Last year at this time, I was living and working in the Washington, DC area. People would ask me where I was from and I would tell them Hanna, Wyoming. Eyes would get big with wonder as they heard the town I lived in was not even a 1000 people and not near any sizable city. I got the same reaction when I lived in Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan and Australia. The eventual question was always, why?
Certainly, one of my stock answers was it was a place where nature still won. Telling people of the herds of pronghorn and other wildlife that abounded throughout Carbon County got reactions of awe. However, nature is not the major reason I have come to love Wyoming.
It is the people.
More than once I would be in meetings in Asia interacting with global managers and I would say, “Look, my home is in Carbon County, Wyoming, and the people there are straight shooters; They seldom play games and tell it like it is.”
I can’t tell you how often this statement helped me in negotiations.
I feel blessed I have been exposed to this type of personality that is so common in our area.
The epitome of this type of individual is one of the first people I met when I came to Wyoming almost 20 years ago. In truth I can honestly say, if not for this person, I would not have come to live in Carbon County.
I came to Saratoga on a bet where “God’s Country” was located in the USA. I claimed it was the Chesapeake Bay—a very good place. The native Wyoming son I made the bet with brought me to Saratoga to show me the Snowy Range.
Okay, he won.
After two weeks in “Togie,” I told a small group of locals that I wished I could live in Wyoming for the summer before I moved to Australia.
Immediately, Kirsten Campbell, a person I hardly knew, offered to get me a job in her family’s restaurant/bar and opened her house to me.
There are a lot of great people in the world and more than once I have been helped by strangers, but Kirsten Campbell showed me the spirit that is so prevalent in Carbon County locals that summer.
She would have me playing “Cocktail Croquet” in her front yard on lazy afternoons when neither of us had to work—or maybe she would tell me about an excellent trail for me to explore.
Kirsten did not tolerate liars and had little time for people that were fake. She had little ego and I watched how many people gravitated toward her. I found I wanted to be a better person because Kirsten was so candid with her observations—A trait I have seen often in locals.
I found myself laughing all the time with Kirsten. She, like many Wyomingites, had such a great sense of humor.
Kirsten also had one of the most generous and giving natures. I have memories of her helping friends in need without any hesitation. I am really hard pressed to think of any time that she refused anyone that needed help. Again, I see this as a trait shared by many people I have met in Carbon County.
In the past years while living overseas, I have given people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. I know I got this characteristic from Kirsten. I remember exactly the conversation we were having when I was questioning the motives of someone. She told me not to be naïve but explained that always being guarded about people’s motives was not going to let me enjoy what life had to offer. Kirsten was right and I see so many examples of Saratoga and Hanna residents being friendly and opening up because that is the nature of people from this area.
Kirsten also put forth how bad corporate commercialism was for Saratoga. While I was living with her, I was not allowed to bring home a pizza from Pizza Hut—tells you how long it has been since we were roommates. She believed in supporting local, even if it was more expensive. Kirsten explained we were helping our neighbors and community, which is more important than any monetary savings gleaned. Coming from large cities, it hadn’t really occurred to me. After living in towns like Saratoga and Hanna, I see ample examples of people being exactly like Kirsten.
I admired how adept she was in so many environments, whether it was floating the river solo or being that exacting cook when it came to putting out a quality dinner. She took no prisoners in the kitchen if you didn’t do your job to her expectations. I can’t ever say I felt her wrath, but I saw her be very unhappy with anyone who didn’t do his or her job. I wouldn’t say that is an exclusive Carbon County trait, but it complements the many I think that are.
Kirsten was not a perfect human being. I don’t want her to come off as a person who had no conflicts with herself or others.
Her family and friends close to her can give examples of Kirsten’s less than perfect nature on occasions. That was also part of her charm.
I find this to be true of people from Carbon County and Wyoming as a whole from what I know, but my only other strong exposure has been to the people of Laramie.
I know from residing in a few different countries and coming from the east coast that living in Wyoming changed me for the better.
I appreciate there is a region in this country where people’s word is as good as a written contract. I take great satisfaction these traits have rubbed off on me.
I take even greater pride that Kirsten Campbell, a lady now departed, was my friend who motivated me to be a better person by embracing and enjoying living in Carbon County. Just like I suspect she inspired many others.
No doubt, the natural beauty around me makes me happy to live here, but it is the people like Kirsten Campbell who have had made me feel like Carbon County is the best place I have ever lived.