I think I mentioned, probably only a bunch of times, that I was in Wyoming last two weeks. There I learned, as I have before, that a previous experience is gone, lost to time, and can’t be repeated again.
I lived most of my life in California, where mountains, ocean, desert, wine valleys, were only hours away. Then I moved to the “heartland”, where I can drive 600 miles in any direction and still be in cornfields, great for pigs and feedlot cows, pretty deadly for human spirit who know other things than crops can be green too and green is more than just making money. So early on in this place I felt the hugely confined and found: a day’s drive got me to Chadron State Park, almost real; a very long day’s drive got me to Black Hills, now we’re cooking, but of course fake statues of dead presidents and gambling casinos and motorcycles is hardly the “wild”; then in a pair of days, to Wyoming.
I lived briefly in Montana as a boy and loved it, but being young adult in California changed my love of the Rockies to a love of the Sierra. But the Rockies are way, way better than cornfields. My outdooring skills had deteriorated and my equipment was obsolete and despite my first electronic map and GPS I had no idea where to go. Fortunately a friendly mountain biking store in Sheridan had good advice and even better a good map.
So off I went to the North Tongue campground. Upon arrival I see moose grazing in the North Tongue itself, then find myself in a tiny campground of only 12 spots, with the big RVs having already grabbed the “prime” spots along the river (the spots with the mosquitoes). I was left picking site #8. It had the usual pad for parking car, picnic table and lantern hook, and fire-ring. But the delightful bit was that a tiny creek ran through the campground, joining the North Tongue not far away, and this already tiny creek had split into two forks, so I had to make a tiny leap on the log to reach a really nice tent site on an “island”. Had a wonderful time, great relief from the dreary existence I had in the heartland, and nearly perfect camping conditions with great sleeping to stereo sound of babbling brook.
So of course I want to go back. First I go back with a California friend I picked up in Denver. While we had a great time and enjoyed seeing each other, one also rapidly learns that 100% compatible partners for any travel don’t exist. He didn’t see the magic in my spot and when the brief downpour came, down came the tents and off we went to motel, kinda spoiling the moment. Didn’t go back again that time.
Then after idleness I actually went back to work and thoughts of camping in Wyoming now gave way to short episodes of exploring China while on business trips and meeting deadlines. But the longing was still there, so now that I’m idle and useless again at least I can go back to Wyoming.
While my first visit couldn’t have been more random, this visit could hardly have been more planned. I’d earlier learned it not only is possible to reserve campgrounds, but to reserve specific spots (and I’m not about to tell you the new spot I found, just in case I do have any readers and they’ll want to grab it). Of course as soon as reservation systems exist and people start using them then any kind of spontaneous activity is out – good luck in a couple of weeks when full tourist season starts even finding any spot in the North Tongue campground if you don’t have a reservation. So I figured I’d pre-empt the crowd and get my favorite spot.
Well someone else beat me to it, already reserved. When I arrived and found someone from Texas, who only came to fish and didn’t care where they were, and then discovered they’d picked my spot purely at random, I thought I’m getting the first message from fate. But then, looking wistfully at “my” spot I also realized they’ve built a fence to keep campers confined within a boundary (weird, given Bighorns is one of those old western spots where you can camp almost anywhere, unlike California where you’ll be arrested if you dare camp on ground that hasn’t been stomped to death by a million other campers). My tent spot was outside that fence and so instead now you put you tent on a gravel pad. But worse, somebody blocked up the tiny trickle of the one fork of the creek, undoubtedly in some misguided notion of channeling nature to where man wants water to flow. So even if the fence weren’t there, my little “island” of serenity where I pitched the tent was gone.
And then the final insult, where I don’t quite have all the facts, but certainly catch the foul stench of the greed of the 1%. Despite being “public” (i.e. my) land the campground concession seems to have been privatized (no wonder it’s $14/day for pump water and a pit toilet). The original public campground apparently was one of those “exorbitant government waste”, providing dirt to campers in a national resource, that Repugs could close and so give Donald Trump and the Koch Bros a few more bucks in tax breaks. Camping is now all the middle class can afford. I’ve never camped (at least, exclusively) because it’s cheap but because I enjoy a piece of dirt more than a motel. As a kid I got to fall in love with America’s natural resources because they were available to ordinary people like me. I thought future generations would get to use the national resource just as I had. Now this privatization, per se, isn’t that bad (the Forest Service had already raised fees for camping anyway, when Clinton actually balanced the budget, unlike the Repugs talking about balancing but then who love spending off-budget wars) but I fear it’s probably the first step. Poor old California, struggling with its deficit, because somehow it’s a sin for people, esp. the 1% to pay taxes, has had to close its parks – how long until selling them off to real estate developers. I’m sure the rich of Jackson Hole are just waiting until they can buy back the Tetons (those silly Rockefellers, giving such precious land to the people of U.S., how quaint that the titans of those days had a shred of conscious, even though it was just tax break back when there actually was an inheritance tax) or better yet Yellowstone and Yosemite. If you think Big Sky development attracts 100M$ homes (who could possibly need that), wait till the Ahwahnee is up for sale. So, yes, Grover has taken the government (that is the 99%) and drowned it in a bathtub, and so whatever meat is still left on the bones of this country the 1% will strip off for themselves until there is nothing left, just like the strip mines of Wyoming.
I didn’t actually start this as a political rant, but as a kinder topic, which is a variant of Carpe Diem. When you get a lucky break (stumbling on North Tongue campground by luck), suck all the marrow out of that life, because you’ll never go back there again. Someone will ruin it, or even you may ruin it for yourself (sleeping on dirt isn’t as easy as it used to be). The time really only exists once to do something wonderful. Even if the greedy Repugs don’t steal it from you, it will be gone from your future, so enjoy it now. Some say you should live every day like it’s your last; I say, when you find a great moment, live it like it’s your last, because it will be.