"There is not in all America a more dangerous trait than the deification of mere smartness unaccompanied by any sense of moral responsibility." -Teddy Roosevelt
The roosters flushed fifty yards ahead of the Honda as I tore through the vast North Dakota countryside on my way back to Colorado. The early morning sun rose in my rearview mirror, as I watched the birds scatter when they hit the ground. Leaving their grit in fear, they now ran for the protection of a shelter belt that seemed ill equipped to protect an aging farmhouse from another honest North Dakota winter. But what do I know? I had just finished a cup of Starbuck’s coffee and a couple of doughnuts. It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that I have been removed from this place for too long to have the first clue of what it takes to survive on the prairie. I have lost that privilege, and time has left me acutely aware of that fact. Maybe that’s why I choose to appreciate this landscape now. Or even more to the point, the landscape in which direction the Honda was running frantically back to.
The “American West” wears many different hats. To some, the west is an iconic landscape that defines the American spirit, to others it is home, while some rely on the land as a simple way to earn a living. The west is gracious in its generosity, offering life through its toughness to those willing enough to appreciate its gift. And selfishly, the west offers something I couldn’t find or wasn’t looking for back home, opportunity.
As a fly fisherman who relies on public land to fuel his passion, the west feels too big to comprehend, maybe even too big to fully appreciate. But that doesn’t mean the trout that call these blue lines home aren’t appreciated. And as maps have been drawn to show such lines, a fisherman has surely strung up a rod to prove himself right. And who can ignore the fact that most of the wild fish we catch from the west reproduce in public water, we own that responsibility. That’s a humbling thought for those willing to care enough to make sure the next generation has the same amount of, or more opportunities than the one’s passing through before them. Needless to say I care about these fish, and I care about our land. After all, I have shared ownership.
Political winds blow hard during election years, and seldom align perfectly with the values of the people for which speech writers and pundits entertain. Red, blue, green, or other, it doesn’t matter. Common sense needs a place at the table. It was disheartening to listen to Mitt Romney last week, discuss his idea of value as it pertained to public land in the west:
“…“I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land…I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada. And when I was in Utah at the Olympics there I heard a similar refrain there. What they were concerned about was that the government would step in and say, “We’re taking this” — which by the way has extraordinary coal reserves — “and we’re not going to let you develop these coal reserves.” I mean, it drove the people nuts. Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land. So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land, so I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m about to hand it over.” But where government ownership of land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable…”Forget about the thousands of jobs that rely on these public lands, the tourism and recreational dollars that are spent appreciating these places, and the western way of life which helps define us as a nation. If small business isn’t big business, it goes unnoticed, unless spoken at some town hall political rally. What we own is more important that. These public lands are more important than dollar signs waiting to be further exploited by special interests and political favor, and our natural assets should not be leveraged on the backs of a generation yet to experience places like the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Moab, Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, the Poudre, or any of the other places that capture an imagination as to what America is supposed to be.
My name is Sean, and I’m a fly fisherman from Colorado. I take advantage of the opportunities provided to me through the taxes I pay to fly fish here in the west. For that, I am thankful.
Watch Mitt Romney discuss the west here (19:30 is where the quote from this post comes into play): Video
Or, read his quote here: Article
*This blog is not intended to be my outlet for political commentary. As someone who occasionally watches the news and reads a newspaper, there are things I read or hear that I can’t shake, for one reason or another. This just happened to be one of them. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, it doesn’t matter, we all fish the same water.