I wrote this in my Intro to Literature class, and I was happy with the result, so I thought I’d share it here.
When I think of the West, I think of my uncles. Both my mother and my father have a brother who breaks horses for a living. My uncle Rollie is a strong presence, never without his cowboy hat. He has ridden up mountains on the back of his horse to bring cattle down from their winter grazing, so he could brand them and check on their health. His two sons are also cowboys. One of my cousins breaks horses in Nebraska and the other is a vet tech for big animals. When we were kids their favorite game was Rodeo. Both of them wanted to be calf ropers, and so they would line up the other cousins to be calves and try to break all of our necks by tripping us up with lassos.
Uncle Jack runs a ranch in a tiny spit of land in Wyoming. It is the most beautiful, scenic place. He lives in the house that my grandparents owned. There are broken wagon wheels to guide you into the gate and my grandfather’s brand stamped into the concrete. There’s an apple orchard, and a small hollowed out dirt hill where my grandmother kept shelves of canning for her twelve children. There’s a barn for the horses and it smells like sweet hay and tack, and every spring there’s a new batch of barn cats and the children all play with the kittens.
Not all of my family ended up in the cowboy life, but they’ve all been touched by it. My mother had to fetch eggs from the henhouse and got scraped off of a horse by a low-hanging branch, so she’s not enamored of the reality of the West, but get her in a conversation about who’s the better Rooster in True Grit and she’ll happily launch into it.
The West is how I grew up. My uncles weren’t the only cowboys I knew. My ex-husband was completely in love with the ideas of the Old West, of a “simpler time.” He had a very specific vision of the cowboy as a lonely, romantic figure who worked hard (and was generally unappreciated.)
My West, on the other hand, has very few humans in it at all. My West is full of cougars, and mountain goats, and bald eagles. My West is Devil’s Tower and Old Faithful, the naturally occurring monuments and the surrounding hills. My West is aspen trees and juniper scrub and walking through the Needle’s Eye above the Tongue River. I do love looking at herds of horses, but it brings me just as much joy to see herds of deer or antelope, or even bison.
So, for me, the West was a complex background on which my childhood was formed. I spent a lot of my young adulthood trying to get as far away from the West as possible, to look for something new. I do have a great deal of nostalgia for the West, and I’m looking forward to seeing it with fresh eyes.