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Entries in rural life (3)


Western Romance

I grew up with fantasies of urbane and glamorous city life.  I knew I would live in a place full of bustling energy and worldly social milieu, far removed from the rural, provincial world where I came of age.

Those fantasies changed, clearly, but I never imagined that the mingled smell of diesel oil, sawdust, and sweat would be comforting and nostalgic until Will walked in from cutting firewood the other day and set the chainsaw down.  You smell like my dad, I blurted out, and I meant it in the best possible way.

I don't know what happened, or when, but suddenly I want to wear cowboy boots and go to the rodeo.  A herd of cattle huddling in the snow is the most romantic thing I've seen in recent memory.  The West is Out There, and though I've called it home for more than 15 years, it calls me deeper. 

But I wonder if someone who is not and can never be from here can understand it.  I wonder if, even if I tried, I could ever put my finger on the real thing, or if The West is just a set of stock images we all have as part of a collective nostalgia for something that never really existed. 

Something's different out here.  Something's intoxicating.  For some reason, these days, even the cows make me swoon.


Real West

283.365 18mm f4 1/640 ISO 100It is difficult sometimes to remember that the patina of rural western life out here isn't just a bunch of symbols appropriated by Ralph Lauren in order to sell you a gallon of paint that will make your house look tastefully weathered by years of high country wind and sun.  Though judging from all the gazillion dollar homes, I'd say it's a safe bet there's a lot of designer paint happening around here. 

But when you ride your bike around the back roads for long enough you start to realize that western life still exists as more than a marketing scheme or an inspiration board.  There are still people baling hay every day in the fields and cattle ranging on public land.  The Steamboat Springs pro rodeo still draws a crowd every weekend in the summer.

284.365 200mm f8 1/25 ISO 200The announcers do a good job of keeping it real for the rodeo fans and still making it accessible for the tourists like us who come every summer and ooh and aah over the Tys and the Coles and the Justins (I do love cowboy names) risking life and limb for this particular extreme sport.

I live in Denver, about as New West as you can get, and I haven't ridden a horse since college.  So I'm not sure exactly why it makes me happy that this Other West (Real West?) still exists and that it's not just a myth or a designer reproduction.  But it does.

However as we were wandering through the rodeo grounds and I rounded the corner behind Ezra, I was completely unsurprised to find that what he was deeply interested in was this:


The More Things Change

74.365 66mm f7.1 1/640 ISO 200Sometimes when I'm home in North Carolina I can't believe how much everything has changed.  There are subdivisions and Home Depots and even (I discovered last night) a bar in my hometown!  And then sometimes I'm astounded at just how much it still really is the country here, and at how I spent my childhood in this rural spot and how, even though it seems like a whole other lifetime, it is imprinted deep on my soul.

Merry Christmas, everybody.