Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Travels with Matt: The Way West

I am struck by the differences that exist in the Western U.S. as opposed to the Eastern part of our country. Being a Easterner (or should I say a Northeasterner) I am required to live amidst concrete, steel and glass, and small pockets of nature surrounded by human civilization. In the West humanity lives in small pockets of concrete, steel and glass totally surrounded by the forces of nature.

In the East one is always confronted by the noise of city and suburban life. In the West (unless you live in a major city) one is struck by the absence of noise. The other day I was hiking alone on a lonely ridge that was the site of the Fetterman Massacre (which took place in December 1866). I could see the lanes of U.S. Route 90 snaking through the Wyoming grasslands yet the freeway seemed so distant as if it didn't even exist. In a sense I felt as if I were in a bubble cut off from modern civilization; as I were communing with the spirit of 1866.

Out West one can sense the antiquity of the land. In some places the terrain hasn't changed since the dawn of time. It is that permanence which lends a magic aura to the natural treasures which makes our country beautiful. Whereas in the East, massive changes in the land make what was a memory we can only imagine.

You have to go to the West to appreciate the true vastness of America. I can travel through five states in six hours if I drive through the Northeast but out West one can remain in the same state for days.

I remember when I vacationed in West Texas in November 2005. I was averaging 100 miles a day in my car while never leaving the state of Texas. Right now as I am vacationing in Montana and Wyoming I am awestruck at the endless rolling grasslands of the Great Plains. What I am experiencing isn't even remotely close to capturing the enormity of the landscape of this part of the American West.

As I experience the terrain, elements, history, and wildlife of the American West I call to mind what the historian Dee Brown told documentarian Ric Burns in Burns' magnificent documentary The Way West. Brown (who wrote Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee) told Burns. "The Western Experience forms a major part of the American mythology. We see it as America."

Standing here in a small town in Wyoming, I see the truth in what Dee Brown said and I find comfort and hope in that truth. Travelling through this land makes you fall in love with your country.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Matt ~ glad to hear you're having a great time. I can relate to you as I felt this way five years ago. On my honeymoon we flew over the U.S. to Vegas & I cried just from the sheer beauty of it all. Especially going over all the patchwork farmlands and the Grand Canyon. It's something I'll never forget. Take care - enjoy, enjoy!!!! ~mary @nn