Published: April 5, 2021

Throughout the region, the color scheme of deserts, plains, plateaus, and rock canyons tends toward tan or brown or gray. (And, yes, forests do stand out in this crowd.)  In many Western locales, green does flourish in the spring, but even then the greenness usually registers closer to the “olive” variety than the “emerald.”

So here is the element of humor built into the advocacy of “green” causes in the West: when you come upon a Western locale that radiates bright green, you are most likely seeing evidence that a network of dams, reservoirs, canals, pipes, and sprinklers has been at work, sustaining plants that are exotic imports from distant places.

In one common pattern, the color green is testimony that the Bureau of Reclamation has been up to its usual tricks of transforming the location and allocation of water that was initially flowing in streams and rivers.

To bring this closer to home, the lovely green that is slowly recoloring our lawns will only last while the water lasts.

So Westerners, whatever your positions on environmental issues, let’s come together in a moment of regional self-assertion. When we hear an endorsement of President Joe Biden’s “green” energy plans, or when we hear a reference to the “Green New Deal,” let’s pose a gentle question to those who are taking this odd word choice for granted:

At some point, do you think you might want to include the arrangements of water in the American West when you think about what is “nature rearranged by human intention and action” and what is “untouched nature”?

Referring to people who were new to the West and constantly demonstrating that they didn’t know where they were, the term greenhorn got a lot more use in earlier phases of regional history. But now, in 2021, the word “greenhorn” is positioned for a revival: why not put it to use to prod the folks—who think “bright green” is the color of undisturbed nature—to question old assumptions and to join in a reckoning with the workings of water in the West?

Loosening up the assumption that nature is colored green, Western landscapes continue their tradition of inviting human beings to reconsider their taken-for-granted assumptions about nature.

So, greenhorns, here’s your chance. Even as spring seems to be painting the Northern Hemisphere in green, let’s resolve to keep nature’s full spectrum in our minds, and, whenever possible, let’s use that spectrum to rattle old habits of mind and to question conventional notions of the way things simply must be.

If you also noticed this, or have any other reflections you’d like to share, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at