Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Personally, I was always offended by the ninety-degree corners and audacious borders of Wyoming and Colorado. It seemed to me almost cocky, the way four corners were placed on the map irregardless of terrain. Today, as I live there, literally straddling the border, crossing this apparently arbitrary invisible line a hundred times daily, it continues to offend. Why, when the pass sits so nearby, did the border not conform to the mountain peaks? Or at least, why didn't it follow the Little Snake along its winding course, setting down one side of the valley clearly to Colorado and the other clearly to Wyoming? The imaginary boundary line brings political ramifications in our business. The valley's social constructions continue to defy the actual boundary, and while I am ensconced firmly in "Colorado" (despite more than 150,000 acres of the ranch in Wyoming), Slater, Colorado continues to be considered firmly "Wyoming" (even insofar as a recent Bureau of Land Management press release named it as Slater, Wyoming, which it hasn't been since 1888). Even the social constructions fit the topography; why can't the border line? “Wyoming, at first glance, would appear to be an arbitrary segment of the country. Wyoming and Colorado are the only states whose borders consist of four straight lines. That could be looked upon as an affront to nature, an utterly political conception, an ignoring of the outlines of physiographic worlds, in disregard of rivers and divides. Rivers and divides, however, are in some ways unworthy as boundaries, which are meant to imply a durability that is belied by the function of rivers and divides. They move, they change, and they go away. Rivers, almost by definition, are young. The oldest river in the United States is called the New River. It has existed (in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia) for a little more than one and a half per cent of the history of the world. In epochs and eras before there ever was a Colorado River, the formations of the Grand Canyon were crossed and crisscrossed, scoured and dissolved, deposited and moved by innumerable rivers. The Colorado River, which has only recently appeared on earth, has excavated the Grand Canyon in very little time. From its beginning, human beings could have watched the Grand Canyon being made. The Green River has cut down through the Uinta Mountains in the last few million years, the Wind River through the Owl Creek Mountains, the Laramie River through the Laramie Range. The mountains themselves came up and moved. Several thousand feet of basin fill has recently disappeared. As the rock around Rawlins amply shows, the face of the country has frequently changed. Wyoming suggests with emphasis the page-one principle of reading in rock the record of the earth: Surface appearances are only that; topography grows, shrinks, compresses, spreads, disintegrates, and disappears; every scene is temporary, and is composed of fragments form other scenes. Four straight lines—like a plug cut in the side of a watermelon—should do as well as any to frame Wyoming and its former worlds.” (John McPhee, in his excellent biography of geologist David Love, "Rising From the Plains" p. 29) This makes me feel a little better about being stuck on the "wrong" side of the border.