A combination of family ties and a love of the high country led my wife and me to Cody, Wyoming, this past Memorial Day weekend.
On the flight out of Denver, we had the opportunity to visit with retired Senator Alan K. Simpson (R-WY) who should be drawing combat pay for serving as Co-Chair on the President's new National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
The Senator was kind enough to look at a recent article of mine for TAS on the current budgetary and entitlement crisis. He, in turn, gave me a copy of an article by a professor from Syracuse University which argues, among other things, that the already miserable budget projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) are based on ridiculously optimistic assumptions in terms of future GDP growth and interest rates.
But we were on vacation, and the conversation soon turned to more important matters: our lovely daughter's work, just north of Cody, at a working ranch for "at risk" teenage girls; the prospects for a young person in Wyoming; and, of course, Yellowstone and, our favorite, Grand Teton National Parks.
We took a late dinner and slept soundly after a long day of travel. Early the next morning, we met our daughter for Mass at St. Anthony's Church in Cody, right next to the very impressive Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
Parenthetically, I should note that the Center is actually five museums in one, encompassing firearms, Western art, Plains Indian Peoples, Buffalo Bill and the American West and the nature of the Yellowstone basin. Talk about market segmentation! We were particularly impressed with its collection of paintings and sculptures by Remington, Russell, Bierstadt, Catlin and N.C. Wyeth. It is a very impressive institution and a source of tremendous local pride as one learns after just a few conversations with the good folks working there.
Back at St. Anthony's our celebrant, Father Joseph, a Nigerian priest of high energy, gave good value with a rousing sermon on the importance of loving one another, especially husbands and wives -- and it wasn't even Sunday. He also offered a heartfelt prayer for the soldiers and police officers "who protect us." This was certainly appreciated with Memorial Day soon upon us.
Father Joseph insisted that we join him for coffee afterwards in the rectory where the walls were covered with trophy heads of moose, elk and deer with a few bear skins on the floor. The pastor, Father Joseph's boss, is a serious hunter.
Father Joseph is now assigned to the Cheyenne Diocese and, as with most priests in that part of the world, rides the circuit for those parishes without clergy. He also travels around the country raising money for the Church back in his homeland.
In Jackson and Powell, Wyoming, priests from the Philippines and Detroit celebrated the Eucharist in their respective parishes.
As Yogi Berra said, upon learning that Robert Briscoe, who was Jewish, was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956, "Only in America."
Our daughter works and lives north of Cody and east of Yellowstone. This part of Wyoming is not at all gentrified by Hollywood stars or Dotcom moguls. It is working ranch and farm country, amidst spectacular, challenging landscapes, both basin and range. People there know each other well, and many are kinsmen with deep roots in the neighborhood. Protestant, Catholic and Mormon churches are thick on the ground in the few towns in the area.
At a local Baptist Church, near Clark, Wyoming, we saw several horses tethered outside, along with numerous trailers containing even more animals, awaiting worshippers who were probably looking forward to a bit of exercise after services.
On all the farms and ranches, we could see piping strewn across the ground for irrigation purposes. This, along with the numerous reservoirs and canals throughout the region, reminded us that this was very arid country which does not yield its bounty without great toil and effort.
I often recall my father describing Wyoming as the state where men are men and women are governors. It was the first state to elect a woman to that top executive job. Not for nothing is it called the Equality State. The sense of community and egalitarianism is palpable and far removed from the stratified and divided society of Washington, D.C. and its suburbs.
Unfortunately, my wife and I were leaving Wyoming too early and would miss the summertime rodeo in Cody. However, we also missed the summer traffic jams -- RVs, mini-vans, touring buses -- which clog the two-lane roads into Yellowstone and the Tetons.
The highlights of the trip were meeting the girls at the ranch and having dinner with our daughter and her colleagues who work with them as counselors and mentors. For these youngsters faith, hope, love and self-respect are hard-won prizes to be gained only with struggle, fortitude and encouragement from their families and counselors. As the Hebrew saying goes, "He who saves a life saves the world entire." Such was the great love my wife and I found in Wyoming this Memorial Day 2010.
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