Pioneers Over Public Health Officials
Residents of Cody, Wyoming have been able to keep a common sense alive that our nation’s credentialed elites have not.
Breaking news from the frontier! It has, for the most part, returned to normal.
I spent the past week in Cody, Wyoming, at the foot of the Yellowstone wilderness attending a family reunion on my girlfriend’s mother’s side. My main takeaway from the trip is that Americans should turn to the American West and the vestiges of the pioneer spirit to navigate the post-pandemic world. Yes, the American frontier is disappearing, and the parts that remain are much more tame than it once was. But, to this day, the people of Cody, Wyoming, and places like it still retain their dual senses of self-reliance and communal duty to maintain their way of life in spite of the impediments mother nature puts in their path—something our educated urbanites have completely lost.
My girlfriend and I touched down after dark last Tuesday at the small airport in Cody. One of those airports where the clerk who checks you in for the flight also helps guide the plane in and help load checked bags into the hull of the plane. Family picked us up and drove us to the house we’d rented just a few miles down Route 14 that runs through the center of the small city of around 10,000 people. Streetlights and flickering neon signs advertising motel vacancies lit the road and its adjacent buildings.
It wasn’t until the next morning when I would first lay my eyes on the natural wonders the darkness had covered. Cody sits on the Shoshone River at the bottom of a basin created by the Absarokas Mountains to the west, the Owl Creek Mountains to the south, and the Bighorn Mountains in the east. As I strolled through the main strip of town with a backdrop that Hollywood westerns could only hope to recreate, it felt as if I could breathe freely for the first time since that pesky bug from Wuhan, China, began to infect our bodies and minds 18 months ago.
We popped in and out of a number of ma-and-pa shops from ranch suppliers and wilderness outfitters to candy shops and Yellowstone souvenir vendors without wearing a face covering that signaled our adherence to the religion of Science. As we walked in, we were greeted with a “hello,” or better yet a “howdy,” and a big smile. A smile we didn’t just have to deduce based on the way the store owner’s eyes wrinkled. We could see teeth and all, and we were happy to return the gesture.
Remnants of the pandemic were still present. Some of the stores had small signs recommending masks for unvaccinated patrons next to a stand where you could swipe a pump of hand sanitizer and a new surgical mask, and other customers made the personal decision to do just that. But, the decision to wear a mask was theirs, and not on the authority of some far away public health official or a deranged white-wine liberal mother who happens to be shopping at the same store.
And, if it’s social distancing you desire, then there’s ample room to get it all around you. The residents of Cody, Wyoming, and towns like it across the American West, have known this and have taken advantage of it for the better part of two centuries.
During our stay, we ventured into Yellowstone National Park. The massive flora and fauna that surround the geysers, steam vents, and mud pots bubbling with primordial ooze, seem to transport you back to the end of the last ice age. However, by entering Yellowstone, we had also entered a place where the federal government retained complete jurisdiction over pandemic precautions. Posters with icons of people wearing masks hung in the windows of every building to remind park guests that wearing a face covering was mandatory—regardless of how many Fauci-ouchies you’ve gotten in the arm. Many of these buildings were vast in size, and had large, open doors or no doors at all. They were more like glorified shade structures than confined, indoor spaces. Nonetheless, if you wanted that souvenir sweatshirt, you better pull those straps around your ears and shut up. A gaiter also worked as a “face covering” for these establishments, even though The Science tells us that gaiters actually aerosolize the spittle that spreads Covid-19. Thank goodness the public health authorities are truly looking out for us.
Not two years ago, sharing a smile in a small-town store wouldn’t have had such a profound impact on me—or anyone else for that matter. But, in these exceptional times, the average—yet extraordinary—Americans of Cody, Wyoming, have been able to keep a common sense alive that our nation’s credentialed elites have not.