Monday, October 8, 2012

Welcome to that Old Place Just West of My Heart

The old west is still alive in many places -- some real, some imagined, some contrived.  It's still alive on some of the remaining ranches that sprawl across the countryside, where "the old way" of doing things is still the right way.  It's alive in some of the small towns where gimpy cowboys greet the day telling stories to (and on) each other at the main street cafe.  It's alive in fictitious places, on the pages of books we love, in scenes of movies we watch again and again, and on the computer monitor before your eyes.  It's alive inside many of us -- and that's why I've chosen to call this little virtual place "just west of my heart."

I'm well into the middle ages of my own western love affair.  I love the history, the trappings, the old-school western crafts, the vistas, the creatures, and the kindred spirits who share this passion.  As an Arizona native, I was privileged to grow up in a much-more-western west, surrounded by open space, ranches, and the gritty, self-reliant individuals these places spawned.  Dad moved here to the desert as a young man, thirsty for the lifestyle and the land; whether nature or nurture, his love for the place and its past made its way into my own DNA.

Now, watching a little more bit of the west eaten up every day by soulless subdivisions and hungry asphalt, and seeing the values changing from self-reliance to dependence, I share the concerns of many westerners about the erosion of our lifestyle.  I find refuge in reliving the "old" west in many ways; daily time on horseback, tooling leather using the same techniques the masters of the past 150 years used, or researching the history in person or in the pages of dusty out-of-print volumes.

This is the basis of the medley of western writing you'll find here:  some personal experiences, some memories, some tales gleaned from the archives, some hard facts, and some sweeping opinions.  There might be an interview here and there, or an essay on the then-and-now contrast.  You won't find too much emphasis on the commercialized west; there are enough magazines devoted to selling you stuff.  Neither will you find constant retelling of the same five gun battles; here, we'll focus on more obscure lore.  I like John Wayne's movies, but John Wayne wasn't a cowboy; I'm more interested in what a cowboy has to say about a western movie than in what a movie cowboy has to say about the west.  I find the old ways and commonplace routines of the real west far more fascinating than the retold and resold Hollywood west.  The shopkeepers and schoolmistresses, the butchers and blacksmiths, are the characters with a more authoritative voice than those who filled the big screen with tin badges and artful dialogue.

I hope you'll enjoy returning to that old place with me -- it isn't glamorous and it isn't always pretty.  It's always dusty and sometimes bloody, but it's authentic.  It's still here, just west of my heart.

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