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Cowboy State Daily’s Annual Interview With Santa Claus

in News/Good news

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

As you know, we here at Cowboy State Daily pride ourselves on our ability to track down what may be the busiest man on the planet in the days leading up to Christmas.

After making calls to several sources who will remain nameless at the risk of putting them on the “naughty list” and checking flight plans filed across the state, I was able to track down Santa Claus (aka St. Nicholas, Pere Noel, Kris Kringle, etc.) in an unnamed small community in northern Wyoming.

Recognizing me from our interview last year, the big man (again, since I share the round little belly, I’m allowed to use the phrase) kindly took time out of his busy holiday season for a quick interview to fill us in on the state of things in his world as he prepares for his round-the-globe trip on Friday night.

CSD: Thanks again for your time, Mr. Claus. I know you’re busy at this time of year.

SC: Please, call me Santa. Mr. Claus was my father. No, that’s an old joke. Actually, since I’m almost 1,900 years old, I guess I’m sort of an old joke. Far too old to stand on formalities in any case.

However, someday, you’re going to have to tell me how you track me down! I don’t mind the interview, but I like to keep my plans a pretty tightly held secret. It looks like there may be some people at the FAA getting coal this year.

But back to your question — we are indeed busy! The elves are putting the finishing touches on the toys, testing the electronics, making sure the reindeer are ready for the trip and loading the sleigh as we speak. But I’ve always got a minute or two.

CSD: How are things different for you this year from last, now that the pandemic seems to be loosening its grip on the world a bit?

SC: Oh, things are infinitely better. The best thing is I’m not hearing from so many boys and girls asking for their friends and family members to recover from COVID. Now, just for the record, making sick people well is above my pay grade. I can make them happier — but making them well is up to the doctors.

Anyway, the kids seem seem so much happier this year. I suspect it’s because they’ve been able to get out, get back to school and see their friends. While kids may complain about going to school, I think they secretly enjoy it. At least, they prefer it to staying at home and having mom or dad as their teacher. Mom and dad probably prefer it as well.

And my travel restrictions have been relaxed considerably! Last year, we all had to get tested for COVID as we flew between countries. Do you know what kind of time that takes? I was held up in customs in Canada for hours! But the Canadians are so polite that I really didn’t mind. Gave me cocoa and the reindeer some carrots while we waited for test results to come back. 

CSD: What about behavior? Are more kids being good this year?

SC: You know, I think they are. As I said, I think once they were able to get out of their homes and resume a relatively normal life, a lot of stress went away. They’re nicer to each other, to their siblings and to their parents. There are a lot of adults — and you know who you are — who could learn from them.

Along those lines, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many harsh words between grown-ups as I’ve seen this year! And over the silliest things. Parking spots. Grocery carts. Movie choices. Politics. Things that really don’t matter in the long run.

You know, I’ve even gotten some Christmas letters from — what is it you call them — trolls, telling me I’m too fat, I’m judgmental and I smell of peppermint. Well, trust me, I know some trolls and most are better behaved than you lot! And remember, I have coal and unlike California, I’m not afraid to use it.

CSD: What are the popular toys this year?

SC: Oh, video games are still big, as are devices like pads and cell phones. But this year, I’m seeing more requests for the non-technical toys like Legos, dolls, board games and books. Now, this is just a theory, but I think the kids got a little burned out on screen time last year and they’re interested in toys that make them think or keep them active.

Of course, I’m getting a fair amount of requests for radio-controlled monster trucks and drones. Those are fun for the kids, but they’re kind of a liability up at the North Pole. See, about the only thing I can drive is a sleigh. I’ve caused so much property damage in the workshop with remote-controlled cars that the elves won’t let me drive them any more. They call me Evel Knievel. And not in a good way.

As a side note, more kids seem to be asking me what I want for Christmas. Which is always a nice change.

CSD: And what’s your answer?

SC: World peace. And new socks.

CSD: Really?

SC: Well, who doesn’t want world peace? And I have access to all the toys I could ever play with. And the elves — while they’re great at almost everything they do — really aren’t all that good at making clothes. Everything they make is too small. Could you imagine a man my size trying to squeeze into a sweater made for an American Girl doll? Trust me, that leaves an awful lot of belly exposed — not something that would bring the holidays home to a person.

CSD: How has the air traffic been? We’re hearing there are fewer commercial flights, so that should leave the skies more open for you.

SC: Well, last year was very quiet. Except for over Libya, where I was escorted by two jet fighters. They’re still a little upset about the shipment of coal their leaders got in 2005.

I expect things will be a little busier in the air this year, but the pilots have always been great about sharing the skies.

CSD: I’ve heard that’s because you refuse to stay in your designated flight path.

SC: Do you want to get coal?

CSD: Moving on …

SC: Look, nothing personal, but I really do have to get back to the Pole. I just got a text that a bunch of Barbie dolls are sporting G.I. Joe heads. I’ve got to get back and straighten that out.

CSD: Understood. Anything you want to say in closing?

SC: I’d just like everybody to remember that, whether you’re a believer or not, the spirit of Santa is something that should be shared with everyone. 

I can’t be everywhere all the time, but maybe if you act a little more like me when you deal with each other — be a little more tolerant, a little more patient, listen a little more, speak a little less, smile more often — it will feel a bit more like Christmas through the year. And I think everybody would agree that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

And with that … Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

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Don Day: Parts of Wyoming Will Have White Christmas; Other Areas Will Be Dusty and Brown

in weather/Don Day

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The western portion of the state will probably have a white Christmas to some extent this year, Wyoming weatherman Don Day told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

“First we have to define what a ‘white Christmas’ means,” Day said. “Does it mean there will be snow on the ground on Christmas day or does it mean it will be snowing on Christmas?”

For some parts of Wyoming, the answer will likely be both. From Wednesday night through Saturday morning, the area from Evanston to Rawlins will likely receive 2 to 6 inches of snow and the Jackson area will get anywhere from 9 to 13 inches.

“It’s going to snow for many days in a row in Jackson,” Day said. “But they’re kind of used to that, up in the mountains.”

The Interstate 80 corridor of southwestern Wyoming is probably the best area to see falling snow this Christmas Eve and day, Day said.

The rest of the state will probably not have the stereotypical white Christmas, seeing little or no snow on Christmas Eve or day this year. Day said there is a 50-50 chance the northeast portion of the state, such as Sheridan and Gillette, will see measurable snow. The chances are the same for the Douglas and Casper areas, Day said.

Laramie will likely see some snow this weekend, and the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the Snowy and Sierra Madre regions. The expected snowfall in the area could be anywhere from 5 to 8 inches.

Cheyenne, on the other hand, probably won’t have any snow on Christmas. Day noted that this isn’t uncommon, as a study he conducted on snowfall in Cheyenne revealed there was only about a 24% chance it would snow on Christmas in any given year.

“The statistical opportunity for it to snow on Halloween in Cheyenne is actually higher than it snowing on Christmas,” he said.

For anyone who is hoping for a white Christmas in any part of Wyoming, Day joked that he was trying his best to make it happen.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a white Christmas because I’m a purist,” he said. “I’m putting in those extra hours to make sure it snows on Christmas, but stays off the roads.”

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Wyoming Christmas Light Guy Battles 70mph Winds, Sub-Freezing Temps

in News/Good news

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

On a brisk November day, Tom Moulton was 35 feet above the ground in a crane being battered by winds gusting at more than 70 mph.

The Cheyenne resident, swaying with each blast of wind, wasn’t on duty fixing power lines or battling a fire. He was decking the halls.

Moulton is known as “The Christmas Light Guy” — or at least that’s what he calls himself — now in his ninth year of putting up festive lights in whatever weather comes his way.

And at this time of year, every day counts. So if the forecast is balmy and 65, he’s out there — and he’s grateful.

If the temperature is 25 degrees with winds gusting over 70 mph, like it was the day Cowboy State Daily caught up to him, he’s still out there — but not as grateful.

“There’s only so many days before Christmas,” Moulton told Cowboy State Daily. “There’s only so many days people want lights up on their house. So if that means I have to go up in a hurricane, so be it.”

When the customer is ready to go, so is Tom.

It’s a seasonal job, of course, and during the rest of the year Tom is a handyman. Although his Christmas decorating job starts earlier than you may think.

Around the second week of October is when Tom’s phone starts ringing and his first lighting job of the season is usually complete by Oct. 15.

Word-of-mouth and Facebook are his two media for advertising, although towing a giant cherry-picker behind his self-monogrammed truck helps out as well.

Now his work takes him outside of southeastern Wyoming to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Fort Collins, Colorado.

After nine years, Tom has yet to be electrocuted or fall, but he did slide off a roof once.

“That was enough to scare me into making sure that everything was right — like wearing a harness or wearing ropes if you’re on a steep roof,” he said. “Killing myself would be bad for business.”

Tom said he has put up lights and decorations in every type of weather. This past week in Cheyenne, except for Tuesday, was among the warmest and least windy weeks he’s ever experienced.

Often, he goes to work when the temperature is in the teens, it’s snowing and the wind reaches “hurricane force.”

In addition to helping him get used to the wintry elements, the seasonal job has alleviated his fear of heights.

“It’s no big deal anymore to be 35 feet up in the air in a blizzard and a tornado happening at the same time,” he said. “I welcome it. I kind of prefer it. It’s part of the job.”

He credits his long list of customers to his “perfectionism.”

That was on display last week when he came out to a customer’s house to touch up the lighting on a tree that he didn’t think looked as good as it could — although to a layman’s eye it looked fantastic.

Regardless, he wrapped the tree again.

“It needed to look better,” he said while re-wrapping the 1,400-plus lights around the tree.

The end result — some four hours later — is impressive.

Tom enjoys the work, he said, because he didn’t have the happiest childhood while growing up in Pinedale and the holiday season was hard.

“Things weren’t always the best, especially around Christmas time,” he said. “I know what it’s like to not have everything you need. I know how hard it is for some parents this time of year.”

To that end, the week before Christmas he finds someone who is struggling to make ends meet and puts up decorations and lights for free.

He said he also gives them money to pay their electric bill because “power is not cheap.”

For those thinking about hiring a contractor for decorations, Tom suggests new customers have an idea of what they want done beforehand and to call him early.

He said he frequently goes out and buys lights for the project or customers can rent them from him.

All but two customers have treated him well over the last nine years. The two outliers? They never paid.

But Tom didn’t go “Die Hard” on them seeking revenge. He merely took the lights down after Christmas.

“Even though they did me wrong, I couldn’t take them down before Christmas,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been right.”

Tom can be reached at: 307.338.0724.

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O’ Holy Night

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
O Holy Night

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth”
- Adolphe Adam, 1847

It’s the holiest of days and nights, with believers of different faiths around the world sharing in celebrations. While our family honors the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger, others will observe Hanukkah, Posadas Navidenas, Ashura, Kwanzaa, and other religious holidays. 

We live fairly far out in the rural countryside and since we tend to sheep as part of daily life, Christmas brings reflections on the birth of a baby in a manger, and the lessons set forth by the Good Shepherd.

While our small household no longer participates in shopping-and-Santa outings, we celebrate the season with other traditions – some old, some new. Our treasured gifts are books and wool socks (because there is nothing more luxurious than wool socks and a good book). And food, generous food gifts sent by thoughtful friends and loved ones: cookies and candies made by messy little hands under the cheerful supervision of young parents; steak or fish sent by friends from afar who we think of and talk about as we prepare these family meals; boxes of luscious chocolates crafted by bakery artisans and sent from fellow natural resource advocates; and buttery cookies from grandma.

We enjoy reading and displaying cards and letters that arrive in the mail, setting out festive decorations, making donations, cooking and drinking together, writing thank-you notes, collecting pinecones into small bowls, and placing juniper branches in glass vases.

We make snowy treks to chop down a tree or sagebrush, enjoying the earthy smells brought into our living room. We place a string of small white lights, add handcrafted wooden ornaments and sheep bells, and our Sherpa/Shepherd Santa graces the top of the tree. The tree is firmly tethered upright by strong cotton yarn so that the wild kittens we adopted a few months ago don’t pull it down in their nighttime escapades. Hud, our bearded collie herding dog, especially seems to enjoy the atmosphere of the festive tree in a darkened room on a cold winter night. Carrying the sign of the cross on their shoulders, the burros nudge through our coat pockets, seeking out the gingersnaps they know hide there. The animals seem to understand the changing ambiance of the season, the change from long darkness to light. Of course, the animals understand; the animals have always understood.

I play Elvis Presley’s Christmas songs on Christmas morning, and Jim and I usually end up dancing across the living room. The outside ranch chores are still first priority, and we heap extra feed to the flock. Hud finds a new stuffed toy, and all the working dogs get full bellies with warm treats. Although we don’t prepare any special feast for the day, after the chores are done, we often find friends and neighbors resting their elbows on our kitchen table, breaking bread with us – whatever form that bread happens to take any given year. We prepare and deliver food for other friends living or working alone nearby.

Our thoughts turn with fond remembrance to those who have left their earthly confines but still share our lives and hearts. And mostly importantly, we pray for comfort and refuge for those who are suffering from illness, or loss, or loneliness, or from whatever harsh darkness shrouds them.

Each beautiful winter morning serves as our reminder to show gratitude, and love, as we look out across the quiet beauty of a wild Wyoming landscape. As we set out feed for the flock, we celebrate this special season through traditions of shepherds before us, fully aware that from the humblest of places comes the greatest of joys.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Fireworks, story reading mark Ucross Christmas Celebration

in Travel
Ucross Fireworks

A Christmas celebration featuring fireworks and the reading of a holiday story by a nationally acclaimed author will be on tap this weekend for visitors to an artist’s colony near Sheridan.

The seventh annual Ucross Christmas Celebration will be held Saturday, highlighted as always by musical performances, the lighting of trees decorated for the holidays, refreshments and the reading of a story by “Longmire” author Craig Johnson, who lives near Ucross.

“The Christmas celebration came from (Ucross Foundation founder Raymond Plank’s) passion for Christmas,” said Ucross Foundation spokeswoman Carly Fraysier. “For seven years it’s been the same routine.”

The celebration is free to the public and will begin at 4 p.m. Saturday. Throughout the event, refreshments will be available, as will crafts for children.

Music will be provided by area resident Taylor Corum and Buffalo High School Balladiers.Johnson, who has read a Christmas story at the celebration for at least the last three years, will read “Who’s Your Daddy,” a story with ties to Christmas from a recent “Longmire” book.

At 6 p.m., attendees will go outside to watch a fireworks show staged by former legislator Bruce Burns, followed by the lighting of thousands of Christmas lights strung on dozens of trees in the Park at Ucross.

“It really is a community-wide celebration,” Fraysier said. “Bruce does an amazing job. The Park at Ucross is a beautiful setting. It’s pretty special.”

Over the years, the event has drawn people from throughout the Sheridan and Buffalo areas, along with some from as far away as Casper, she added. 

“It’s kind of a special event and people from even a little further away try to put it on their calendars,” she said.

For more information, visit the Ucross Foundation’s website or its Facebook page.

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