Being here in Colorado isn't too bad he thought, although like parts of his home state, it's getting a bit crowded. The nearby town is filling up with shoe-box apartments and breweries are exporting beer out-of-state so that folks can pee scarce Rocky Mountain water where it won't do any good. No matter though; somebody's making money. Town folks drag their tin boxes on wheels past his place every Friday, on their way to a campground where they can park within a few feet of other tin boxes - for relaxation. Then they pull those boxes back to town Sunday afternoon so they can help make traffic snarls on Monday. "Odd damn species, we humans", he said to himself.
Sometimes when he began to feel crowded the song "Western Skies" rumbled through his head, and he felt a wistful longing. It was written by a cowboy, Chris Ledoux, from Kaycee, Wyoming, a man who was the real deal, not a plastic-hatted, costumed Nashville star playing a Japanese guitar. The song never failed to cast a dream-like spell over him. The space! No crowds! Nobody sharing their car radio with the world! He gave up television seven years ago, never to miss it and its demeaning commercials. So, a little less of civilization seemed appealing at times. The prairie life might not be too bad he would think - until his septuagenarian reality rose up before him. "Oh well", as a friend would say. Forget that! Too old for such a move. He still loved "Western Skies" though:
The Nashville friends think I'm strange to make my home out on the range
Think it's nothin' but a God forsaken land
I got peace of mind and elbow room I love the smell of sage in bloom
Just turn 'em loose in the western summer time
You ain't lived until you've watched those northern lights
So guess I'll stay right where I'm at, wear my boots and my cowboy hat
When I die you can bury me beneath these western skies, yippee
Songwriter: CHRIS LEDOUX
© THE BICYCLE MUSIC COMPANY
The lyrics were reality for Ledoux the cowboy; for Ledoux' fan they were a colorful fantasy, the myth of the West as someone called it.
So, when things felt a bit close he'd get his little canine partner in the Jeep and they'd ride for awhile - maybe over to the Cherokee Park Road to the Sand Creek Road and then head on up past Chimney Rock on the Wyoming border, all on pock-marked dirt roads. And after some dust and some bumps, some aspen groves, lots of sage brush, and miles of fence wire, there before them lay the great spaces! Openness - and nobody within hollering distance. Gentle rolling countryside and distant mountains offering a sense of mystery about what is beyond! Ranchers and a few part-time city refugees scattered themselves across this vastness without serious disturbance of the land. A trait of folks living in this country is a feeling of claustrophobia if they can't see seven miles in every direction. Driving along slowly, he related to that feeling.
With the Snowy Range and Medicine Bow Peak on the horizon and miles between, he stopped and killed the Jeep's engine so he could listen to and feel the wind and smell the sage. As vast as the ocean and as quiet as a hardwood forest! He wondered if people might have to be a little bit crazy to live out here. Maybe! But they don't shoot each other as quickly as their more crowded urban brethren. Humans are usually pretty close to each other when they pull the trigger, so open prairie crazy might be different from close-in urban crazy in a nice sort of way. Maybe just different!
After a long reflective pause while drinking his fill of these western skies and all beneath them, he at last cranked the Jeep and followed the winding road past the ranch houses, past the community mail boxes and on out to the highway. Like Odysseus bound to the ship's mast, he slipped away from the sirens' call of the prairie and headed back to home and reality. It was a good trip! His friend was sleeping.
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