for miles beyond the town in all directions when sunshine is infinite.
It was surprising to me how outdoorsy a community of people can be. In the months when there’s not too much snow to leave your house, most people use their free time for camping, fishing, hiking, climbing, biking, and in the fall, hunting season begins. I consider myself a somewhat adventurous, nature-loving person, but the people in Lander are on a different level. If the weather is nice, it can be assumed that everyone is outside. Some indoor activities cease to exist in the summer. Businesses even shorten their hours to accommodate for the lack of…business. Bar trivia no longer exists, an evening yoga class is nowhere in sight, and one gym that I looked into joining closed at 7pm on weekdays and was closed for the weekends – summer hours. It seems like even after a long day of work, people just want to ride their bikes or hangout up in the mountains.
While I feel like a sloth compared to the people here, I am definitely going to miss all of the opportunities that the landscape has to offer. Granted, the winters are long and cold in Wyoming (maybe that’s why people are so active when they can be), the majesty of nature has no rival anywhere near Cleveland. Sinks Canyon State Park, only a 10 minute drive away, would be a gem in Cleveland. In Wyoming it’s just a drop in the bucket of magnificent landscapes. I will long for this wild land, and the sense of freedom it provides. If I want to get away from people, all I need to do is drive out of town. In 5 minutes I’ll see sagebrush, open land, blue skies and maybe some pronghorn; a landscape that immediately puts me at ease. Once I leave here, I won’t be able to wake up, and on a whim, drive to see the vivid colors of fall beneath the awe-inspiring snow caps of the Tetons. Even if a hike here fails to provide a moose, or bear sighting, the chance to walk amid these beautiful mountains makes the day an unfaltering success. The wonders are not limited to Wyoming. A long weekend makes a good time to trek to the bordering states of Utah, Colorado, Montana and Idaho (There’s a lot more to Idaho than just potatoes). Even before I came to Wyoming, the forested parks in Cleveland occasionally provided a peaceful retreat from the stresses of life, but I was never really drawn to them. I fear that living surrounded by the picturesque lands of Wyoming has created something in me that will leave a void once I depart.
All in all, I had a great experience in Lander. I learned a great deal about range land management, the ecology of South-Central Wyoming, and Wyoming in general. My position as Range Monitoring Intern pushed me out of my comfort zone and exposed me to a new realm of natural wonders, people, and experiences. I would recommend this experience to most people, regardless of their background. I’ve gotten to know myself better, and feel as though I have lived life right for the past 5 months.