I find a lot of comfort in the idea of cosmic insignificance. Our existence on this planet is so infinitesimally small on nearly every scale – Wyoming itself, for instance, was covered in water for the majority of its geologic history; our human perception of it is an abnormality. In general, I tend to get caught up in the anxieties of the moment, causing me to miss out on experiences that hold great value – reframing these worries as trivial allows me to separate from the inhibitions of my brain. We spend a lot of time in the vast, lonely wilderness here in Wyoming. The prairie provides unobstructed views for miles, untouched nature that stretches as far as the eye can see. It is incredible, expansive, and wastes no time in solidifying my existence as fleeting. On the preserve, I feel so small. During the day I am a speck on the landscape and during the night I am lost in some of the most incredible stars I have ever witnessed. I feel as much an interloper on this landscape as I do on this planet, a mere blink in the expanse of space and time.
Despite this (or maybe because of it), the human connection here runs strikingly deep. People have an innate, instinctual desire to bond with each other, something that I feel is exacerbated by the sense of cosmic insignificance. In contrast to the unforgiving landscape, the people form bonds that seem unbreakable. Wyoming isn’t the typical study abroad experience that you might read about in books or watch in movies. It’s a familiar country with a familiar language, and yet the culture is so incredibly different than anything I’ve ever experienced. The towns here are so small that everyone quite literally knows everyone – our group of fifteen causes heads to turn in every store or restaurant that we walk into. We’ve experienced rodeos, street festivals, and small-town barbecues and were welcomed with open arms every time. I swing-danced in front of what seemed to be 50% of the entire population of Wyoming and had a blast, something I would have never done two weeks ago.
Wyoming is teaching me so much beyond my academic coursework – I am learning how to navigate this world as both my own person and as a member of an inextricably connected society. It makes me think about the existence of constellations. There is no tangible connection – in fact, each star is separated by so much time and space that it is almost absurd to even fabricate a connection. Yet, over thousands of years, people have created pictures and stories to pass down and feel more at home on this planet. People create connections everywhere they go, and Wyoming is not an exception.