Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How the West Was One

The West has meant “the untamed wilderness.” It has stood for rugged individualism and people who seek to leave the straightjacket of civilization behind. More recently, the West has been seen as the home of elitist, liberal, vegetarian, transcendentalist pot heads. (Frankly, though, I don’t know any transcendentalists.) We even have this strange thing for turning mediocre actors into governors.
There is something spiritually unique about the West. For me, that means anywhere west of the Great Plains. I have not traveled much, and I have lived all but six of my years in my home state, and whenever I am somewhere else, everything feels different. The landscape and scenery, of course, are strange to me, but even the air smells and feels odd, as if it were too heavy. The heat of the sun is somehow transfigured, no doubt due to a difference in humidity.

When I am visiting one of those non-Western places, I truly feel like a visitor, a foreigner. Put me in one of the great deciduous forests or magnificent cities of the east, and I may recognize the beauty, but I am out of place. I get an awkward--perhaps claustrophobic--feeling if I can’t see 40 miles in every direction.

Yet if you dropped me down in the West, I’d instantly know I was home, whether in the middle of a broiling desert, atop a frozen mountain or in the center of a bustling city. I like to think that I belong to the West, that I am native to it just like a plant or animal is native to a particular habitat.

I know other people feel similar connections to places they live. Maybe that’s just a natural thing; we all become used to a place and everywhere else seems foreign. I think that each place must shape people differently. It isn’t just the culture of the people who live in the East or the Deep South or the West that makes them unique. It is the place itself.

I prefer to think there is something mystical about the land here. There is a song in the dirt, in the rocks, in the water and in the air that calls to me. It is like a lullaby, and when I hear it, I know I am home.


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