Wyoming’s Big Horn basin is desert country. Actually, it’s probably classified semi-arid, so it’s not so parched as many other places on the planet. But trees are rare, and serve as markers for intermittent run-off channels, or the north side of a higher ridge. Even then, the term “tree” is a generous description for the junipers that look likeextremely over-sized shrubs, or the scraggly cottonwoods. Sage brush, spiny horse brush, and prickly pear are the primary vegetation, along with short grasses and a smattering of wild flowers. For most people traveling through it, the basin desert is brutally devoid of all signs of civilization, just boring stretches of absolute nothing, an excuse to drive peddle to the metal, in the mistaken belief that even law enforcement would not bother with it.
Yet there is a desert within this desert, aptly referred to as the badlands. The badlands aren’t just empty stretches of nothing, they are a blasted wasteland; heavily eroded ridges and mounds of yellowish grey bentonite clay, shot through with just enough iron oxide to provide occasional pink and inky-dark striations. Nothing much grows there. The stunted sage is lightly scattered, and even the short grasses hardly have a foothold. The badlands form square miles of sterility, filled with the rubble of rotting hoo doos, broken cap rock, and jagged channels that may carry water once every fifty years.
The drive from Worland, Wyoming to Cody, takes you on a highway that forms the southern boundary to a stretch of badlands. In places the road seems to be the barrier that keeps the badlands from infecting the relatively lush drainage of Gooseberry creek. On the left, thin pastures and occasional ranches, to the right the silent mad howl of the badlands.
I drove through there on a rare wet spring day recently, feeling the emotional weight of my A.L.S. I was having a bitterly painful time of prayer with God about dying youg and leaving my family behind. And as I drove by the edge of the badlands I had a sudden impulse to look over at the bad-lands – impulse, urge, command, I’m not sure how to describe it – but they were green. “I can even make the bad-lands green” was God’s comment to me.
I remembered a verse from Isaiah that had inspired me a couple of years ago, Isaiah 55:13:
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord ’s name;
they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.
Or to paraphrase, God will make the badlands green. But was that a promise of healing from the thorns and nettles of my A.L.S.? A promise to bring bountifully care of my family after my death? Or simply a promise for just that day and my bitter state at that moment? Somehow, I believe the promise that “God can make the badlands green” was mostly for that moment, a promise for that day. “look over here,” God seemed to say. “that’s how you are looking at life this morning -seared, with nothing but the rubble of your broken dreams. But I can make the badlands green, and I will do that in your life today.
And so I caught up with my daughter and her class at the Buffalo Bill Cody museum and had a good time. God took the dismal nature of my mental and emotional states that day, and transformed them into something resembling life, unexpectedly, without even a plea.