Go West, Young Man...

Article by Matt Tufts

Go West, Young Man...

This is me. And this is my home.

At the end of the month, I’ll have lived a nomadic existence in a truck for two whole years. (Well, technically two different trucks — but that’s a long story.) From Alaska to Baja and everywhere in between, I’ve called every stretch of wilderness and road west of the Rocky Mountains home.

Prior to life on the road, I attended college in Los Angeles, which (besides San Diego) was about the furthest geographic location from my childhood home I could’ve possibly chosen for school in the Continental United States.

Now, this has all the makings of someone who rebelled against his upbringing and wanted to get as far away as possible — except there’s one caveat: I love home. I LOVE Vermont.

You don’t have to know me well to see my affinity for the Green Mountain State. Eighteen years born and raised in a small town of less than four thousand residents cultivated a fierce loyalty to “The 8-0-2,” real maple syrup and the original creators of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. (Need I say more?)

But nevertheless, I left. I visit home increasingly sporadically, sometimes going years between trips to the East Coast. I don’t resent anything about New England — in fact, I adore it — but I left in search of something else. As a photographer and writer in the outdoor industry, it’s no surprise the West’s dramatic natural beauty had its allure — craggier peaks, deeper snow, more open space to lose myself.

If bigger was always better, it’d still be a worthy excuse to this day. However, despite serving as my initial motivation, claiming geography as the main reason for my nomadic lifestyle today is to only see the exterior façade of life out west. I find it to be a frequent misinterpretation of the “wilder” half of the country — the Hollywood emphasis of aesthetic over authenticity appears to have seeped over the easterner’s view of the West.

Now, don’t let me sound like a pessimist — the beauty of the West is unparalleled, wild and extreme beyond imagination. I fell in love with the land. But there has to be more than the glitz and glamour of the scenery; we’re looking for a deeper reason I’ve been gallivanting across the mountains and deserts of the “left coast” without a home. So, fittingly, perhaps home is the best place to look for an answer.

After some long existential pondering, I've come to a conclusion: I value community more than anything about my New England roots — more than the reds and oranges of autumn or even Grade C maple syrup (which any Vermonter can tell you is the best). But it took me moving away from this sense of community, moving to the big city for college, to fully grasp what I had left.

You see, mountains and foliage, in and of themselves, are simple — even the most notoriously difficult peaks to summit and the brightest colored leaves. Had I been interested only in the scenery, I would’ve had my fill a long time ago and returned home. If high alpine passes and low desert playas were all I looked for, I’d be done, home drinking a cold Harpoon with friends, watching my dog roll in the first leaves of autumn. Been there, done that. Mission accomplished.

People, however, are complex. They tell stories of the land and provide character to every single-stoplight, pit-stop town from Tok to Torrey. The presence of people (and subsequent lack thereof) gives wilderness context. In a search for the true spirit of the West, I only needed to look home to what gives New England its charm and its grit: the people.

I don’t want to see the West. I want to understand it, to know it on a deeper level.

We all need a change of perspective (ideally several) to craft our own outlook on life. Our philosophies must be nurtured by the myriad perspectives collected in a well-lived life, cultivated by a breadth of experiences and relationships. I loved my community in Vermont, but I needed to feel where else that existed. I needed to go somewhere entirely different to understand what made us the same.

I can’t say where I’ll be in a year. Nor do I have a five or ten year plan. I don’t even know where I’ll be next week. Perhaps I’ll settle in a small town between here and there, somewhere beneath towering peaks or maybe on the edge of the desert. In the life of a nomad, geography carries little certainty. But I can be sure I’ll land somewhere with a sense of community — a tight-knit core of individuals with pride and a sense of belonging. Because no matter how far I wander from Vermont, no matter how deep in the backcountry I go, that’s a part of home I’ll always carry with me.