Wyoming Wildlife

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal March 22, 2011

We recently moved to Wyoming from Las Vegas. For that reason, I’m not totally “up” on my Wyoming wildlife. In fact, it took me a while before I could differentiate between an antelope and a deer. (Don’t worry ... I’ve got it down now.)
Still, in Las Vegas we generally saw roadrunners and tortoises in our neighborhood. Now we have a plethora of deer, antelope, Canada geese and rabbits.
Although I’m a bit slow at figuring out the wildlife, I was still surprised when I was awakened early one morning last week. It was dark, about 4:30 a.m., and I heard a loud barking outside my window. It was one of those freezing “negative teen” nights, and I wondered why a dog would be out and about the neighborhood. My husband was gone, and I lay in bed listening to the barking for another minute before I sensed that something was wrong.
Hurrying to the back door, I flipped on the light and saw a pack (well, several) animals just outside the window. One of them, his hindquarters covered in blood, was barking a loud, odd bark at two others who were circling him.
I woke up my two oldest boys. “There’s a pack of wolves outside of our house,” I said. The boys were awake immediately and followed me to the back door.
“Those aren’t wolves, those are coyotes,” my son corrected, a bit exasperated at my lack of intelligence. “My mistake,” I murmured, wondering what the difference was.
My daughter joined us then. “We just watched a movie about coyotes in school yesterday,” she said excitedly.
“How timely,” I replied. “Now we’ve got our very own pack at our house.” More of the children gathered, their noses pressed to the glass door.
“What about the chickens?” exclaimed my son. We ran upstairs and peered out at the chicken coop. Although coyote tracks were all around our house in the fresh snow, there weren’t any tracks heading towards the coop. I was grateful for my diligent son who’d closed the hen house late the night before in his pajamas and boots.
Back downstairs, we watched the fierce animals barking and circling. They didn’t seem at all interested in the faces pressed up against the glass behind them.
“What are we going to do?” asked my son. We had been so enthralled in watching the coyotes that we hadn’t felt any fear.
After a few more minutes of watching, I decided that the coyotes were indeed fierce and dangerous, and I should act.Casper Journal
I called Metro Animal Control, and told the nice operator lady what we were witnessing.
“Are you sure they aren’t dogs?” she asked, kindly. “No. I’m sure.” I responded. Give me some credit.
“Then I’ll have to call Game and Fish,” she said. “We only deal with domesticated animals.” We waited a few more minutes, cameras in hand, watching the coyotes, until they backed off of the injured one and drifted off into the field next to us. Just then, two trucks pulled up at the house.
The wardens at the front door had guns and were ready for adventure. “The coyotes just left,” I explained. Still, the men took their spotlights and weapons and went up and down the road, peering into the dark fields.
When they came to the door again, they told us that coyote tracks were everywhere, but the animals were gone.
“Next time, just shoot them,” one officer told me. “You don’t need a license to kill predators.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, not wanting to admit that I was a city girl. Shooting coyotes was mentally added to my “can do” list.
The trucks left and we all tried to sleep for the last few minutes of the night, but our eyes were wide open. When the kids left for school, no animals were in sight, and the children all walked safely to the bus stop.
When my husband came home that night there were no coyotes to shoot, and unfortunately the excitement was over. But, we can report that we’ve had another experience with Wyoming wildlife, a good Casper tale to send back to Las Vegas.
Don’t worry. Next time I’ll correctly differentiate between a wolf and a coyote. And if I adjust to Wyoming wildlife a bit more, I may even have a gun ready.

Prayers for Japan

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal March 16, 2011

I’m Japanese.  I know, I know, my hair is brown and my eyes are green.  And, my ancestors come from Germany and France.  Still, I like to consider myself Japanese. I lived in Japan as a college student for a year and a half.  I ate their food.  I lived with Japanese people.  I spoke their language.  And, I came to love the people. 
My heart stopped when I turned on the news Friday morning and heard about the massive earthquake and tsunami there.  I could picture it all:  the manicured rice fields; the ornate homes; the small cars; the organized cities.  I could picture school children walking to school, their crisp uniforms worn to perfection.  I could picture the mailmen on their green motorbikes, delivering mail quickly and efficiently.  I could picture the shopkeepers personally welcoming each guest into their stores.  I could picture mothers, with a child on the front and the back of their bikes, pedaling the narrow streets to take a child to preschool.  And I could picture the devastation of an earthquake.
When I first received my assignment to Japan, the land seemed foreign and strange.  Friends assured us that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world.  They were right.  During my time there, I was never afraid.  Even when I was out after dark, or sprained my ankle, or was alone on a train, I knew I was in good company.  I did experience one, large earthquake, but was unharmed.  There is something very dignified and kind about the Japanese people.  The friends I made and the culture I learned have shaped my life since then.
It was difficult to return to America after living there.  When our plane landed in San Francisco, everyone around me looked big, boisterous, pushy, and a bit rude.  Americans tend to gobble their food down, instead of enjoying it bite by bite.  Americans barge into homes, muddy shoes on their feet, as if carpet will last forever.  Americans want everything big, and bigger, instead of being grateful for what we have. 
The Japanese culture I learned there now permeates my home and my family.  We leave our shoes in the “genkan” (entryway).  We often eat with chopsticks.  My children are all relatively talented at Origami.  And, we eat rice daily.  Our large rice cooker has a permanent spot on the kitchen counter.
Once, when our favorite Botan Rice was on sale at the grocery store, I stocked up.  When I arrived at the cash register, the cashier eyed my shopping cart full of rice.  “Do you own a restaurant?” She asked with raised eyebrows.  “Oh, no,” I responded.  “I’m Japanese.”  “Oh,” she said, glancing at my eyes, my hair, and my skin.  She silently checked me through the register.  
Seven years ago, my husband and I returned to Japan to attend the International Rotary Convention.  Although it had been ten years since I had stayed there, the people were still as gracious and polite as I remembered them.  And, the food was just as delicious.  We took the country train back through the small towns where I had lived.  The terraced rice fields were just as green and neat as ever.  It seemed that the same, old grandmas, their heads covered in scarves, were bending to plant the seedlings.  Bikes still crowded the train stations and the roads, although most people now had a cell phone to their ear. 
We took a day and toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  After several hours inside of the museum, my heart was ready to burst for the terrible tragedies caused by the atomic bomb.  As we exited the museum, a choir of school children—dressed in uniform—was singing a beautiful song on the patio.  Their voices were clear and unified.  It seemed they were singing victory; the victory of a broken people who had risen from the ashes. 
It’s been several days since the quake.  Thankfully, I’ve made contact with friends and family members in Japan, and have found that they are safe.  There are still others that I worry about.  However, I have no doubt about the resilience of the Japanese people.  They came back strong after the devastating Second World War.  They will come back again—organized, polite and grateful for what they have.  Their culture teaches them patience, hard work, and service.  It will bring them through this tragedy.  That’s the Japanese way.  A way Americans might take note of.  Until they recover, my prayers are with them; prayers for my beloved people of Japan.

Freedom to Choose

From the Farm


Published in the Casper Journal March 9, 2011

I have a new favorite definition of freedom:  Freedom is the opportunity to choose.  Freedom is not a free-for-all.  It does not mean, “Do whatever you want to.”  Freedom is simply a choice between at least two options.
As a parent, this definition is worth a lot.  As long as I give my children two, viable options, they are free to choose and act.  Those choices can be, “Do your homework and then you can play,” or “Don’t do your homework and miss out on free time.”  Even then, my kids are free.  They still have choices.
In America, we love choices.  We love choosing our occupation, taking time off when we want to, traveling to places we want to see, eating what we want to, and living where we want to.  We love electing our officials.  We love expressing ourselves when we are displeased.  We love choosing our religion.  We love voting on the laws of the land.  We are drunk on freedom.  But we must not get so intoxicated with choices that we forget one fact:  Freedom isn’t free.  Freedom requires moral leaders who will continue to provide choices, just as my children’s agency depends upon me to give them options.
Wyoming is especially good at providing freedom, at offering choices.  And Natrona County Schools are a perfect example.  Parents and students had until January 28th to make their educational choices for the following school year.  During January, every school in Natrona County held an open house, where parents and prospective students could visit with staff, tour the facility, and ask questions.
With five Natrona County students, we attended a few open houses.  The best part was that they were all impressive!  Natrona County is filled with great, educational choices.  Every school was unique, with different educational approaches, styles of teaching, and building layouts. 
The buzz among decision-making mothers was heavy.  “I like Summit Elementary because of the ‘Leader in Me’ program.”  “I prefer Fort Casper and the intense curriculum.”  “I like Woods and the friendly atmosphere.”  “I was impressed with Verda James and the staff.”   “Dean Morgan has a convenient location.”  “Casper Classical Academy has a small student body.”  “Natrona County High School offers a lot of extra options.”  “Kelly Walsh seemed very organized.” 
The phone calls, emails, and chatter buzzed throughout the month.  My friends called, shared opinions, discussed decisions, and gathered input from past attendees.
“Everywhere I go, I’m impressed!” one friend wailed.  “I don’t know which school to choose.”  Isn’t that great!?!  There are so many wonderful options.  In Natrona County we truly understand freedom.  We have choices…and good ones!
Well, the deadline is here, the online request forms have been submitted, and now parents and students will wait for their choices to become official when notification letters arrive in the mail.  Nothing is set in stone, and students and parents can always apply to other schools, even when decisions have been made.  But for now, the discussion flurry is over for a bit. 
No matter what the outcome, it will be good.  I have five Natrona County School Students.  Everywhere we have toured, attended or observed in the past two years has been impressive.  Every place has pros and cons, with every school heavy on the pros.
I’m glad for freedom.  I’m glad for choice.  I’m glad for options, which put the decisions into the hands of parents.  I’m an American, and I love freedom.  I drink it deeply, especially when it involves decisions regarding my children.  Thank you, moral educators of Natrona County who provide choices.  You meet my definition of “free.”
Nettie Francis is Editor of The Wyoming Woman Magazine