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We’re driving though Monument Valley and once again find ourselves wondering how any settler made it out here and why they stayed. It’s not that it isn’t beautiful, it is. But one wonders how they survived. How did they know where to go to find water? What did they eat? How did they care for their horses? How lonely were they for their families and civilization?

The film at the Canyonland Visitors Center said that some famous bank robber whose name eludes me now, hid out in the park because it was so primitive and unknown that law enforcement wasn’t comfortable pursuing him. Okay, so you can understand why outlaws came west, but what about normal citizens? How desperately did they believe in a better future to endure these conditions?

And what I wonder most, is why people stay today. As someone who enjoys camping and wilderness, I cannot imagine living here.

Traveling through this land this reminds me of a conversation I had 17 years ago in Tampa with a cab driver from Liberia. He had been in the United States long enough to form the opinion that he had no sympathy for the laments of the poor. He loved the US and was amazed by what he saw as the unseized educational opportunities. In his village there was one textbook that had to be shared among all the students. There was no excuse for not being educated here, he opined, but laziness. Driving through this part of the country I find myself more sympathetic with his position. Even though there is still gross disparity between the quality of education between rich and poor communities in the same city, at least there is access to education and libraries, compared to areas here, where there are schools, but the residents live so remotely, getting to the school is an undertaking all unto itself.

Like everything else in life it’s all about perspective, being grateful for what you have and not taking it for granted. It’s all relative. I’m sure the kids on these large expanses of Indian Reservation would love a school that required less than an hour commute.

While I love that there are rural places, and I love visiting them, I see how soft and spoiled I am. I’m not a princess, but neither am I a cowgirl. I feel so grateful for the luxuries that city life gives me, most particularly plentiful educational opportunities, and ice water.

September 2007