Open Spaces

“In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where somebody is. That’s what makes America what it is.”

That comment, by the author Gertrude Stein, resonates most clearly for those who, like me, live Out West, where sagebrush is more likely than cities and starry nights aren’t washed by neon lights. There is still wilderness, spacious skies and Big Sky, too, plenty of room to get away from people and problems and discover real roaring silence.

On the other hand, each year brings more people, more demands for roads and services, so there is less unvisited space, fewer moments of silence, as Civilization spreads like a butter substitute across the country. What will America be like in a hundred years? Will there still be more spaces were nobody is?

The photographer in the photo above is Ulrich Rossmann. We met in 2001, in Arches National Park, near the town of Moab, Utah. He was in the midst of a holiday from Berlin, Germany, where he lives and works, while I was headed home to Oregon after a visit to photograph wildflowers in the Hill Country of Texas.

One dinner and four years of emails later we met again, in Las Vegas, to begin a two-week photo tour through Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Looking at his photographs from that trip, I enjoy the different viewpoints he had of scenes I passed by, proof again how no two photographers look at the same instant in the same way. As we drove through the Red Rock landscapes it was evident that, along with breakfasts of bacon and eggs, Ulrich was enamored of uninhabitated space. In Germany, he explained, it was nearly impossible to get the former, and the latter simply doesn’t exist.

I can’t imagine being without either.


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