Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 11, 2011

This penurious land

I just finished reading the riveting book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer. If you have any interest in polygamy’s or Mormonism’s history in America, and the very unique personalities that were the driving force for bringing plural marriage to the forefront, I adjure you to get a copy from your library. I won’t tell you how many wives Joseph Smith and Brigham Young took, but it’s w-a-a-a-y more than you think.

The quote he chose to open his final chapter gives eloquent voice to why I find Utah stunningly irresistible. I’m always on the lookout for descriptions that create for my readers both an intellectual and an emotional connection with this place, as many of you have not been here. The following passage — pregnant with detail and nuance — is best read slowly and at least twice in order to glean all of Wallace Stegner’s intended meaning:

“In the Plateau Country the eye is not merely invited but compelled to notice the large things. From any point of vantage the view is likely to be open not with the twelve- or fifteen-mile radius of the plains, but with a radius that is often fifty and sometimes even seventy-five miles — and that is a long way to look, especially if there is nothing human in sight. The villages are hidden in the canyons and under the cliffs; there is nothing visible but the torn and slashed and windworn beauty of the absolute wasteland. And the beauty is death. Where the grass and trees and bushes are stripped off and the world laid naked you can see the globe being torn down and rebuilt. You can see the death and prognosticate the birth of epochs. You can see the tiny clinging bits of debris that historical time has left. If you are a Mormon waiting for the trump of the Last Days while you labor in building the Kingdom, you can be excused for expecting that those Last Days will come any time now. The world is dead and disintegrating before your eyes.”

(from Wallace Stegner’s book, Mormon Country)

Kathryn prognosticating birth of epochs. Green River doing all the work.

My head nods in agreement; his words could not be more true. And then… and then… one begins to notice the small things. This week I saw my first Sego Lily of the season — Utah’s state flower, a masterpiece of gorgeous simplicity. And one recognizes that the world is NOT dead and disintegrating, but bursting with new life — albeit in a penuriously frugal way in this desert land. There is no abundance, nor even adequacy. Utah is a land of Just Barely. It does so much with so little.

Which is precisely why I am smitten by it.

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