The east is history. The west is myth. (Tales of two: east and west)

This morning here we are on the FTL flight to LAX, heading west. The west: romantic, epic, and mythological. The west, prolonging the morning. Keeping the day young.

In the pre-Columbian past, east and west didn’t exist in these terms, not like we think of them today. To the Europeans, all of America might have been equally mysterious and untamed; and to the natives, it being tamed or untamed wasn’t a concept. To everyone, the entire continent might have seemed equally vast and abundant.

The indigenous communities across America likely didn’t look at it in terms of what they could take. The Europeans did. They urbanized the east. The history of that change is well documented, and it lives in the towns and cities far more prevalent there east of the Mississippi River; and so most of the American history we learn in school takes place in that part of the country. The thirteen colonies, the American Revolution and most of the Civil War.

Urbanization wasn’t quite as successful in the west. Those settlers there were up against greater odds. Contact between settlements was more scarce because resources were more scarce. Water especially. Native communities likely ran into similar problems when they first settled in the west. They adapted to it better than the Americans.

It’s the land itself that makes any sustained human settlement more impressive a story. The land that makes the west more dramatic to us, still to this day. More mysterious. More wild. The land which to this day reigns supreme, despite all our illusions to the contrary.

The east is history. The west is myth. The myth lives on. Not as great as before, but still there. Linked directly to our continued attempts to live in harmony with the land, and our recurring difficulty in doing so.

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