Wallace Stegner's collection of essays Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs is a delightful book, brimming with insights and personal stories that serve as an homage to the time Stegner spent in the American West. By far my favorite essay was Stegner's letter to his late mother, entitled "Letter, Much Too Late," which starts, simply, with the words, "Mom, listen." It's gorgeous and heartbreaking.
Some of my favorite quotes from the various essays:
A young frontier gathers every sort of migrant, hope-chaser, roughneck, trickster, incompetent, misfit, and failure.
There are two things that growing up on a belated western frontier gave me: an acquaintance with the wild and wild creatures, and a delayed guilt in my part in their destruction.
For two weeks at a time we might see no one but ourselves; and when our isolation was broken, it was generally broken by a lonesome Swedish homesteader who came over ostensibly to buy eggs, but more probably to hear the sound of a human voice. We welcomed him. We were as hungry for the sound of a human voice as he was.
I was full to the eyes with my region's physical, sensuous beauty, and submissive to its brutal weathers, and familiar, in ridicule or respect, with its drunken cowboys and its ranting newspaper editors and its limp English barristers incapable of any spoken syllable more complex than "Haw!"
It is not an unusual life-curve for Westerners - to live in and be shaped by the bigness, sparseness, space, clarity, and hopefulness of the West, to go away for study and enlargement and the perspective that distance and dissatisfaction can give, and then return to what pleases the sight and enlists the loyalty and demands the commitment.
How simple and memorable a good day can be when expectation is low!
Aridity, more than anything else, gives the western landscape its character.
You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale; you have to understand geological time.
The West has had a way of warping well-carpentered habits, and raising the grain on exposed dreams.
It should not be denied either, that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led west.