If you ever spent a few minutes talking with Gaydell Collier, or heard her read her poignant poetry, or one of her funny essays, or experienced her deep way of listening, or soaked in any of the humble, wise opinions solicited from her, then most likely you loved her too.
Gaydell’s presence is in every nook of my writing office, in every cranny of my heart, in nearly every word I have written in the last 20 years. Like the thousand winds she wrote about—those which decades ago blew her serendipitously from New York to Wyoming , and those that blew her across the western landscape to Just Beyond Harmony, where she reared her children, planted her roots, sang her songs, wrote her stories, raised her horses, and loved her dogs—she inspired a thousand writers, and more.
I first met Gaydell in 1987 when I walked into the little library in Sundance, Wyoming, and she greeted me, handing me the monthly calendar of library events. “What’s Bearlodge Writers?” I asked her. “Our local writing group,” she answered. “We meet the second Tuesday of every month and the third Wednesday of every month.” And thus began the rekindling of my own writing dreams, dormant since my college years in the 70s.
“The important thing is to touch the earth and stand in the wind,” Gaydell wrote in Leaning into the Wind, the first of three "Wind Anthologies" she co-edited with Linda Hasselstrom and Nancy Curtis (published by Houghton Mifflin), “to know you are a part of the whole—not superimposed like asphalt. On the plains, in the mountains, you learn that you are as important as the beaver, the hawk, the dragonfly—but not more so. You are a part of the Circle.”
Her gifts to the equine community were equally impressive. In 1974, she sat at her kitchen table with her friend Eleanor Prince, and put together Basic Horsemanship: English and Western, A Complete Guide for Riders and Instructors. This book, and two subsequent horse books, would turn out to be some of Doubleday's best-sellers in their Equestrian Library.
After I moved from Wyoming to Colorado, Gaydell and I stayed in touch with phone calls, emails, at writer's conferences, and even at the airport. In the photo below, Gaydell is getting ready to fly to France to see her longtime pen pal Monique. Their friendship began in 1947 and lasted 66 years. Last October at the Women Writing the West Conference in Albuquerque, John and I shared breakfast with Gaydell and Wyoming Poet Laureate Pat Frolander.
The last visit we shared with Gaydell was in November at her small ranch house near Beulah, Wyoming. John and I stopped to see her on our way to my small family ranch. I was girding myself to do battle with the Wyoming Highway Department, who wants to reroute a major highway through the heart of my portion of the ranch. Gaydell poured us tea and set a few cookies on a saucer.
We sat at her kitchen table, our dogs laying beside us, and I told her about hiking my land with the archeologist, hoping to find some significant artifacts that might halt the rerouting. Gaydell offered a few calm, consoling words, and I thought of all the triumphs and tragedies she had experienced in her life. The death of a son, a daughter, a husband, beloved dogs and horses. The birth of stories, poems and books, countless friendships, loving grandchildren. "Know you are a part of the whole," her words echo now, "not superimposed like asphalt...you are a part of the Circle.” And so, as I listen to these thousand winds, I will think of Gaydell, at the center now, of that Great Circle.
Note: You may read Gaydell's official obituary on the Wyoming Arts Council blog.\
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