The expanse and its consequences

So when last I left my tale, I had actually arrived in Colorado Springs. I don’t have much to say about the place other than that it is now quite clearly a sprawling city. When I was here before, it was as a kid on the way to or from summer camp, probably on the other side of Pike’s Peak, which rises prominently to the city’s west.

I don’t remember much of the place from then but I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say it’s a whole lot bigger now.

It’s a bit curious how abruptly the Rockies end, giving way to the Great Plains. In California, you have the Central Valley, then you have the Sierra foothills, then you have the mountains. On the east side, and this is something I never appreciated when I lived in Reno, you really still have mountains, prominently punctuated by valleys, really all the way to Utah.

The highlight Thursday was crossing the Republican River in Colorado. It was dry, which seemed amusing at the time.

But really, and I’m still hoping to find an exception, what I’m seeing now on three different routes between the Mississippi River and the Sierra Nevada mountains, save for an entirely too brief passage through the Rocky Mountains, is a whole lot of—not a whole lot. It’s no wonder the Donner Party turned to cannibalism; they might already have been mad from what must have been weeks traversing this expanse.

Today, it’s two days by car, and I’m not liking it. I crave trees and even the drive along U.S. Highway 6 into the Rocky Mountains reminded me of a lesson in a survival class at that summer camp on the other side of the Rockys: Look for trees; they signify water and where there is water, you may quench your thirst and follow the rivers downstream to civilization.

I’m writing all this in Kansas City, Missouri. I stumbled across Harrah’s Casino here, in North Kansas City, Missouri; this is the casino I was astonished to find closed in Reno, and the dissonance of finding it here prompts me to think of my association of Harrah’s with Reno. There’s more to think about there in my self-analysis.

There is also more to think about with the people who live in that vast expanse between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Mississippi River. Sure, I saw the signs left up from the failed attempt to amend Kansas’ constitution to open the way to further restrict abortion there; one said, “Kill relativism, not babies,” which is a topic I should return to.

But I’m thinking of the sameness, the sameness of land where a patch might be indistinguishable from another a hundred miles away, where, until I reached eastern Kansas, trees were rare, and even then, still not common, except along rivers or where people had planted them. I saw, also, blight, even from the highways I followed, abandoned buildings, left to decay, surrounded by the homes of people who are plainly not rich.

This concept of sameness, even in the very land, to say little of the people themselves, underlies a simplistic view of the world, also the source of natural law, a notion which rested on a failed idea that all people in all circumstances would share a common understanding of good and evil, planted in their hears by a Christian god. Its failure has led to the rise of written law,[1] to which our criminal (in)justice system presumes to reduce justice.

In the end, this suggests of our species that we are both too smart, in that we have overrun the planet and are exhausting our ecosystem, and not smart enough to explore the root causes of our difficulties.

And I’m thinking of the U.S., that a path to national reconciliation necessarily lies through a resolution of class inequities, the opposite of what neoliberalism has wrought for decades, but this is a path the people who live in this vast expanse themselves reject.

I’m still not caught up. Tonight I will be in Louisville, Kentucky, then home.



It looks like Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey is making an attempt to come up with a plan to deal with Pittsburgh’s bridges. But a contract he’s awarded toward that end might be the source of future controversy.[2]

Charlie Wolfson, “Pittsburgh officials seek ‘21st century’ bridge plan with $1.5M contract,” Public Source, August 4, 2022,

  1. [1]R. H. Helmholz, Natural Law in Court: A History of Legal Theory in Practice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2015).
  2. [2]Charlie Wolfson, “Pittsburgh officials seek ‘21st century’ bridge plan with $1.5M contract,” Public Source, August 4, 2022,

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