First of all: you need to check out this album. Created by my friends Tyler, Adrienne and Amanda (with contributions from several other people, including me), it is the perfect encapsulation of how I feel about the west and the apocalypse.
It’s easier to believe in the end of the world when you’re out west.
Whether you’re staring into a pit of boiling mud so alkaline that it could melt your skin off Raiders of the Lost Ark-style if you fell in, or hiking underneath a 6-million-pound boulder perched on a slender neck of sandstone you can scratch with your finger, or coughing through the smoke of several million acres of forest up in flames, or simply riding along the empty hills— miles upon miles of scrub and sand and stone— with no food or water in sight, it’s easy for your mind to wander toward thoughts of destruction and chaos and the end of all things.
You see a pronghorn antelope trotting through the sagebrush; all the giant predators that hunted it during the ice age are extinct. You see a mountain meadow; a mile-deep glacier scraped over it eons ago, scalping the landscape down to bedrock. You see an interesting rock formation along the beach; a volcano spewed them here and heated them into jelly. The earth has been through so much violence, so much upheaval. What makes us think that we, with our little human inventions, could be safe from something at the scale of nature? All of Yellowstone is a sleeping supervolcano, and it won’t sleep forever.
“When Yellowstone blows up,” Kate told me at the farm in Idaho, “Billy and I are getting in our truck and driving toward the light.”
It doesn’t sound like a bad way to go.
Right now, much of the country is on fire, and some of it is underwater, or soon to be underwater. I look at the pictures wide-eyed: as much as I love the idea of resilience and self-reliance, all the canned goods and garden systems in the world can be swept away in a moment and smashed.
Yet here I am at my home in Missouri, balanced on top of a fault line, my house protected from the longest river in North America by a six-foot wall of dirt, and I put black-eyed susans into a mason jar because I think it looks pretty. The familiarity of Missouri keeps my mind safe from the apocalypse of the west. The cornfields protect me from the end of the world even as they cause it.
The sky is full of smoke, the earth is full of water, and I’m caught in between, trying to live life as best I can.
If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.
Keep planting trees, everyone.