“The West is hope’s native home”

Wallace Stegner:

Once I said in print that the remaining western wilderness is the geography of hope, and I have written, believing what I wrote, that the West at large is hope’s native home, the youngest and freshest of America’s regions, magnificently endowed with the chance to become something unprecedented and unmatched in the world.

I was shaped by the West and have lived most of my life in it, and nothing would gratify me more than to see it, in all its subregions and subcultures, both prosperous and environmentally healthy, with a civilization to match its scenery. Whenever I return to the Rocky Mountain states where I am most at home or escape into the California backlands from the suburbia where I live, the smell of distance excites me, the largeness and clarity take the scales from my eyes, and I respond as unthinkingly as a salmon that swims past a river-mouth and tastes the waters of its birth.

But when I am thinking instead of throbbing, I remember what history and experience have taught me about the West’s past, and what my senses tell me about the West’s present, and I become more cautious about the West’s future. Too often, when they have been prosperous, the western states have been prosperous at the expense of their fragile environment, and their civilization has too often mined and degraded the natural scene while drawing most of its quality from it.

So I amend my enthusiasm, I begin to quibble and qualify, I say, yes, the West is hope’s native home, but there are varieties and degrees of hope, and the wrong kinds, in excessive amounts, go with human failure and environmental damage as boom goes with bust.

– “Introduction,” Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West

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