Living in the Runaway West

Fulcrum Publishing, 2000

Compiled by the Editors of High Country News

Foreword by Timothy Egan

The best stories about all the changes underway in the American West are told by people who are close to the land itself. That is the greatest strength of the Writers on the Range. While reading these essays, I could almost feel the wind blowing through a poorly insulated house, or the stare of a pinch-faced, Gothic politician. –Timothy Egan

From my essay, “Of Cathedrals and Petroglyphs”:

Why is it, I wonder as I watch a moment of fitful January sun pour through the stained-glass windows high overhead at Chartres, that we can so easily perceive the importance of this Gothic cathedral yet fail to see the same sacred qualities in the West Mesa petroglyphs? Imagine the French government proposing to slice through Chartres Cathedral to improve traffic flow. Ludicrous. What blindness afflicts our vision of Petroglyph National Monument?

I am a Quaker, part of a religious tradition that embraces simplicity in religious practices and our lives. Quakers worship in plain “meetinghouses” rather than churches and would no more build elaborate cathedrals than carve fantastic petroglyphs. Yet I can respect the faith that inspires spiritual traditions different from my own. More than that, my Quakerism is enriched and deepened by contact with the sacred places and practices of other cultures and religions. As threads in the diverse human experience, Chartres Cathedral and the petroglyphs of Petroglyph National Monument are equally part of the spiritual inheritance of all human beings, no matter what our backgrounds. 

I am reminded of a sign in the Cathedral of Saint Francis in Santa Fe: “This is a sacred place. Please behave accordingly.” I want to inscribe those words in huge letters in the blue sky above the escarpment of West Mesa, over Petroglyph National Monument, for all to see and heed.