ered by only the thinnest layer of soil, ifrnby any. And above and beyond the landrnitself is the skv, where the cloud formationsrnapproximate the undedying terrainrnwith an amazing correspondence similarrnto ethereal reflection and five or six differentrnweather systems transpire together.rnWhen Jim Bridger, after a life of trappingrnand exploring in the MountainrnWest, recalled from the west-facingrnporch of a Kansas City boardinghousernhow it had been possible to “see forever”rnin that country, he anticipated WalkerrnPercy who, convalescing from tuberculosisrnin New Mexico almost a centuryrnlater, marveled at what he termed thern”pure possibility” of the West—a state ofrnmind that, for those susceptible to itsrnallure, swiftly becomes nearly as indispensablernto the spirit as air is to the body.rnAnd in a formedy wide-open continentrnwhere space is increasingly constricted,rnthis openness—compounded in the socialrnstructure and identity of the AmericanrnWest—is more and more at a premium.rnAfter a centurv and a half, the temptationrnto glamorize life in the West persistsrneven though the glamour never existedrnoutside the imaginations ofrnnon-Western observers—perhaps it isrnmore accurate to say that the glamour ofrnthe West is and always has been an absencernof glamour epitomized by thernstrenuous workaday existence of thernfrontier, relieved slightly by importedrnEastern fashions and amusements. Atrnone level contemporary Western culture,rninformed by the national television andrnradio networks and shaped by the soundrnstudios of Nashville and the I lollywoodrnproducers and scriptwriters, is indistinguishablernfrom that of the rest of thernUnited States. Modernity has establishedrna beachhead here, even if for therntime being at least it is mainly restrictedrnto the educational establishment, thernwelfare bureaucracy, and the media—rnthe only havens in the Republican Rockiesrnfor our homegrown moderns, whorntake their cues from the National Organizationrnfor Women and the Clintonrnadministration while remaining, likernmodernists everywhere, blissfully ignorantrnthat modernism for most of thisrncentury has been the fundamental instinctrnof the American middle class tornwhom they consider themselves superior.rnAt other levels, however, the West trailsrnthe national culture by several generations,rna lag that is probably attributablernto its closeness to nature, its pre-postindustrialrnand agricultural labor force, andrnits sparse population. The average Westernerrn—man, woman, or adolescent—rnknows how to break and ride a horse,rnhandle a rifle competently, track, shoot,rnand butcher an elk, fell a tree with arnchain saw, build a house, repair an engine,rnmake fence, and construct a wildernessrncamp, as well as how to treat hisrnneighbor. (Last summer a man ran hisrncar off a typically lonely stretch of highwayrnin Wyoming and waited until twornmen in a pickup truck offered him a liftrnto the nearest town. He accepted theirrnoffer and drew a gun on them severalrnmiles down the road, shot them torndeath, robbed the corpses, and stole therntruck, hi a region where many statesrnhave mandatory good Samaritan laws onrnthe books in recognition of the perennialrnhazards of severe weather, inhospitablernterrain, and remoteness from humanrnhabitation, such a betrayal ofrncommon trust is the West’s unpardonablernsin.) Glamorous or not, Westernrnlife continues to reflect a kind of realityrnthat has been almost completelv expungedrnfrom the thoroughly modernizedrnportions of North America.rnSocially speaking, of course, thernAmerican West is no more than the sumrnof the rest of the country, transportedrncrumb by earthy crumb in the bootsolesrnof pioneers from the pine forests of NewrnEngland, the mountain slopes of Tennessee,rnthe Mississippi bottomlands, andrnthe rich black prairies of Indiana. If thernWesterner really exists as a type it is arntype of character he represents, not arntype of culture or even an amalgamationrnof cultures. Marc Reisner, in hisrnsuperb history of water policy in thernAmerican West, Cadillac Desert, speculatesrnthat the mountain men who ^vcrernthe first white explorers of the regionrndiscouraged rather than encouraged itsrnsettlement by their subsequent tales ofrnadventure: “You could live off the land inrnbetter years, but the life of a trapper, arnhunter, a fortune seeker—the only typernof life that seemed possible in thernWest—was not what the vast majority ofrnAmericans sought.” Nor is Westernrnlife—the thing itself, not the life of Vailrnor Jackson or Santa Fe—what the majorityrnof modern Americans want, as opposedrnto most Westerners who do notrnmake their homes in places like Rangcly,rnColorado, Moab, Utah, Kenimerer,rnWyoming, or Creat Falls, Montana becausernsome giant corporation based inrnHouston sent them there.rnThe typical man or woman of thernRocky Mountain West, though not opposedrnto “progress” and appreciati’e ofrnthe goods and creature comforts thatrn”progress” supplies, retains a commitmentrnto an ideal that “progress” directlvrnopposes and threatens. Call it hypocris}-,rncall it naive romanticism, call it haveyour-rncake-and-eat-it-too: the fact is thatrnwhen the West, challenged by the assaultrnof the Clinton people, promises tornfight rather than surrender its accustomedrnstyle of living, its protests ringrntrue in a way that similar declarationsrnfrom other parts of the country—California,rnfor instance, or the South—dornnot. Westerners are indeed Americansrnand, being Americans, are “progressives,”rnbut they are not moderns and are likelyrnto become less modern in the foreseeablernfuture, under pressure. As Americansrnthey continue to welcome capitalrnfrom outside the region as well as therncontributions newcomers make to thernlocal tax base; as Westerners they arernmade nervous by the arrival of strangersrnwith their epicene manners and clothes,rntheir determination to gentrify traditionalrnfolkways and practices, and theirrnhalf-hope that the bust phase routinelyrnsucceeding the Western boom will sendrnthem packing back where the’ camernfrom. Though such ambiguity is obviouslyrnnot restricted to the West, it doesrnseem to run deeper here than elsewhere,rnwhile—so far, anyway—modern attitudesrnhave not succeeded in prevailingrnover traditional ones as they have in thernrest of the United States.rnThis state of affairs may not last, ofrncourse. The South has its tragic past; thernWest may well have its tragic future.rnThen again, it may not. “You can’t stoprnprogress” is a hoary American saying tornwhich the vast majority of Americansrnstill subscribe. But progress can stoprnprogress and probably will, sooner or later;rnand if we in the Rocky MountainrnWest are fortunate (we have been quiternfortunate for a century and a half now),rnthe huge humming dynamo that HenryrnAdams despised will run down beforernour unique high-country civilization isrntotally destroyed. It is something to prayrnfor, and if prayer doesn’t work, there arernother means available. Until then, thernWest remains a place dedicated to thernproposition that all men are not createdrnmodern. As long as it remains so, my fellowrnWesterners and I are here for thernduration. And maybe even beyond.rnWhere, after all, would we go? crn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn