Lee Pitts: Here and There

I’ve been in every state but feel most at home on the left side of the Mississippi. I’ve climbed all over the 17 western states, floated the Rogue, rode horseback on the Borderlands, know how to pronounce the capital of South Dakota, visited Cabelas in Nebraska, watched a rodeo in the Astrodome and the first World Series game ever in Kansas City. I froze my butt off in Aberdeen, been to a 4th of July rodeo in Prescott and the parade in Cayucos. I’ve never been to the Egyptian Pyramids but I’ve been to the one in Las Vegas where I also visited Paris and Venice, albeit with slot machines ringing.

I’ve haggled with Indians selling their jewelry at Four Corners, been to the castle in Castle Rock, slept out with the cowboys on the Bell, been to the top of the Space Needle, unknowingly fed the bears in Yellowstone and fished in the shadow of Half Dome. I’ve seen and felt the west’s haunting beauty in the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion and I know you can’t possibly understand my part of the world by just visiting Disneyland on vacation.

This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the East. I spent a week on the beautiful beach in Rehobeth, traipsed all over Florida and visited my brother at West Point on the Hudson. It may be a glittering generality but there are more symptoms of civilization in the East, more tall buildings, toll roads and government offices. The East is more about history while the West is more about the landscape. The East is Arlington and Gettysburg, while the West is the Little Bighorn.

Nature’s handiwork is more on display in the West. It’s Carlsbad Caverns, the Badlands, Black Hills, the Redwoods, Mt. Whitney, Lake Tahoe, the Oregon seacoast, and the Great Empty, a name given to Montana that could apply to the entire West. It’s God’s backyard. While the East was built by people like the Amish, the pilgrims, the millionaire’s on Jekyll Island and the great southern plantations. The East is architecture, history and all the wonderful monuments in DC. There’s more things to do in the East. The West is the oil patch, cowboys and farmers. The East is more inside, the West more outside.

The East is brick, the West is adobe. The East has more and better museums and high brow culture. I’ve spent days at the Smithsonian, been to Ford’s theatre and saw Henry Fonda in a play at the Kennedy Center, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the barb wire museum in Emporia, Kansas, and Georgia O’ Keefe’s home in New Mexico. The East has Cooperstown. The West has the Cowboy Hall of Fame. I’ve never been to a Superbowl in New Orleans but I don’t see how it could possibly compare with Friday night lights in Texas. I liked Mark Twain’s cramped and dusty office at the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, better than his eastern mansion.

I feel closer to nature in the West. I felt the ground shake when Old Faithful erupted and witnessed the destruction when Mt. St Helen’s blew her lid. I was also present when my wife did likewise when I lost the car keys in Death Valley in July. She didn’t speak to me for days after I insisted we take a plane ride and dive bombed the Grand Canyon.

Whenever I visited the East I felt a divide between the North and South that still exists 150 years after they supposedly settled their differences. The same can be said about how the West feels towards the East. That’s because the feds own far too much of the west and have too much say on how we Westerners must live our lives. The West is far less dense and people are more spread out here so that when we do make human contact we tend to be friendlier. Westerners are also more independent, have a stubborn streak and tend to mind their own business. That’s why we resent Congressmen and eco snobs from New York City, who’ve never earned an honest day’s wage, trying to rid the world of Oregon loggers, Utah miners and cowboys and cows lest they supposedly destroy the world with their flatulence.

The only disgusting aroma Westerners smell emanates from the much-too-powerful people on the Potomac.