March 7, 1993. Between Silt and Rifle, Colo., on Interstate 70, traveling along the Colorado River basin. Early morning, heading west.
A bright, sharp morning, blue sky, the snow against the north slopes of ridges salt-and-peppering the landscape with junipers and sage. On the high slopes, dark patches of fir tuck themselves under cornices of snow.Four lanes of interstate peel out in a long, rippling ribbon over which we glide like a whispering miracle. Out the window to the right, leafless cottonwoods, steeped in winter, hold patiently to the banks of the river. Along the shore, thin skiffs of ice shimmer in the new sun. Against a far backwater, several Canadian geese, with their distinctive coloring of gray, white and black, hold firm for the moment below a broad sky that opens flyways north and south.
Last night in the restaurant in Vail, several people in the next booth conversed in German. In the lobby, a group of young kids from Ireland were checking in, skis and soft luggage slung brightly over shoulders and piled in the middle of the floor so that we had to step through and around it.
I remember how differently I saw my hometown of Alpine when Trevor moved there in the early '70s. Through his eyes, the mountain panoramas took on new meaning. What had once been mundane from familiarity suddenly took on shape and substance unfathomed when seen through someone else's eyes.
Everything seemed new down to the subtlest of details: the way the sun slipped down the side of the mountains at sunset, the deep canyons sliced into being by millennia of water wearing away.
The West is like that now, for those of us who are Westerners.
Steeped in the low self-esteem of backwater perspective for a hundred years, we imagined the world of substance as somewhere else - anywhere else - beyond the wide spaces where farmhouses struggled to make the big land feel less empty of human contact.
Like it or not, however, we have come of age.
The rest of the world is suddenly talking about the West and coming to visit - in many instances, coming to stay, to make it home.
Drawn by the wide spaces and the high sky, they see the uniqueness of it with different eyes than we have always viewed it with. The long, boring stretches between home and the rest of the world have become vistas of enchantment, which even we Westerners are more enamored with as we see them in a new light.
When Tony was visiting us from Denmark a few years ago, he told us that his suppressed desire was to get on a big Harley motorcycle and drive forever along a highway that ran straight across flat desert country into an ever-disappearing horizon.
Having crossed the desert going all four directions out of Utah many times by automobile, it was almost impossible to imagine anything romantic about Tony's wish, even if it were done on a motorcycle - until I thought about it for awhile.
This morning, driving along the Colorado, the image takes on a certain richness. The broad and familiar country of home seems more and more profound when seen as if through someone else's eyes - someone from flat Atlanta or history-ridden Amsterdam.
The brown runoff from the high country takes on the richness of a song; the white-tailed deer we pass from time to time, grazing on the low scrubby hillsides, become a poem of more universal dimensions than I ever viewed them as a child.
Dennis Smith is an artist and writer living in Highland, Utah County.