Space represents sanity, not a life purified, dull, or “spaced out” but one that might accommodate intelligently any idea of situation.
From the clayey soil of northern Wyoming is mined bentonite, which is used as a filler in candy, gum, and lipstick. We Americans are great on fillers, as if what we have, what we are, is not enough. We have a cultural tendency toward denial, but, being affluent, we strangle ourselves with what we can buy. We have only to look at the houses we build to see how we build against space, the way we drink against pain and loneliness. We fill up space as if it were a pie shell, with things whose opacity further obstructs our ability to see what is already there.
Though the rightness of anything had long since vanished, I had a chemical reaction to this old-fashioned ranching community. I was loved, hated, flirted with, tolerated. I fitted in.
“Cowboys are just like a pile of rocks – everything happens to them. They get climbed on, kicked, rained and snowed on, scuffed up by wind. Their job is ‘just to take it’.” one old-timer told me.
But here I am, and unexpectedly, my noctambulist’s world has returned. Not in the sense that I still walk in my sleep – such restlessness has left me – but rather the intimacy with what is animal in me returned. To live and work on a ranch implicates me in new ways: I have blood on my hands and noises in my throat that aren’t human.
What makes westerners leery of “outsiders” – townspeople and city-slickers – is their patronizing attitude towards animals. “I don’t know what in the hell makes those guys think they’re smarter than my horse. Nothing I see them do would make me believe it,” a cowboy told me.
Animals hold us to what is present: who we are at the time, not who we’ve been or how our bank accounts describe us. What is obvious to an animal is not the embellishment that fattens our emotional resumes but what;s bedrock and current in us: aggression, fear, insecurity, happiness, or equanimity. Because they have the ability to read our involuntary ticks and scents, we’re transparent to them and thus exposed – were finally ourselves.
All winter we skate the small ponds – places that in summer are water holes for cattle and sheep – and here a reflection of mind appears, sharp, vigilant, precise. Thoughts, bright as frostfall, skate through our brains. In winter consciousness looks like an etching.
Lovers, farmers and artists have one thing in common, at least – a fear of “dry spells”, dormant periods in which we do no blooming, internal droughts only the waters of imagination and psychic release can civilize. All such matters are delicate of course. But a good irrigator knows this: too little water brings on the weeds while too much degrades the soil the way too much easy money can trivialize a person’s initiative.
My review of The Solace of Open Spaces