Into the West

I was raised in green country. Miles of woods in every direction, and grassy pastures where the wood ends. My home is the land of azaleas, and my childhood involved plucking massive amounts of honeysuckle and scarring my face on Mom’s rose bushes. Everywhere I looked, there was plant life. We lived in a land where gardening did not mean convincing the right plants to grow, it meant cutting the wrong ones back. I’m still not sure I didn’t live in the Garden of Eden.

The first time I remember heading west, I was disturbed by the lack of vegetation. The farther we drove, the less trees there were. Everything seemed so barren and lifeless. There was no green, only brown. It was eerie, like some sort of wasteland out of a book. I just couldn’t understand.

But like the characters in those stories, we kept going, because there was something on the other end. We are nature lovers, my family, so more often than not we were driving towards beauty. The Grand Canyon stretched on for miles, and cave after cave was plundered for memories by a sudden swarm of Henrys. We saw mountains and dusty plains, and Enchanted Rock rising bald and smooth above the world.

When we weren’t searching for the Chisos Mountains or another national park, we were headed to the cities. San Antonio captured my imagination like few cities before or since. Austin and I have a love-hate relationship. Amarillo made a good, though brief, impression. Waco and New Braunfels gave flavor to my understanding of Texas. Dallas and Fort Worth had quite the presence, and the shores of Galveston still hold a grey and sandy place in my heart.

All our trips west were adventures, and the strange, endless stretches of dry roads in shadeless country always led back to their beginning. After each departure into the wilds of the empty spaces or the wonders of the urban world, we would return to our own little garden city.

One day, that changed. I went farther west, beyond our borders, beyond the plains, and beyond the mountains. There, in the cold northwest, I stayed for months. Hills stretched on for an eternity, and the color of the world was wheat. If you walk at night in town, you can pretend there are enough trees, but they end at the city limits. In the Inland Northwest, trees belong in the mountains or the cities, and nowhere in between.

The thing about places is that they grow on you. They harbor you, give you a refuge when you need to rest. They host your friends and a million parties, dances, adventures, and conversations you will never forget. They are the setting for the stories that changed you from who you were to who you are. If you stay there long enough, they become part of who you are.

The Northwest is not home, though now holds a warm place in my heart. But it has changed something. When I look out into the endless skies, I don’t see bareness. Instead, I see a world cleared of distractions. It is a place where you are not caught in the little things, but see the whole landscape in one grand sweep. Sometimes you just need to walk towards the horizon and see it stretching out ahead of you.

The west used to be a foreign wasteland in my imagination. Now those trips are part of who I am. I can’t picture my life without a San Antone, or a world without a Big Bend. If there were no plains, something good would have been lost. Without deserts or stunted trees, gardens mean little. Dry distances are nothing to be feared. And now, when I think of home, I smile at the thought of crossing the endless, brown miles back into the green.

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