I was seventeen when my father and I embarked on the long flight to Denver from Amsterdam, with a layover in London. He read George Eliot; I read Batman: The Long Halloween. It was dark by the time we checked into the hotel, and still dark the next morning when we set out in our rental car. We drove north, then northwest, until, after six hours of lunar landscapes and windswept mountains, the little town of Lander, Wyoming, rose to meet us—as if, in the words of Gretel Ehrlich, “startled out of a deep sleep and thrown into a pure light.” The colors were electric. The sky was enormous. The air was dry and crisp as autumn leaves.
The reason for our journey: Wyoming Catholic College. We wanted to get a better sense of the place before I committed myself to four years in the indifferent, yawning landscape of Wyoming—where, as Ehrlich describes it in The Solace of Open Spaces, “men become hermits” and “women go mad.” Ehrlich banished herself to Wyoming after the death of a loved one. I suppose my college choice was similarly motivated, a self-imposed exile.