My sister sent me some wonderful 1873 Timothy O'Sullivan sepia-tone shots of the West, which thrilled my soul not simply because of the rugged grandeur they attempt to capture, but also because less than a week ago I was there. Not there exactly. really--I mean, there were no teepees on the floor of Canyon de Chelly that I saw last week (see them on the valley floor?), and I didn't stand at this particular spot where he did in one of earth's most awesome canyons; but I'm quite sure I was there, almost 150 years later. Close anyway--see what I mean?
O'Sullivan was amazed at what he found--inscriptions from the 18th century and earlier, when Spaniards roamed through the high deserts all around, making pueblo people Catholic while searching for cities of gold and other sundry delights.
And here's "the white house," one of the Canyon de Chelly's most famous places, the home of the Anatasi, whose lives are understood only by the museum of goods--and these cliff dwellings--they left scattered throughout the region. Imagine what it must have been like to be the first photographer to find a spot like this.
And here the same place today--or at least as we found it in March, when we stood quite close to where Timothy O'Sullivan must have stood many years ago.
Trump's America is stiffly anti-government, between Secretaries Pruit and Zinke and the President himself. But it's good to remember that the fact that I can take shots not at all unlike Mr. Timothy O'Sullivan's 1873 portraits of these natural wonders is attributable mostly to Teddy Roosevelt, who determined that some national treasures didn't belonged not simply to the rich, but to the people.
Call him a socialist if you will, someone who stood in the way of the freedom of free enterprise. Call him what you will, but this morning I'm thankful for the West's treasures and the fact that you and I can sidle up close with a Canon and take shots not at all unlike those taken by a man behind a tripod holding a ten-pound black and white camera nearly 150 years ago.
You can still go. You can still see. You can still be awed.
*first published June 12, 2012. Take a few minutes and scroll through all the O'Sullivan pictures here.