There and back again

 

Many years ago, I traveled abroad for the first time, to visit a high school friend from Rock Springs, Wyoming, who had been stationed by the U.S. Army in Germany. On that trip, I nearly froze to death in the Bavarian Alps, lost my passport at a train station, and fell briefly in love with a woman I met in a Munich park. I spent the next two decades traveling, as a student and journalist, learning about other places and people in an effort to better understand myself.

Every year, High Country News puts together a special travel issue. We do this because, in the pages of a typical issue, we are primarily concerned with the facts and forces that shape the American West: the landscapes, water, people and wildlife that make this region unique. In most stories, we try our best to serve as experienced guides, bringing our readers useful analysis and insight. In the travel issue, however, we take a different tack. We imagine the region as though we were new to it, and in doing so, we see it with fresh eyes.

To travel, as Bilbo Baggins will tell you, is to go there and back again, to venture forth and then return to your Shire a changed person (or hobbit, in Bilbo’s case). We pack our bags, tie our boots, and cross a threshold into the world. And on the journey, we have experiences that no one can ever take away.

In this issue, we have tried to push deep into the unexpected, or even uncomfortable, corners of the West, places not only beautiful but instructive. Associate Editor Maya Kapoor visits an Arizona raptor show, prompting questions about the human relationship with other creatures. Writer Eric Wagner hikes through the wastelands of the Mount St. Helens eruption, pondering poetry and devastation. Contributing Editor Sarah Gilman travels to remote British Columbia with a group of like-minded women, all intent on being wild without judgment, running a river in the process. Our deputy editor, Kate Schimel, takes a thoughtful look at the lives of people in Montana’s Yaak Valley, wondering what draws them to it even as she feels repulsed. And our editorial fellow, Anna V. Smith, returns to the Oregon timber country of her youth, finding new sympathy for logging communities that proved just as vulnerable as old-growth forests to a changing world.

These are not vacation stories, necessarily. But they are travel stories. They are tales of change and growth and discovery. They are as much inner journeys as outer, all prompted by the unique features of our great region, places often forgotten or ignored — but only if we fail to take the time to appreciate the adventures that await us, outside our front door.