The Western United States may be the last natural bastion of what it means to be a free American. The image of the Old West brings a sense of beauty, with sky-scraping mountain ranges, deep valleys and endless desert and woods. The feeling of utter freedom is something one has to experience to understand.
That sense of beauty and utter freedom is purely American, and for me, also purely conservative. I first traipsed the romantic desolation of New Mexico as a Boy Scout long ago and came to understand the spiritual magnificence of the American West. It was an awakening.
What does it mean to be American? Abraham Lincoln said in his address to Congress in 1862: “A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people, and its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability.” The United States as a nation may not always exist. The laws of the United States come and go as much as its presidents. But what the United States contains — the Redwood Forest, the Rocky Mountains, and even the national monuments President Trump might decide to shrink, like Bears Ears — is what will last long past our children’s children. Man-made monuments will have fallen, been torn down or been repaired five times over by the year 2100, but not our national parks. As Lincoln quoted the Book of Ecclesiastes in that same speech: “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever.” The great American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne stated similarly: “Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.”
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