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for people who care about the West

The lens of time


The “books in the wild” theme brings back lovely memories (“Wild reading,” HCN, 11/13/17). What better companion than a book when weather locks you into a tent for hours by yourself? Books don’t take up much space, don’t smell or snore. I lean towards the classics: Plutarch, Livy, Thucydides, et al. Not only are they densely packed storytelling and cheaply available in any used-book store, they put the perspective of time on things. It is somehow comforting to know that the world was just as confusing and dangerous 2,000 years ago as it is today, yet somehow life went on, as it does now.

Livy died in 17 A.D., shortly after the death of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor. His life encompassed the decline of the Republic and the birth of the Empire. This paragraph from the preface to his History of Rome still brings tears to my eyes and seems especially apropos now, 2,000 years later.

The subjects to which I would ask each of my readers to devote his earnest attention are these — the life and morals of the community; the men and the qualities by which through domestic policy and foreign war dominion was won and extended. Then as the standard of morality gradually lowers, let him follow the decay of the national character, observing how at first it slowly sinks, then slips downward more and more rapidly, and finally begins to plunge into headlong ruin, until he reaches these days, in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies.

Camped in some lovely remote spot far from the media glare, I can view our current diseases through the lens of time. There’s something special about setting camp on a solo trip below a glorious spot like Stevens Arch on the Escalante, settling down with a whiskey as the stove hums, softly simmering, and the stars shine brighter and brighter as the sky goes from deep blue to black. I put on the headlamp, and reach into the drybag to pull out a classic.

Bryan T. Burke
Eloy, Arizona