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Know the West

A celebration of equality and of the land

At a Wyoming wedding, a musician ponders the big questions of life.


In November 2016, my daughter and I played fiddle and trikitixa accordion for a Wyoming wedding — traditional Basque music on the steps of Cheyenne’s Cathedral of St. Mary. The bride was descended from a sheepherding family of Basques, a group of people who came to northern Wyoming in the early 1900s and built the nation’s largest wool industry, and the groom came from a cattle-ranching family, so the wedding was as much cowboy as sheepherder.

The bride wore a brilliantly white gown, the groom a white suit and a white cowboy hat. The groomsmen and bridesmaids wore black, formal attire. One of the bridesmaids told us, “We feel lucky we don’t have to dress like cheerleaders applying for jobs as cocktail waitresses.” It was unseasonably warm and we stood in sunlight, wearing white shirts, red neckerchiefs, and black berets. People smiled at us as they passed, relishing the sinuous, rapid-fire melodies of the old Basque songs — Zazpi jauzi, Axuri beltza, Hegi, Tirauki.

A bridesmaid delivered the first reading, from Genesis:

“The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.’ So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: ‘This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called “woman” for out of “her man” this one has been taken.’ ” 

A groomsman read from 1 Corinthians:

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. …” 

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The priest came forward. “This passage from Genesis proclaims one of the most radical doctrines of our faith,” he said, “the absolute equality of men and women. The Lord God made us of the same material and we stand as equal beings before the Lord and before each other.”

Oh, my God, I thought, that’s not the way they interpreted the rib story when I was a kid. He’s talking about the president, about attacks on the rights of women, Blacks, Latinos, Native people, gays and lesbians, immigrants, refugees, Muslims — everyone.

“The absolute equality of women and men, that is what the Lord offers.” The priest paused. “And First Corinthians — we often hear this at weddings and it’s beautiful — you may have all the things of this world, but without love, you have nothing.” He shifted to ranching: “The love of the land is the same love scripture addresses, reminding us to care for the land and to treat humanely the animals who give their lives so that we may live. If we accept this gift but do not have love, we have nothing.” No one stirred, but I’d like to believe everyone listened.

Following the service, my daughter and I went outside to play another set of Basque tunes. The wedding guests lined the sidewalk to await the bride and groom, who would ride to the reception in a replica of an early Yellowstone National Park motor coach, with its long yellow carriage with black fenders and running boards. Yellowstone, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, had been set aside forever. It’s as if the priest had channeled Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness … to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature.”

Each guest held a soap-bubble container in the form of a white plastic cowboy boot. Instead of throwing rice, we blew bubbles. The sun disappeared, and it was suddenly cold. People hunched their shoulders up in their coats. Kids jumped up and down. A young mother, baby wrapped in blankets in her arms, swayed in time to the music. As the priest passed, I thanked him. “About equality and loving the land,” I said. He smiled. The cowboy-boot soap bubbles rose into the sky.

David Romtvedt is a writer and musician from Buffalo, Wyoming, whose most recent book is Dilemmas of the Angels.