We crossed over the continental divide this July and made our way into the mountain hamlet of Keystone, Colorado. I happened to be thinking about people like Oscar Wilde ("I like the West the best") who'd found good company in the thin air and the bawdy brilliance of the locals in the center of North America’s audacious climes.
Indeed the oxygen was thin, but immaculate. The sweeping valleys and massive Rocky Mountain highs filled me with passion for America – not so much the States (which I do like) as the massive mega-tectonic ranges. I was also impressed with the intrepid frontiersmen who saw the continental pass, and had no idea where it led.
During dinner at the cabin where we stayed, we talked about the mountains, wildflowers, jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery and meritage wines. "Meritage" is a French word that means a “blend that is greater than any of its parts.” I can't think of a synonym in English. “Symphony” comes close, but meritage expresses the soul of collective creation – the sum greater than the parts.
If Paris is a moveable feast, I'd like to think Colorado is a meritage of thinkers, gurus, athletes and artisans. The owner of the cabin said that in his youth he remembered only six major breweries in the States: “a Coors man was a mountain man; along the Missouri River, Busch was king." Now, someone from the general Denver area may drink any one of hundreds of local microbrews.
As I think about the gestalt future-vision of America I see a kind of meritage of crazy people and “macro” surrendering to “micro”: Giant mountains and little people beside them talking story and drinking micro-suds. Frontiersmen abiding by the fireside. The major brewers might stay major by sponsoring sports fields – but a morass of microbrewers are cornering the market on fun, funky and functional.
The next day we took a trek through the Keystone Gulch, intuited with Buffalo Mountain and the Gore Range, and grokked with the Columbine, lupines and fireweed.
I've begun to think of myself as less a frontiersman and more an explorationist – or part of a meritage of explorationists. What we discover together will be greater than the sum of our artifacts, because we have lived together and shared stories. The frontiersmanship of the future that is of value will be frontiersmanship of the mind. I will see a flower and not feel like I have to own it – it's all been written, photographed, archived, studied and pressed into sentimental journals on mountain spells and smells.
On the 7th, we drove to the Berkley neighborhood of Denver. We went to a restaurant called Hops and Pie with artisan pizzas and over 20 microbrewed beers, including double IPAs and all kinds of hopped-up stories about the origins and evolution of the microbrew.
The restaurant menu had this fabulous custom font (Fanfalone) that might just become the new Papyrus or Comic Sans. The receipt itemized the food as either “food or booze.” We hit a golden ratio: 7 of 12 products were "booze."
I look into the future of (North) Americana, and I think of things like wildflowers, Loveland, explorationists, micro-vision, fun, re-funkification and functionality. A medley that becomes greater than its individual parts.
To channel cowboy wisdom: “the shortest distance between two points is riding with friends.” Cowboys, surprisingly, get it. It’s not about getting there, it’s about abiding, storytelling, and childlike exploration.
I feel – hope – know – that the American experiment is letting go of “getting there” and becoming more about “being there.”