Joseph Weinman took the Berkeley Circle on a breathtaking photographic tour from Arizona up through California into the Pacific Northwest. It was as if all those Hollywood Westerns we have been watching forever had only showed us a glimpse of the foreground. The background was more than majestic, overpowering. The theme of the conversation was soon clear. Nature’s vast spectacle produced a sense of space and movement that made western North Americans different. Freedom for them was plenty of beautiful emptiness and an absence of restraint to move over vast distances at their own speed. No surprise that Weinman felt appropriate to quote Jack Kerouac who will be forever ‘On the Road’.
Weinman had spent his childhood and youth among the stunning views he showed us. His personal involvement brought them into a range we could cope with. He framed them with his memories. His obvious joy as these came back to him was the contrary of an old fogey’s oft-retold tales of yesteryear. He had calculated the water needed to cross a desert, arrived under suspicion in an old mining town, kayaked here and rode the surf there. He had us share his pleasure. He also drove the rural icon of God’s Country, a pick-up truck, and made us feel the odd relationship between his far-western countrymen and the automobile. For them the vehicle is not only a means to get from one place to another. It’s also a means simply to get away and into that emptiness where they feel free. At a pinch, one’s car could even serve as a mini-apartment version of what Americans, without irony, call a mobile home.
As Weinman commented on remote and spectacular scenes of nature gone over the top, he often mentioned the presence of hippies. Though out of fashion, these nonconformists, with their own rules, are apparently still around. The vastness and absence of mankind in the scenes we viewed—not even Clint Eastwood under his hat or an Easyrider sitting low—recall the Desert Fathers but also the weird brands of mysticism the hippies have concocted. Is empty space a necessary ingredient of religion? This same unlimited space sparse in people has encouraged hippie political opposition but of a sort pretty much limited to the old song we went home singing after our fine excursion:
“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don't fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don't fence me in.”