This Side of the Pond – May 1

By Sarah Pridgeon

For just a little while last week, I got to be an expert on the Sundance way of life. Though I’m the first to admit that I’m barely past the beginner stage when it comes to rural living, my unexpected visitor was even greener still.

It all began when a friend of mine was approached by an English journalist now living in New York City, who was spending a week in Crook County. “Oh!” said my friend. “We’ve got one of you,” and pointed her towards my office.

The very next morning, I arrived at work to find a note on the desk from my doppelganger, asking if I might like to meet up for a chinwag. Naturally, I was excited to spend time with one of my countrymen on my new home turf and find out what had brought her to this part of the world.

I watched the seconds tick by impatiently as I waited for noon to arrive. We had arranged to meet for a lunch date, partly because it would give me chance to introduce her to the local cuisine (as she, like me, is from the country that doesn’t do beef properly) and partly because I never turn down an opportunity for a pretzel bun.

There’s something about meeting on foreign soil that immediately brings two people together, although I would hazard a guess with hindsight that we would have muddled along famously wherever we’d happened to be. Though our American adventures have taken us to different ends of the country and led to wildly different experiences, we both set out with the same hope: that we could turn our lives in the direction of our dreams.

As we strolled along Main Street, heading for the eatery, my new friend made a comment that warmed the cockles of my heart. I’ve only been here for three days, she said, but something about this place already feels like home. It’s a sentiment I could readily agree with, for it’s not too long ago that the same thought occurred to me.

I arrived in Sundance for the first time in the late evening of a warm August day. As we drove back from the airport, the world around me was invisible in the dead of night.

There was very little to indicate just how unfamiliar I would find the landscape, once I was able to actually see it. I assumed, somewhat naively, that the blackness harbored the same brick buildings and endless signs of habitation that I was used to in the city.

But when I awoke the following morning, I looked out of the window to find deer in the garden, a mountain overlooking the back yard and open sky as far as the eye could see. As my now-husband introduced me to the local sights, I found little but unspoiled terrain and natural beauty in every direction I looked. The novelty was intense, but it was tempered by a strange familiarity.

Just a few days later, I felt as though I had lived in this town for a lifetime. Everywhere I went, with whomever I spoke, I encountered the natural warmth that permeates this community and makes you feel not just like a welcome visitor, but as though you’ve been acknowledged as “one of us.”

By the time I returned to the bustle of London, I was more relaxed and content than I had ever felt in my life. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was a place I’d enjoy calling home. Just as well, then, that my now-husband was interested in the same outcome.

My friends and family felt the same way when they arrived in Sundance for our wedding. They noticed that we all share the same sense of humor and love of the simpler things in life and they, too, were greeted with a sincere welcome that they have never forgotten. And when I asked one of my friends what his favorite moment of the vacation had been, he told me it was the jaw-dropping drive from the airport, when he discovered just how awe-inspiring Wyoming can often be.

Fast forward three years and that feeling has refused to fade, which is why hearing it echoed by my new friend was such a heartwarming moment. As we settled down with our burgers, she asked for an insider’s insight into our little town of Sundance.

I told her that she would always hear the truth from the people that she speaks to, because this is a place for straight talking. I explained that she would encounter a level of passion about local events and issues that she might not be used to, because this is a community that cares deeply.

I talked about the ingrained values that make Wyoming people such excellent custodians of the land, in a way that you are unlikely to encounter back in the jam-packed towns of England. I mentioned that she was now in the land of the cowboy, and that everyone she met would likely follow that code. And I told her that, if she ever met with an emergency and called for help, she could expect more hands on deck than she even needed.

As I spoke, I realized that my Wyoming education might be ongoing, but I have long since begun to embrace many of the values and hopes that were once so new to me. It also hit me, perhaps for the first time, just how much I have come to admire them.

We shared some giggles about the differences we encounter, of course, and our shared determination to pack as many groceries as possible into our suitcases whenever we visit home. I told her about the other European ex-pats who populate the area and she agreed with my observation that, for some reason, most people think we’re Australian. I even had someone to commiserate with over the long, hard road to naturalization.

Spending time with a newcomer who shares my background and life goals was rather like stepping back in time, to a moment three years ago when everything here was brand new. It was a chance to reflect on the journey thus far and how much fun it has been to take each step. First impressions aren’t always accurate, but I think it’s safe to say that the Sundance welcome is exactly as warm it first seems.