I find now, that I have removed myself. No longer a part of a life that can be considered “western”… The life that I was brought into by default and cultivated from. It is easy to forget sometimes until caught off guard, at which point you can see it at my core, coming through the lack of repress. And then, it is like I truly am the land that grew me.
There was never a way to win against all the odds in the west. It is a commonplace cycle of death, birth and survival. Since the beginning, people have been coming here mistaking the impression of endlessness for opportunity. No one ever came to the west who wasn’t running from something. And those of us raised here by those people, were suckled with that desperacy. It has worked its way like a disease from one generation to the next.
The sun is fixed on life here, sucking the water from everything. There are wildfires in the summer, and blizzards in the winter. Dust and cold alike, covering sagebrush and skin and life itself, turning everything into the same numbness of grief so that there are times between one year and the next, when a person has no way to tell the difference. The valleys and plains, though dry, give more of a lonely impression of open ocean than of land, or of anything you could ride a horse across.
The men here (that I grew up with), are made as callous as the hands they work with. Stripped of unnecessary flesh… By weather. Rained, and sunned and blown and beaten into a state of crudeness where all elements of mercy are lost. And the women are disintegrated. Trying to muscle up an impression of invincibility and of grace, in a place where it was better to not be born a girl in the first place.
Out here, femininity is the easiest meat to feed on. It is devoured into rarity before most of us reach the age of five. So what is left is women clinging to religion as a means to cope with the insensible cruelty. Trying to extract meaning and purpose and control out of the constant tragedy, so as to not lose themselves.
To live without God here is to live alone, as prey. Children are bred heartless and made more heartless by the poverty of their compassion, as the law of the land has always been eat or be eaten. It is true in the emotional sense of the word as well, maybe even more so.
The main streets of the old western towns I grew up in are littered now with impermanent chain stores. Absent of a building code, it looks as if the businesses who came here, all snagged themselves on the destitution. Unprepared for the kind of customers who leave their Christmas lights on all year long (they are simply that degraded).
Walmart, Kmart, Taco bell, gun shops and E-Z Pay day loans are the only stores which have made it out here. Like scavengers they are the businesses which survive off of the unfortunate, and left behind as if they were a food source. People who would be driving cattle, growing gardens, canning their own food… Are now swallowed by the wave of modern society and left behind by it.
And now the cowboy, who once conquered the Native American, is conquered, their life made obsolete, making way for the new wave of people trying to take over out here. Now a days they live in trailer parks, or houses falling apart on the outskirts of what can hardly be called a city, living on cigarettes and chew and easy access television. Working in metal shops or corporate dairy farms, or meat packing plants, selling their souls to Walmart and Kmart and E-Z pay day loans, because it is all they can afford to do.
And so, still an infant by settlement standards (as it was conquered barely over one hundred years ago), it is already full of a hard won, gun shot, broken history. And the kind of wounds that never heal. Guarding freedom like prison was on the other side of every door.
But beyond the hot crackle of the grasshoppers and dry, winter frostbite, there is a slow, heartbreaking beauty, a vastness that can never be possessed. Un peopled wilderness where the night sky is so dark, the stars are a bright, white dust instead of interspersed lights of only those which can out shine the nebulous glow that humans create.
There are sunsets and wildflowers. Animals outside cages, people outside metal and glass. The collection of them, made intimate by having to live a life, simplified by realizing the temporariness of everything. Taking nothing for granted.
And though the struggle is a violent dance that no one would participate in if given the choice, it has a way of connecting you to the earth. In a way where life itself is distilled to it’s raw, original self.