Observing the evolution of the West.


What will we do when the
is just another
instead of
that vast
unruly landscape
of myth
and lore
so easily
evoked in our

When the spirit
of the West
leaves one fall
and doesn’t
come back;
retreating to
the inaccessible,
leaving behind
a sanitized version
of over-populated
and over-priced
instead of a
decent place
to die.

When all that has
made the West
the West
is either
fenced in,
forced out,
run off,
gut shot,
or spooked
to the flattened hills.

When there are
no more grizzly bears
or ranchers
to hate them
because they
have both gone
the way of the Dodo.

When the remaining
few keystone species
have been expatriated
to the most rugged
and remote terrain –
then myopically
gunned down
in the final defeat
of wildness.

When you can see
more bears and
wolves in captivity
than run free
in the American West.

When mammoth tusks,
Clovis points,
all of the lessons
have been paved over,
buffalo jumps bulldozed,
Indigenous burial sites
and petroglyphs desecrated;
all in the name of
manifest density,
and progress.

Vulture capitalists
seemingly overnight
transform quiet mountain
towns from
to commodities,
rotting the
social fabric
while writhing
cutthroat trout
back-eddy belly up;
their final vision
through fungus
covered eyes,
a smallmouth
bass spawning
in blue ribbon
trout waters.

When the lodgepole
pine forests of the
Greater Yellowstone
give way to
cactus scrub
and mating
sub-tropical birds,
after the blackened burn
of the next overdue
massive wildfire.

When ranching families
lose their way of life,
not unlike
the murdered
the land was
stolen from,
and the bison
they worshipped
that once
roamed the West
in arguably
the largest
wildlife migration
in global history.

The networks
that romanticize
our West
rarely show a
drunk cowboy
who was recently
dumped by
his girlfriend
make a last
bad decision
all over his
rented trailer.
It’s not very cinematic.

When we elect
corrupt officials
who cheat our children
to line their own pockets
while sanctioning
death warrants for
mothers and
their cubs
who are
being shot
to death
with high
powered rifles
from helicopters
at den sites
just for being

The West is changing
while we hold
our breath,
stand by awkwardly,
not sure what
to do with
our arms,
waiting to see
what’s left
after the dust
settles on a
narrowing horizon
where only the
mountains are
for now.

Brad Orsted is a Montana-based author, poet, wildlife photographer, conservation filmmaker and wilderness therapy advocate. His memoir, Through the Wilderness: My Journey of Redemption and Healing in the American Wild, is out with St. Martin’s Press and available wherever you buy books.

Madeline Thunder is a freelance artist based in Bozeman, Montana. When she is not creating, she can usually be found playing outside.