This Is West – Not Mine

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While I take a short break on my run I stand a few feet short of a barbed-wire fence, tumbleweeds stacked waist-high against the artificial barrier. For such an expansive landscape, Eastern New Mexico is ironically inaccessible. Frustratingly inaccessible. This must be how the cowboys felt way back when, the land shut off in front of them by fences and railroads stretching across the country like latitudes across a map.

I’d prefer to camp where I like, lie down beneath the stars where it pleases me, run over prairie trails wherever the grass is greenest, or brownest depending on how I feel. I know that’s a little too romantic, a little too pastoral. Really though, if I have to live in a land with nothing on it – no hills, no trees, no rocks – I’d like a little space.

To be clear, I don’t mean space for just myself. I’m not like the fence-builders. I mean space for everyone if they want it for a night. Otherwise, let everyone live somewhere else. This isn’t the city. The land is not buried beneath concrete and hidden behind skyscrapers. There is no excuse for not having any space.

The land runs in all directions over the horizon, broken up into geometric shapes. Squares after squares, often with verdant circles embedded within or brown circular furrows with weeds and grass growing along the edges. The closest thing to the original land lives on the medians and shoulders of the roads that run between towns. A thin strip of prairie grass clings to life along the infrastructural veins of the Southwest, occasionally swaying fitfully as semi-trucks and cars whiz by.  Between the lattice of dirt roads checkering the landscape, the land is put into production for the nation. I benefit from some of the output sometimes, in the form of milk or pumpkins or whatever it is they put the land to use for. I guess that’s what bugs me though; I live in the midst of an agricultural factory, where the land is a machine put to use. People don’t live in the middle of factories. Who have you ever heard of putting a house between production lines in a car factory?

I’m about ready to run again, but I have to hop the fence in front of me first, or I could run an extra mile and a half to get around it. I prefer not to run that much farther. Before me lies a square of land, fenced off; “not yours” it says to me. I look at the blocks of land behind me and to either side of me. “Not mine, not mine, not mine” the voice in my head says to me. For as far as the eye can see, “not mine.” Tough place to live.

(Fiction and Photography by Alex Pappalardo)

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