Tenderfoot is a city girl, used to canyons of high-rise buildings, not canyons of rock and dirt and running rivers that do not smell like a giant Superfund site. But she is happy to escape the city in August, that dull month when the garbage piles are as high as an elephant’s eye and the heat renders everyone, even the bartenders, even more surly than usual. Now she is in Moran, Wyoming, a place of such ethereal beauty that she does not need gin to enjoy it. Though it sure helps!

She does not know the West, except in Cormac McCarthy books, where there are usually immortal men and lost souls who squint out at the barren landscape while rhapsodizing about the plains or opining about death. Or Larry McMurtry, where someone lives on a ranch and there are cattle rustlers or something. She hopes to see some cattle, or some rustlers, or some “Enzi for Senate” yard signs, which she feels in her gut will indicate that Wyoming has a senator, and people want to vote for him again.

Tenderfoot’s host, an old friend, contains multitudes. Also a heart, lungs, kidneys, and all the other accoutrements of a human person. He seems awestruck by the landscape, even after inhabiting it for 20 years already. He has horses, and a rugged appearance, and a wine cellar. Many nights they sit in his house, listening to the wolves howl and the BMWs zipping down the highway on their way to vacation homes in Jackson Hole, and her host and his family tell her about bears, and squirrels so enormous they look like bears, and how the canyons are a metaphor for vaginas, into which a human can get lost and disappear, but also emerge again, dripping wet and smelling rather musky, reborn.

They give Tenderfoot a horse she can ride, a gimpy, lame, used-up thing. Then there is the horse, which is also gimpy and lame and so old he gets confused and thinks he is Ed Sullivan, so every few minutes he raises his head from the grass he is grazing and cries out, “Tonight we’ve got a really big show!” At such moments she pets his neck to calm him, whispering “Half the Beatles are dead,” which seems to cheer him up. She rides the old horse in the woods and begins talking economically, like a Westerner or an Indian. “Big twig,” she says, pointing to a rattlesnake. “Many palefaces. Camp beyond ridge. Have boom-boom sticks. Attack at dawn.”

When she tires of riding, she hikes. Up, down, all around the mountains, which remind her of nothing so much as a cordovan-clad presidential foot wrapped snugly in an argyle sock dotted with tiny Statues of Liberty, begging to be caressed like a ripe eggplant at a Brooklyn farmer's market. The air is clear, the giant squirrels friendly and approachable, like huge furry Bloomingdale’s clerks. She feels alive, refreshed, a clear-running river that a Cheney would happily wade into in order to do some fly-fishing. She reads folklore recorded by writers during the New Deal in a federally-funded project to write down oral histories of Wyoming residents about what the state was like in its early days. There was rain, and wildfires, and winter, and the people shit in buckets woven from the bark of birch trees. It was inelegant, but the people were hardy. They were pioneers.

Tenderfoot muses on all of this. She thinks that America is a vast land, with many different geographic locations. Some of the places are deserts, some are mountains, and some are the bar at the Waldorf, which still makes the best Old Fashioned in the city. Perhaps this is why Americans are so uninterested in other countries. Not because they are whiny, xenophobic brats who think we are Exceptional, or because we don’t want to deal with the exchange rate of dollars to rials or Euros or some such thing. Perhaps it is just because America already contains so many countries, and so many people from so many other countries, some of whom refuse to self-deport back to those countries, no matter how much we scream at them. But we can visit these countries within America, and report back as if we are Marco Polo, and then go to the nearest skin-care boutique to buy some cream for our saddle-sore ass, which is raw and chafed from all that horseback riding.


Note: If you find yourself paywalled as the Wall Street Journal, simply type the title of Peggy's column (American Diversity and the Wild West) into Google, and presto! A link with no paywall.


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