Since I was a young kid, I’ve wanted to own my slice of western folklore: a dude ranch.
I wanted a decent herd and a few horses, a good dog, a wife, an old truck, and a cabin sitting on a few thousand acres tucked beneath the Rocky Mountains with a stream somewhere in there. It’s the American Dream.
I’ve lived this mountain life (not the ranch life — I never did get my thousand acres with horses and cows. I did get the wife, the good dog, the old truck, and a stream, however) for a decade now. And, while I’ve learned a whole lot about life. The two things that have taught me the most about life are owning an old truck and living out west.
The lesson both of those things taught me: some things are better admired than owned.
Old trucks, I think everyone who has ever owned one would agree, are a labor of love. And they are laborious. Belt’s loose one day, a bolt’s jingling the next. A gasket is leaking one day, oil pan the next. The distributor is acting up on Tuesday, you fix it Wednesday, and then the head gasket is needing to be looked at on Saturday. “Well, the parts are cheap, at least,” you tell yourself on Sunday only to go over the budget on Monday with your wife and realize you’ve dumped $750 into your truck this month.
I’m currently in Big Timber, MT, staying on a working cattle ranch. The owners aren’t here because they’re off dealing with a wildfire. The entire ranch is engulfed in smoke, so much so that being outside for any amount of time will burn your eyes. The Crazies (the Crazy Mountains) are around here somewhere but you can’t see them for the smoke. The sun is hiding somewhere up there. Every once in a while you’ll get a glimpse of its bright orange blaze if the smoke clears up a bit.
Water is scarce in the west. So much so that there are wars (Hatfield and McCoy style) over it every summer. There’s not enough snowfall in the winters to sustain the people, cows, and crops. You know this if you read the news.
The west is getting worse. It seems like every summer heat waves are more intense, the fires are bigger and more deadly, the smoke is thicker and more oppressive.
A decade ago, the west was the dream. Now, the west is a hellscape.
We’re packing up and moving back south. For us, the west is better admired than owned, just like an old truck.