Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writer’s solitude tucked into Wyoming’s northeast corner at Ucross Foundation

Alternate 14
offers new levels
of steepness

home to 10,000

The above are two haiku I wrote on the road to Ucross, Wyoming, while traveling east over the Big Horn Mountains. My husband Carlos, friend Raul and I happened to be on our way back to Chicago from a visit to Montana and Yellowstone National Park. The Ucross Foundation Residency Program is one of the premier writers' and artists' retreats in the United States and I had hoped to stop by to visit since we'd be right in the area.

We had taken Alternate 14, which appeared as a shortcut to the city of Sheridan on the map, but turned out to be one of the steepest climbs imaginable through switchbacks and around harrowing ledges, however breathtaking, which eventually landed us in the uplands, grasslands and former Lakota bison hunting grounds on which the Ucross Foundation now occupies.

This gently rolling expanse, 27 miles southeast of Sheridan, was once on an old stagecoach route and former home to the Pratt & Ferris Cattle Company, circa 1880s, of which Marshall Field (of Chicago department store fame) was a founding partner. Today, the town of Ucross (population 25) and the Big Red complex of the Ucross Foundation is surrounded by a 22,000-acre working cattle ranch, devoted to ecologically sound, holistic ranching practices. Half the land has been placed as conservation easement through the Wyoming Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

It had been a toss-up between our visiting Devil’s Tower and the Ucross Foundation, since our trio only had time for one. I had already seen Devil’s Tower as a child, and my two traveling companions weren’t too keen on making a sidetrip to a sacred Indian landform given up to the name of a western demon, in their words, so Ucross it was. Hooray! I had wanted to get a better handle on what this colony was about for years. The three of us called ahead while in Sheridan to find out if we could stop by for a visit.

A half-hour or so later, we pulled up to the Big Red Ranch House, one of the oldest standing houses in the area, beautifully refurbished and home to the Ucross Foundation administrative offices and Alkire Library. Sharon Dynak, president of the Ucross Foundation and head of its Residency Program, greeted us in the lobby, chatted with us about the program and our trip, then walked us over to the adjacent Big Red Barn. This sizable building houses an art gallery of residents work, a conference space and other offices. Visual art styles range from traditional western themes to highly experimental forms – an exhibition catalog spanning former residents' work is available onsite.

According to Dynak, the foundation’s residency program which hosts 65 writer and artist residents each year has been especially popular with musicians and musical groups. Besides the artists’ and writers’ studios and separate living quarters, are a separate studio with a lithography press, and two composers' cabins, Jesse’s Hideout One and Two, each equipped with a piano and electronic keyboard.

Spring and fall session residents are chosen by a panel of professionals in the arts and humanities in a highly competitive application process. Former well-known residents include Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and Adam Guettel, composer of music and lyrics for "The Light in the Piazza" musical. Residents have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Tony Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the MacArthur Fellowship, and many other honors. Gulp. Not sure if I’m ready to forward my latest chapbook published by a teeny, tiny press as my application documentation.

While Ucross is truly out there on a far-flung ranch, there is nothing rustic about it. The grounds, common buildings and studios are all first-rate and recently updated. The frugal end of the deal is that accepted residents can receive two to eight weeks of living accommodations, workspace, and lunch and dinner prepared five days a week by a professional chef with ample provisions on hand for the weekends – all on Ucross Foundation’s dime. The only financial incidental one has to be concerned with is getting to and from Ucross, Wyoming, from wherever is called home.

And you don’t need a car once you get there. There is absolutely nowhere to go within double-digit miles and everything you need to create poems, novels, paintings, plays and compositions lies right before you – giving you tremendous solitude and little distraction besides the local hiking you might attempt and a big sky full of stars to ponder by night. Note: You are not in the mountains here, but can see them in the distance. Find out more about the Ucross Foundation Residency Program, 30 Big Red Lane, Clearmont, Wyoming, at www.ucrossfoundation.org.



Sharon said...

Cindy, you would be a perfect candidate.

Anonymous said...

You look great in your very own U-Cross marigold colored baseball cap, and they now have a copies of some Chicago poetry books.

Anonymous said...

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