The Ranger 5/2/21

Shoshoni schools OKd to drop mask requirement

By Clair McFarland and Katie Roenigk
Staff Writers

Shoshoni school students and teachers are no longer required to wear masks
and maintain six feet of separation. Fremont County school District 24 has received an exception to Wyoming Public Health orders regarding event capacity, six-foot spacing, and face coverings, according to an announcement Wednesday.

Other provisions, which mandate frequent hand hygiene and quarantining for COVID-19 symptom-bearers, are
still in place, and buses still are subject to national COVID-19 requirements.

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The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps

As Black History Month comes to an end, after I’ve listened to “1619,” reread Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and contemplated the meaning of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and hundreds of other black men and women killed by police officers, I am struck by the inexorable courage and contribution of African Americans. Wyoming is the state with the fewest black people in the nation, but even here, we have our heroes. Harriet Elizabeth Byrd, the first African American to serve in the Wyoming Senate; William Jefferson Hardin, the first African American elected to the Wyoming Territorial Legislature; Tilford Ashford, the first African American to own a bar—The Ashford Saloon—in Cheyenne. However, being an adventurer, the story that has inspired me most is that of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps. 

Archives & Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana

For a brief period at the end of the 1800s, just before cars, when the horse was still the primary form of transportation, bicycles became the rage in Wyoming. The Laramie Bicycle Club, founded in 1882, was the first of its kind in the entire Rocky Mountain region. Willy Owen, a club member, did the first bicycle tour of Yellowstone National Park in 1883. In an 1885 photo of eight Laramie cyclists, four are women. (Cycling, which necessitated women wearing pants rather than dresses, was a seminal experience in the history of women’s emancipation.) Even the U.S. Army was captured by the simplicity and utility of the bicycle. “There is no doubt in my mind that during the next great war the bicycle, with such modifications and adaptations as experience may suggest, will become a most important machine for military purposes,” wrote Major General Nelson A. Miles in 1894. To test this theory, West Point graduate Lieutenant James A. Moss, a hardcore cyclist stationed in Fort Missoula, Montana, proposed to his superiors a bicycle expedition from Fort Missoula to St. Louis, Missouri, a 1900-mile journey. 

“The bicycle has a number of advantages over the horse, wrote Moss, “it does not require as much care, it needs no forage, it moves much faster over fair roads … is noiseless and raises little dust, and it is impossible to determine its direction from its tracks.”

In 1896, Moss received permission from the Army to form the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps. The 25th Infantry at Fort Missoula was one of four African American regiments in the West. Selecting eight African Americans, Moss first made an 800-mile trial ride to Yellowstone and back. This proved so successful; he increased the size of his team to twenty for the cross-country expedition.

In June of 1897, the score of cyclists, led my Lieutenant Moss and Assistant Surgeon James M. Kennedy, and accompanied by journalist Eddie Boos, rode east out of Fort Missoula. A. G. Spalding Company (which today makes basketballs) sponsored the expedition by providing custom-built, military “safety” bicycles. Weighing 32 pounds, the one-speed bikes had extra-strength forks and crowns, steel rims with tandem spokes, a drinking cup under the saddle, and a leather case that fit inside the diamond frame of each bicycle—just like modern-day bike packers. Inside this case, each rider stowed one set of underwear, two pairs of socks, a handkerchief and toothbrush, plus bacon, bread, canned beef, baked beans, coffee. Every other rider carried a towel and a bar of soap and the squad leader carried a comb for 10 men. Strapped to the handlebars was a daypack, blanket roll and shelter; total bicycle weight was 59 pounds. In addition, naturally, each soldier shouldered a 10-pound Krag-Jorgensen repeating bolt-action rifle and a 50-round cartridge belt.

Moss described the black bicycle corps, ages 24 to 39, as “bubbling over with enthusiasm … as fine a looking and well-disciplined as could be found anywhere in the United States Army.” Apparently, spirits could not even be dampened by constant rain for the few days of riding, and snow when they crossed the Continental Divide. On day 12, June 25, 1897, the corps camped on the banks of the Little Big Horn, 23 years to the day after Custer’s Last Stand. The next day the men pedaled down into Wyoming, covering 52 miles and reaching the town of Parkman. Journalist Boos reported in the Daily Missoulian that the “flowers in this part of the country are much prettier and more varied than are to be seen at home. Red, pink and white wild roses are to be seen on all sides.”

The next day the corps rode 30 miles, gliding into Sheridan at noon. Moss, the doctor and the journalist ate at the Sheridan Inn, “the first square meal we have had for some time.” The black cyclists ate baked beans and bread outside. Two days later, they passed Devils Tower, which Moss notes was scaled by “some patriotic fellow, (who) drove a number of spikes in the side, and reaching the top, there planted the American flag.”

The expedition reached Newcastle on July 1, The Newcastle Democrat reporting that “twenty of Uncle Sam’s ‘fighters on wheels’ … made a good showing, taking into consideration the fact that the boys have had very bad weather, muddy roads and a headwind to contend with thirteen of the eighteen days.” They took a dip in the Salt Creek before riding off to South Dakota.

Twenty-three days later the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corp pedaled into St. Louis, having average 50 miles a day, proving once again the tenacity of the African American soldier and the validity of the bicycle. Four years later, in 1901, Oldsmobile would bring out the one-cylinder, three-horsepower, tiller-wheeled automobile—and the Army abandoned the bicycle.      

Unmasking Liberty

Op-Ed by Mark Jenkins

Resident Scholar | Wyoming Humanities

I was Christmas shopping in a Wyoming store recently where everyone was wearing a mask, patrons and clerks, except for one tall cowboy. A clerk knew the man and asked him in a friendly way why he wasn’t wearing a mask. His response: “Because I’m not scared of some tiny little virus.” To the clerk’s credit, she responded that wearing a mask was more for the protection of others than for yourself. The cowboy took offense and stalked out of the store.

Despite media’s constant stream of mask-wearing how-and-why, this Wyomingite still didn’t get it. And, gathering from several nationally publicized incidents across Wyoming, he’s in good company. Washakie County Commissioners fired Dr. Ed Zimmerman, the county health officer, for mandating masks. Former Wyoming Department of Health employee Dr. Igor Shepherd said at a Colorado event that the “so-called pandemic” was a plot by Russia and China to spread communism. The Wyoming Republican Party recently passed a resolution calling for Governor Gordon to rescind his March 13 declaration of a state of emergency—a declaration that helped Wyoming doctors and nurses receive the PPE—146,294 N95 masks, 58,126 face shields, 2,398,538 gloves from the feds— necessary to protect themselves while caring for COVID-19 patients.

Wyoming is ranked number one in the country for mask non-compliance. Because of this behavior, not surprisingly, Wyoming is now ranked fourth in the nation for COVID cases per 100,000 people. The pandemic has already killed more than three times the number of all American soldiers who died in Afghanistan, Iraq, Viet Nam and Korea. Last week, finally recognizing the growing number of COVID-19 deaths in Wyoming, Governor Gordon reluctantly issued a mask mandate, but will Wyomingites follow the rules? 

Anti-maskers believe that being forced to wear a mask for the protection of others is an unconstitutional limit on their freedom. This was the same argument Wyoming legislators used twenty years ago to allow drivers to drink while driving. In the end, it wasn’t the number of innocent people killed by drunk drivers that forced Wyoming legislators to change the law (Wyoming is still ranked #2 in drunk driving fatalities); rather, the federal highway funds that our state would lose if we insisted on endangering the lives of our own citizens.

We don’t want to be told what to do, even if it’s good for us. And yet, as the old aphorism goes, “Your right to swing your arms ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

Thomas Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence, defined liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” Jefferson later helped France write its Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which states that “liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else.” 

John Stuart Mill, perhaps the most influential American political thinker of the 19th century, wrote in his book On Liberty,  “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Wearing a mask irrefutably prevents harm to others.

The fact is, in order to live together in some semblance of harmony, humans have created laws, rules and regulations to advance the greater good. In our democracy, we voluntarily limit our liberties to protect each other. It is illegal to drive 100 mph through a school zone because you could kill a six-year-old skipping across the street. It is illegal to drive drunk because you might kill some innocent mother driving home from the grocery store at night. 

The anti-mask argument about individual liberty is a profound misunderstanding of the nature of freedom. Freedom does not mean you can do anything you want—that is anarchy. Freedom means you have choices, one of which is to do what is right not simply for yourself, but for fellow humans. In her 1960 book You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are self-evident truths. Liberty is a right and a responsibility. There is nothing more patriotic than wearing a mask in order to protect your fellow citizens.

Pandemic Story: Aspen Dust by Stephen Lottridge, Jackson, WY

“How’re you doin’? Good? Hope so,” I murmur. “You and your relatives here. Soil givin’ you good nutrients? Plenty of moisture to carry them up from your roots to the twigs and leaf buds? Here you are, beautiful, weathering cold and heat. Hope you feel healthy, strong.”

I lean my cheek against the cool bark of the trunk. The quiet solidness strikes me as my arms, folded around the bole, reach and close and tighten, my hands patting reassuringly. My fingers slide over a thin film of dust, seeking purchase, then coming to rest on the curved smoothness.

The initial sensation startles me, as if I were meeting with rejection. I find no softness here, no receptive body giving way slightly under my touch, no susurrus of breath in my ear, no responding arms encircling my shoulders and holding me, chest to chest, warmth moving between and into each other. Nothing feels familiar, expected.

What I hold now is hard, chilled, with no apparent respiration. I sense no response. The first contact shocks me back over decades, to mid-March of 1983, to a mortuary in Salt Lake City. Alone in the viewing room, I reach tentatively out to touch the cheek of my father’s embalmed face, reposing in pale stolidity. It shakes me, how ungiving the former flesh is, as if someone had carved the head out of a petrified wooden burl and applied make-up. Aware of the redundancy, I am still moved to say “lifeless.”

But here in my front yard, in mid-April of 2020,what I touch tentatively, then embrace, is not exactly unresponsive. Perhaps I believe that because I know, (whatever that word means – I question everything in our time of pandemic) that this tree is alive, whatever that term signifies. I clutch, I nestle in, if one can nestle into something (some being?) so solid. Not in, perhaps, but against. Well, not so much against as with. How do you find words for something you have never attempted to describe before, never read about?

“Tree Hugger!” An epithet that boosters of the extractive industries hurl at environmentalists. I see both sides of that argument. As I write this, I am sitting in a house made mostly of wood; “stick built,” construction workers call it. I am grateful for the shelter and comfort it provides. Somewhere, someone cut down living trees and sawed and planed them into the lumber used to construct this dwelling that protects me from the buffeting of wind, snow, rain and heat, from all the elements that the aspens and conifers in my yard endure, as do the cottonwoods and crab apples that gladden my heart as I walk in Range View Park. The very paper I write on comes from trees.

Over the course of my life, and more acutely now in this time of relative isolation, I have grown increasingly aware of plants and trees as living organisms, sentient beings, my neighbors and fellow sojourners on this shared planet. I have taken to thanking the boards and planks and beams and headers and studs that form the skeleton of the body of my home. I express gratitude to the living trees they came from, and to their kin around me now.

We kill plants to feed ourselves. We kill animals for our sustenance. We kill trees to construct our buildings. We have a choice. We can do all this wantonly – in ignorance, as a Buddhist might say – or respectfully, with understanding of our relationship, however transient, with every being – animal, vegetable or mineral – on our tiny, blue speck in the infinite cosmos.

So now I am a tree hugger in fact, not just in principle. I have hugged trees before, very occasionally, in forests. I started as a boy, long before that activity generated a term of derision. But only randomly. These days, I regularly embrace trees, as a spiritual practice. Giving my love to them calms my ragged mind. I talk to them daily, as I do the birds and animals, and house plants. My vocabulary diminishes and repeats.

“How’re you, beautiful? Y’okay? Feelin’ good?Good. Mind if I hug you?” If it’s one of the aspens, I may add, “I know you’re all one root system, with different trunks, but I’d like to hug you separately.That okay?” And to each of them, “You doin’ okay? Gettin’ good nutrients? Feelin’ healthy? Doin’ good? Good. You look good. You feel good.” My body eases, relaxes; my breathing slows, deepens.

I can lapse into baby talk as I wrap my arms farther around, as if I were soothing an infant. I caress the smooth bark and whisper, “There, there. Yes, yes. Let me hold you like this. Now’re you okay? Doin’ better?”

I embrace all the trunks in turn, trying to spend equal time with each, careful not to neglect any. Sometimes I clasp the bole between my palms and look up at the limbs and barely starting leaf buds etched against the sky before I slip closer. Two of the stands have fours trunks rising from one root node, each tilting away from the others as it ascends. I notice differences. One has a vertical scar six or seven feet in length, rough and protruding, like the cicatrix left behind by an unstitched gash in human flesh. I touch it carefully; I hold the tree as you would clasp a hurt child to your breast.

All the aspens have lost lower branches, some cutaway and some broken off. Where the holes have grown over, many are hooded with a black cowl, as if in mourning, and a small, dark stain of former weeping,shaped like an inverted delta, marks the bark under it. Others have developed the intense form of the luminous eyes of saints in Byzantine icons. From some fresher wounds, the sap still supurates as the tree’s capillaries pull fluid upward. Much of the bark lies smooth, with a muted luster. My hands pat it gently. With my ear snugged to the trunk, I hear the sound of the tapping through the dense, fibrous, fluid-filled flesh. “I love you. You’re beautiful.”

A lone aspen stands closer to the road. Making my way to it, I assure the smaller growth by the mound in my neighbor’s yard that it, too, deserves attention. I enfold the last tree as carefully as I did the others. If the day is clear, I remark on the warmth suffusing the trunk as my bare palms contact it. “You like a reptile?” I inquire. “Internal temp responding to the outside air?” I correct myself, gripping more tightly and pressing my cheek against the tree’s skin. “I know. You have your own system to survive without hiding under rocks or in caves.”

My two conifers recommend a different approach.The blue spruce by the driveway, with boughs sweeping the ground, allows no access to its trunk. I hold a branch gingerly between my sleeved forearms, one above and one below, and speak the same words about beauty, health, well-being and my admiration for endurance.

The Engelmann spruce in my back yard does admit me under its branches, cautiously for both of us. We have agreed on a sole path of entry. Ducking under and around sharp limbs and small, pointed, needle-less branches, I enter the tree’s protective fold. In its silence, I am able to straighten guardedly to full height and, working my arms past snags and prickles, I clasp the trunk and lay my chest and head delicately against the rough, scaly bark.

This tryst occurs in relative privacy. No passers-by stare, no neighbors interrupt me to chat, no cars brake and veer, no child whispers sotto voce to her bicycling companion “Did you see that man?What’s he doing?” While this spruce soars higher than my house, its drooping branches and the fence hide me almost entirely. My fingertips search out grooves to clutch. My arms cannot encircle the thickness of the trunk. “How’re you? Doin’ okay? Well? Hope so. Powerful; solid you feel. You okay? Back hereby yourself? Good.” The sharp edges of the furrowed, corrugated bark scrape my cheek as I nod. Sometimes the posture of the embrace

becomes painful, so I stand back and murmur and caress, attending to the bird song above me, aware of the quick flit from branch to branch, inhaling the faint odor of old pitch and wet duff.

It seems to me that the evergreens are more stoic and patient than the aspens. They sway less in the wind and seem not to change from season to season except for the light green or tannish brown of new needles in the spring, and the bunching and tumble of cones later in the year.The aspens alter their array almost by the day, from buds to catkins to new leaves of lightest green to darkening, lush summer dress to August’s faded splendor to autumn yellow to falling foliage to bare tracery against a winter sky. These deciduous trees seem more light-hearted and playful than their fuller, less approachable, apparently more reserved, standoffish, always-green cousins. I am aware that I ascribe such human traits without knowing what the words for the emotional lives of trees might be. I offer pure projection. At the same time, these companions speak to different parts of my spirit, calling forth varied feelings and responses as do divers children in one family.

Since I began doing this – actually hugging trees– my route of visitation has varied. First, I limited myself to the aspens,with their smooth bark and easy accessibility. Soon, I included the evergreens,though just their outer branches. Recently, I have laid out a circuit, only half intentionally. I step out onto the back deck, greeting the lilac, now turned into a tree itself from the contained bush it was when we first met almost twenty years ago. I speak to the cinque foils and the grass and whatever perennials may remain in the pots. I proceed to the Engelmann spruce, working my way into its embrace and letting myself rest in its presence for some minutes. I slowly separate myself and pause to cheer on the six surviving garlic plants in the vegetable bed. Pulling open the sticking gate in the paling fence and moving to the aspens, I follow a routine of time and sequence.With my hands now filmed a gray green, I converse with the flowers and shrubs close around the front porch, and conclude my outdoor peregrination with

the tips of he extended boughs of the blue spruce.Back inside, I compliment all the indoor plants – the herbs, the spiders and jades and orchid and poinsettias and two unidentified ones, a succulent native to Africa and the other a mysterious housemate that has bloomed and faded and thrived again over the almost thirty years we have lived together.

This daily activity derives not merely from the extra time alone that our pandemic affords me, time to slow, to notice, to appreciate. I could be filling that leisure with anything. Covid-19 also holds before us the mirror of our own mortality. In that mirror I see, behind the shadow of my own fearful mind, the oneness of all existence, whose simultaneous vastness and specificity stun me. My spirit merges with the timeless void of atoms and space, in which I find an unexpected comfort. In the same instant, at this particular moment in my life, my eyes shift down and note the clinging aspen dust, its delicate gray-green tinting my blue sweater front and sleeves,my palms, the insides of my fingers and thumbs. I pause, and stare and laugh.Pixie dust. Fairy dust. Magic dust of transformation. Eventually, I brush it carefully off and wash my hands for well over twenty seconds. As the powder disappears, I wonder briefly if the trees need it, this thin film of protection. Did I cause unintended harm? The question mingles with my happiness.

More recently on these excursions, I find fewer and fewer phrases to utter. I often stand in silent embrace, as with dear and old friends, breathing together. That silence brings rewards, as well.Sometimes in the stillness, my ear pressed against one of the aspens, I hear a tick and gurgle, like slowly seeping fluid moving through a constricted space,and I believe I am briefly privy to the tree’s internal life. And always, at the end of my daily round of trees and plants and washing, I find myself standing more erectly, moving more supply, smiling and repeating the only words I have left. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Pandemic Story: Metastatic Breast Cancer and COVID-19 by Mary E. Burman, Laramie, WY

In July of 2018, my husband and I learned that my recent scans showed Stage IV metastatic breast cancer widely distributed in my ribs, spine and pelvis. I had been diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in 2011, treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and had been doing well. However, I developed achy chest wall pain in June 2018 that led to the workup revealing advanced cancer. Once diagnosed, cancer haunts the recesses of the mind, so I was not totally surprised by the news. Still the diagnosis of metastatic cancer threw the proverbial wrench into the works of my life and that of my family’s. As a result, I spent the last 18 months learning to live with advanced cancer and its associated treatment. My husband and I made major changes in our lives. I stepped down from my administrative position at the University of Wyoming, he opted not to teach and focus on this work as an environmental consultant and we downsized to a smaller house with all we needed on one floor. After a year of being back on the faculty at UW, I made the decision to retire in May 2020 to spend time with family and friends and involve myself in some volunteer work that I had put off due to the demands ofwork. Despite the uncertainty, my husband and I were looking forward to this next phase of life.

And then in early March of 2020, coronavirus entered our world. My husband and I were in Lake Placid watching our daughter and the UW Nordic team compete at the USCSA nationals. I wondered if I was making a mistake to travel given my suppressed immune system from the oral chemotherapy I take, but even Anthony Fauci, at least in his public statements, didn’t seem too concerned saying we weren’t at the point we needed to change our daily lives because of the coronavirus. The airlines were flying, so my husband and I landed in Albany, New York on a Sunday evening and stayed with friends. In the morning, our friend, who was watching the news, yelled upstairs as my husband and I were packing our bags for our drive to Lake Placid. We watched in disbelief as the stock market plummeted requiring temporary closure of the stock exchange, one of the first of several dramatic drops over the next couple of weeks.

With some old friends from Connecticut, we settled into our Airbnb apartment outside of Lake Placid near the ski hill where the Nordic competitions were held. We were gripped watching the news as the numbers of cases increased and schools closed down in the east. We had made arrangements to pick up our daughter’s high school friend so she could come to Lake Placid to see our daughter, but Middlebury, where she is a senior, closed down early that week and she was not able to leave nor were we able to visit. We also had planned to meet my nephew from Montreal near the US-Canadian border, but there were concerns that the border would be shut down and my nephew and his family could get stuck in the USA (the border did close about a week later).

We had looked forward to our 9 days in New York enjoying the Adirondacks, one of our favorite places, but I had a growing realization that I was one of the “at risk” people that the experts were saying needed to be vigilant and shelter away from others. I called my brother, a public health official, to get his advice about the safest way to get back home. I was able to arrange to come home early taking shorter flights that would hopefully lessen the likelihood of exposure. My husband and I kept our distance as much as possible in the airports, which was not all that difficult given the already decreasing number of people travelling. We each had a bottle of hand sanitizer which we used frequently, and we tried to minimize exposure to things like the seatback tray tables on the airplanes which reportedly are a haven for a variety of microbes. We arrived home safely, quarantined ourselves for 14 days and were relieved not to have any signs of illness at the end of 2 weeks. Fortunately, our daughter and the rest of the team also made it home safely and were illness free after 14 days, too.

Despite the President’s assertion that this would all be over by Easter, life did not return to normal, whatever that is, after our 14-day quarantine. Wyoming, while not officially closing down as many states did, banned gatherings of more than 10, stopped all but essential business, and strongly advised everyone to follow social distancing guidelines and wash hands frequently. UW sent students home for spring break in mid-March with the rest of the semester to be taught on-line. Like so many others, my husband and settled into a new way of working. He set up his home office on the dining room table, while I taught and wrote from the desk in our fireplace room. Other than hassles of managing competing Zoom meetings, the transition went smoothly. We were grateful on a daily basis that our daughter is 23 and living independently as a graduate student, and that we were not called upon to home school her doubting that we would have excelled as her teachers.

For a short period of time, metastatic cancer receded from my consciousness. COVID-19 took its place and dominated our lives.We watched PBS News hour and poured over the Boomerang and the New York Times hungry for the latest morbidity and mortality numbers, anxious for information and reassurance from Dr. Fauci and other public health and communicable disease experts, and mortified by the President’s miscommunication and inability to take any responsibility for the federal handling of the pandemic. However, after several weeks, we settled into our new shelter-at-home-life and while COVID-19 continued to be prominent in our lives, metastatic cancer returned to its old role flitting in and out of my mind with its unwanted reminders of life’s uncertainty and the inevitability of my death.

Always keen to know more, I read articles about how those with cancer are coping with COVID-19. Like others, those with cancer have the same trials managing work from home or figuring out how to safely work in essential businesses, trying somehow to be substitute teachers for their children, managing the complex care of aging family members, negotiating the new shopping world to get needed groceries and other supplies, and figuring out ZOOM, HouseParty, FaceTime, MicrosoftTeams and the many other video conferencing services to stay connected with friends and family. However, clearly having cancer adds to the complexity of life during a pandemic presenting multiple cancer-related hardships, e.g., getting needed diagnostic tests, surgeries and chemotherapy, managing family and friend interactions given a depressed immune system, and coping with yet another significant challenge when emotional and physical reserves may already be depleted to name a few.

Interestingly, several writers have argued, not denying the many challenges, that having or having had cancer actually helps during times like this given the resilience gained from experiencing cancer that requires figuring out how to live meaningfully despite lots of uncertainty and vulnerability. There is some truth to this. I’ve had to learn to keep the distressing thoughts about metastatic breast cancer, which I’ve determined will not go away, in the periphery of my daily life. It takes intentional shifting of the mind away from the thoughts to other more vital matters in order to hold them at bay. I’ve learned to focus my life on the most important things, such as undertaking some new volunteer activities that I’ve put aside during my until recently busy academic life. I’ve reconnected with family and new and old friends and have cherished the deepening of these relationships.

No doubt, my relatively newfound skills and knowledge of living with uncertainty and vulnerability have helped me with the daily ups and downs of the coronavirus circus. Other than a few brief panicky moments, I’ve been able to acknowledge the fact that none of us, including me, can control this virus in such a way to feel completely safe. Being vigilant and prudent are important,but even carefully following recommended guidelines, I can’t reduce my risk to zero. Along with so many others, I’ve learned how to have virtual coffee breaks, happy hours or lunch with friends, family and colleagues. As the weather warmed up this spring, I started visiting with people in the front yard with outside furniture strategically placed 6-8 feet apart and in such a way that the sun and prevailing wind, which is ever present in Laramie, will kill any aerosolized particles. We found a way to celebrate my mother’s 90 birthday with a drive by parade and Zoom sessions with family in Michigan, Quebec,Colorado, and Washington. I’m contributing to my community by working with health and social service nonprofits in my county as they provide services in away that safeguards staff and clients while they prepare for what will most likely be a long economic downtown in Wyoming.

But just like advanced cancer, the specter of COVID-19 has raised some uncomfortable issues. That doesn’t mean all things are bad since the pandemic started. I have loved the move to telehealth visits with my oncologist, so I do not have to drive so often to Ft. Collins for appointments. In addition, the interaction is more intimate and direct via telehealth. I’ve continued to get other needed cancer care at the local hospital where I have felt safe and well-attended to.

However, all is not bliss in the COVID-19 world just because I have cancer. The pandemic has once again reshaped myself-identity. I have always seen myself as an athletic, fit woman who could strap on a heavy backpack and hike up into the Wind Rivers or Absarokas for a week in the wilds. Advanced cancer certainly challenged that image. While I still exercise regularly including hiking in the mountains, the rogue cells have damaged my bones, with a rib fracture or two around the time of my diagnosis in 2018, making some of my former activities too risky. A fall would most likely be very painful and detrimental to my overall health.

Yet COVID-19 challenges my idealized identity even more. My white blood cells, which are critical to fighting infection, are chronically low because of the treatments I take for my advanced cancer. I have few side effects from the medications and have little in the way of pain, so I look healthy to most people, but my immune system may not be able to handle a serious coronavirus infection. It’s hard for me to belief that I am one of those COVID-19 at-risk people. Consequently, I struggle with the need to be vigilant and physically isolate for many months. How can I maintain my sanity and my relationships without hugs, gossiping at a coffee shop with friends, long conversations about life with my husband and daughter (who lives in a different household), and sharing meals with my extended family?

Most jarring is that COVID-19 has disrupted my concept of death. Coming to grips with mortality is never easy but with advanced cancer, thoughts of death are never far away. For me, it has been terribly distressing to see pictures on the news of COVID-19 patients in New York City clearly very ill and hooked up to ventilators. But even more troubling and startling is the realization that I could end up in that predicament. Prior to the pandemic, I thought I would know when my death was near and the dying process would occur gradually over several months giving me time with my family and friends and time to complete unfinished business. I would be accompanied by expert hospice nurses who would support my family and control distressing symptoms such as pain. But people with COVID-19 in the hospital often die within a week or two, with hard to manage shortness of breath, and may not be lucid or communicative. Loved ones are unable to hold hands or kiss their family member good-bye. This is not the kind of death I want. I have had those uncomfortable conversations with those who are my healthcare proxies, telling them (and myself) that I am very leery of being intubated and would only want to do so if there were no signs of multi-organ disease and there was a reasonable chance I could survive.

Otherwise, I want to be at home in the company of my family and with hospice involved to control symptoms and provide support.

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. Having advanced cancer has helped me in some ways cope with the pandemic, but it has also created some new challenges. However, ultimately it is critical that we all go on living, enjoying my friends and family, and contributing in a positive way to my community and my state.

Leaving my New Home: A Story of the COVID-19 by Emily Wood, Laramie, WY

A little over a year ago I received an email with fantastic news. After a long application and interview process, I read the words “Dear Emily, Congratulations! You have been selected to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer… This letter is your formal invitation to serve as a High School English Teacher in Mozambique.” I was so excited that I didn’t even try to read the rest of the email at that time. There I was, in my final semester at the University of Wyoming, and I had an adventure to look forward to for the next two years of my life.

I spent the summer spending time with family and friends, enjoying Wyoming’s nature, researching and preparing for the next stage of my life. Although I have previously packed up my life to live in other countries I knew little about, such as Germany for a gap year after high school, or Lithuania and Indonesia to study abroad, this time was completely different and it was hard to know what to expect. At the end of August, I boarded a plane in Laramie, eventually made it to Philadelphia to meet the rest of my cohort of 55, and a couple days later we began our long journey to Mozambique.

A lot happened in the following months, including three months of intensive language classes and training, all while living with Mozambican host families. I learned a lot of things during that time, from the Portuguese language to how to ralar coco and pilar amendoim for Mozambican dishes, and from navigating the local markets to perfecting mango collection methods (either climbing the tree to shake branches, or perfectly aiming unripe mangoes at some ripe ones further up).

At the end of November, we were officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers, and at the end of December we split up and each went to our separate sites and villages across the country.

My site had a lot of parallels to living in Wyoming, so I felt right at home and was excited to explore and go hiking. My village was situated on top of a mountain, close to the border of Zimbabwe where you could see the tea fields in every shade of green. There were plants everywhere, making the village and surroundings lush and rich with fresh fruits and vegetables. School didn’t start for a month, so I had time to settle down into my new house and explore my community. Once school started, I had to sit through ridiculously long meetings on the uncomfortable wooden desks, but I also planned and taught my own lessons. It was very difficult adjusting to the education system and teaching rowdy classes of 50-60 students, but I was starting to figure out the ins and outs of it.

On March 16th everything changed. Peace Corps Washington announced that all volunteers were being evacuated due to COVID-19, an unprecedented event in Peace Corps history. With airlines canceling flights, countries closing borders, and the situation rapidly evolving, we had to leave as soon as possible, a complicated undertaking. In the words of one of our staff members, “nobody has tried to evacuate the world before.”

I had about 24 hours to pack up what I could from my home and the life I was building in a place that I was expecting to be for two years rather than three months. I had made things for my house to transform it into a home. I had built close relationships with my neighbors, colleagues, and friends, but I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to many of them. I made friends with some market women, even though I had not yet had the chance to learn their local language, and as a result could only communicate through someone else translating. I could already impress them with some simple greetings and the names of fruits and vegetables, but I wanted to learn more. I keep thinking about how I disappeared without a word, and how I have no way to communicate with them now that I am gone.

I left all of my students, not knowing that Friday was my last day. They were just starting to become comfortable with my teaching and were engaging with my lessons. This was after my learning curve of the teaching system and dealing with students who were indisciplinados. In my 9th grade class, I had just finished teaching a lesson on the future tense, and we listened and danced to Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” I left right after giving out a test to my 8th graders and not having a chance to grade it, after starting English lessons for the community, and after starting a theater club. My school was counting on me being there, and once school starts again I don’t know what they will do about my classes.

I left counterparts and colleagues, projects and competitions that we were preparing for, and the place that I had begun to call home. There were many things I was looking forward to, from more immediate things celebrating Dia das Mulheres Moçambicanas with my colleagues and buying a bike to further explore my area, to working on some photography projects of children with their handmadetoys and market women with their goods. I hadn’t even taken out my camera because I wanted to settle in and become familiar first, so the only pictures I have are the few on my phone.

At the University of Wyoming I wrote my senior honor’s thesis on voluntourism, which is the act of going abroad for a short period of time to work on a project that you may or may not have experience in. It has become more and more popular over the years, but is also widely criticized. The Peace Corps has some similarities to voluntourism programs, but also distinguishes itself by providing longer-term community immersion, and three months of training on top of experiences and skills that volunteers already bring in. The Peace Corps’ mission is:

To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

These goals are not to “change the world” or to “save those less fortunate.” Although each individual volunteer has their own personal reasons for serving, we all were committed to our projects and communities.

Leaving earlier than expected,with no chance to wrap up projects or say goodbye makes me feel as if I had participated in more of a voluntourism experience. Some of my projects were not yet sustainable because I had started them a week or two earlier, however, given the situation now, they would have likely stopped anyway. COVID-19 is having its effects in Mozambique, too, though it is hard to tell the true nature of the situation, especially in rural areas with few resources. The country is on lockdown, but many are not able to stay at home because they need to work and get food for themselves and their families.

Returning to the US has been a very difficult transition. The journey home itself was terrifying. Borders all around us were being closed and our flights had been booked and rebooked multiple times. The day before we left Mozambican President Nyusi announced a nation-wide lockdown, closing borders and schools, and stopping and canceling all visa processes beginning three days later. We eventually had a final flight plan, flying into Ethiopia and taking one of the three charter planes back to the US with Peace Corps Volunteers from around Africa.

The morning we left Mozambique I came down with a fever and was scared they wouldn’t let me board the plane.The Peace Corps medical staff came running into the airport last minute as we were in the security line, bringing me some medicine. But the journey wasn’t over yet, because I heard a rumor on that if one person on the plane had a fever when we landed in the US, the whole plane would have to be quarantined for two weeks. Upon arrival in the US, although we filled out forms regarding our health, nobody took them from us, nobody checked our temperatures, and there were no health stops. Finally, after more than three days of travel, I landed in Laramie and went back to my family’s home.

I had been mentally prepared to live in Mozambique for 27 months, planning to utilize that time to further integrate into my community, gain professional experience, and further cement my career plans and goals. I was not prepared to come back home so soon, let alone return to a country that was completely different from the one I left in August. After self-quarantining for two weeks, I’ve just remained at home with my family because there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. Just like for many people, there are so many unknowns. I’m now considered a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), as if I had finished my entire time. Even though I was in Mozambique for a fraction of the time I expected to be there, I have taken a lot away from the experience. I have lived another lifestyle, have gotten by and been happy with fewer things, and have learned the importance of a strong community, all lessons which will remain with me.

All Peace Corps operations have been suspended, and there is no knowing when they will be back up and running and when countries can start receiving volunteers again. There’s no guarantee that we can return to our original country of service, let alone the same communities we were living in. All of this leaves us volunteers in limbo. It is too late to apply for most graduate programs, and most jobs that are in my field require at least two years of experience, not to mention the economy that we’ve been dropped into. So for now, I’ve just been trying to keep busy with hobbies, learning new things, and searching for grad programs that are still open, and jobs, because that is all I can do at this point. It often feels hopeless and sometimes pointless because I’m not supposed to be here, but things often don’t go according to plan and we have to adapt, as we all are learning right now. I miss my community and my friends, neighbors, landlord,and fellow volunteers, and hope that one day I’ll be able to back, either as a volunteer again or just to visit, and I hope that Peace Corps will soon return to Mozambique. Until then, I just have to make to make the best of the situation

Pandemic Stories: How I Deal With Isolation

Life has changed little for me by Juan Laden, Lander, WY

Life has changed little for me, being a single older man that works for himself, I have been “socially distanced” for years before this pandemic. I find it irritating and in appropriate that that term has gone “viral” and now it constantly being used as if part of this pandemic is a brain virus using this term. The term is “physically distancing” we have had too much “social distancing” in our culture and even the World Health Organization, recommends that we change the terminology. 

In a state that is second in the country for suicides and for me it is personal, cause I also am in the top profile of risk for suicide, single older men, with guns, we shouldn’t be using such volatile terminology.  

Other than that, I am busy working on my place, having been a camper all of my life and collecting the basics, I am set to continue my low consumption lifestyle, on the cheap. I am continuing to work on my passive solar addition, and I do some little jobs when they come, welding, though I haven’t had any plumbing or arbor work in a while. Those are the other things that I make money with besides my meager Social Security. I have definitely seen my work requests go way down. I do miss not going to the coffee shop and seeing folks there, and once a week going to “happy hour” at our local brewery/bar and letting everyone one knows I am still alive and in the country. Despite that, little has changed for me and I am actually less lonely now that I am alone, than when I would be out in town more and still being”socially distanced” due to my status as a single older man. 

Be well and stay well, Juan

 

 

Gratitude is an Attitude by Jean Wheatley (journal entry) 

A Senior’s perspective on the Pandemic, a time of reflection and introspective thinking.

These first 12 weeks have been the most peaceful time of my life.  Most of my life and during my 30-year career I felt like I was driving and racing myself to the finish line and I sure wanted to be the winner!

After retirement there was sure to be an adjustment, the race slowed down at least 60%, but the drive was still on!  The Pandemic really slowed lives down.  I reflected on a last meeting in March, while in Arizona. Titled “Passions” in life. From this meeting I have developed several programs to be used when we return to “normal”.


Passions change throughout life and one constant has been my love of journaling. This has given me great pleasure during these Pandemic weeks.  A journal from many years to hand down to each child and grandchild. Another constant in life that always remains is FAITH. Following is TRUST.

I am looking forward to a healthy future for our nation, and thankful for lessons of the past.

Pandemic Story: OH, NO! NO! QUARANTINE ME AGAIN ON MY BIRTHDAY? by Mary Mortensen Burman, Laramie

It is spring of 1936. My older brother Charles was sick, and the doctor had just been there. He told my parents, “Your boy is very sick; he has scarlet fever. I will call the Laramie County Health Officer to come and put a quarantine sign on the front door. Nobody can come to visit; no one can leave the house. Now, Axel (my Dad), you probably need to work, so can you stay with a friend? Find out right now, pack a bag, and leave. Call my office for more information.”

Dr. Phelps then turned to my Mother. “Mom,” (he always called her that), the younger kids do NOT need to get this disease. It is Spring; keep them outside as much as possible. Now Big Sister, I am sure you don’t want to miss high school and your part-time job there, so call a friend and see if you can stay there. NOW!!

My other brother and I stood there, too shocked to utter a word. What about us, we wondered.

Meanwhile Dad was quickly packing a bag and calling the U. S. Postal Service about a place to stay.

My sister was checking with a neighboring teen. And Mom was assisting both as much as possible. Jim who was 11, and I (who was going to be six in a few days on April 8) decided the best thing for us was to go outside to the big backyard, climb over the fence, (we never bothered too pen the gate), and sit down in the dirt and think.

“What awful thing was the matter with Charles? What on earth is Scarlet Fever?? Are we going to get sick? Is Charles going to die?” And then we just sat and waited. Before long, a very tall man came to the gate and called to us, “Come here, please, you two. . I need to talk to you both. It is very important.” We slowly walked to the gate and followed him to the front porch. He had a big orange sign that had large letters that said, “QUARANTINED! ABSOLUTELY NO VISITORS! He told us that we could NOT leave the yard or our house, and NO friends could come play with us for . . . SIX WEEKS!” We were speechless and very afraid. But then my brother stepped out of our yard onto the alley behind that man, and I knew he would be arrested. He wasn’t but we were under quarantine.

So our Dad left to stay at the home of another Railway Postal Clerk’s home, and a neighbor came to walk with our big sister Marguerite to their house on the corner.

Now it was going to be Mom, our sick brother, Jim, and me. Mom sat down on the porch and gathered the two of us and said, “Now, Dr. Phelps says Charles is very sick, but he is already getting good care and medicine and should be all right but it will take many days. I will be busy taking care of him and I need you to help by playing in the yard, being quiet when you come in the house, and you do not visit Charles.”

My first thought was, “But, Mom, what about my birthday – I am going to be SIX on April 8?” Her answer was that my birthday would probably be in the backyard with Jim. But there would be cupcakes especially for us.

Six weeks dragged on and on. Jim and I played in the yard with some shovels, sticks, small trucks, and created a whole countryside in the big yard. My memory is of nice sunny days, occasionally trips to the house for a drink and bathroom break, and back to the yard. And the days passed with the April 8th birthday with the promised cupcakes in the backyard. My Dad came by and left grocery sacks of groceries at the driveway. The milkman drove up the alley and opened his milk bottles and poured the milk into clean jugs that Mom had placed on the sidewalk.

Our family doctor, Dr. George Phelps, was totally involved with our family during this entire quarantine period and made several house calls. One day he was coming around 11:00 am. My brother and I wanted to have a “lemonade stand” just for him because, of course, no one else could come by our house, give us a penny, and get a drink. So we told the doctor when he came that there would be lemonade for sale. He said, “Great —-how about a sandwich with it?” I ran and told my mother, so Jim made the lemonade, and I made a sandwich (what kind I don’t remember.). Our stand was an apricot crate on its side covered with one of Mom’s dish towels. When the doctor came out the front door, we greeted him with the lemonade stand. Jim carefully poured him a glass of lemonade. I, acting like a fancy waitress, held the sandwich plate up over my shoulder — but the sandwich dropped to the sidewalk. I calmly picked it up and handed it to Dr. Phelps. He thanked us, gave us twenty-five cents, drank the lemonade, and put the sandwich in the front seat of his car.

(About six years later, Dr. Phelps was at the hospital, ready to remove my tonsils. Just before I went “under”, he said, “Now I can get even with you for that “gravel sandwich!” He had not forgotten that day when I was six.”)

Days passed slowly – all the same – until one day, after the doctor’s visit, Mom said, “Charles is MUCH better. The doctor thinks in a week or so, he may be healthy again!” What beautiful words. Sure enough, that day came.

But . . There was one more step – we had to leave the house for one whole 12-hour day for the house to be fumigated! The Health official came and removed that ugly sign, and we all left to go a friend’s home where Dad had been staying. While we were gone, the Health Department had placed some small pots of a very smelly chemical which burned all day to kill that nasty scarlet fever bug!

At the end of that day, we all came home to our small house, but we were ALL home. How Jim and I greeted our Dad and big sister Marguerite! The quarantine was over and Charles was well! No one else ever became ill from scarlet fever at our house.

Now we forward the calendar 84 years to March 15, 2020 . . . It was not the Laramie County, Wyoming Health Officer with a Quarantine sign, but telephone calls from my daughter, Mary Evelyn, a University of Wyoming nursing professor, here in Laramie; and my son, Bill, the Director of Public Health for Denver — both giving me the same message, ”STAY HOME, MOM!” I replied that I was on my way out the door to go to church, that I was teaching a class, and then I would come home. The response was a definite “STAY HOME RIGHT NOW!”

So . . . I said I would stay home. I called the church and told the fellow who answered the phone that I would not be there for anything at all that day. Gradually, that afternoon I began to piece together news items I had heard the previous week:

Friday, March 13th (bad luck news day) President Trump declared a National Emergency because of reports of the “corona outbreak”, and called for “Testing, testing, testing,” but stated “this will be over by Easter. . . “

University of Wyoming President told University students told to go home for spring break and stay home!

The local School Board soon followed suit at their quickly called special meeting.

Church services were being cancelled, many to “have church” via ZOOM or telephone.

Everyone was urged to stay home unless they were necessary employees. I was to stay in my home except for daily walks around the school, city park, and my home area. My doctor son called me later in the day to discuss with me the seriousness of this outbreak, confirming “that’s because, Mom, you are 89, and you are at risk!”

Fortunately, the previous Thursday I had done my regular monthly grocery shopping at Ridley’s Grocery Senior Day when they offer1 0% off your entire bill with their card. So I was equipped to get along while this quarantine lasted. The President encouraged us by reporting that it would be over by Easter.

Medical professionals, however, were urging Americans to prepare for a much longer period. Later the Vice President said by “Memorial Day” it will be done.

Then the cancellations began to come:

Dentist’s office called to cancel check-up . . .

Foot care at the Senior Center cancelled toenail cutting appointment. . .

Four Tuesdays of listening to interesting speakers at the four weeks of the Senior Lyceum cancelled . . .

Second planning meeting for our yearly Cooperative Vacation Bible School cancelled . . .

Appointment for surgery for removal of cataract cancelled. . .

Tuesday weekly prayer group with four friends cancelled. . .

Tickets for two cancelled University Symphony Orchestra concerts were returned, requesting the Symphony keep the money…

My regular delivery of meals for the senior Center on Thursdays cancelled because of my age . . .

And then . . . Grocery stores offering limited shopping, but later offered home delivery which was most welcome . . . But not everything you ordered was available . . . but grocery sacks were filled, brought to your door by a masked driver who placed bags right inside screen door.

Prescriptions ran out, but Pole Mountain Pharmacy offered free delivery by a masked driver . . .

Cleaning supplies were ordered from Amazon . . .

My daughter and son-in-law arrived home from Lake Placid where they had watched the National Finals for the University of Wyoming Nordic Ski Team; their daughter was a competitor. So they all self-quarantined for 14 days. However, my daughter did come over to see me, but carefully offered no hugs, and sat across the room for me; she came every 3-4 days to help keep up my spirits.

But for me, there was probably going to be another quarantine on my birthday, April 8! It was to be a big celebration for my 90th! Because the 8th fell during Holy Week before Easter, the family had decided to schedule my celebration for the week-end of April 18-19. Would this virus lighten up in time? Son Tom and his wife Elizabeth would be coming from Indiana; doctor son Bill and his wife Kari would hopefully be able to come from Denver, grandchildren from various locations, our Nebraska cousin, my brother from Michigan, a niece from Washington. DC. Nieces and husbands from Colorado would join us. Of course, Mary Evelyn, my daughter and her husband Charlie DeWolf and their daughter Ella along with daughter-in-law Marilyn, were all here in Laramie. There would be local long-time friends and various other friends and kin to join the gathering being planned by my daughter.

Very soon . . . those plans were put aside for a “social distancing” 90th birthday celebration. Saturday there was to have been a big party for friends and family. Then the plan was to serve the fellowship time after worship at First Baptist Church on Sunday. Now . . . All this was abandoned. YES, there would still be April 8 on my calendar, and it would be my birthday, and I would turn 90! But it would be a unique celebration.

The night before my birthday (after the garbage barrels had been set out), my next-door neighbor and her friend used blue and pink colored chalk and drew flowers and butterflies plus HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARY all over the double driveway and the sidewalk leading to the front ramp. Neighbors from both sides had placed little windmills on the lawn, and they were spinning furiously in the Laramie breeze.

First was a knock on the front door. . . Two employees of the Eppson Senior Center were taping a large poster to the front door with fancy baubles and greetings. The two were wearing masks and then left a bag on the porch. They then sang “Happy Birthday” to me from the sidewalk.

Then a short walk to the mailbox to find several birthday cards. Soon after that, the doorbell announced the delivery of a lovely bouquet of flowers from my niece Meg and her husband. The masked delivery person placed the vase on the floor just inside the door and left. Later another bouquet was delivered from Edward D. Jones; the masked young lady came to ring the doorbell, then setting the bouquet about midway up the ramp; she stood out on the sidewalk to see for sure that I came to the door.

My daughter handed me a timeline for when each of the family members were signed up to contact me by ZOOM on my computer. That about took up two days to speak and even to interact with family members in Michigan, Washington State, Tennessee, Indiana, Maryland, Colorado, and Montreal, Canada. It was a great gift to see the whole family – four generations speaking and joking back and forth. . . With birthday greetings!

There were also phone calls from friends. This was MUCH different from the 1936 birthday in the backyard with big brother Jim eating birthday cupcakes together.

At five pm my daughter and I took two lawn chairs to the front lawn for a birthday parade. About twenty-five cars with friends (and an occasional pup) drove by, honking and tossing cards and signs. One couple added two more small windmills to the yard. The couple to the north walked out to their lawn and gave a “hands up” greeting. Daughter-in-law Marilyn decided to bring up the rear and then stayed for a short “distance” greeting. The lovely afternoon weather began to chill so we headed inside for the birthday “banquet” attended by daughter Mary Evelyn and her husband Charlie, and 90-heard-old me — without cupcakes!

The quarantine for COVID-19 was still very much in effect! It would NOT be over in six weeks like back in 1936. So after so many folks thought of me on my birthday, I began to try to think of ways to think about others. Shortly after my birthday, the granddaughter of a dear friend gave birth to twin boys; they would be moving in with her after two days in the hospital! Our church ladies had earlier spoken about a baby shower at church with gifts and fun and food. Of course, that was not to be. So, another friend and I decided the one gift that you are certain to need with two babies is diapers!

Out went E-mails and phone calls to our First Baptist ladies to mail a check to me, or drive by my house and put a donation in a plastic cookie can with a hole in the lid for a donation. Quickly we had over $300!! The next step was to find out what kind and size of diaper the new Mom was using. And the first order was made with delivery from Cheyenne promised within two days! GREAT . . . Except TEN days later, I received news that the order was canceled.

So . . . Back to the computer and this time I would contact Amazon who promised 10 day delivery. I was kept informed and learned of the day of delivery. The day before they were to be delivered, Amazon also sent word that they could also deliver her favorite brand within 24-hour delivery. So I ordered another batch. Large boxes almost filled the steps to the house -they all came the same day! The little boys are “diapered” for some time. The diaper fund has more money left to diaper those little boys for some time!

Another project I came up with came from my desk drawer where I found lots of postcards that we never mailed from various trips, especially Rome! So I began to mail postcards first to ladies at church who do not have E-mail so they often miss out on news from church. I wrote, ”Hi. I am NOT in Rome. . . But am thinking of you, etc.”. I also sent some to grandkids and great grandkids. Most people love to get mail – even an old card from a scene in Rome! Before long, I ran out of stamps! I soon found you could order postage online to be delivered to your mailbox. I began another round of postcards to friends and family, after receiving my roll of 35 cent stamps. I occasionally made a few phone calls.

For the past several months I have prepared an E-mail Monday Memo to our church family. Now that became more important to keep the church family notified of changed plans for worship and board meetings, access to building, how to give your offering, etc. We soon learned that Sunday worship would be on Zoom. I was privileged to deliver the sermon one Sunday from my computer desk! It was fun to “see” former church folks signing from out of town.

My daughter offered an opportunity for the two of us to go to our cabin for 8 days! So after the University faculty concluded their grades, she and I headed to Boulder Ridge to practice “social distancing” at our family cabin twenty-seven miles from town. On a Saturday, a couple, good friends, drove up for the day. We sat outside in the yard on lawn furniture 8 feet apart. They brought their own food; we ate ours! We had a great visit!

Over the Memorial Day Week-end, my niece and her husband drove in from Greeley, and my grand-daughter and her boyfriend from town. Once again, we sat in the yard this time with blankets over our knees because of the wind! It was invigorating to see other people even for a short visit.

Soon we will return to Laramie to self-isolate, but with recent memories of the view of Medicine Bow Peak at sunset from our picture window! And it is only ten months until my next birthday! Do you think the quarantine will be lifted by my 91st birthday??

Pandemic Story: Working with Elders by Kelly White, Morning Star Care Center, Fort Washakie, WY

I wanted to share a little about what my job had been like since March when we had to implement a lock down on our building. At the time we had 33 Elders who were able to move about the building with just restrictions in place for outside visitors. At this time we had the ability to gather all the Elders and keep them informed about the virus. A few days later it was a CDC recommendation for no communal living, so all Elders were asked to stay in their rooms.

At this point I typed up the new recommendations and had conversations with all the Elders. I also had to contact all the families and notify them of the changes. We had to come up with a COVID-19 plan for our facility and implement changes with our staff. This is a 4” binder with lots of information. Our Director of Nursing and our Infection Preventionist Nurse worked tirelessly to implement all the recommended changes.

We had to classify our Elders by their health and look at the best placement in the buildings for them. We had to move most of the Elders to new rooms and with different roommates to ensure the safety of the Elders. We also had to make an area for isolation, building a barrier in one of our halls. We had to establish a “morgue” within our building just in case we had COVID get into our building. Our staff had to be split between our Healthy Hall and our Sick Hall.

During this time one of our Elders began actively dying just from age, this was expected. We had to move them to the isolation wing and implement a policy on families coming into the building for the end of life. This has been the hardest thing I have had to do in a job.We had to teach the family to dress in PPE and be very careful to protect our other Elders. Due to the scare only a few family members were allowed in to see their parents. The other family members could not come in to say goodbye to their parents. I was able to use my cell phone on speaker for the family to say goodbye through the window. Let me tell you this was the hardest thing I have ever done. These family members only could see their parents through a window, they couldn’t hold their hand, they couldn’t have the privacy of a last conversation.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to be able to support our Elder. We had to keep implementing these changes and writing new policies to keep the Elders safe. During this time the State Survey came to ensure we had implemented all the changes recommended. We didn’t have any findings and passed with flying colors. By this point the Elders are required to stay in their rooms, taking all meals in their rooms and missing the social interaction. I have done a depression rating on the Elders and most understand the need of the procedures.

All Elders have been given masks to wear and are asked to wear them when staff is in the room. This has been the hardest implementation of changes but for the most part they are all doing a great job. We had to cancel our Easter Celebration, Church Services, and many other social engagements since this has happened. The families have been wonderful to all of us, we have used skype, mail, phone calls, and video chats to allow the Elders interaction with their families. Some families are coming to see their Elder through the window, we have celebrated 90 with poster boards and smiles through the window.

Thankfully we have had no cases and we are doing everything to keep the Elders safe. We will all make it through this pandemic as we continue working together as a team, following CDC recommendations and being an active part of the Elders life. I never thought my job would cause so much pain and love at the same time. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve our Elders and be part of this team. I am emotionally and physically exhausted, my face and ears are tired of wearing a mask, and I have cried more on my way home than I have ever in the past.  

Celebrating Women’s Voting in Wyoming for 150 Years

On December 10, 2019, Wyoming commemorates the sesquicentennial anniversary of Wyoming Territory passing “An Act to Grant to the Women of Wyoming Territory the right of suffrage, and to Hold Office,” commonly known as the Women’s Suffrage Act. I am proud that Wyoming Humanities was selected by former Governor Matt Mead to serve on the Governor’s Council for the Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Celebration. We will celebrate the women’s vote in Wyoming between December 10, 2019, the 150th anniversary of Wyoming Territory passing the suffrage act and September 6, 2020, the 150th anniversary of Louisa Swain casting the first democratically cast ballot by a woman in Laramie on September 6, 1870.

The Wyoming Territorial Legislature passed the suffrage act less than five months after the territory was created by Congress and a full 50 years before the U.S. Constitution was amended to include women’s suffrage. Even more remarkable is the fact that 20 years later, when Wyoming was admitted to the Union in 1890, the territory insisted on retaining women’s suffrage as they became a state. While women had been voting in territorial elections for two decades, territories do not vote for president and do not have full representation in the U.S. Congress. Despite a vigorous push by the U.S. Congress to force Wyoming to rescind women’s voting privilege in order to become a state and prevent women from voting in federal elections, Wyoming refused. When we were admitted as the 44th state we also became the first state to allow women equal and full voting and political rights and in the next presidential election in 1892, a woman somewhere in Wyoming became the first female to legally vote for president.

Unfortunately, Wyoming’s role in the women’s suffrage movement is not widely understood in America and has not been clearly integrated into the national narrative of the decades-long fight for women’s right to vote and the final ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. In April 2017, Congress passed legislation to create the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission (S.847) “to ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing for Women’s Suffrage.” Try as we might to get Wyoming’s story of being first by 50 years into the national narrative of women’s suffrage, we struggle to get the Centennial Commission to state more than the date we ratified the 19th Amendment, January 27, 1920.  

Given that our state constitution, drafted over 30 years earlier, stated “The rights of Citizens of the State of Wyoming to vote and hold office, shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female Citizens of the State, shall equally enjoy all civil, political and religious rights and privileges,” one would think it would have been a simple exercise for Wyoming to ratify the amendment, but timing got in the way. Congress passed the 19th amendment on June 4, 1919, several months after Wyoming’s Fifteenth Legislative Session closed. It then went out to the states to ratify. Wyoming wasn’t due for their next session until January of 1921. Suffrage activists in Wyoming and around the nation turned to Theresa Jenkins to convince Governor Robert D. Carey to convene a special session of the legislature. Carey had deep respect for Jenkins, and convened the special session, telling Jenkins, “I know that if you did not think it the right thing for me to do you would not have asked it.”

When the legislature met from January 26-28, 1920, Governor Carey addressed a joint session of the two houses noting that Wyoming’s ratification was becoming vital to enacting the amendment and that “the opponents of suffrage have been using as an argument against granting equal rights to women that Wyoming had not [yet] ratified [the Constitutional amendment] for the reason that suffrage had proved a failure in this state. … [W]e could not allow such a charge to be unchallenged.” On January 28, both houses voted unanimously to ratify, making Wyoming the 27th of the 36 needed to make the 19th Amendment law.

Yes, our role in ratification of the 19th Amendment is an important part of women’s suffrage history. But I believe our role is far greater because we modeled for the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, that women’s participation in the civic/public sphere was healthy and wise. Our Governor’s Council for the Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Celebration is working hard to help our state, and our nation, better understand our story. Thanks to incredible work done by the Wyoming Office of Tourism, another member of the Governor’s Council, the Smithsonian Magazine published “Women Have Been Voting in Wyoming for 150 Years, and Here Is How the State Is Celebrating” this past June. They also maintain a website where you can find out what’s going on around the state to celebrate sesquicentennial and you can order cool at the Women’s Suffrage Store.

Wyoming Humanities has invested in many suffrage projects to help the state understand our suffrage history, and how it has shaped who we are today. You can find an incredible section of information on Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Rights in Wyoming on our state’s peer-reviewed history website and online encyclopedia at WyoHistory.org. That’s where you can take a deep dive into the historical context and social nuances that enabled us to be first in women’s voting. We have also invested in the creation of a documentary film, The State of Equality, by Caldera Productions and funded a scholarly symposium, Women’s Suffrage on the Northern Plains at the University of Wyoming. We recently awarded a grant to the Washakie Museum in Worland for an exhibit titled, “The Vote: Women’s Suffrage Wyoming and Beyond” that will explore how our equality wasn’t really so equal, for instance Native American women did not have the right to vote even in 1920 as they weren’t considered citizens until 1924.  

Wyoming Humanities has also launched a year-long podcast series, titled “First, But Last” to celebrate the year of women in Wyoming in honor of our suffrage sesquicentennial. This podcast features women’s stories about life in Wyoming and whether or not we’ve lived up to our state nickname, the “Equality State.” And later this year we will announce more exciting suffrage projects related to commemorating Louisa Swain’s first vote in Laramie.

As you can see, there’s a lot to learn and experience regarding women’s suffrage. We hope you can join us on December 10 in Cheyenne, where we, along with the rest of the Governor’s Council for Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Celebration, will be hosting several major events. A Suffrage Walk from 17th and Carey to the capitol with an all-female color guard and featuring many of our state leaders will start the day and then Governor Gordon will sign a proclamation in the rotunda of the capitol. There will be public talks and tours of the capitol all afternoon and then the day’s celebration will culminate at 7pm with Wyoming PBS hosting a premiere of the State of Equality documentary film at the Cheyenne Civic Center. For all the information you need about our Suffrage Day Celebration go to https://travelwyoming.com/suffrage-events.  

This incredible year of suffrage-related programming is a perfect example of the collaborative spirit of the cultural network of Wyoming. We are proud to be one of the organizations that comprise the core infrastructure of this network. We could not do this work without the support and generous donations from individuals who believe in our mission. Please consider us in your gift planning and make an online donation at https://thinkwy.org/donate/. From all of the staff and board of directors of Wyoming Humanities, we wish you a joyful holiday season and an intellectually stimulating and prosperous 2020.

Wyoming’s Future Requires Creative Ideas

October was National Arts and Humanities Month, and along with November tends to be the busiest time for cultural programming in Wyoming. Between attending events and helping my fellow Wyomingites find out about them, the significance and impact of the creative and cultural network of Wyoming has come into sharper focus for me than ever before. I am not alone; Senator Mike Enzi opined on Wyoming’s creative minds in an op-ed on October 10.  

In one ten-day stretch in early October, I attended the Laramie Lyceum lecture series, the UW Art Museum Gala, an incredible performance of Locust the Opera in Laramie, a panel discussion with two former governors called “Breaking the Boom and Bust Cycle in Wyoming” in Rock Springs, another panel discussion on Hemingway in Wyoming in Cheyenne, and finished it off with a breath-taking performance of “Tales of Hemingway” by Grammy-winning artist Zuill Bailey and the Cheyenne Symphony. A day later I drove to Riverton to present to the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations about the impact of our “Two Nations One Reservation” exhibit and other American Indian cultural and educational projects we’ve invested in this past year.

I have a front-row seat, as both an audience member and an investor, to many of the incredibly rich and diverse events and projects that comprise the brilliant tapestry of Wyoming’s creative and cultural ecosystem. I know how much work it takes to put on an event, from small local discussion groups to some of the state’s largest programs, concerts, exhibits, and festivals—each event requires a great deal of labor and sometimes a lot of money. From the hours and hours of meetings to discuss the intent and impact and overall design of a project, to the expertise deployed to market and advertise, to the management and logistics of running an event—this is the work of professionals and volunteers and it adds up. When you factor the impact of the people who come to these events, some traveling to the host community and spending money there, the whole project can add up to a lot of economic activity. A whole lot. It’s time for Wyoming to see just how much.

I believe that if we carefully defined and then accurately measured and monitored the scale of the creative and cultural economy, our state’s leaders would be shocked and awed. How much did hosting the Teton County Pow Wow cost? How many people worked to put it on? How many came to the event? How much did they spend in the town? What are the intangible and tangible benefits of hosting an event like that and how does it intersect with tourism? Who came to Meeteetse to listen to and learn about Basque Country music and the role of the Basque in Wyoming history and what kind of resources and time did the Meeteetse Museum and their collaborators put into this event? From “Classics in the Park” in Cheyenne to celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in Torrington, to bringing the International Hemingway Society’s Biennial Conference to Sheridan to our partnerships with sites all around the state to host a Smithsonian traveling exhibit that focuses on Change in Rural America—Wyoming has a vast cultural and creative network putting on an incredible variety of events.

We talk about these endeavors in terms of their enhancement of the quality of life in a community. That’s absolutely true. They tie us together and make our towns and regions stronger. A vibrant art and culture scene attracts residents and businesses to a community and prevents youth outmigration (a major concern about which our state leaders are seeking solutions) and that is a good reason to support this sector with public and private investment. But evidence suggests that art and culture can do more for us. Creatives want to work in creative areas–clustering as they attract more artists and cultural workers who want to work in an environment that is innovative and facilitates interaction. These clusters grow and attract more artists and cultural workers. Creative Placemaking intentionally leverages the power of arts, culture, and creativity to serve a community’s interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth, and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place. We can get and keep more people in Wyoming if we focus on this sector.

Art galleries, history museums, theater troupes, writers, saddle-makers, cultural centers, symphonies, operas, artists of all stripes, film-makers, song-writers and band members, I could go on and on about the people who work in this sector. From Hulett to Evanston and Pine Bluffs to Jackson and all of our towns in between, every one of the state’s 99 communities has a cultural narrative and most have residents who make some or all their living in the creative or cultural sector. Even our smallest towns could support more artists and venues to promote their community’s story—we just need to give them the tools to attract them. A community’s creative/cultural clusters can become important economic drivers to attract skilled labor and innovation to a specific place and bring a whole new energy to the region.

According to a recent article in the Casper Star Tribune about Halliburton layoffs of oil and gas workers in the Rocky Mountain region, the latest data released by Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division indicates the oil and gas industry provides about 12,500 jobs to workers throughout the state, a 2 percent decline from the same time last year. Federal Reserve Economic Data shows around 4,700 coal miners in Wyoming. To put this sector into perspective, the most current data for arts and cultural jobs from the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates Wyoming has had a 2% increase employment increase from 2014 to 2016 and employs just under 12,000 people. In 2014, the most recent analysis available, Wyoming’s employment in the creative and cultural sector as a share of the total labor force was 30% higher than the national average and second only to New York. This sector is strong in Wyoming, a solid base from which we could grow and diversify.

We seem to be coming to an agreement that Wyoming is destined to continue to lose coal, oil, and gas jobs over the coming years. Just this week we found we face another major budget shortfall and heard once again the calls for tightening our belts and finding new ways to fund our public needs. For several years our state’s leaders have worked diligently to figure out ways to diversify our economy and move us toward a future that is less fraught with the boom-and-bust cycles of dependency on a single sector for employment and for revenue. Why not put forth a similar amount of support to protect and grow the creative and cultural sector as that of the energy sector? Of course, I’m not saying that the creative and cultural economic sector could entirely replace the energy sector—but if we are currently about 4.7% of the state’s economy, is it not reasonable to think that with a well-managed concentrated effort we could grow it to be 10% or 12%? Perhaps some of our coal miners and other energy workers would even become part of this sector. This support would have the double benefit of helping towns cope with job loss and youth exodus.

It’s thrilling to imagine what Wyoming’s future could be. With such a small population and with such big changes in our economy coming down the pike we are going to have to be innovative and, dare I say, creative. We already have a solid, collaborative infrastructure in place to serve Wyoming’s creative and cultural network—the arts council, public television, public radio, cultural trust fund, office of tourism, and humanities council. Inventive public stimulus investment and unique new private-public funding strategies to support this creative and cultural infrastructure could grow this blossoming sector, perhaps to as much as 10 percent of our economy in 10 years. That would bring thousands of new jobs to the state, including independent artists and authors, people working in museums, theaters, dance troupes, arts/crafts coalitions, bands, galleries and creative industrial endeavors. This conversation has already started as the ENDOW report released last year called for stimulating the creative economy, and the upcoming Governor’s Business Forum put on by the Wyoming Business Alliance features a panel session, “The Creative Economy, Adding Value to Wyoming’s Bottom Line” where Montana and New Mexico leaders will discuss with Wyoming how they successfully grew and supported their creative economies.

The most popular places to live in America feature energetic arts and humanities scenes; can you imagine a state with our amazing landscapes being able to claim we are the most “creative state” in the nation? Not only would tourism increase, young people would flock here to put down roots and start businesses. Creativity is the root of all innovation. One way to proactively shape our future is for Wyoming to strive to be known as “The State of Creativity.”

What We Owe the Dead

Cemeteries are often overlooked as something the public needs to be concerned with. However, cemeteries serve an important communal purpose and when they fall into disrepair action needs to be taken. But what can be done? There are simple things private citizens can do to help clean up, and volunteers can tackle bigger projects too.

In Virginia, a group of volunteers have been working for years to clean up the East End and neighboring Evergreen cemeteries, which are near Richmond. Both are abandoned black cemeteries, established in the early 1890’s. Jim Crow based segregation included cemeteries; black families were not allowed to bury their loved ones in the cemeteries that were already established so they made their own. Other historic cemeteries in the area contain Confederate soldiers and receive plenty of funding for maintenance. Evergreen and East End also hold veterans but have not received adequate funding for maintenance. Consequently, a forest has grown around and in the forgotten cemetery, so a good deal of the volunteers’ time is spent removing foliage and creeping vines from the headstones. This cemetery has also seen a lot of vandalism, so many of the headstones are broken—some to pieces, others only off their base—and may not be at the actual gravesite. Some are even found under piles of garbage. Volunteers do what they can to restore dignity to the dead.

The Weeks Cemetery cleanup in Ohio was organized by Bridgeport resident Tim Smith and Tom DeVaul, resident of Colerain, OH. The Weeks Cemetery belongs to the Village of Bridgeport, which at the time of the article’s publication was in a state of fiscal emergency. The town didn’t have the funds to maintain the cemetery, so the community decided to step in. DeVaul had made cleaning up the Weeks Cemetery part of his family’s weekly routine, mowing and weeding what they could in the 14-acre cemetery. Smith decided something needed to be done after meeting an elderly woman who was unable to visit her mother’s grave because of the overgrown grass which was shoulder height in some places. Together, Smith and DeVaul organized a cleanup day. The main event was a single day of hard yard work done by 50 volunteers including high school students and 4-H members, and several local businesses donated equipment. Locals and residents from neighboring towns have continued taking care of the cemetery.

Cemeteries around the state of Wyoming rely on volunteers too. Wyoming’s low population translates into lots of small towns and lots of small cemeteries. Some towns lack the finances to maintain their cemeteries, like Bridgeport. Other cemeteries, like Evergreen and East End, have been abandoned or are nearly abandoned. If not for the efforts of volunteers they may have disappeared entirely.

Rock Springs residents felt their cemetery, and being buried there, was so important that  in 1924 volunteers spent months locating and moving all unregistered graves to the Rock Springs Cemetery. In the 1980’s, volunteers surveyed and completely re-landscaped the grounds creating a greenspace in the middle of the desert. In fact, the work volunteers did is what inspired the city to begin regular, fully funded maintenance of the cemetery later in the decade.

The Bennett-Buttes Cemetery in Clark, WY was established in 1909. A year later, volunteers built a fence around the cemetery to keep the cows out. In 1913, fourteen Clark residents formed the Bennett-Buttes Cemetery Association to ensure its care in the future. In 1985, funds to care for it were running short so the residents petitioned to create a cemetery district. The creation of the Bennett-Buttes Cemetery District meant that tax money could be used to improve and maintain the cemetery. Residents were able to remove sagebrush and plant trees and grass. A well was dug to irrigate the new greenery, and a chain link fence replaced the old wood one in 1990.

Landscaping and regular clean ups aren’t the only needs Wyoming cemeteries have. Some, like the Arapaho Catholic Cemetery on the Wind River Reservation need to be mapped. The Arapaho Catholic Cemetery is not organized in a grid like many other cemeteries. Many of its markers are wooden and have rotted away or become so weathered that it is impossible to read the name of the person buried there. The other cemeteries on the reservation are similarly disorganized, so the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s Historic Preservation Office has decided that all burial sites will be mapped. Although this project is being done by employees—who are tribal members—rather than volunteers, it is community based and motivated by the same sentiments that drive volunteer-based cleanups. As project leader Jordan Dresser said “These graves all tell a story in a sense. It breaks your heart when you see these unknowns, but then it fills your heart when you see graves like that one with the flowers on it. In a way, we’re trying to do that for all of them and show them the respect and love that they have here.” With the graves mapped, people will be able to find loved ones and ancestors with ease.

But why does remembering the dead—where they were buried, who they were—matter to a community? Cemeteries hold a town’s true history. Not its documents and photographs, but its people. If you happen to take a walk around Greenhill Cemetery in Laramie, you will notice that a lot of the old headstones have fallen into disrepair. They are broken or sinking into the soil, some with names that are no longer legible. When I see the forgotten graves of Greenhill, I see a disconnect between Laramie’s past and Laramie’s present. It probably isn’t possible to fully restore these headstones but doing nothing misses an opportunity to strengthen and enrich Laramie’s personal relationship with its past.

Take the resting place of George Hanson for example. George Hanson of Laramie was a sailor on the USS Oklahoma. He died in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Officials at the time were only able to identify 35 of the 429 men killed on the Oklahoma. George Hanson was not one of those 35. He was originally interred with the rest of the USS Oklahoma Unknown, and would remain there until DNA analysis began in 2015. In the summer of 2019, his remains were identified and given to his nephew, who is his only surviving family. Hanson’s memorial—a full military service—was opened to the community and dozens of Laramie residents attended. Though his grave is new, this story highlights the importance of remembering those who have passed and making sure they are cared for. Now that he is home, we know him and his story. His story adds to the story of Laramie. In knowing our city’s history, we come to know ourselves better as a community with a common history.

The dead inhabit a space between the physical and the ethereal. They provide a tangible and emotional tie to the past, allowing the living to feel and learn from it in a truer way than looking at old photographs or reading old documents. They say to the living “Here lies all that we were. Now, what will we be?”