In the past year, I've had the pleasure of getting to know Darren Rome Leo. Darren is the author of Keeping Score: A Short Heroic Journey. He is currently working on a novel tentatively titled And We're Walking . It is the story of a man named Finn and his search for peace and understanding as he hikes the Appalachian Trail. His writing is profound, engaging and funny, and I am thrilled to be able to share Darren's 'Western Perspective' with you. Enjoy!
When Kelly asked me to write about the damn Hoover, I didn’t really understand her vitriol for the vacuum. I mean, my vacuum sucks, but that’s really what it’s supposed to do. Then I figured out that she meant the Hoover dam and made an appointment to check for dyslexia.
|Darren Rome Leo|
I grew up in Utah. I have a strong affinity for the arid land of dust and sand that permeates Kelly’s novel. I spent much of my formative years roaming those red deserts of Utah, Arizona and Nevada. In college, jacked up on PBR’s and the self righteous indignation of The Monkeywrench Gang, I even had a conversation on hypothetical ways to destroy that dam. Most of them involved various purchases from Acme and the special skills of Wile Coyote.
The dam is the quintessential story of the west. Through amazing effort and determination, and no small dose of audacity, we altered the land to suit our needs. There are few, if any, stories of assimilation into, or coexistence with, the west. Our history and our stories are rife with taming and conquering it. That may be due to the very nature and ferocity of that western landscape. As our forefathers steadily migrated across the continent, I imagine they were spurred on by welcoming environments. They left the abundant Eastern seaboard and first arrived at the loamy Ohio River valley. Later they reached the rolling plains and a seemingly infinite supply of bison. Then they arrived at the towering Rockies. I’m sure some pioneer let out an audible “Oh shit,” at that moment. After finally struggling up and over those peaks, they looked out at the sprawling desert, and that same pioneer went, “What the fuck!” I’m sure that certain places in the west, such as Green River, Utah, were founded by exhausted pioneers who said, “Screw it. I’m not going any further.”
Those early western settlers had some grit in their character and a wanderlust in their souls. They were not content with farming by the Mississippi or growing huge fields of wheat on the plains. There was an inherent yearning to see what was over the next horizon. Those that survived a winter in Montana or a summer in the Great Basin desert did so with the understanding that it was a pull no punches confrontation with the land. We would eventually conquer that western land. Rivers would be stopped up or rerouted. We blasted tunnels right through the mountains. We would ultimately create some unfortunate things out there like nuclear testing facilities and Phoenix.
The unforgiving west imprinted on our DNA. It is seen in the stories we tell. The palpable environment is itself a significant character in a wide range of the so called “western” writers. They find beauty where others see only a bleak and hostile land. The characters are often less than attractive but celebrated for their implicit humanity; warts and all. From Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey to Barbara Kingsolver, Thomas McGuane, Craig Childs, and Kelly Stone Gamble, these authors have some grit in their character and a wanderlust in their souls. They can thank the explorers in their family trees and the vast and varied land we collectively call the West.
I’m Darren, and I’m a writer.
From Finn's soundtrack:
Visit Thoughtvomit, where you can stalk Darren Rome Leo and follow Finn on his journey.