To Sophia from Six Weeks Ago–
Years ago, Wyoming captivated your five-year-old eyes when you saw Old Faithful for the first time. It enchanted your twelve-year-old heart when you came back in the family RV on a yearlong road trip. I remember you thinking Yellowstone was all the natural wonder Wyoming had to offer. How wrong you were.
As you will soon find out, this state is so much more than mountain vistas and grizzly bears and national parks. It is also sweeping prairies and wide-open spaces and towns no bigger than your neighborhood. It is rock outcroppings displaying millions, even billions, of years in the layers of sandstone and shale that blanket the landscape. It is millennia of human history that makes up an insignificant speck in the vast expanse of geologic time, which you will see stretching back to 2.5 billion years in the Archaean basement rocks that hold up the Owl Creek Mountains. Wyoming–the plains, the mountains, the sky, the history–it’s all so incomprehensibly huge, and it will make you feel so incredibly small.
You will learn more than you ever dreamed about the history of this planet in Wyoming: how to read those sedimentary layers like a time scale, which fossils you might find where, and how such iconic mountain ranges as the Tetons earned their place on the map. It will overwhelm you at times, both because of the challenge and because of how insignificant it all makes you feel. That’s all right. It’s important for us to realize our place in this world if we are to change it for the better.
This state will also fuel your passion for the modern natural world in addition to the prehistoric. Sure, you want a career in environmental science, but it’s not until you visit Wyoming that you become interested in ecology. Seeing firsthand the effects of climate change and environmental policy errors will light a fire under you to make a difference in this world. You will experience the joys and curiosity of conducting research in a field you like, and you’ll know you would be happy if this is how you spent the rest of your life. I know right now you’re uncertain about your path, but I promise this course will make things a little clearer.
Perhaps most importantly, you will bond with a fantastic, driven group of people who are in Wyoming for the same reasons as you are. Don’t be nervous about meeting and befriending them. You will get to know each other by cooking camp meals together, by spending long days coated in layers of sunscreen, bug spray, and prairie dust, by tromping miles upon miles through the sagebrush and the mountain canyons, and by sitting beneath the stars while your eyelids grow heavy and you contemplate your places in the universe. As you do most times when you say goodbye, you will cry when you leave them.
When you’re sitting in the airport in six weeks’ time, I hope you think of Wyoming fondly. This program, this class, and this place have made such a profound impact on me in all aspects of my life. I have clear goals for my academic future, a wealth of new knowledge about this Earth, a deep desire to learn more, and amazing new friends I made through it all. I am so, so lucky to have returned to Wyoming this summer, and I can only hope that I will make it back someday.
For now, Sophia, trust in yourself, open your mind, and embrace everything you are about to experience. I am so excited and happy for you. But, a word of warning: wear plenty of bug spray on your first day out. The mosquitoes there are awful.
With love from your slightly older, slightly wiser self,
August 6th, 2022