I Am the West

By Chelsea Crosby Jones

“Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit.”

–Edward Abbey,

Desert Solitaire            

               My heart beats with the Colorado’s flow. My flesh molded red clay. My perfume the sagebrush. I am the West, and the West is me.

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               Not enough water. Not enough timber. Not enough feed. Not, not, not…and for all the not, it is. Unlike the fertile, timbered East, parcels of private land polka-dot the tracts of government-managed land. Water and mineral rights have long-since been sold out from under the property. The violations of such have been known to end in bitter dispute; some the life-abbreviating kind.

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               The people of the West are like the landscape; sun baked, spread out, and a mite wild. They say people avoid talking about death because it reminds them of their own mortality. To Western folks death is part of life. Dinner conversation devolves from, “Are there anymore rolls” to insemination, birthing, branding, pasturing, and slaughtering, only to be interjected with, “Please pass the mashed potatoes.”

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               The West is a marriage of opposites. Temperamental. Unforgiving. Delicate. Graceful. A place of brutal extremes. Mountain peaks and desert sands; record snowfall and devastating drought. Such a lovely, unpredictable place.

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               I am reminded of my Grandfather’s hands. Work-wizened, massive, powerful, deeply carved by time and care. Hands that built and created beautiful things, hands that claimed animals in the interest of self-preservation. Hands gentle enough to select filigreed china, and powerful enough to arrest gravity in motion—hands that defied law.

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               There is a beautiful, untamed quality to the West. She has secrets; she dabbles in trickery and demands deadly accuracy. Some would describe her as a barren wasteland—those who are accustomed to shady lanes, abundance of streams, and grass that grows without planting.

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               There exists a hunger, a yearning, a wildness untamed, and it moves through me, my life force. I am the fruit of tenacity and vigor. The polarities of bounty and famine my cursing and my blessing. Strictly honest and completely unknowable, my surface is desolate and I am teeming within. I am delicate and devastating, poisonous and plentiful. Internal dissonance rages within my spectrum, yet my surface is hushed. I am musical in a haunting-silence kind of way. Those who desire to know me must sacrifice to enter—for within me they will leave themselves so that they may find themselves. I am stubborn, impetuous, and bold. But given enough time my crevasses can be whispered open, gentle wisdom flowing through to etch change through my core. My sparse tenderness is greenly marked and uneasily accessed—one must be prepared to dig deep. For those who do, I give freely and purely. So much of me remains unknown—I invite, entice, lure others in, but some secrets I must keep. I am sensitive to those who encroach on and exploit me. I heal slowly and scar easily.

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               Generations of sheep-herders layer my genealogy. Some of the precious-few private land owners in the Western Rockies. Entertainers of the likes of Zane Gray on the Arizona Strip, participants in the rehoming and schooling of Native American children. Gamblers of the most dangerous kind—those who live and die by livestock yield and alfalfa cuttings. Tamers of clay, wranglers of water, masters of colorful vocabulary. Men and women work-hardy and time-tried. Individuals who became the West.

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               My heart beats with the Colorado’s flow. My flesh molded red clay. My perfume the sagebrush. I am the West and the West is me.

Chelsea is a Senior English/Creative Writing Education Major at Southern Utah University. She was previously published in the Kolob Canyon Review for her creative non-fiction, and recently received an award in the Alpha Eta Nu Chapter’s Sigma Tau Delta undergraduate academic studies conference for her critical work. She lives with her husband in Cedar City, UT.

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