Western Ways

Summer and the 1% crescent Aloha Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: Sugar cane. Pineapples. Tourists. Aloha. Mahalo. Ala Moana Mall. Big city, smallish Island. Fish. Books. Colorful shirts. Tanned women and men. Surf boards. The Big Water. The Hot Sun. Sand. Hula. Luau. Hickam. Pearl Harbor. Pearl City. Hawai’ian Inn. Volcanoes. Pele. Hot Spots. Plate Tectonics. Trade Winds. Shave Ice. Hawai’iana. A special place on this Earth.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Sol. Luna. The Pacific.


Just bought four novels the Atlantic says will guide me through the real American West. Realized I never see an article about guiding me through the American Midwest. Or the Northeast. Or the Plains states. Lot of novels set in the South and in those other regions, of course, but I don’t recall seeing compilations of them that will help me see the real Midwest, the real Northeast, the real South.

The West though seems to require lots of explaining. Water. History. Geography and geology. Politics. The West holds on to its mythic place in the American experience in a way the other regions don’t. With the possible exception of the South, Dixie. I say possible because the South’s history has loomed large in the American story at least since the Civil War. I think Americans feel they understand the story of the South in a way they don’t understand any other region.

Especially the West. I imagine the truth is that we all have a relatively shallow understanding of the various regions of our nation. Their history. Their geography and geology. Their unique spot in the narrative. In particular I imagine we have as little understanding of the real Northeast, the real Midwest, the real South as we do the real West. Yet the West is the one that remains mysterious, somehow unknown. One that needs explaining.

Which makes it a little strange to consider that it is and has been my home for the last 7 plus years. Geologically I live about 15 miles into the West. The High Plains run right up against the Rocky Mountain’s Front Range where 285 and 470 intersect. On at least a monthly basis I drive from the Rocky Mountain West onto the High Plains and back up again.

Climatologically the boundary line is the longitude on the east of which the land gets 20+ inches of rain a year and west of which fall 20 inches or less. Around the 98th meridian. Though of course the Pacific Northwest gets abundant rain. This line runs about 2/3rds of the way through the Plains States.

Culturally I would say the West, the new West that is, starts at the Denver Metro. It’s the first and only big city east of the Rockies in what is now considered the West. Neither Cheyenne, Wyoming or Albuquerque, New Mexico match it in size and prominence.

But that’s a sidebar. What I’m interested in here is why the West still requires trail markers and explanatory signs.  What about it makes it mysterious?

Here’s an interesting table from the Census Bureau. Not what I expected.


Region Population Percentage
Northeast 57,159,838 17.2%
Midwest 68,841,444 20.7%
West 78,667,134 23.7%
South 127,225,329 38.3%

This map explains the South’s numerical superiority:

Maybe the West remains mysterious because its mythos has several sources: the idea of the frontier. The Western movie. Hollywood itself. Cowboys and Indians. The Mountains. Buffalo Bill Cody.

None of which allows for the actual story of Chinese laborers, Mexican and Spanish land loss, the range wars between those who wanted settled land and those who wanted to graze wherever the grass was good. The mining years and the railroad building years. The Mormons. The heartless genocide of Native peoples. The growth of California as an economic powerhouse. A tech hub along with the Seattle area in Washington. The decline of ranching and the rise of urban areas like Denver, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas as well as the cities of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Not sure where this is going anymore so I’ll stop. Almost. Joe gave me a book, The Imperial Cruise, by James Bradley. While I find its conclusion too pat, the outline it offers of America as a racist imperial power in the time of Presidents McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft is not. It shows how the “conquering of the West” presaged a continuation of that ethos to the Pacific itself. Not a pretty picture. And, actually, has many contemporary parallels.

This entry was posted in Politics, The West, Travel, US History, Weather +Climate, World History. Bookmark the permalink.

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