A cold night in Wales helped me remember the best part of America


The rain was falling in sheets. The wind was howling. And although the temperature was 40 degrees, I could see my breath. My raincoat was soaked through. My umbrella was blown inside out.

I was standing on a street corner in Cardiff, Wales, waiting for a bus in November 1986. And I was thinking about the best part of America.

The mountains in my mind were looking pretty good about then. The low humidity and the bright sunshine of the Cowboy State were only distant memories — but in between shivers, it kept me going.

My visit to the University of Wales was about over. It was almost time to go home. And I couldn’t wait. The Cardiff faculty had invited me to join their mid-career journalism masters program. That program involved journalists from all over the world. They were newspaper editors, television newscasters, magazine editors and government media people. They came from as far away as the China, Malaysia, Korea, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Qatar, New Zealand, the United States and other countries, too.

Most of the people in the course would be there full-time for two years. My program would be on a part-time basis over three years. While there, my duties included serving as a guest lecturer to masters Journalism candidates.

I found these people wanted to know about America. They liked America and they liked Americans.

And I found myself telling them about my part of America. They were fascinated by cowboys and Indians. And mountains. And long distances. The Oregon Trail and the Pony Express. And Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole. 

They were astonished that Wyoming was the first place in the world to legally give women the right to vote and the same rights as men, way back in 1869.

Most of them had heard about Yellowstone Park, but through a cartoon character called Yogi Bear, who hung out in Jellystone Park. They did not realize it consisted of 2 million acres and was the first national park in the world. 

As I recalled telling them about Yellowstone, the thought of the heat emanating from the Yellowstone geysers slightly warmed me up as I stood there in the cold Welsh wind and rain.

But then I thought some more about what I had told them about where I came from. 

I reminded them that America has 50 states and Wyoming is one of them. Our state is one of the largest in land area with 97,000 square miles but only about 450,000 living there (in 1986) — just five people per square mile.

As my geography lesson continued, I told them how Wyoming has 23 counties. And how Fremont County, my county, was larger than Wales! Yet, it only had 39,000 people living there. And how there were 44 places in my county over 13,000 feet in elevation.

And I told them that Wyoming is a pretty windy place but that the wind doesn’t blow much in my hometown of Lander. And how the sun shines 300 days per year in the Cowboy State. And how bright the sun can shine at a mile above sea level. And how you can’t count all the stars in the sky at night. 

And the wildlife. And the fishing. And the Red Desert. And the wild horses. And South Pass. The vast coal and uranium mines. And Red Canyon. 

And how just 150 years ago, cavalry and mountain men and Indian tribes were roaming these valleys. 

I told them about our clean air and clean water. And how wide our streets are. And the condition of our roads and highways.

And hiking and camping and mountain climbing. And hot springs. And petroglyphs. And winter activities like snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing in Jackson and the state Winter Fair.

And a diverse population. How Americans are friendly and Wyoming people are the most friendly of all. And how Americans always believe they will come out on top. How they never give up. How they believe the best in people and in situations. How optimism is a national disease in this country.

And I told them about my family and how proud I am of all them. And about how much I missed them.

As I was standing in the rain that chilly night long ago, I thought about all these things. And I realized I live in the Best Part of America. 

And it was good to know that it was time to go home.  

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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