Back to Stories

How the Rest Of America Looks To Us From The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Remember The Famous New Yorker Cartoon? Here, Illustrator Rick Peterson Offers His Take On The Smug Nature-Deprived Coasts

Illustrator Rick Peterson's take on the East Coast from the perspective of Greater Yellowstone.  Click on image to make it larger.
Illustrator Rick Peterson's take on the East Coast from the perspective of Greater Yellowstone. Click on image to make it larger.
Maybe you still don’t realize it, neighbors, but we hicks of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem dwell in that part of the American boondocks otherwise known as “the flyover’ to tens of millions of sophisticated bi-coastal Americans.


Sorrowfully, our long tenure of splendid isolation is slipping away at blazing speed.

Today we’re being rapidly invaded by an unprecedented number of urban refugees who seem perfectly content to remind us how nonbougie we’ve been all these years. They believe it’s for our own good that they help transform our towns into versions of whatever lesser, blighted, overpopulated, suburbanized, traffic-ridden hellholes they are now fleeing.

Perhaps it’s time we schooled them on what the essence of living in our corner of the flyover is.

When illustrator Saul Steinberg drew his now-immortal cover image for The New Yorker Magazine in 1976—a cartoon titled View of the World From 9th Avenue—he confirmed the smug attitude that Manhattanites have of the Interior West, regarding us, at best, as afterthoughts not even warranting mention on the map.

In pure jest, Steinberg actually poked fun at the provincial mindset of Easterners and their condescending belief that they reside at the center of the known universe. Certainly, it’s a point of view shared even today by those West Coast hipsters, be they from LA, San Fran/Silicon Valley, Portlandia or Seattle who still don’t seem to realize that the plural for wapiti ain’t elks. 

Unfortunately, we’ve often allowed outsiders to define who we are. The way the rest of the country thinks about us has been shaped mightily by the opinions of outside writers who parachute out of the sky, spending a couple of days in Greater Yellowstone and then return to Brooklyn Heights, claiming they are our interpreters for the rest of the world.

But, intimidated by our wide open spaces, they think we ought to fill landscapes up. They write stories, based on their own lack of understanding about nature, that continue to fuel irrational fears about grizzlies and wolves. And they prop up malcontents like the Bundy clan as being representative of the general mindset of all ranchers.

But the truth is, Greater Yellowstone doesn’t need outside validation, neither from misinformed reporters who have anointed themselves our translators, nor must we prove Greater Yellowstone’s worth as a remarkable, unparalleled region on the planet.

Not long ago, I asked my oldest friend, the illustrator Rick Peterson, to put together his own Steinbergian take, not of how we are seen in the eyes of those on the coasts but rather the view from Greater Yellowstone looking east and west. Enjoy his portrayals of Greater Yellowstone as we look toward the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.  (His illustrations will also be appearing at Mountain Journal under the heading "Postcards From Wonderland").

What can the rest of America learn about us, especially those interloping developers who mistakenly believe our communities would actually be someplace special if only they had a Trader Joe’s and more spas offering seaweed wrap skin treatments?

Note to rest of nation; we don’t need you telling us Greater Yellowstone is cool because it’s so unlike the places you reside; what we need you to grasp is what sets our region apart—its abundance of large wildlife species—exists only because things are different here.

We have open spaces because we value them. We have forests and clean water because we've insisted upon better stewardship of the backcountry. We have grizzlies and wolves, in spite of the wishes of some predator-loathing politicians, because conservationists in the region touted and proved the value of bringing them back.

Looking westward toward the Pacific Ocean, illustrator Rick Peterson offers the view from Greater Yellowstone. Click on image to make it larger.
Looking westward toward the Pacific Ocean, illustrator Rick Peterson offers the view from Greater Yellowstone. Click on image to make it larger.
Yes, we have some damned fine places to explore, but the caliber of our wildlife would not exist if we adopted the same kind of industrial-strength models of outdoor recreation that are now de rigueur in Colorado, Utah, and California.

So what is your take-home lesson from the flyover?  There’s nothing that could be imported from the coasts that would make Greater Yellowstone better.  If you don’t have the sophistication to appreciate the wild essence of this ecosystem, please keep flying over or, better yet, stay where you are.
Todd Wilkinson
About Todd Wilkinson

Todd Wilkinson is an American author and journalist proudly trained in the old school tradition of asking hard questions and pressing for honest answers. For more on his career, click below.
Increase our impact by sharing this story.

Related Stories

August 14, 2017

Mountain Journal board members Mike Clark, Lisa Diekmann, Paula Beswick and Rick Reese
Introducing Mountain Journal: A New Voice for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
MOUNTAIN JOURNAL is public-interest journalism aimed at celebrating an unparalleled region and probing a question: Can America’s last, best and most iconic wild ecosystem...

November 1, 2017

When An Off-Duty Game Warden Kills A Grizzly
After a mother grizzly with three cubs is shot in Wyoming, critics wonder why the person, who invoked self-defense, didn't use...

October 3, 2017

Charting The Rise Of A Famous Grizzly Bear Mother In Jackson Hole
People Forget That Before Grizzly 399 Became The World's Most Famous Bear, There Was Jackson Hole Grizzly Mama 474