The Empire State Building in New York City is 1,454 feet from the street up to the tip. Willis Tower in Chicago is 1,451 feet tall. Bank of America Plaza in Dallas is 921 feet tall. They call them skyscrapers. Pretty arrogant, not to mention misguided, if you ask me. Why, our little old Sandia Peak just to the east of Albuquerque is 10,679 feet tall. That means you could stack seven Empire State Buildings on top of each other and you’d still be shorter than Sandia. Pikes Peak in Colorado is 14,114 feet tall. I believe THOSE would be your skyscrapers.
I worry that many people who live in big cities have lost sight, both figuratively and literally, of what nature looks like. The only green they see is on people’s lawns or in the occasional city park. They never see the sun set on the mountains. They never see an animal any larger than a dog (well, maybe one of those New York City sewer rats). They don’t know the thrill of seeing an elk, a moose, even a bear (that would be the “thrill” of sheer terror!) out in its natural habitat. They don’t know the experience of looking out towards the horizon and being able to see for a hundred miles. They feel no connection to the land. They are so disconnected, in fact, that they don’t even know what they’re missing.
Recently, I drove from Albuquerque up to Cimarron, NM for a performance. Something…I don’t even remember what…was on my mind and causing me some consternation. I was in a pretty foul mood. I got off the interstate at Santa Fe and began driving in the direction of Taos. There I would turn off and head through the canyon to Angel Fire and then a few miles beyond that, through Cimarron Canyon. The further I drove, the more I was embraced by the beauty and peacefulness of the southern Rockies. A panoramic view of the Rio Grande Gorge as you approach Taos. Cool, fresh air that smells of pine. It just sucked all the mad right out of me.
Last weekend, I performed in southeastern Arizona. During the day on Saturday, my friend Rich Dollarhide took me on a tour of the Dragoon Mountains (east of Tombstone, highest point- 7,520 feet, more than five times taller than the Empire State Building). He took me to see the ruins of the Dragoon Springs Stage Stop, a way station on the Butterfield Mail line back in 1858. There are grave sites nearby of four Confederate soldiers who were killed by the Apache in 1862. Apparently, the Apache didn’t care whether you served the North or the South; they just knew you were encroaching on their land. They weren’t very happy about it. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be a young man from the deep South cast adrift way out West in a land that was totally foreign to you. Maybe it wasn’t so different from what our young men and women feel during their tours in the Middle East.
I saw ruins of an old school with tall Romanesque columns out front. I also saw ruins that Rich said were either a hospital or a brothel, depending on whose version of history you believed. I stood inside the remains of the building for a few minutes trying to get a sense of which one it had been. I felt better when I walked out but of course, that doesn’t answer the question, does it? The entire time I was exploring the various ruins, I could look to the west and there, the Dragoons spread out as far as I could see. To the east lay the Chiricahua Mountains. There’s a rugged beauty to southern Arizona that you have to see to believe.
I’m not suggesting that everyone who lives in a city should pick up stakes and move out West to the country. In fact, PLEASE DON’T!! What I am suggesting is that it would be a good thing if people who live in urban environments spent some time out in wide open country. It gives you a very different perspective and it soothes your soul. It also helps you understand that what you may know as “skyscrapers” can’t hold a candle to what we’ve got out West.