The West is vanishing. By this I mean the open spaces, the unplanned towns that grew up out of nowhere and retained their own unique flavor setting them apart from look-alike cities. The sense of nature that lies just beyond the town limits, filled with sagebrush and plentiful wildlife and streams and rivers that flow without impediment, is also going. The West is filling up and where spacious tracts of land that bore little human stamp, except for an occasional water pump and strand of barbed wire fences, there are now rows and rows of cloned houses and planned communities, strip malls and miles upon miles of paved road scarring the land in all directions.
For those of us who grew up here and remember its sense of space—an unformed world of limitless possibilities—there is the pain of loss of the ‘special-ness’ of this place, of the free-wheeling spirit of those who lived here informed by their surroundings and sense of good fortune.
DEEP WATERS is, among other things, a paean to that world and those earlier times, as well as a literary memoir that chronicles, in letters and commentary, the friendship between the great American writer, Frank Waters, and me.
Right from the start, it was clear that Frank and I shared common sensibilities and a deep affection for the land and its native inhabitants. The scope of our shared inquiry—psychology, writing, pre-Columbiana, Eastern philosophy, Egyptology—much of it contained in the more than two hundred letters exchanged between 1968 and 1995—was further enriched by the time we spent hiking, exploring Indian ruins, and attending ceremonial dances.
The late 1960s, until Frank’s death in 1995, was in many ways the end of an era—of an earlier west, more of the frontier—that had encompassed the Taos Art Society and the intellectual salons presided over by Mabel Dodge Luhan and others. Frank had been part of that world. He was friends with, among many others, Mabel and Tony Luhan, Freida Lawrence, Witter Bynner, the cowboy writer, John Sinclair, Frederick Manfred and the painters, Dorothy Brett, Georgia O’Keefe, Andrew Dasburg, Leon Gaspard and Nicolai Fechin.
I was in those days employed by the New York publishing house, Farrar, Straus and Giroux to look after their business in the West. This afforded me the means and rationale by which to travel widely within the region and in the process provided me with a much wider exposure to western literature and art.
In retrospect, I realize that this period in time was a rarity, peopled as it was, with fascinating characters. The experience was all too good not to share.
And here, especially, is the opportunity to speak of Frank Waters who wrote luminously about the West and its native peoples and our inability to be severed from our connection to the earth.