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Over the weekend we made our annual trek to Wyoming to celebrate my birthday. Vedauwoo, the dramatic and beautiful rocky outcrop on Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie was our destination.
Summer would simply not be complete for me without at least one visit to this magical place. My parents started the tradition years ago and I’ve continued it in my adult life, making it a regular part of my birthday celebration.
Some folks want to have lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant to celebrate their birthday.
Others may take a trip or see a play or go to a movie, or throw a party.
All are worthwhile and enjoyable things to do. But for me, when I really get down to it, I want to spend time at Vedauwoo.
There is something about those gigantic piles of rocks that thrills me to my very core. In other writing I’ve called it one of my heart places.
On the day we visited, it happened to be stormy. Our favorite spot was available and we managed to get in an hour of sitting at the picnic table, eating our lunch and talking before the rain started. Then we scuttled around packing everything back into the cars and headed out. I would have liked more time, but was grateful for what we had.
The sky was breathtaking with huge fat clouds piled on each other like overbeaten cream, adding mystery and drama to the already spectacular scenery. Rick and I drove around for awhile, giving me time to absorb Vedauwoo into my heart for one more year. Every so often I’d ask him to stop driving so I could take a photogragh or two.
When we finally pulled back onto the highway and headed for home, I saw this tiny patch of gorgeous blue sky peeking out at me.
“Stop the car,” I shouted. “I need to get this photo.”
My ever-accommodating husband found the perfect spot to pull the car over. He’s grown used to my artistic outbursts! Or maybe it’s just that he’s grown used to me.
Anyway, I got the shot just in the nick of time because the clouds were on the move. A minute later and there would have been no blue to see.
To me it was an omen, a bit of luck, a reminder that there is always a little blue sky to be found under the dark clouds.
All I have to do is remember that it’s there and look for the blue.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread. Places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
I am tied to the land.
There are places that I’ve visited since I was a child. I need them as much as I need oxygen and water.
And if for some reason I’m not able to make at least an annual visit, I feel it in my heart and more important, I feel it in my soul.
One of my heart places is Vedauwoo, an area of rocky outcrops in Wyoming between Cheyenne and Laramie. The name is an anglicized version of an Arapaho word that means “land of the earth born spirit.”
My husband and I had taken a drive earlier this week to see some of the spectacular fall color. And to get me to Wyoming and Vedauwoo for a soul vitamin.
We weren’t disappointed.
It was a glorious day with the sky full of dramatic clouds.
Vedauwoo was nearly empty, which made it an even more powerful experience – to be alone in all that beauty.
We found plenty of color in the aspen, willows, shrubs and grasses of the area.
It was truly beautiful.
I got some great photos that I’ll likely share sometime down the line.
But as we were leaving I saw the landscape that I captured in the photo above.
It took my breath.
It filled my heart.
I wanted to cry at the stark and profound beauty that is Wyoming.
Talk about a soul vitamin!
Do you have places of the heart? I’d love to know about them. Leave a comment if you want to share.
Yesterday in my post I promised to tell you about the Vedauwoo wildlife. The word wildlife may be a bit of a misnomer, because the critters we spent the day with were anything but wild. I’m talking chipmunks and ground squirrels.
I’ve only recently learned the difference. When I was a kid, they all were chipmunks to me.
So here’s how it went down.
The delinquency I mean.
The Vedauwoo chipmunks have learned to live with humans. They’ve learned that people mean food. They’ve become little beggars.
Cute. Adorable even, but beggars nonetheless.
We carried our picnic paraphernalia to the table, set up the chairs and settled in to enjoy ourselves. We’d brought chicken, potato salad, watermelon and birthday cupcakes. Oh, and Rick had one sourdough roll. He doesn’t go anywhere without bread, but that’s a story for another time.
First one little chipmunk was brave enough to scout us. I swear he must have gone back to the others with this message: “Hey we’ve got some live ones here. Heads up and look cute.”
Once the message got out, we were graced with the constant company of chippies and ground squirrels. It’s one of the things I love about Vedauwoo. I’ve fed these little guys for as long as I can remember. It’s part of the experience.
What did we feed them? We shared our picnic fare of course. None of it was very good for chipmunks. In truth, it wasn’t all that good for us either. But we sure enjoyed it.
All of us. See for yourself.
“This watermelon is prettty darned tasty. Very refreshing on a hot day. And how nice of you to cut it into chipmunk-sized bites.”
The three of us picnickers soon got into the act of feeding the chipmunks from our hands. The feel of their tiny paws was really sweet. They were so gentle. I did recently ask for more wildness in my life, and hand feeding chipmunks kind of fits the bill.
As you can see from the pictures, we encouraged some bad behavior in chipmunks and ground squirrels. I tried to stick to watermelon, but once they got the taste of the cupcake, they had no more interest in anything healthy. We did eat the cream cheese frosting ourselves, thinking it would be too much sugar for the little guys. It was a humanitarian act. We’re thoughtful that way. Eating the creamy sugary frosting ourselves. Call it a birthday sacrifice.
And to my friend, the wildlife veterinarian, all I can say is this: “Sorry. Slap the cuffs on me now.”
Note to self: Research appropriate food for chipmunks and ground squirrels before next year.
If you’re looking at the title of this post and wondering if my spell checker is on the fritz, it’s not. Vedauwoo is a place in Wyoming between Laramie and Cheyenne. It’s part of the Medicine Bow National Forest, and is made up of Sherman Granite that is 1.4 billion years old.
Vedauwoo (the term is an anglicized version of an Arapahoe word meaning “earth born spirit” is one of my heart places. It’s where I spent my birthday this year, and many past birthdays as well.
Going to Vedauwoo for a summer picnic has been a tradition in my life since I was a little girl. Those days my parents would handle the picnic fare. My father would cook hamburgers over a fire in a big cast iron frying pan. He’d also make hash brown potatoes that were the best in the world, in a cast iron Dutch oven.
I still yearn for the taste of both, cooked by him.
Rounding out the picnic would be watermelon, doughnuts, and maybe baked beans. I can’t remember ever having a vegetable of any kind, but surely there was something. My mother was one of the early “eat you vegetables” kind of parents.
It was this annual childhood routine that became imprinted within me such that now if I don’t make it to Vedauwoo sometime in the summer or fall, I can feel it within my body. I know it sounds kind of over the top, but it’s true. If I don’t get to Wyoming I miss it as much as I would miss water or food. It’s part of who I am.
The novelist Carson McCuller says, “To know who you are, you have to have a place to come from.”
I come from Wyoming and am proud of it. Wyoming is in my blood, but more than that it’s in my psyche. I’ve said in my introduction for this blog that I am a western girl, through and through. There is something about the wide-open spaces of the west that fills me with peace. My husband teases me about blissing out as soon as we start the drive west from Cheyenne.
He’s right. All that rolling prairie does calm me. I stare out the window of the car and lose myself in the swaying grasses, blue sky and a horizon that stretches out far beyond what the eye can see.
Twenty or so miles out of Cheyenne, the terrain begins to change. Small boulders dot the landscape, growing larger the closer you get to Vedauwoo. The rocks look soft and round and remind em of my grandmother’s dinner rolls, rising on the kitchen counter.
And all these years later, my heart quickens and my soul issues a sigh of contentment as we pull into the picnic area.
It was a perfect day – a perfect birthday.
Do you have a heart place? I’d love to hear about it.
Tomorrow a story about the wildlife of Vedauwoo.
And thank you to all of you who sent birthday greetings my way. I appreciate it so very much.
And I appreciate you!