By Kristin Bucher
I’m not a big-city person. I spent much of my childhood in Wichita, KS (hardly a major metropolis), then moved to a string of small and medium-size towns in various parts of the country. I don’t much care for congestion and skyscrapers and bustle. So when I first landed in Houston, TX, I was in for a bit of culture shock. I think it was the preponderance of strip malls and concrete that overwhelmed me most. But it’s amazing what you can get used to. At some point during my 12-year stint as a Texan, the big city started to feel normal and small towns became the oddity. I’d travel to them and find myself missing the 24-hour drugstore and the hundreds of restaurants to choose from.
Then I moved to Denver, CO, and my parents moved to a rural area outside of Fort Collins, CO. Their house is near the top of a narrow, winding dirt road, a mile and 1,000 feet uphill from where the pavement ends. Neighbors are relatively few and far between. Their visitors have included a dozen deer at a time, a red fox, and a black bear. Once when I was visiting, I watched a hawk eat a snake while perched atop a telephone pole. This kind of thing, as you can imagine, was not a common sight in the urban jungle. And my folks—former suburban dwellers themselves—weren’t prepared for just how different rural life would be.
Nor were they prepared for how quickly they would form a bond with the other residents on the road. They moved in a February snowstorm; when the moving truck couldn’t make it up the hill, the folks two doors down took them in for over a week. When one neighbor gets stuck coming up the hill in a blizzard, another goes down in his four-wheel-drive truck with the chains on and pulls him out with a rope. These are independent types—they’ve chosen this rural lifestyle for a reason, after all—but they also know the value of sticking together and helping each other out.
I got to thinking about all of this while working on this special issue on classic western art. My folks, of course, are hardly ranchers or cowboys. But in this new environment, they’ve experienced a bit of the resourcefulness and self-sufficiency that helps define the westerners who appear in our pages. And these same qualities are part of what makes the West so appealing to so many people, whether they’re fortunate enough to live here or not. I’ve always admired those attributes myself. But now that I’m close enough to see them in action, my appreciation grows even stronger.
Featured in March 2007