What I Learned On Our Family Trip

We hadn’t been back to Wyoming in three years, and the closer it came time to leave, the more anxious I became. The last time I was in Wyoming, I was pregnant with Harlynn. She was healthy and alive, and we eagerly awaited her arrival. This trip back without her was tougher on me than I anticipated as we prepared to hit the road.

The morning of our departure, as is standard in our marriage, Hubs and I got into a huge fight. It’s like satan says, “They’re about to be trapped in a car for 12 hours together, so let’s make sure it derails first thing.” It’s a traveling tradition. We can’t start a trip without jumping at each other’s throats. One day I hope to buck that tradition.

After almost 12 hours and almost as many pit stops, we reached our destination: my parents’ home. And no one was there to let us in. The lights were off, the doors were locked, and we were stranded on their front lawn. I called my sister and asked if she could come let us in.

It turns out my parents hadn’t been murdered as I suspected – why else would they have a dark home with locked doors when they knew their second-favorite child was on her way with family in tow? They had gotten hung up at the motorcycle store getting their new helmets taken care of. You know, normal parenting stuff.

We settled in for our stay and it was pretty much nothing at all like I expected. Here are a few lessons I learned from our recent trek home:

1. You can never go home again.

In my mind’s eye, everything in Wyoming is supposed to be exactly as we left it December 31st, 2005 – the day we drove away and moved to North Dakota. In reality, almost nothing is the same. My high school is torn down and is now a lawn. The gymnasium I was the mascot in, cheering our sports teams to victory, is all but a distant memory. The choir room I practiced in for years and the auditorium I performed in – demolished and forgotten. I didn’t even recognize the block I spent so much time on from my 8th through 12th-grade years.

My friends all have lives completely different from what they were 10 years ago. Their kids are half grown, their jobs are different, and it isn’t the same group we left behind. For my mind and memory, it was a little hard to reconcile. If they’ve changed and grown in life, so have I. Or at least I hope I have. But how? I have no idea. When I go back home, I still think I’m the hot-to-trot fun-loving moron I was all those years ago. But I’m not. I’m older, thicker, and a little fuddy-duddier. I’ve lived a lot of life in those 10 years since we’ve moved away, and so has everyone else.

My town, my people, and my familiar comforts of home have all changed.

2. Yellowstone is still my favorite place on earth.

Yet, I was incredibly saddened and disappointed on our trip there. I’ve been going to Yellowstone frequently for the last 22 years. I’m used to seeing hundreds, if not thousands of bison and elk. Antelope, coyotes, pelicans – all of them were a familiar sight on our trips through the park. The wildlife observed was less than minimum this trip. From thousands of bison to two. TWO. Hundreds of elk to less than a handful.

I don’t know why (wolves) the wildlife has completely disappeared (wolves) and I have no place or expertise (wolves) to try to figure it out (wolves). I CAN tell you the park is still gorgeous, the geysers are still mesmerizing, and the landscape is still pristine. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken for how little wildlife we observed and for no apparent reason (wolves).

We did get a picture of all of us and Harlynn-bear in front of the Yellowstone sign, which in itself was well worth the trip.

3. It’s possible to do too much in too little time.

We overdid it. Three of us wound up with fevers the day before we were supposed to head back home. I knew something wasn’t right when I felt my eyes burning from the inside of my skull, but I tried to attribute it to being tired. Turns out I had a fever. So did Little Miss and Little Man.

It prevented us from a night with friends, which was a bummer. The plus side was we got one more helping of our hometown pizza. Not really comparable, but considering the circumstances, still a perk.

With all the miles we covered, all the activities we participated in, and all the naps we skipped, we ran ourselves ragged. The trip home was a quiet one, with the feverish souls trying to get some rest. As much of a bummer as it was to end up sick at the tail end of our trip, I still think I’d do it all again.

I love going home, but it’s a different place than it once was. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to make the trip back again but I hope to make as many or more memories as we did on this trip. Heart Mountain still puts a little giddy-up in my step when I see it. The valley still takes my breath away. As different as it is, feels, and looks, it’s still home.

You can take a girl out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl. Wyoming is a little bit of heaven on earth. As beautiful as it is, I can’t imagine what Harlynn’s waiting to show us on the other side.

God bless you, Wyoming.