I just finished reading a book, Claiming Ground by Laura Bell.
Sometimes I manage to string a few words together in a pretty way, and I feel smug with myself, but then I read a beautiful piece of literature like this one and think, “I’m nothing but a hack.”
I’ve had this sensation before. I used to fancy myself a harmonica player. Then I heard the band Blues Traveler. I quit playing the harmonica for ten years. The idea I could even put that instrument to my mouth was an insult to the magic and beauty John Popper could create. I’m playing again now, not because I think I have any talent to speak of but because I realize I have something to offer. When we bring our best intentions, we bring something worthwhile to the table, however humble our offering may be.
One theme of the Buffalo Bill Museum reinstallation is “a sense of place” – how the West shaped Buffalo Bill. Ms. Bell’s book touches on that theme. Her descriptions of place are as good as anyone’s, and better than most. But a thousand words are never enough to paint a picture. I know—I’ve tried. I can picture her places because I’ve been there. I’ve experienced what it is to nurse a tiny fire on a cold autumn night, high in the mountains, alone in the wilderness, wolves howling and grizzly bear tracks in the sand by the creek just a few yards away. John Colter knew the feeling, I’m sure, and Billy Cody too I suppose.
Place shapes us, and a particular place may shape us in a particular way, but being shaped by place is not unique to the West—the entire world is made of place. Our humanity is the thread that binds us. Our experiences with love and loss, aloneness and partnership, shared pain and joy, are universal. A person in New York City or Los Angeles may be unable to relate, as I can, to the places or activities Ms. Bell describes, but in sharing her soul, she bridges what divides us by revealing what connects us.