As I drove from one burned out ranch to another, the expansive and geologically mixed topography of the West struck me anew. From towering mountains to endless plains to rolling hills and diving canyonlands, seeing such a wondrous creation made me feel small by comparison.

When the West’s true character began to take hold, though, was as I talked to its people. In the face of the fires, people fought. They fought for their loved ones, they fought for their neighbors, they fought for their livestock, and they fought for the livestock of the people they work for and people they’d never met. And some lost. I saw them weep for those who lost their lives. I saw them weep for their homes and I saw them weep for cattle they did not own.

But I never saw them stop. In the wake of unimaginable loss, the fighting spirit continued. They didn’t wait for help, but it came. From across the West, the agricultural community mobilized. Load after load of hay, fencing supplies, and clothes started appearing at drop-off locations. The donations that poured into different charitable organizations for wildfire relief was astounding. People suspended their personal pursuits, took vacation time, and came to the burned areas to deliver hay, build fence, and take in orphaned calves.

In a nation that feels as if it’s coming apart, I witnessed a spirit of collaboration the likes I’ve which I’d never seen. These people—perhaps because they live in a place as big as the West—realize their place in creation. But they also realized that together, small people in a big land can make a difference. They’re all working for something bigger than themselves, and by doing so they have an understanding of the way the world ought to work. I left there sad, humbled, awestruck, and encouraged by the land and the people who give their lives to it. 

—Bob Welch

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