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Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Footloose and Disaffiliated in the West's Space-Time Continuum
"In so far as the west was a civilization at all between Lewis and Clark...and 1870, it was largely a civilization in motion, driven by dreams. The people...were...credulous, hopeful, hardy, largely uninformed. The dreams are not dead even today...the habit of mobility has only been reinforced by time. With a continent to take over and Manifest Destiny to goad us, we could not have avoided being footloose. The initial act of emigration from Europe, an act of extreme, deliberate disaffiliation, was the beginning of a national habit." From Wallace Stegner, "Marking The Sparrow's Fall...The Making Of The American West."
Recall from "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" where I lamented/celebrated my family's compulsion to disaffiliate from home, family, friends, community, and all things familiar—to embrace their restlessness and heed the call of wild western horizons. I tried to relate how it separated the "apples" on our family tree with time and distance and infrequent opportunities to cross paths. In reading Wallace Stegner's soliloquies on the American west, I found Everett and Hilda Johnson, their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren...as if he knew them personally. It reaffirmed the existence in some scat few souls a seeming antonymic wanderlust that enslaves, yet all-the-while sets free.
Wallace Stegner was one of us. He knew the disease. There are "stayers, and there are "leavers," two separate species incapable of "changing their spots." Wally took the words right out of my mouth and better expressed them with his oh-so-deft pen:
"...the rootlessness that expresses energy and a thirst for the new and an asporation toward freedom and personal fulfillment has just as often been a curse. Migrants deprive themselves of the physical and spiritual bonds that develop within a place and a society. Our migratoriness has hindered us from becoming a people of communities and traditions, especially in the West. It has robbed us of the gods who makes places holy. It has cut off individuals and families and communities from memory and the continuum of time. It has left at least some of us with a kind of spiritual pellagra, a deficiency disease, a hungering for the ties of a rich and stable social order. Not only is the American home a launching pad, as Margaret Mead said; the American community , especially in the West, is an overnight camp...without an essential corrective, which is belonging...airless and un-sustaining...space (instead) of place."
The essence of the West according to Gertrude Stein: "Conceive (of) a space that is filled with moving." William Least Heat Moon, author of "Blue Highways," explained that the West "differs from the East in one great, pervasive, influential, and awesome way: space...Space west of the 'line' is perceptible and often palpable, especially when it appears empty...that apparent emptiness that makes matter look alone, exiled, and unconnected...terrible distances (that) eat up speed."
What is it about the American West, a place so "threatening" yet "beckoning?" Least Heat Moon was right, it's "palpable space," and I would humbly add to "space," palpable landscape diversity—so foreign and forlorn—from remote and barren volcanic landscapes, to rain forests, to angry seas crashing rocky bluffs, to gentle beaches of white sand, to 14,000 foot sky piercing alpine peaks, to sunken lake beds hundreds of feet below sea level, and all of it disconnected by space and time, and most importantly, un-peopled.
And speaking of "un-peopled," Marathon Man Leonard accompanied Bobbie and I on a fall hike this past week, where we met with nary a soul. The glory of fall befuddled our senses, from the high altitude crispness of vision, to the caress of warm sun on skin, to the sweet scent of Ms Autumn herself...yeah, "befuddled."
Barstow Mine was in fine form...a state of decrepit ruination and rust and rot. Yellowcake vomit spilled from the mouths of olden shafts of Hope and smelled of sulphur. Irresistible rocks sparkled with quartz and fool's gold under intense Indian Summer sun; I wanted to take them all home, but ran out of pockets.
Another day of unobstructed Majesty in Spirit Basin, just a few minutes from Lovely Ouray. Can you feel the "Spirit?"
More Fall photos in store. Stay tuned...
Now go take a hike!
mark and bobbie