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A love letter to the American West

Jenny Johnston

Forget chocolate candies and flowers that fade. My heart belongs to the Great American West, to its history, folklore and unhurried, yet wild ways.

From grandpas to outlaws, I come from a long line of colorful cowboys, lovers and fighters of the West; the way it was won, the way it is and oftentimes like love itself, the dream of the way it could be again.

Like the Alpenglow on the tops of faraway places, my soul recalls that first blush of falling in love with horses, mountains and wide-open spaces, where dreams appear in clouds of hoof-stirred dust and silence reads stories to my soul.

Love is often drawn to difficult things, things that cause us to adapt, to accept and to find resilience despite the uncooperative nature of time. The West does not provide an easy love affair; there is hard work, long hours and its climate often unpredictable, hostile then welcoming all in the span of an afternoon. The West likes tradition and wears change like a flank strap bucking the inevitable.

Geographically, the West is the same. It’s the landscape that changes around us, tightening the diameter of the lariat and causing those of us who love the American West to band together closer than ever in an effort to preserve what remains.

The American West is a place that lives deep in the recesses of my heart, like a campfire, lighting the trail where those before me have been and illuminating the hoof prints, encouraging me to follow.

I love the West and all of its wild, untamed ways. I love the way the expanse of the high-desert allows me to feel like a tumbleweed in the wind, knowing that it’s OK to blow across the terrain with no disclosed destination in mind. I love the allure of both the trail and the thrill of the arena and watching my daughter ride and knowing we share the same love for the path ahead and the trail already blazed.

The Great American West is a love story for me, and I am waiting to see how it will play out in this chapter of my life. It’s a dance between the past and the future, one step forward and a hopeful two steps back.

Now more than ever, it seems imperative to pause and consider, that there is value in recognizing that to get to where we need to be, we must remember where we have come from. The hourglass of time sifts onward, no matter which direction we look from the saddle.

To love the Great American West, we must preserve it and not only see it for what it is, but for what it was and then determine what we want it to be.

How can we preserve what remains of our agricultural and Western heritage? Go to the County Fair and support the youth of 4-H and FFA, admire the cakes and canned goods and the quilts, pause for a moment to appreciate a look back in time to skills forgotten in this fast, fancy schmancy world. Better yet, introduce your children to 4-H and FFA.

You need not have 40 acres in your backyard to join, just an open place in your heart for the future of the land and animals that surround our community.

Go to the rodeo, buy a Frito Pie and a Coca-Cola, hold your hat over your heart and stand as the pretty cowgirl races around the fence line with the flag. Bow your head in prayer for the safety of the bull riders about to explode from the gates. Tell family stories of the way it was, and if you don’t have those stories in your lineage then listen to those who do and take them all in.

Just because it’s not your family history, it doesn’t mean it does not have familiar significance. History belongs to us all. The West is all of our responsibilities to love and preserve.

Jenny Johnston is a fourth generation Durango local, part-time rodeo announcer and full-time wrangler to two lil’ buckaroos.

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