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
  • GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS MANAGER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a Government Affairs Manager to support our legislative and administrative advocacy efforts in Colorado. This new, mid-level position will report...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance, a leading grassroots conservation advocacy organization for over 30 years, seeks a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help...
  • OPERATIONS AND FINANCE MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national grassroots organization led by women, seeks a resourceful, self-motivated, team player to serve as Operations and Finance Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR AT WILDERNESS WORKSHOP
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...