On telling in the West

How to tell the story of two children tumbling through America? It all seemed so clear in the beginning: plans and outlines, step by step, moving forward in a more or less linear fashion. Best laid plans and all….

But the tightest stitches come undone in the Albuquerque desert sun. Minds mix and match on the patchwork quilt of art houses and rundown Santa Fe neighborhoods; our narratives get lost in the great stretches of sand dunes shifting under the Colorado moon. Laughter gets eclipsed by its own echoes across Pike’s Peak, or lays buried in the snow beneath Rabbit Ears Pass, 10,000 feet above a distant sea.

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At the brink of the Flaming Gorge, Utah. Photo by J. Max Hunt

How can I hope to capture the bitter cold that left us shuddering in Wyoming darkness on the ragged outskirts of old Green River, with only the constant screech of train whistles for companions? What words to paint a picture of the chasm of burning rocks sheared down into a gorge of fire, burning in the remoteness of Utah?

Utah! The promised Israel of the western tribe, all mountains and stunning vistas and weak-willed beer! Utah, who could marry themselves to your high deserts and ever leave again?

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Utah settles its lambs to sleep in the valley near Spanish Forks. Photo by J. Max Hunt

Or are we lost in the deadly heat of dry canyons nestled in a God-forsaken corner of Arizona? Our hearts plunge faster than elevations around the dry Virgin River into the wastes of Nevada heatstrokes and no-rain, with temperatures hovering near triple digits in the height of spring. Forever hot and barren, you, old dead sea, with blood-streams replacing your rivers to beat through the neon nights!

I wish I could paint you a picture of these moments in memory, patterned in details and devils. I wish I could write you a novel for each breath drawn at the edge of some new abyss of the American mythic west. But the west is a dream, after all, and crumbles into Pacific pebble beaches upon our restless waking.

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A desert painted red in a mirage near the conjunction of Utah, Arizona & Nevada. Photo by J. Max Hunt

If I told you, would you believe me? Or is it all written off as the tricks of the sleeping mind? My color palette does no justice. My camera lens is too small. And the all the vocabulary words in every book I’ve flipped through won’t do a damn thing to piece together this world of rock and cataclysm, perpetual movement and silent expanse, as restless creatures, we slip onward towards a dream called the “Pacific coast”– new pilgrims on an old frontier, babes in the wood, fledglings outlined on the Big Sky.

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Skies and eyes over New Mexico, mid day. Photo by J. Max Hunt

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