Old West versus New West in Taos, N.M.

 

I am essentially rootless. That aspect of my life began the moment I was born in suburban Los Angeles -- already in motion, in an ambulance rushing my mother to a hospital. (That might be why I'm unusually sensitive to loud noises like sirens, and why I feel at home driving anywhere.)

My family moved to an outermost Chicago suburb, where I grew up with a backyard that bordered a great swamp. My interest in the wild developed while I spent countless hours playing in the swamp, sloshing through mysterious stinky black water, amid red-winged blackbirds and monarch butterfly cocoons clinging to cattails, forked-tongue-flicking snakes, dangerous snapping turtles and an abundance of insects. High in towering swamp white oaks, I built rickety tree-houses that were satisfyingly risky.

I wanted adventures and thought Illinois, outside the swamp, was boring, so as a young man I hitchhiked and drove coast to coast searching for anything interesting. I lived in two different places in Pennsylvania over two years, then five different places in Colorado for nine years, then six different places around Tucson for 15 years, then in another Colorado place for another year. Occasionally I lived in an old van outfitted with a bed and a stove, so my home was wherever I parked.

The West attracts people like me -- those of us who imagine there's something better over the horizon. I've lived in Montana for the last 16 years, but not because I've finally grown roots. Rather, I wanted to give my kids stability and the sense of a Montana childhood home, so they'll have a touchstone I'll never have. (When I went back to Illinois after an absence of nearly 40 years, I was sorry to see that the swamp had been declared a nuisance -- drained and covered with an expanse of boring lawn grass.) In the future, I imagine moving to the Oregon coast or maybe to southern Utah, where my backyard would be red rocks, or to British Columbia or the tip of Baja. Or even Las Vegas, for the metaphoric absurdity.

Of course, there are negatives. I'm an invasive subspecies -- a two-legged weed. I'm missing out on the long-term connections to place and community that many people have as a source of great strength in their lives. That's the other kind of Westerner -- people who stick where they were born, and families who stay for generations, despite hardships and distractions.

Our cover story explores how the two kinds of Westerners are chafing against each other in Taos, N.M., a place with Hispano families that date back centuries and in-your-face Anglo newcomers. They're carrying on a long, complicated dispute over who has the best right to the land and what the community's future should be. Speaking as a weed, I'm hoping my kind acts respectfully toward those already rooted in their various home places around the West, so we can grow side-by-side.

High Country News Classifieds
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Utah's largest conservation organization, has an immediate opening in its Salt Lake City office for a staff attorney. SUWA's...
  • DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST
    Idaho Walk Bike Alliance seeks a lover of bicycling, walking, and all modes of active transportation who willingly puts the car in the garage and...
  • COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Friends of Inyo - the Communications Director is a full-time permanent position that reports to the Executive Director and utilizes communication strategies and production skills...
  • INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR
    High Country News seeks an editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk. This individual will lead a team of passionate journalists...
  • HIKING TO THE EDGE:
    Confronting Cancer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Poetry and photos on survival thinking. E-book and paperback available at Amazon.com.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • IPLC RIGHTS AND EQUITY PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FUTURE WEST
    Future West seeks an executive director to lead this dynamic organization into the future. Based in Bozeman, MT this well-respected nonprofit provides communities in the...
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.