Publisher's Note: The Far West Is Our North Star

Publisher Will Hearst looks westward to answer the oft-asked question, “What is Alta about?”

Alta's editor and publisher Will Hearst.
Alta’s editor and publisher Will Hearst.

Hopping a freight out of Los Angeles at high noon one day in late September 1955 I got on a gondola and lay down with my duffel bag under my head and my knees crossed and contemplated the clouds as we rolled north to Santa Barbara.

—Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

People sometimes ask me, “What is Alta about?”

I answer in a roundabout way. “You seem like a talented person. You could move to New York. The capital of America. Why not? It’s said: If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.”

They usually reply, “Well, I don’t want to. I like it here.”

My response: “That’s what Alta is about—the varieties of experiences that make you love, and want to live, here. Something about the Far West makes you feel at home.”

Alta seeks to explore and celebrate: arts, culture, nature, exploration, technology…the landscape of mountains, beaches, forests, deserts…the values, ideas, styles, people…that make this your place. That’s what Alta is about.

For Jack Kerouac, the West was about freedom, open vistas, nature still largely unspoiled, with thin railroad lines connecting distant urban centers: Denver, Los Angeles, the smaller hamlets of the desert West and the evergreen Northwest. In the first lines of The Dharma Bums, the narrator has hopped a freight train and is traveling north, passing through Santa Barbara to visit a small community of artist friends in San Francisco.

Of course, that more innocent era is vanishing in the rearview mirror, with some of its assumptions also passing from the scene. But Kerouac and his compatriots, like Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, and Gary Snyder, did define a way of celebrating art and life—and their ideas are so integrated into the mainstream that it’s hard to recall how fresh they once seemed.

As a quarterly, it’s impossible for us to stay up to the moment with politics, daily news, daily misbehavior, and daily misery. We cover the past, and the future, but not the present. We want to find out: How did we get here? Where might we be going? But exactly what happened today—that we leave to the many others who follow a well-worn path.

We prefer to contemplate longer-lasting events, as we roll north to the future. 

Will Hearst is the editor and publisher of Alta Journal, which he founded in 2017.
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