Recently, I read Barry Gifford’s novel Wyoming, which is about a mom and son in the 1950s on a road trip all around the U.S. It’s told entirely through dialogue, and although the novel wasn’t very good, I have an enormous weak spot for books that involves America, road trips, and lots of dialogue, so I liked it, as I figured I would.
It got me thinking about that far-off place we forever long for.
In Gifford’s novel, Wyoming exists as a possibility, a place the mom and son never visit but talk about as somewhere they might one day drive to. “Sometimes I think about going to a place nobody can ever find me,” the mom tells her son. Wyoming is a myth in their family lexicon, a destination that matters as a paradise of the imagination rather than as an actual hunk of land. “Everybody needs Wyoming,” the mom says. All this reminded me of an Alice Munro short story.
In “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” Munro writes about an older woman named Fiona who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Before her losses overwhelm her and she is diminished beyond self-recognition, Fiona spends time reading about Iceland. She looks at travel guides and enjoys Auden’s Letters to Iceland, though Munro writes:
She didn’t really plan to travel there. She said there ought to be one place you thought about and knew about and maybe longed for but never did get to see.
Does such a place exist for you? I’ve been thinking about Montana lately. Or about buying a plot of land in Paris, Texas, or Paris, Tennessee.
In The Ogre by French writer Michael Tournier, the strange protagonist Abel Tuffauges labels his haven “Canada,” but Canada has never seemed special to me. I need somewhere further off, somewhere nearer the horizon’s edge.
This is the appeal of elsewhere, some place just beyond the end of yonder. Although you can point to it on any map, you’ll never get there and deep down don’t really want to. Elsewhere is a destination that remains a daydream away, which is why it’s so appealing. It’s the promise of possibility, to seek out a place that can be glimpsed in books, movies, memories, and imaginings, yet never reached.
Sometimes I think about Albuquerque, a city I wound up living in for a year, which exists for me now more as a kingdom of nostalgia-at-dusk, rather than as a real place where people live and work and drink Satellite coffee and eat green chili. There’s no way I could ever get back there.
And I’m left wondering, what’s your Wyoming?