Seemingly on every page, Kittredge struggles with his conflicting feelings and memories. He acknowledges the Wests dangers of a boom or bust economy, eroding mountains, dying farms, the false egalitarianism of good old boys racism, the history of semi-genocidal racism against Native Americans, even though Westerners love to imagine the West is open to everyone. He still enjoys his memories — such as that of seeing a young, beautiful girl he used to ride the school bus with, still living and working the land, fifty years later, after returning to the place where he was born (28; 34). In the section entitled “Lost Cowboys and Other Westerners” Kittredge writes of being taught to ride at age six by his father, and marvels at the empathy and compassion, freedom and discipline — and hard drinking — he sees in the local characters of his boyhood and current home. Yet many of these same types of farmers rejected Kittredge as a traitor after he grew sickened by the colonization of the soil and eventually allowed the family farm to become a wildlife refuge. It sickens them to see “their homeland” turned “into a preserve for wild beasts; they are understandably angry and humiliated. They think the environmentalists value the goddamned buffalo more than they value the sacrifices of their people” (50).
Departures,” the final essay, is the saddest section of the book, where Kittredge chronicles the difficulties Native Americans have had on reservations in the area of Montana where he now lives.
The conquest of the West has come at a cost — a cost to other peoples, and the cost of humanitys holistic relationship with nature. The promise of agricultures mastery and autonomy without costs to the natural environment is also just as much a myth as the triumph of good whites over bad Indians and the pure nature of the lawless West.
Kittredge is always unsparing in his gaze, of himself and his fellow Westerners, and he seems able to love the West, and to understand what may seem like pig-headed Western attitudes to an outsider, without endorsing such views. The West has changed over time and so has Kittredge — he was at first concerned about the environment, happily using machines and commercial fertilizers and pesticides and then he gave the land back to those creaturesthat first possessed it — animals — by allowing it to become a refuge.
Kittredge, William. Who Owns the.