My Heart Lives in the Golden West

jojo lambdin
6 min readJun 16, 2022
Photo by Cayetano Gil on Unsplash

People from the American West have been told all our lives that our immediate families ventured out into the unknown. They left all safety and known factors for us. Though this is a false and harmful narrative; one which is a proud song of primary school: those from the West are encouraged to celebrate their ancestors’ ventures away from all familiar and navigable cultures.

We, from the vast West have been told all of our lives: life is for our taking, and we may pursue any and everything which makes our hearts happy. Our ancestors went West to seek greatness. They went willingly to the land of great danger, and hard decisions. But this same land’s landscape held great beauties. The American West is a land of rushing rivers, looming mountains, and fertile land. Our ancestors set out west eagerly, because the land was waiting to house a stake, and waited with anticipation as American flags broke her skin, and she was claimed and owned. Our grandparents and great-grandparents braved the unknown for the sake of new experiences. Their labored efforts ensured a bountiful future unto which their offspring could flourish in ways our great-great grandparents could never have imagined for themselves.

I am similar to a desert. I grew up in the desert: in the heart of the Golden West. I was raised at the end of the Oregon Trail, where all known roads ended. I was born upon the spot where ghosts once living decided their own fate, apart from the established towns, roads, and communities. It is difficult not to let the desert become part of who you are: the desert has taught me valuable lessons with the knowledge that I will incorporate her philosophies throughout my life.

Parts of life which introduce themselves, with a confidence I could only hope to see within myself, are harsh, dry, and barren. However, I have learned that first appearances are deceiving, because so soon, those parts of life which you had hoped to avoid for the sake of your own sanity then themselves to be truly beautiful and full of life one cannot unknow such beauty. Once the desert reveals her secrets to you, she has asked you to welcome her and incorporate herself into the most beautiful parts of who you are. The desert is now part of me, and always will be, because I have known the desert called out to my great-grandparents, and the desert asked my ancestors to trust that the desert would protect our family.

The desert has been home to millions of people for thousands of years. The desert of the American West teaches you to be open to the parts of life that don’t seem so beautiful. Those things which present themselves so incorrectly asharsh and barren, and discouraging, build their own home, as our ancestors once did, and burrow themselves in the most expensive parts of who we are: they allow us to interact in our most beautiful selves when the rest of our energy has been drained and depleted by the rest of life.

As a child, I was captivated by a movie about a family who welcomes a new wife and stepmother from the east coast into the deserts of the west, during a severe drought. The children, who grew up in the desert, were accustomed to the ways of life in such conditions; namely the lack of water to drink and the relentless heat followed by freezing nights. The children knew the ways to conserve resources, as it was a necessity. The children also knew to have faith in the dry landscape. The children knew their home would care for you once you trust it to know what you need, and provide as such. The children told their new stepmother to “write your name in the sand. Then the desert will know you’ve accepted it as home and it will look out for you.” She refused over and over. Still the children told her to trust, and to accept this new way of living. The family suffered many hardships, including losing their barn to a fire. During the family’s attempt to put out the fire, the dad and step-mom fought over the last bucket of water. They had to decide whether they would save the barn from fire or save that last bucket of water to drink. After watching such devastation, the new stepmother wrote her name in the sand when she knew this new family was hers, and that the desert was her new home. When the step-mother wrote her name in the sand, it began to rain. When she trusted the earth to care for her, the land rewarded her with life.

The desert knows when you trust it. When you don’t, that’s when people get hurt. When you don’t trust your home, the desert can’t trust you to value how she cares for you. This land told our ancestors that we could leave it up to the desert to care for you, so long as you leave all you’ve known. The truest adventure any of us could take is to trust the unknown: to know that we can be protected as we step into a total oblivion.

Photo by Alexandra Fisher on Unsplash

The desert is known to not care for you until you care for it. She will provide for you in ways you didn’t know you needed. Until you know how to preserve her precious resources. When she has never done anything to cause doubt of her loyalty and abilities, you must allow such a trust to absorb you; to protect you as Saint Michael protects God from his own sinning mistakes. However, be warned, do not mistake the desert for God, she is far more powerful and less forgiving. Once she has been crossed, there is no priest to whom you can beg for forgiveness.

We from the West are different from the people on the East Coast. When European settler-colonizers went to the “New World,” they knew how to interact with the land and the culture because those early settlers simply transplanted European society to the Americas. The first settler-colonizers in North America landed at, what is now, Plymouth Rock in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the region known as New England. The early settlers in Massachusetts built cities and towns which replicated the cultures in which they had grown up in, and with which the settler-colonizers were familiar. Such a distinct recreation of English and European society made the most sense, because the weather of Massachusetts and the surrounding states resembles that of England.

Those who settled in the New World of New England were able to expand their coffers greater than those who cared for them, for they had the opportunity to take first and provide later. They quickly established themselves and their families, and then warned their own children about the dangers of going into the unknown. Those who settled into New England replicated that which they had known, and continued as their parents had for many generations. In primary school, those on the East Coast are taught of adventurous people as those of the past; new experiences were for those of the past, so we might be comfortable as we are.

To come out West was to become what your parents were not — mountaineers, prospectors, adventurers. Our ancestors risked the vast rocky and difficult terrains of the Oregon Trail so, naturally, we have those same abilities in our blood. To survive the Oregon Trail, a drought, or a new experience each of us must “write our names in the sand.” Then, the rain will come. Then, the gold nuggets will reveal themselves. Then, the desert will trust her beauties with you and you will be forever changed. Then, you may never go back to the recognizable environments of the Old World; of a world which no longer trusts in the land, but in the old fashioned ways of life. Don’t let it hold you captive too.