digital painting from a photo I took in Eastern Oregon of a cattle drive--
yes, they still have them
"I should apologize to you, Phil," Nancy said as soon as everyone was seated again. "It must have sounded like an accusation the way I put my question. I didn't mean it that way." She smiled a gamine grin that Phillip thought would have made it nearly impossible for anyone to take offense at what she'd said.
"We are defensive though," Emile said, leaning forward, his voice intense. "Outsiders come here, buy up the land, move into the valleys and hills, and they don't understand our ways, share our values. They don’t understand the problems we face with say wolf or grizzly predations. They want us gone is the honest truth and leave this place for vacation homes and the wolves and grizzlies.”
“I have read about the conflicts,” Phillip agreed, “and see how it seems confrontive.”
“It causes a lot of trouble when newcomers or worse outsiders expect to change everything to meet their goals-- often nothing to do with what this place has been. If they didn’t like how this was, why’d they bother to come?"
“Everybody came sometime,” Phillip argued.
“Outsiders cause us a lot of grief.”
"Outsiders. That's a good word for the way you people treat anybody who wasn't born on your land."
"Oh my, I'm sorry I ever brought any of this up," Nancy said.
Phillip made his own tone conciliatory. "I'll concede the evils of the big cities with high taxes, crime, pollution, and overcrowding, but how about if we keep this discussion to the thing I really don't understand. What is the philosophy that you people see as being Western, that separates a Westerner from what you would call an outsider?" He had no desire to get into an argument with Emile. On the other hand, fighting with Wes might have a certain appeal. His eyes narrowed as he looked toward Wes, who had settled next to Helene on the gingham covered sofa. What were that guy's intentions?
Emile subsided back, as Nancy, who had moved to sit on the arm of his chair, began soothingly kneading his shoulder muscle.
There was a silence "A lot of the ways around here have changed, even since I was a kid," Amos said finally. "There was a time when a man was judged by what he did not just what he owned. There wasn't so much concern with how much money you had, but more how you did your work, what your word was worth. You know, even now with some of the old timers, a handshake is as good or better than a paper contract would be somewhere else. In fact, with a lot of men, you never get a signed contract. A man's word, that's everything. Know what I mean?"
"Maybe. I deal with people a lot on the look in their eye," Phillip said thoughtfully. "It doesn't always work out though when you don't have the expectations written down. People remember their promises differently."
Amos grinned. "Well, that's true most everywhere, I expect, but if a man's worked the winter at your side, you've watched his kids grow up, seen how he keeps his stock, how he maintains his fences, you get a feeling for him and the kind of fella he is. A man who can do does. A man who can't brags.”
“I’ve noticed that last one too.” Phillip smiled but didn’t look at Wes as he had been tempted.
"We do come out here from other places, heck, if we count our families, all of us came from someplace else, but there’s always been those who weren’t born here. They come in and that’s where the grain gets separated from the chaff.
“Some overgraze their land, don’t treat their cattle right, and then go belly up. Gone and good riddance. Now we got those what don’t come to make money or ranch. It’s an investment to them. The place goes out of production. They don’t care about the schools, the socials, none of it.”
“And that relates to being a cowboy?” Phillip asked.
“We got a saying out here--the bigger the hat, the littler the outfit.” Amos chuckled.
“I think though,” Nancy said, “you're not so much asking what makes the West what it is, but more what is we out here are trying so hard to hold onto and that we feel is threatened by newcomers."
Phillip nodded. "It is something of what I have wondered."
"Some of it's a feeling of self-sufficiency in the community,” Emile answered. “It’s a caring for each other. A man takes care of himself but also helps out those around him. There’s knowing you can leave your door unlocked and if your neighbor comes by the only thing he'll be going into your house for is to leave you a pie or loaf of bread his wife baked."
"It sounds Edenic," Phillip said, remembering the neighborhoods he'd grown up in. If you left your door unlocked there, you'd find the place trashed and emptied out when you got home. If you were lucky, the burglar was gone and was not waiting to bash your head in.
"I suppose it is, and a lot of it's already gone,” Emile agreed. “When I was a kid, everybody used to get together at the county grange on Saturday nights for potlucks and at each other's barns for dances. Us kids would watch them dance all night, and the worst thing that would happen might be a couple of hotheads fighting over some pretty little thing down behind the barn. Then when they worked it out, they’d be shaking each other’s hand.”
Amos chuckled. “Yep, if a man's barn or house burned, the whole valley'd show up to put up a new one. You saw a fellow driving his rig down the road, and you not only knew who he was but who his people had been. Nowadays, I don't hardly know half the people three miles from my road in here, let alone all the way into town."
"You can't blame that totally on city people who moved in though," Phillip said. "Change happens. Nobody can hold onto anything forever."
"We can damn well try," Emile retorted argumentatively.
Amos shook his head. "No, he's right. We can't hold onto what was, and we probably do glamorize the old West too much, make more out of it than it was, like it really was John Wayne running things back then."
He stopped for a moment and then, as though thinking aloud, mused, "It's a funny thing about the Western way of thinking. On the one hand, it's a man helping another man by choice, but on the other hand, it's a man being independent, doing for himself. I think that's what we don't want to lose the most... independence."
"You don't think people from the city can be independent?" Phillip asked, knowing what the answer would be.
"City folks want somebody else to do everything for them," Wes said. "Get the government into every part of life. Raise taxes, ask for services. They want to butt into everybody else's business and tell them how to run it. You get a man from the city out here and the first thing you know he wants sidewalks, street lights and expects you to help pay for them."