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Rain, Water and the West

Rain, Water and the West

Looking east up Jackson Canyon from the west end of Casper Mountain. Much of this rocky land of scrub and widely-spaced pines burned during the dry summer of 2006. William Henry Jackson photo, 1870, USGS photo library. By Rebecca Hein
Have you ever experienced a moment when the person you’re talking to doesn’t get it? For me, such an event was connected to a long, preparatory journey of awareness. It started in the early 1980s, when I was living in Wisconsin, a farming state that depends on summer rainfall. Being from Wyoming, I didn’t think much about rain, only about what pleasant weather we were having. But I gradually understood, hearing my Wisconsin neighbors talk about the drought and understanding an economic disaster was in progress.

A few years later, when regularly visiting our cabin in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I became acutely aware of the danger of forest fire and realized we could easily lose our beloved cabin.

On moving back to Wyoming in 1992, and a decade later moving to the base of Casper Mountain, I began to notice the weather patterns more than I had while living in town. One year, in early June, the whole mountain was emerald green. That year I attended the Wyoming Writers conference to talk up a book idea to a New York literary agent. That evening, there was an opportunity for authors to sell their books. The agent had a book to sell, as did I.

Sitting next to her, I said, “You’re seeing Wyoming at its best right now. We’ve had a lot of rain, but things won’t be as green a month from now.”

I could tell that my remark about rain flowed past her and did not get in. To her, water was something she got in a glass at a restaurant, nothing more. To us, its presence meant safety and its lack could spell disaster. In the summer of 2006, when the west end of Casper Mountain burned, the fire came within a few yards of our house. Ever since the fire broke out, we’d been cutting brush around our house, Still, had the Mills Fire Department not been there, our house could have burned. Every summer now, we keep a constant eye on the sky.

To learn more about how others have recognized that water in the West is like the blood that flows in our veins, read “John Wesley Powell: Explorer, Thinker, Scientist and Bureaucrat,” and Order out of Chaos: Elwood Mead and Wyoming's Water Law.