Nine years ago this month, Mike and I drove down from Fort Collins to choose a few acres in Navajo to buy. We didn’t know much about this area, only that we loved how it felt to our suburban souls. It took us another year to build our passive solar home facing the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with Mount Mestas to our west.
I was reminded again early this morning why I love living here. I woke up around 6:30 AM to see an unobstructed view of a bright red sunrise to our southeast. This is BIG SKY country to me, where the landscape and the silence are the main characters! Every time I go outside in the morning I stop and feel astounded by the silence. This is what the earth used to be like. Maybe a few bird sounds, but otherwise perfect silence…
Sure there are also unattractive features to this area, but the land is encouraging and haunting all at once, and the summers are glorious!
Our first summer here we had so much fun exploring the back roads and back stories, like this dilapidated adobe schoolhouse slowly sinking back into the earth west of here…
or taking the train up to Fir to hear the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band play in a big mountain meadow.
When I first met Mike he said he wasn’t moving again until he could look at something besides the house across the street.
We found this cartoon in a magazine and laughed together about it. Then we went in search of someplace with truly ‘spectacular views.’
I have been blown away by watching the Yellowstone prequel “1883” in the past week or so. I did not know a “western” could be so poetic, authentic and full of heart. I loved it so much I watched it again after I got back from Christmas and loved it even more!
First, a little background. I was raised in Kansas near the prairie where my ancestors arrived many decades before me. When I first started reading books, I loved stories about the pioneer West. The first stories I ever wrote were about Native Americans and their ponies. Then I started reading everything by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the personal journals of westward women. I only wanted to play “pioneer woman” as a kid. I guess you could say I have been unconsciously searching for the perfect “western” my whole life. I finally found it in “1883.”
First of all I love that the main character and narrator is a teenage woman. The whole story is told from Elsa’s perspective, with just the right combination of authentic and sensitively-written narrative and dialogue. I felt like I could see into Elsa’s heart, while also understanding the other characters’ inner lives as well. As the writer, Taylor Sheridan, explains in “Behind the Story,” he wanted this story to feel as intimate for the audience as reading a good novel, or even the personal journal of a young woman on a wagon train heading west. He does a masterful job of that, and yet I keep wondering how a man could have such an intimate understanding of a teenage woman’s worldview.
As I think about it now, the ever-changing landscape is the main character in this story, that and the silence. So many of Elsa’s observations remind me of my own after moving to rural Colorado eight years ago. My amazement at the silence and beauty of each sunrise and sunset, the comfort of the wildlife passing by our home each day, the glorious seasons we experience so intimately, this is what I love about living out here. Elsa’s story seems to authentically capture the beauty and the violence of the American West over one hundred years ago around the time the transcontinental railroad began changing everything. There is so much truth in some of her observations like:
“I think cities have weakened us as a species.”
Another profound aspect of Elsa’s story is how living in the West allowed so much more freedom for women. I enjoyed watching her relationship with her mother develop as her Mom tries to remind her of the limitations of being a woman in 1880s America. Elsa rebels every chance she gets. Elsa enjoyed the loss of rules and customs as they moved west. The big transition came when she decided she was a cowboy and got herself some pants to wear instead of dresses.
I loved the writer’s sensitive portrayal of the other characters, especially when it came to ‘race.’ Race is not a word I use, because I do not believe we humans are different ‘races.’ But back in 1880s America, blacks were treated badly as a general rule. Thomas, the old Civil War friend of Shea, played by the wagon train boss Sam Elliott, understood how badly others could treat him for being black, as he stated at one point, “You ain’t never been whipped.” Native Americans play an important role in this saga and mostly as sympathetic characters including members of the Comanche and Crow tribes. The true “bad guys” of this Western are “bandits.”
Suffice to say this is by far the best western story I have ever seen. It shows the beauty and severe violence of the American West in no uncertain terms, and I believe it may be more authentic as a story than any other I have read. I found the very last phrase in this story so vivid and relevant to my state of mind these days –
“There is a moment when your dreams and memories merge together and form a perfect world. That is heaven, and each heaven is unique. It is the world of you…”
Yesterday we were watching a Youtube video of a boating tour around Venice. Visiting Venice in the mid-1980s was one of my most favorite trips ever. It felt like a trip back in time for me and I loved it! As I watched I kept saying, “I was so lucky to go all of the places I’ve been in my life!” Then I questioned that statement. Was it just luck? Not at all.
When I was young I got the travel bug from my Dad, so whenever I decided to go somewhere, I just did it. I would spend money I didn’t have to go live in Bangkok, float down a number of rivers all over the West, or go sailing in the Caribbean. A friend and I took what we called “the people’s ferry” up the Pearl River to Guilin, China before anyone else was going there. None of these were planned tours, we just went.
This was not a simple case of luck, but rather a perfect example of my belief that ‘what you focus on grows.’ It was my natural inclination to see as much of the world as I could. Luck had little to do with it. Of course the tough part was the bronchitis I had in Bangkok, China, Taipei and Venice, and my difficulties breathing at 8,300 feet in Cuenca, Ecuador. Health scares drove me to visit as many places as I could before my lungs became a problem, making me ever more thankful that I traveled so much when I was young.
Another example of apparent luck? Having such loving beings around me as I find myself not so healthy or able to travel easily. Now I see that was not luck at all. I am one of those people who doesn’t have many friends, but those I have are completely loyal. They know me and love me unconditionally, through thick and thin.
Believing it was just luck that I now live in such a naturally quiet and beautiful place with an amazing garden is pure foolishness. Getting here took quite a bit of time, stress and energy, but it was all completely worth it!
Through this thought process I realized how easy it can be to simply feel lucky, but I think it is important that we give ourselves full credit for the choices we’ve made consciously throughout our lives.
Perhaps we have been better at life than we thought! Imagine that!