By Mary Jo Johnson
Born and raised in Sheridan, Wyoming, I was one of the typical Sheridan High School graduates who couldn’t wait to not only leave this town, but also this state. Fifteen years later, like Dorothy when she clicked her ruby slippers, it dawned on me that there truly is “no place like home,” so my husband, daughter and I settled into life here.
There are many parts of this area that I love very much: Kendrick Park; my parents’ backyard; the many views of, and shifting light on, Black Tooth; the switchbacks up Dayton-Kane. But no place means as much to me, nor holds such a significant place in my heart, as my aunt’s and uncle’s cabin and surrounding property in the Little Goose Canyon.
My aunt and uncle have always generously allowed my parents, my siblings and our respective families ongoing access to enjoy the cabin at any time. Whether for a late summer afternoon quick picnic trip or longer visit,s no matter the season, I have many cherished memories of that canyon get-away.
I remember going there to celebrate my 12th birthday. The road is quite rutted on the best of days; my birthday is in January, and my parents, a good friend of mine and I bounced our way over the drifted trenches, laughing as our heads smacked the roof of our 4-wheel drive, pizza toppings shifting on top of my birthday dinner and frosting sliding into a new design on my birthday cake.
Summers as a young girl, I loved swimming in a special hole my grandfather dug in a smaller creek that had been diverted upstream from the Little Goose River. The bottom of the hole was sandy and soft, and he’d made it deep enough so that we could surface dive into the icy water and come up sputtering in refreshed delight.
As I got older, I went down to the big river and clambered over the huge boulders. I’d sit in the sun and think about life. If a friend or a sibling was along, we’d splash around in a bigger swimming area, the water slightly more glacial in temperature than the smaller creek.
When my three siblings came home for a visit — I’m the baby of the family by several years — we were certain to go up to the cabin. Hours were spent hiking to jagged rock formations or following the river further into the canyon. If they brought friends home from college, or sweethearts-who-became-spouses to “meet the family,” as some kind of unspoken initiation, we took them to the cabin.
For my oldest sister — the first-born — the cabin and the surrounding Bighorns around Little Goose Canyon stayed in her heart wherever she lived and traveled. In 2008, after an 18-month fight against ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), she died. Her wish was to have her ashes scattered in the Little Goose River, returning home to the mountains she so loved. My aunt and uncle readily allowed her wish to be granted, and our families gathered on a bridge while my brother and her partner sent her home. We all threw her favorite flower — lilies — in after her, and they took their sweet time traveling over the rocks and downstream.
Yes, there are many places that I love in Sheridan County, but none mean as much to me as Little Goose Canyon. It is family. It is home.