There's nothing like the West. It's a part of me and I'm a part of it and I love it deeply.
We made it to Phoenix now (my new home!), and while I settle in, my thoughts remain occupied with memories of the incredible sights I've seen the past few days and things that I've experienced over my life time that have led me to develop such reverence for these places. It was surely the coolest road trip I've ever been on and I'm grateful for it all.
We made time for many stops and detours along the way and were able to see so much of the diverse natural beauty of this iconic part of the country. Some parts I had seen before, some were brand new to my eyes. All were fascinating.
The West is a lot more than jut a geographic location, though that is a part of it. It exists in the vast space between between the west coast and the midwest. It also exists as an abstract idea in the collective memory of the world. The people who inhabit and create it are Native, foremost, but others now occupy that space too. Sometimes harmoniously, other times no much. If you're from here, you know what I mean.
On my dad's side, I come from a legacy of NDN cowboys & ranchers. You can read more about that here.
I once asked my dad, "Where does the midwest end and the West begin?"
He said, "I'd say it begins west of the Mississippi," then he paused ... "Or maybe it's just when you start seeing more cows than people, and more pickups than cars. Something like that."
Yes, something like that. It's hard to put your finger on it, but you'll know it when you're there.
In the West, it is possible to develop a more accurate picture of what this place we now call America once looked like. It's nice to close your eyes and think about the millions of buffalo who once roamed the great plains. It's nice to close your eyes and think about the massive villages and cities of Native people who traded, traveled, lived, loved, and breathed in these lands prior to colonization. And after that, it's nice to open your eyes and to see that the presence and power of all of these people and animals and elements of nature are still present and alive despite the best efforts of those who tried to destroy it.
Robert Penn Warren is one of my favorite writers. Despite the colonial undertones in this passage, it is one of my favorites. Even though I don't relate to a good chunk of it, it's a beautiful bundle of words:
As a child who grew up in the United States, despite the fact that I was raised with Native teachings and an inherent understanding of my culture and history, I was nonetheless subjected to a lot of the lies and falsities that come with your standard textbook American education. In my adult life, I had to unlearn a lot of the propaganda that had been crammed into my young impressionable brain. I had to unlearn the idea of east to west development; I had to unlearn the idea of nature symbolizing emptiness and buildings symbolizing civilization; I had to unlearn the idea of America being a relatively new country. If you haven't unlearned any of the above mentioned notions, I suggest you begin. Because the truth is out there, but you've got to actively seek it.
When people talk about places in Europe like Paris or London or Rome, they always say things like, "Wow! It's so cool! There's so much history there. It's so old. It's so ancient. It's so well preserved!"
But in my mind, the parts of the world that are truly old, truly ancient, and truly well preserved are those parts right here in the heart of Native country; in the heart of the West; where the land is still exactly what it was created to be: land. Not buildings, not strip malls, not homes or even museums. Just land. Sacred, beautiful land.