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
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!