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
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: