What’s it like to live in the West?

  • ISTOCK
 

Here and there when I am traveling people ask What's it like to live in the West?

And they always ask it with that capital W on West, you can really and truly hear it,

And this just happened in Illinois, in the seething earthy redolent middle of nowhere,

A young man asked it, and you know how sometimes way too many answers crowd

Into your mouth at the same instant so you really are technically speechless for once?

 

So we stood there, the curious student and the gaping older guy, me wanting to emit

Something eloquent about mountains being testy Mountains and not old mossy hills,

Or the clarity and power of wild water, or salmon and elk and falcons and wolverine,

Or maybe quote my boy Wallace Stegner on how the West is the geography of hope,

Or say that people here are riveted by new ways of living and are bored by classness,

 

Or quote my boy David Duncan about how the American West is in the final analysis

The place where the Rockies make love to the Pacific Ocean and we all get to watch,

Or say something piercing about aridity being the true story except where I get to live,

Or something politically prescient about Cascadia extending from Northern California

Deep into Alaska and east as far as where huge trees peter out and the sage takes over,

 

Or for once be a totally honest man and say I don't have the slightest idea whatsoever

About the nature of the West, there being just as many Wests as there are Westerners,

But then something did pop out, without me thinking about it, just like Ronald Reagan,

Who for all his ranching and horses and seeming Westernness was a guy from Illinois,

And I have been thinking about what I said ever since, pondering the thing like a koan.

 

There's a day in spring, I said to the student, when cottonwood trees let go all at once,

And the air everywhere you turn is filled with cottonwood snow. It's cooler than cool.

That's what it's like to live in the West. And the student, to his eternal credit, grinned.

I think he got it. It's hard to explain why it's so cool but somehow it's just everything.

It only happens when the sky is so blue you want to just stand there and laugh all day.

 

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. He is the author of eight books of essays, nonfiction, and "proems," most recently Epiphanies & Elegies.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a full-time grassroots leadership director to oversee all aspects of the Grassroots Leadership Program. This includes ongoing development of...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • RIVER GUIDE AND EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • POLICY AND RESEARCH ASSOCIATE
    The Center for Western Priorities (CWP) is a nonpartisan communications and policy center that serves as a source of accurate information, promotes responsible policies and...
  • OWN A PIECE OF THE GREATER YELLOWSTONE ECOSYSTEM!
    near Ennis, MT. Artist designed, 1900 SF, 2BR/2BA home on 11.6 acres with creek, tree, views, privacy. 406-570-9233 or [email protected] www.arrowreal.com (Country Homes).
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Western Colorado Alliance brings people together across western Colorado to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. Together we work for a future...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Colorado Farm to Table is looking for a full-time energetic, creative Executive Director to lead our team in Salida.
  • HIGH COUNTRY NEWS HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE
    Join the publisher, editors, writers and staff of High Country for the annual Holiday Open House. Refreshments, food, door prizes and merriment. Thursday, December 6,...