9 Chapters
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1. HOWDY

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

The first movie western, The Great Train Robbery, was filmed in New Jersey, or upstate New York, depending on whom you believe. The Homer of western writers, Owen Wister, was a Philadelphia lawyer. Zane Grey, the king of the formula western, was a dentist from Ohio. Louis L’Amour, inheritor of the Grey legacy, wrote about the wild wild west from the City of Angels and had such powerful concentration that he boasted he could compose on a median in the middle of the Santa Monica Freeway. Mary Austin, who wrote so beguilingly of the great dry lands experience, spent much of her creative life in New York City, as did other “western” writers, Willa Cather and May Swenson. Jackson Pollock, the celebrated urbanite drip, fling, splash, and swirl painter, was born in Cody, Wyoming.

These facts might seem discordant if not downright contradictory. They may be, but the ability to keep two opposites in mind helps us to negotiate this arid vale of tears. It’s not enough to circle it as yin and yang or simply pin it on a star sign. It is instead what keeps us wrangling—to acknowledge both sides of Prudence. It may also have something to do with the way past and present coexist in our minds. It may be the way sound shifts in passing. Where we are is also where we have been. We have to escape in order to return.

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4. BOOM AND BUST

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

To have become a resident of southwestern Wyoming requires wearing a Prudence medallion. There are two faces on it: one is smirking and amused and the other is horror-stricken.

Having felt the spirit of mountain idolatry early on, it was convenient enough to venture into the Uinta and Wind River mountains, the two great ranges in the neighboring part of the Cowboy State, during my teenage years. Wyoming offered three irresistible things: fresh air, freedom, and fun. Or to put it more concretely: fine mountains, fireworks (good for keeping the bears at bay), and firewater—ardent spirits easily available for underage consumption. There was nothing wrong with the Wasatch Range that formed the eastern rampart of the Salt Lake Valley, it was just that the Uintas and Winds were bigger, grander, emptier, rockier, wilder, more elk-rich and moose-rotten, and their watercourses were troutier too.

Yet Wyoming, at least the part of it my buddies and I drove through, presented an appalling picture of resource development run wild. I recall passing through wide-open Rock Springs on the way to the Winds in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during “the Boom,” a period of coal, trona, and gas and oil development on an unprecedented scale, as well as the construction of a power plant, and the town seemed home to 10,000 house trailers—mobile homes—that covered the hillsides like an impermanent malignancy. Large pickups painted primer gray plied the dusty streets, sporting gunracks containing mini-arsenals that proclaimed that the owners were one with the NRA, rigs that were accentuated with glaspacks that growled and flatulated. The eyesore that was Elk Street swarmed with roughneck oil workers, roustabouts, and riggers—still-barked, three-eyed men who wore tar-stained coveralls year round, and who did not seem kindly disposed toward backpackers. Sin City, Rock Springs, Wyoming, notorious for hard work and vice.

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5. MOUNTAINS

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

Here at the inlet cove of a high mountain lake,

the water is lined with boulders perfectly placed,

lily pads smiling and three clear hues shining in

morning light:

an ebony ess along this leftward shore,

deep, flagrant blue toward the center,

white sun-catching ripples at the eastern edge—

a fetching body of water pocketed by slopes

of golden meadow grasses gone to seed,

spiked with bright lemony clumps of

arctic willow

and crimson studs of Salix planifolia,

and backed by dark forests of spruce and fir

that sweep to timberline, with sheep slopes

above,

sharp ridges, steps, buttresses, cliffs, and

gendarmes

leading up to turrety peaks that scratch

against the almost flawless sky—marred only by

three thin mare’s tails of high-stretched cirrus,

and that’s not all of it.

Call it perfect if you will.

I do and nearly gasp,

reach for a camera, think better of it,

knowing how a shutter’s snap diminishes

and sensing, too, in cirrus

that this whole September scene

is just about to change

Tomorrow the wind will shift

from warm south to raw northwest,

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9. ADIOS

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

A day this nice so late in the season is given one year out of ten: mild and tender-breezed, and so darned pretty that to sit on cool sand and pebbles on the shore of String Lake suffices for much and helps make amends.

A man in a blue canoe glides past and saws the air as he struggles to his feet in the boat and waves—a scarecrow to the lying calendar. Christopher shouts and waves back. Mid-October most years and String Lake is already sheened with ice, not t-shirt weather. Sundry other merrymakers glide past and stroll along. We are all of us lucky.

My boy is happy enough to mug for the disposable camera. His face is still dirty from lunch, which was alfresco beneath tall spruce. During the picnic, two wind-up, fearless camp robber jays provided entertainment and had him in stitches. Silly birds, bold enough to steal your sandwich. They’d land just out of reach, snatch crumbs, and live up to their names. Camp robbers … Silly birds …

Mom’s off walking by herself. The girls are hunting for boys in the opposite direction.

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7. CHARISMATIC MEGAFAUNA

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

MORNING: Fresh tracks in old snow. Turds on the lawn.

AFTERNOON: Four deer in the front yard, practically on the front porch. Three does and a yearling buck. Pardon me, would you deer care for something to eat? Perhaps also a little something to wash it down?

TWILIGHT: Shifting shadows darker than the grass, clipping the wild currants, nibbling the fall-killed flowers, pulling up anything else they fancy.

NIGHT: Dark shapes, town lights.

HUNTING: It would be possible to brain one of the beasts with a baseball bat.

RODEO: Or hop on top a bony back and ride down Center Street using the whopping ears as reins. On Donner, on Blitzen.

PROBLEM: It’s hard enough to get anything to grow here, in thin poor soil, with ever-wind and sun-blast, but now also to contend with famished town deer in this fifth year of drought … it’s too much.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: Give in to endless winter. Relocate to someplace more temperate, more civilized. Suggest Portland, Houston, or Tampa–St. Petersburg. Plant a few fake deer on the lawn. Watch the paint flake off in the rain.

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