My mom, Cherie - circa 1942, in Rifle, CO.
My daughter, Laurel - circa 2007, in Avila Beach, CA.
Their visual resemblance at that age feels uncanny to me. Laurel has a wee bit o' the Persian side of our family asserting, more like my brother and sister do.
Sixty five years. Thirteen hundred kilometers. Yours truly, gratefully in-between.
Laurel's photo by Flo Leibert
Out on the Western Slope of Colorado, great mountains spill their bowels into a vast desert. Standing at one point along the Colorado River, one's view up the mountain is filled with snow-capped peaks, while downriver the view opens into a desert scene of mesa, scattered now with vineyards emerging out of near-Martian dust. Arriving out of France, out of Canada, out of Iowa, my people settled there. Open range cowboys. French mostly, with a wee bit o' Irish, plus a few blue-blooded Brits "gone native", along for the ride. Mountain people, ranchers, "rugged individuals".
You'll wreck in hell to leave me out. When me you fly, I am the wings.
The road to the Western Lands is by definition the most dangerous road in the world, for it is a journey beyond death, beyond the basic god-standard of fear and danger.
It is the most heavily guarded road in the world, for it gives access to the gift that supersedes all other gifts, the gift of Immortality.
Meriwether Lewis, one of our blood kin, led his expedition across the continent in a lifestyle not terribly unlike how my grandfather lived, how my uncle is said to still live, way off the grid.
Along that same blood line, my great grandmother's great uncle, Oscar Rush, chronicled the life in The Open Range, which J. Frank Dobie praised as "a sensitive range man's response to natural things". Part of the canon of Southwestern literature. Oscar was born before the start of the Civil War and lived up until the beginnings of World War II. I can only image the contrasts he experienced, but thankfully I have in my hands one of his own copies of the book as a guide.
The road to the Western Lands is devious, unpredictable. Today's easy passage may be tomorrow's deathtrap. The obvious road is almost always a fool's road. And beware the middle roads, the roads of moderation, common sense, and planning. However, there is a time for planning, moderation, and common sense.
Out in that land, my sister tends a ranch on the banks of the Colorado, not far from where our grandparents in their day raised some of the most prized Angus bulls in the West.
A mountain burns nearby, has burned for more than a century from a coal mine fire. Cul tir was the origin of our family name in Celtic, back in County Sligo and stretching further into Prehistory. Back on the green coast where Yeats learned his love of verse. Black lands, filled with coal, which burn and choke the air.
A dangerous road. Every pitfall, every error, every snare to which every man has been liable since the beginning, you are sure to meet on the road to the Western Lands.
These days the landscape is littered by the flotsam of drilling rigs and the human litter of petroleum search crews. I wonder what they'll find searching beneath our family detritus?
My other grandfather likely hid my father there, following WWII and manufactured revolution sweeping through our corner of Central Asia. Following the rise of the Soviet Union, and the incursion of the UK and US into the Middle East. Other petroleum search crews, striving beneath that other part of our family detritus. Out there on the Western Slope, it must have seemed safe, remote, unreachable by our enemies -- compared with the intrigues of Tehran or Paris or Moscow. My other grandfather was wise to imagine it, but my father was brave to embrace it.
To reach the Western Lands is to achieve freedom from fear. Can you free yourself from fear by cowering in your physical body for eternity? Your body is a boat, to lay aside when you reach the far shore. Or sell it if you can find a fool. It's full of holes. It's full of holes.
It is a black land, a land of terribly bloody history, of battles larger than could be imagined on the Eastern coast. Our family cannot hide from that dharma. Perhaps the thirsty majestic mountains themselves demand it as tribute for tolerating our mortal kind in their shadows. And so they burn.
I want to reach the Western Lands. It's right in front of you across the bubbling brook. It's a frozen sewer. It's known as the Duad, remember? All the filth and horror, fear, hate, disease, and death of human history flows between you and the Western Lands.
On the banks of the roaring Colorado river, beneath the shadow of peaks, watching a sunset over the mesas, my sister stood in white, presiding. I gathered my two young daughters close, to brace them from fear. Our family fired a twenty one gun salute -- via .44 magnum no less, as one might only expect from French cowboys gone feral in the American West. A small raft lit aflame and floated quietly downriver, our tribute to my nephew, Lennon, as his wake. "Daddy, is that for the boy who died?" my oldest daughter asked. My younger daughter gathered rocks, unflinching. Neither seemed to fear, from either weapons firing or our ritual celebrating death. As by the blood coursing downriver through their veins, would likely so.
How long does it take a man to learn that he does not, cannot want what he "wants?"
You have to be in Hell to see Heaven. Glimpses from the Land of the Dead, flashes of serene timeless joy, a Joy as old as suffering and despair.
with kudos to WSB, Material, and the neteru