Tuesday, May 26, 2009

High Plains Drifter

There's something about this place that I can't get away from, no matter how hard I try. I lived in Boston, full of history and culture but no sunsets. I lived in Vancouver where snowcapped mountains rise against beaches and cityscapes, but there was no space. Even the beaches and deserts and mountains and collision of glamor and struggle in California, which probably came closest to capturing my heart, still left me longing. To steal from Eastwood, I am a High-Plains drifter.

I don't know that you have to be born to it, but it helps. Most folks don't get it. Miles and miles of scrub and sky. For me it is miles and miles of soul. It's not a blank canvas. You camp out under a blanket of stars so thick you think you could reach your finger out and give it a swirl. You watch blue-black thunderheads roll in, empty themselves, then roll on out. The sunset moves through layers of pink and orange and red so vast you swear you'll never look down again. It's not a blank canvas, but there's room--room for soul.

When you finally do look down, there's dirt. There's dirt and canyons and cattle and snakes and ugly plants with ugly names like cactus and yucca--even the name sticks in your dry throat. In the summer, hot winds blow dust from the west. In the winter, biting winds blow snow from the north. Water is playa lakes, odd oases that attract all manner of migrating birds. Trees are dry, twisted mesquite. Mountains are 500 miles to the north, south, or west. And beaches? The whole place is a beach...with no ocean.

I think that's why you almost have to be born to it to really get it. It's not an accidental place. The people are solid and original. They don't talk a lot, but when they do they tell stories. Most folks keep farmer's hours--before dawn to after dusk--no matter what they do for a living. It's just in them--hard work, think for yourself, take care of your neighbor, take care of your own.

Yes, there are guns and rednecks and barbed-wire fences and sonsabitches--the place isn't a commune. Maybe it is backward, in some good ways and some bad ways. But you get out of this place what you bring to it. So, for some it's empty and dead and boring. And for others, it's filling and alive and beautiful. For me, it's home.

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