In the far reaches of Albany County, in the back pasture of the ranch where Oscar Lilley grew up, one finds a distinct line between civilization and wildness.
“It’s like that’s the end of the world,” said Lilley, who now lives in Laramie.
It’s like nothing else exists beyond that spot, he said. It’s a place that captured Lilley’s imagination and is the setting for his short story “Something’s Gotta Burn,” in which a veterinarian in an isolated but tight-knit community in Albany County loses his license and escapes to the wilderness to find the meaning of life, God and himself.
“Something’s Gotta Burn” is one of more than 70 pieces in “Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An anthology of Wyoming writers.”
The book, which features poetry, fiction and nonfiction works from Wyoming writers, was edited by Lori Howe, an author of several poetry books, a doctoral candidate who teaches at the University of Wyoming and the editor of Clerestory: Poems of the Mountain West. Her time this past summer as the Wyoming Humanities Council’s Think Wy Road Scholar, where she traveled the state teaching creative writing workshops, inspired the book. When she realized the last Wyoming anthology was published about seven years ago, she pitched the idea to publishers, including Sastrugi Press which took on the project.
Howe wanted works that feature Wyoming’s landscape as a central character.
“What I was really looking for in submissions were pieces that got at the heart of what it means to live in Wyoming, in this place that has such a small population with an awful lot of land,” she said. “A place where you are so dependent on changes in the weather and the harshness of the landscape. It’s such a special place. I was really looking for writing that spoke to that connection we have, that relationship we have with the landscape.”
Howe received more than 1,000 submissions. She selected work by established authors like Alyson Hagy and Tim Sandlin, and several former Wyoming poet laureates like Rose Hill and David Romtvedt, as well as up-and-coming writers like Lilley, who writes under the pen name Jay Robbins.
Lilley’s story about the veterinarian takes place in an area his family has called home since the 1890s and explores values like sanctity of private property. The main character’s story is inextricably tied to the landscape, something true for most people who call the state home.
“The country forms the people,” he said.
The landscape has always inspired and intrigued Corinna German, who lived in Cody for about 12 years, before moving to Laurel, Montana. The fledgling writer’s nonfiction story “Death song just outside of Yellowstone,” is about the Absaroka Wilderness. It is a place often overlooked by visitors in the shadow of nearby Yellowstone National Park, but a place rich in wildlife, wildness and history. The story is an ode to the Native Americans who first called the land home and left relics like sheep traps and other artifacts behind, as well as to the state’s thousands of acres of public land that can easily be taken for granted, she said.
The works in the anthology are all bound together by a common thread, Howe said.
“It’s the scarcity of the population in Wyoming,” Howe said. “You can go long, long stretches without seeing a house, or even another car on the road. It brings us into this sense that we are really all in this together. If you get stuck off the road in Wyoming, someone is going to stop for you – probably the next person who drives by is going to stop and help you get out. There’s something very special about the Wyoming identity and how it’s formed around this isolation and the need to depend on each other.”
There are about 70 writers representing all areas of the state in the book, Howe said. While each piece is unique, they all tackle relationships — with the land, animals and each other, she said. That’s the theme.
“It is the kind of harsh and beautiful landscape we live in and how closely we live to the land and how we are constantly reminded of our dependence on each other in the face of such weather and such extremes,” she said.
It is something Howe thinks will give the book appeal beyond the state’s borders, while also resonating with those who call Wyoming home.
“Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone” book tour dates:
3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Dec.3, Laramie County Library, Cheyenne
6 to 7:30 p.m., Dec. 8, Night Heron Books, Laramie
5 to 7 p.m., Dec. 10, Valley Bookstore, Jackson