by Tom Brokaw
Heart of Winter 2009
I am a child of the American West. I was raised on the prairie hard by the Missouri River, got my first rifle at age 10, fished every day in the summer months and in the fall and winter spent many a cold night in those cheap army blanket-lined sleeping bags.
In 1950, my father bought the only brand new car he ever owned, and as a family, we embarked on a wandering pilgrimage across Wyoming, through Yellowstone National Park, to the Great Salt Lake, into Nevada and on to California.
We were thrilled by the sight of antelope racing along fence lines, herds of majestic elk making their way slowly across mountain meadows and working cowboys pushing heifers and newborn calves to summer pastures.
As a young man, however, I decided to leave all that behind and head for the bright lights of big cities. I started my network career in California where my wife Meredith and I took long backpacking trips on the Pacific Crest. Even as my career was centered in cities, I longed to return to the West – and so I did. First, as an itinerant backpacker, occasional climber, hunter, angler and summer resident of Colorado, California, South Dakota and Montana.
In 1989, I decided the commitment had to be deeper, so Meredith and I bought into a ranch in Montana. In our corner, before a summer is out, we will see herds of antelope, elk, mulies. I’ll watch for a resident wolf pack and a pair of local coyotes. Lions will come through the ranch at the end of August looking for new groceries. The first bear sighting will continue a family ritual we share with our grandchildren. I’ll try to keep my friendly lab from rattlesnakes as big as gasoline hoses, and from that badger family with cute faces and vicious appetites. Bald and golden eagles will soar overhead. A brace of sandhill cranes will set up shop for the summer. I hope again this summer we’ll see the long-billed curlews in our tall grass. And the rainbow, cuts and browns will, I hope, rise to my PMDs, caddis or green drake.
America is looking to the American West as it hasn’t since the 19th century. Every issue of the 21st century is front and center in the West. Global climate change, energy, water, population expansion, immigration, economic enterprise and economic justice – balancing between human desires and needs and nature’s.