My backpack, University of Wyoming Geology building, 1986. 1986 was the year that I graduated with my undergraduate degree, right into unemployment. Just before I graduated I wondered around town and took a collection of photographs of the town, about the only photos I have of Laramie in any sense from my undergraduate days.
I lived in Laramie, in the 1980s, twice, for a period of time totaling up over six years. That doesn't sound like a long time, looking back, but it really is. Right now, that period of time is over 10% of my life, which isn't an insignificant period of time. Indeed, anything you do for that long, including just living in a place, has an impact on you, some good and some bad. I can truly say that this is the case for my period of time in Laramie. There were many very good things that happened to me while I was there, and a few really bad. Perhaps the latter impacts my recollection a bit as I've tended to be jaundiced to some degree about my time at the University of Wyoming, but then I also have a naturally somewhat cynical outlook on some things. All in all, Laramie is a really nice high plains town. And the area around it is, in my view, beautiful. Indeed, while it still is, I'd dare say it was more beautiful then, as with all places everywhere, it seems, the American belief in endless expansion has meant that Laramie has slopped over a bit into neighboring prairie that was prairie while I was there, and which I would still have as prairie, if I had my way with things.
But that's not what brings me to post an entry here.
Rather, it was because I was in Laramie for a couple of days recently for the first time in over twenty years. I've been to Laramie a lot of times since I graduated for the second time from the University of Wyoming, but I only stayed overnight there once before since graduating, and that was shortly after I had graduated. So I was likely as oblivious then as I was while I was a student.
I've always been very interested in history, even as a small child, and there are very few places of historical interest around Natrona County that I haven't been to, probably repeatedly. I'd even as a kid I'd been taken by my historically minded parents to all the major sites within easy driving distance of Casper, and loved it. So I have no good solid excuse for missing things around Laramie, but I sure did, in this context. And I don't even have any of the conventional reasons you hear for that associated with university.
Now days, I constantly hear from people about their wild college days, some of which I frankly think fits into the "when I was a kid we ate nothing but mutton" type of story. In other words, an expected false memory. But some of that must be true. Well, it wasn't for me, and frankly it wasn't for those in my undergraduate major, geology. In that field, we were all so aware that our job prospects were grim that a focus on actually trying to get through the very difficult course of study (it made law school look like a cakewalk) and hopefully doing well enough to find a job or get into graduate school meant that most nights found us working on classwork. The weekends and Fridays didn't always by any means, but we weren't very wild then either. In a field that was almost all male, if we did anything maybe we went to a bar where there were a million others similarly situated and had a few beers, and that was about it. Almost all of my colleagues were male, and real guys' guys, and almost none of us had girlfriends. Some of us did, but in looking back I think I can recall only a couple of those relationships developing seriously in that environment. And those of us who were not attached at any one time weren't chasing after a bunch of girls either, as we didn't know hardly any and we were worried about spending a bunch of money and having no jobs.
Which doesn't mean that I missed things because I was studying 100% of the time. That wouldn't be true either. I just missed them. On the weekends when I had time, back then, I tended to hunt and I knew a lot of the prairie around Laramie very well. But somehow I missed history.
I wonder how often this occurs?
For example, I somehow missed Ft. Sanders while I was there, and just really studied it a bit the other day. How did I missed that?
I just posted my entry on our Some Gave All blog on Ft. Sanders, but what I didn't note is that this is only the second time I've stopped at this sign, and the other time was just last year. I didn't stop here at all while I lived here. I wonder why?
I've driven by this a million times, but I stopped by this location for the very first time earlier this week. Pretty inexcusable. I wasn't therefore even aware that a Lincoln Highway memorial was also there.
I also had never stopped by the giant, and very odd, Ames Brothers monument, even though I was well aware that it was there. I had no idea that it was so huge.
I'd heard about it, but apparently my interest was sufficient in this location, in a town I never felt that I really lived in, to run up to the county line and take a look at it. Odd.
I did a little better with the Overland Trail marker, which I know that I had stopped at while I was a student. I can dimly recall stopping here while driving towards Centennial, more or less on a pretext. I.e., I had something I had to check on my truck or something, but I was curious about the location, so I stopped.
I really think missing all these places is pretty indefensible. They form part of the character of Albany County, and I should have appreciated that. And the real Albany County, not the Albany County that's just the student body of the University of Wyoming, which I suppose formed up a larger part of my mental imagination of Laramie at the time.
Well, the purpose of this blog and its exploration of history has been stated many times before. But maybe an accidental part of it is to cause me to look a little more carefully at a lot of places that I've been to many times before. Or at least I have been doing that. I wish I had earlier. Indeed, I can think of people I've known who lived history that I know wish I'd asked them about, but no longer can. By age 53 quite a bit of history has gone by while I observed it, and those who had experienced earlier aren't around. The markers still are, however, and they're more than worth looking at.