Trail Tales and Highway Haikus

The Ramble Report

 


Like many famous quotes, there is some uncertainty over who actually said “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.” Regardless of which dead man gets credit for the sentiment, that is what I set out to do when I packed my car and left the places and people I know deeply and love dearly back in Chicago.

That was a little over three months – not to mention several lifetimes – ago.

My girlfriend Michelle and I crossed the Mississippi on a dismally foggy early winter day. Both of us were short on sleep from a weekend spent trying to explain to our friends and family how precious they are to us, even as we headed far afield to write our own story together.

Since we crossed that great, muddy dividing line, we have been chasing a dream millions before us have grasped at. Doubtlessly, there are children now, from Baltimore, Md. to Terre Haute, Ind., who will grow up to do the same.

They, too, will go hunting the Great American West.

What is it that pulls us this way, though? What promises get whispered in our ears by a whistling mountain breeze or a babbling pine-banked brook? Why does our nation’s magnetism pull towards the Pacific, poaching at a prodigious rate the dreamers and wanderers of the East?


Part of it is simple space. There is a staggering amount of open land out here, and that can be a powerful incubator for dreams that need room to grow.

Surrounded by sprawl built up over centuries, Eastern cities are cramped, corpulent beasts. They bleed into one another for mile after mile, subdivision following strip mall following exurb, seemingly ad infinitum. What wild places remain there – in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, say, or the forestland of Maine – are far from population centers and small in scale compared to the splendors of the West.

It’s a little different out here. Major cities like Denver and Albuquerque are immediately adjacent to federally designated wilderness areas. Even in their cosmopolitan hearts, it is impossible to forget the bigness of nature with towering mountains dwarfing the human skyline. Even in the most civilized enclaves out this way, landscapes are primary, whereas human structures and settlements are the exception.

I would argue that this sort of wide-open space fosters a different sort of person. With plenty of elbow room to spread out in, people are more tolerant of independence and personal space in the West. Self-reliance and problem solving are vital survival skills in sparsely populated areas, and that makes people fiercely protective of their right to make their own choices.

Right or wrong – and I’m sure I’ve been blind to a lot and misinterpreted just as much over the past 500 words – these were some of the thoughts and associations that brought me to Carbon County.

As far as telling you a little bit about who I am, I guess I’ll start with the Peace Corps. Between June of 2012 and July of 2014, I taught middle school in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. There is no electricity or running water in the 1,000-person village I lived in during that time, and people are so poor that many have trouble getting pencils for their kids to use in class.

It is also one of the happiest places I’ve ever lived. Family ties are incredibly deep, strangers take time to chat for a minute if they happen to pass one another on their bicycles and no one eats anything without offering to share it with everyone around.

Coming back, I was a little lost. I worked many different short-term jobs, some of which were well paying, but the bulk of which were not. I lived on and off with my parents, reconnected with some friends I had missed while in Africa, and discovered that I had drifted away from others.

Most importantly, I fell in love with Michelle, who shares my sense of adventure and boundless desire to see more of the world. We’re happy that the wind has blown us into the “Good Times Valley,” and look forward to meeting more of you as we get situated here in Saratoga. Thanks for all the warm welcomes you’ve already given us. I’m happy to be a new reporter at an old paper, and will do my best to be a good neighbor and churn out interesting things for you to read.

 

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