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We must ask ourselves as Americans, “can we survive the worship of our own destructiveness?” –Terry Tempest Williams

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Four hours on the side of Highway 20

Here we are, standing in the weeds, proving just how little obligation people feel to help one another. While I’d argue it’s in all our interest to have one less car on the road (you know, less gas, less traffic), and picking up a hitchhiker is one way to make a mundane trip memorable, I’ll never get the chance. Because most people would rather risk neglecting somebody who needs help than they would encouraging some bum who thinks he’s going to get something for free. People of means embrace specialized roles because the roles outline bare limits of social responsibility: to hold a job, to pay the bills; even if one’s job is soul-sucking, the worker is rewarded with the knowledge of their minimum-possible responsibility to other people. Even if that job does more harm than good, they can treat it as a life’s work, a debt paid, an agreement settled up. Now, as I stand here judged, my face flashing at sixty miles an hour through a windshield every five seconds, I can replay my encounter with the woman pumping gas who, when I asked, told me her car is already full– even though it sat between us, completely empty. Whoever thinks that our economic arrangement offers adequate guidance for social interactions, or for personal responsibility, fails to describe my world.

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***

…The connectors, then, the worldly tissue stretching between wildernesses, came to be of central importance to our walk. Unromantic, dry and dusty and blinding, here we saw a deer hang dessicated in the strands of a barbed wire fence; here we found an irrigation canal to bathe in, serene enough, in the dappled sun of the only trees around, for fauns and panflutes. Our steps were followed by the gaze of corralled horses, by the mute windows of shuttered trailers. And it was walking across these heartrending valleys of auburn sun that hunters slowed to talk to us while their diesel engines kept popping—then we all stared at the distance together. Continuing on, where the plains inclined, the two of us kept heading.

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