The Frontier as Philosophy

Ever since I was a young boy I was fascinated by the idea of The Frontier.

Maybe what started it was growing up in the Desert Southwest, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I’m just old enough that I remember Santa Fe for what it was before it was “discovered” by the developers and the “In” people from places like California or New York; before the perception of Santa Fe became carved coyotes in psychedelic colors.

Northern New Mexico has always been a place of austere, even harsh, beauty; a land that draws people of all walks of life.  People seeking everything from wealth and fame to spiritual growth… even sometimes just simple individualist isolation.

I remember my grandfather, a tough as nails old-school lawman, talking about New Mexico for the nexus of ancient and advanced it was.  He had watched New Mexico go from an almost lawless, untamed wilderness that still had places where the Wild West was everyday reality, to a place where the most advanced technologies were developed and tested; from nuclear bombs to the rockets that carried modern explorers into space.  I grew up with friends of all walks of life, some whose heritage sprang from the ancient traditions and beliefs of the Native American tribes whose roots in the area were deep and fundamentally bonded to the mountains and arroyos that formed the landscape; and some who, like me, were the descendants of European immigrants who had come to The New World seeking their fortunes and the freedom to live their lives as they chose, as opposed to the lives they were dictated to in the Old World.  They were willing to face life and death dangers in hopes of building something better for themselves and their children.

That, when you get right down to it, IS the Frontier.  It doesn’t matter which great civilization you examine back throughout the millennia of human history; no matter how advanced or powerful that civilization was, there was always The Frontier.  It wasn’t a line on a map so much as a divider between Known and Unknown.  It drew the explorers and the warriors, the spiritualists and the scientists, the lawful and the lawless; all searching for their own personal Truth… or even just a place to make their own choices and to live – or die – with the consequences of those choices.  As my grandfather taught me, the ultimate Freedom is to have the Right to take responsibility for yourself.

It is a viewpoint that has always spoken to me on a fundamental level.  I remember when my parents and I lived with my grandparents for a short time after my father retired from the military, and how my grandfather’s friends were all part of a dizzying menagerie of people who had grown up with The Frontier as their immediate reality: ranchers and tradesmen, and a contingent of old sheriffs and constables and town marshals who still carried the ostensibly displayed sidearms that had been part of their everyday equipment for decades.  They were people who at first blush seemed gruff and distant; tough and indomitable people who sometimes seemed carved directly from the rock and limestone of the land; but who could suddenly show tremendous kindness and generosity of spirit… and oh, but how they could tell stories!

I remember being in the middle of the living room, whatever toy I had sitting forgotten in my hand as I sat open-mouthed, listening to their tales of life along The Frontier.  Some were true to life experiences they had endured, some were stories of adventures of their friends and relatives, some were cautionary tales of life and purpose based in the legends and myths of the menagerie of peoples who had lived and learned hard lessons in times gone by.  It was a magical and profound experience for a young boy just becoming aware of the world around him, and it made me want to be able to tell the same kind of stories; stories that could inspire and amuse and maybe even educate.

Hopefully, the words I write and the stories I share will help people feel the same sense of magic and wonder I did then; enabling me to continue the traditions and honor the memory of those amazing people who were such an important part of my life.

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