Earth Day Honorific: George Handley’s Home Waters

512px-Upper_Provo_River_Utah

We interrupt Spring Runoff for an Earth Day pause, in prose, as a way of remembering that, among its many reasons for being, WIZ is a quiet place of earthen bearing, dressed in soil and water and seed, in sun and winter and stone. We come here to read, “o’er the mountains, by the sides/Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams./Wherever nature [leads,]” either to hear the “still, sad music of humanity./Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power/To chasten and subdue” or to feel a “presence that disturbs [us] with the joy/Of elevated thoughts: a sense sublime/Of something far more deeply interfused,/Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,/And the round ocean and the living air,/And the blue sky, and in the mind of man. . . .”*

Few enough of us hear those things, or see and feel them, but fewer still do something about it. George Handley is one of those precious few, and is regularly in the breech. Handley is a professor of Humanities at BYU in Provo, Utah. He is also an active environmentalist and an avid outdoorsman. His recent (and still running) book, Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River, has made a substantial impression as both memoir and important work of environmental theology. George speaks and writes on the issues he raises in his book–and so much else–often and stirringly and in ways that provoke both humility of spirit and a desire to do a little something to help. He has graciously sent along the following excerpt.

Winter has been defeated, no question. It is a glorious spring day today, and I can’t resist the temptation to get in a run early this morning before the kids’ Saturday soccer games. The impression of an evergreen valley, coated in velvet grass, only lasts a month or two before the piercing sun at these altitudes brings the green into submission. I don’t mind the brown like I used to, which is why I feel all the more guilty for my pleasure, which in Utah feels like the sinful pleasures of the carnal mind. So be it. Today I will be a hedonist and I will stare unapologetically at the viridian velvet of the mountain contours.

I pick a stretch of the Provo River Trail that winds along the banks through the city. I pass under concrete bridges and across streets to keep pace with the water, which flows in a controlled and only slightly meandering line. The water is higher than usual but not by much. Before the Deer Creek Dam was built in the 1940s and before the grid of middle class homes began to spread across the land the way thin sheets of ice claim window panes in a sudden freeze, the water regularly breached the banks, depositing the sediments brought from the mountains, providing fertile spawning ground for fish, and renewing and enriching the soils of riparian life. Continue reading “Earth Day Honorific: George Handley’s Home Waters”

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Earth Day 2009 (Field Notes #4)

Forgive, please, the late, overhasty and not especially informative nature of this post, but I wished to get something up for Earth Day before the opportunity passed.   As usual, consider yourself invited to  report on your own Earth Day activities  in the comments section.

Here in SE Utah, Earth Day opened gorgeously.   Warm and blue.   To the south, only a few drawn clouds showing, thin as weeds that snow flattened.   Around the Abajos to the north  rise those striking cloud formations that always provoke my wonder.   Can’t remember what they’re called, but I  think of  them as the “jellyfish formations,” because to my eye they resemble man-of-war jellyfish: small, top-heavy  clouds trailing long, wispy tentacles of vapor that appear to dangle into lower reaches of the atmosphere.   As I’ve sought to understand those cloud structures, I’ve read what’s actually happening is that the tentacles are  water vapor rising out of unstable air, seeking a more settled region of the atmosphere.   Once the vapor finds that more stable region it forms a cumulus cloud, which may in turn provide the seed of a cumulonimbus cloud, a thunderhead. Continue reading “Earth Day 2009 (Field Notes #4)”

Field Notes #3

April 21, 2009 (pre-Earth Day)

Today, as I head out for the trail into the canyon that will take me past the dead coyote, I decide to  call that trail Coyote Trail, or maybe Coyote Way, to remember that coyote mouldering at the trailhead.   As I pass those remains, I try to satisfy my curiosity about the animal’s gender, but the back legs are frozen together in a rigor of modesty.   A cloud of black flies on and around the carcass goes a-buzz at my intrusion into its community  feast and fur-lined creche. Continue reading “Field Notes #3”

What I did and thought, Earth Day 2008

Parts of this entry rise a little above-average personal in nature.   I don’t mean to make this an “alms before men” post.   I want  to try to show how easily— for me, anyway—  thinking can slide between my  experiences with  animals and the ones I have  with people.     Also, I don’t remember ever having written down the “Hillbilly Dilly” episode noted below, and since the hummingbird called it to mind, after my not  thinking about it for  many years, I  imagined the moment right for the telling.

April 22, 2008

At the cliff this morning, I find  a colony of  white-throated swifts fully active, hunting the wild blue, tangling into the wind gusts that stream  through the canyon’s channel  and splash  against  its rocks.

A vulture passes by, very low, slightly out from the ledge where I sit.  

A swift just cut in  quite close, the vrrrrr of its wings  as they sliced  air sounding like a miniature jet.   A pair of hawks circle high overhead.

Will eagles come?   I barely finish writing the question  when I  look up to see a golden eagle, juvenile or maybe second year, brown feathers flecked with white.    As I  gaze up  at the eagle, a black-chinned hummingbird rises like a helicopter  into my line of sight, directly between the eagle and me, probably examining the burgundy tones in my shirt, faded overall but most vivid in the cuffs.

Continue reading “What I did and thought, Earth Day 2008”