Western history

When I Came West

One of the benefits of my job as administrator for Women Writing the West is that a book occasionally lands on my doorstep for review. Although we don’t officially review books, and I’m not an especially strong reader, I read as many of them as possible. Member titles then go to trade show exhibits, then into library circulation at the Women Writing the West Collection.

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading “When I Came West” by Laurie Wagner Buyer. Laurie is a friend, and I knew it would be an outstanding piece before I started. However, I could not put it down for different reasons. You see, Laurie had an amazing wilderness experience in 1974. I had one as well in 1973. Mine did not transcend the wilderness experience as hers did, but mine was far greater in another respect. I was able to share my experience, working in Yellowstone National Park, with women friends who have remained close to me all these years. This was an aspect of Laurie’s wilderness experience which was missing for her.

My experience living and working in Yellowstone seems frivolous now in relation to Laurie’s. However, I continue to enjoy reunions and adventures with the same friends who have stayed close all this time. We’ve shared brilliant joys and profound sorrows that befall us all. From our little clan of five women, we’ve added others through our partners and children, including a set of twins, and my son. We’ve had relationships with cowboys, mountain men, war vets, park service workers, college guys, and hippies. Our reunions are always warm and wonderful, with new experiences to share. My life has been wonderfully embellished by them all.

But back to Laurie. She has the most wonderful way of sharing her life experiences, by baring her soul and inviting us in to understand her pain and share her victories.

I know her. I look at her photos from the 70s, and I know that look of defiance. I understand why she went into the wilderness. In ’73, my pals and I sat in the theater in Gardiner, Montana, watching the movie, “Jeremiah Johnson”. In total awe, we were ready to follow the mountain man or his ilk, a bearded guy in plaid shirt and jeans with a Buck knife hanging from his belt, to the mountains. A couple of us did. The difference was that we had our women friends to sustain us when we came out and while we stayed in. Laurie points that out, and knows well the power of such friendships. She is a composite of us all.

To learn more about Laurie and her books, go to:

Joyce Lohse, 2/12/10
Go to: www.lohseworks.com
and visit the Yellowstone Savage page