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The Howling Wilderness of the Mind

The Howling Wilderness of the Mind

I grew up in a tiny town of less than 1500 people in western Montana. It is a land of breathtaking natural beauty, and for 18 years I lived in the same house in a form of bucolic perfection. We prided ourselves on living 100 miles from the nearest stoplight. I smile to imagine that many young villagers from all over the planet share a form of kinship enforced by the laws of small communities and big mountains.

It was my home and they were my people, but after traveling, education and 13 years of living elsewhere, I can see what a strange accident of history small town America actually is, a residue left by a frontier that has moved on and twisted inward. This is a report from a correspondent embedded for 18 years and a hundred miles behind the front lines of the American frontier.

I was enabled to see it clearly by the fact that almost half of the buildings on the one main street are the originals from when the town was slapped together in the 1890s. One century later the layout and social structure were unchanged. I remember vividly the moment it struck: my parents and I were crossing the main street to dine at a Chinese restaurant. (Of course!) A glance to the right revealed where the street lamps petered out, a look over the left shoulder saw the other end of town. The mountains brooded over us, dark except for the scattered isolated houses here and there like embers from a dying fire. I stopped in the middle of the empty road and gasped: “This is still a frontier town!” That epiphany shattered the insular perfection of my home, and I have been struggling with it ever since.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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