Not from Around These Here Parts

My New Hampshire boss complains about the aesthetics of the West.

In this way, Lincoln is a city of the West, while otherwise most of us would lump it into the Midwest. She doesn’t like the lack of trees, the ugly buildings, the inefficient parking garage. She asks why the storage sheds are purple and orange, if people really believe rocks on astroturf are a good landscaping choice and why no one tries to disguise their Dumpsters.

While it irritates me, I find it hard to defend.

My North Carolina father, when he arrived in Colorado to attend the Air Force Academy, wrote home that he’d never seen a thousand shades of brown before. And I remember when I first saw Kentucky (where my boss grew up), I thought it looked artificial, a theme park of emerald grass and alabaster fences, gleaming horses trotting about for show. But this isn’t about the acquired appreciation for the aesthetic of the western landscape, for the sere plains and treeless crags. This is about culture. About the difference between people who build pretty little fences around their Dumpsters, painted to match the building, and those who figure garbage is garbage and why dress it up?

Some call it western practicality, implying an attention to something greater than frou-frou considerations. I’d hazard that it’s an extension of the frontier mentality, living on the edge of survival, where all energy is focused on food and shelter and marauding cattle thieves, not on painting the ranch house. The thing is, those days are long over, but the stubbornness lingers. Western folks take pride in not caring, just like they take pride in not having the good stuff.

“We don’t need that….” “We call this nice weather around here…” “I’m not throwing money away on…”

The myth of the cowboy is a story of sweat and grit, not white-washed fences.

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