Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - AUSTIN 360 SUNDAY - By Craig John­son

Peo­ple ask me why my pro­tag­o­nist, Walt Long­mire, doesn’t carry a cell­phone, and my im­me­di­ate re­sponse is: Have you ever been to Wy­oming?

With more than 97,000 square miles, the state is di­vided into 23 coun­ties, some of them as large as Mary­land but none of them named Ab­saroka. Tak­ing a cue from Faulkner, I de­cided to go with a fic­tional county, a de­ci­sion that turned out to be one of the smartest things I could’ve done — its anonymity makes it sym­bolic of the West as a whole.

There is a fas­ci­na­tion with the epic, ro­man­tic land­scape of the American West, and liv­ing in Ucross, Wyo., with a pop­u­la­tion of 25, got me think­ing about a dif­fer­ent type of pro­tag­o­nist, one who lived in the least pop­u­lated county in the coun­try’s least pop­u­lated state — and Walt Long­mire, a ver­ti­cal fig­ure in a hor­i­zon­tal land­scape, was born. He is a sher­iff, the only law en­force­ment of­fi­cer who is elected and there­fore di­rectly re­spon­si­ble to his con­stituency, his peo­ple and his land. The job is specif­i­cally per­sonal and there­fore lends it­self to an im­me­di­acy that the cop — pro­tected be­hind his mir­rored sun­glasses — can never achieve.

I’m not the first to un­der­stand that there is a long­ing in the hu­man heart to seek out the so­lace of open spa­ces. As Wal­lace Steg­ner so elo­quently wrote: “We sim­ply need that wild coun­try avail­able to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of re­as­sur­ing our­selves of our san­ity as crea­tures, a part of the geog­ra­phy of hope.” It is a land­scape that is a part of us — an epic, sweep­ing world where mankind seems small and alone and must rise to the chal­lenge that the scenery presents. I’d like to think that Walt Long­mire is an em­bod­i­ment of and a metaphor for the West and has be­come its modern stan­dard-bearer.

But he isn’t alone here, and his ma­te­ri­al­ism is bal­anced by his friend Henry Stand­ing Bear’s North­ern Cheyenne spir­i­tu­al­ity, a be­lief that we are in­deli­bly con­nected to the land on which we walk both in this world and the next. In a tech­no­log­i­cally driven world, the Na­tive philoso­phies teach that, like the owls, we should be go­ing slower and notic­ing more, a be­lief that dove­tails with Walt’s de­tect­ing skills in that he no­tices the things that oth­ers don’t.

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