Questions of Wilderness

We’ll take advantage of a short hiatus of sorts (don’t worry: we’ve seen the WebMD, and have been assured it’s not serious–we’ve decades left in us!) to draw attention to some other things going on that will, no doubt, be of interest to the sensible (and sensitive) readers of and contributers to the WIZ Community.

First up: George Handley waxes on and off, and wisely, about wilderness as a backdrop to and a factor in the way we humans relate and communicate. His work here is subtle: more subtle than usual. Perhaps that’s because, generous of spirit and passionate of cause, George isn’t interested in winning friends or enemies, but rather in giving pause and a space for consideration.

I’m particularly taken with what George does because I live in a place that as yet has not developed a culture of conservation, though steps are being taken: we’ve grown soft, and the a/c pumps all day long, cars are left idling in parking lots for extended runs, the windows are shuttered, the complaints are thick with indolent anger and slick with sweat. During Ramadan, it’s even worse. The environment impacts mood and manners essentially and almost necessarily: we are few who love the heat and worship the sun even when it aims to kill us. And we few, (we happy few), are inclined to each other and to others in ways (a nod, a quick tap on the shoulder, a smile, and many other muted signs) that redeem the heat, that sacralize our over-arching desire to conserve not just a resource or a land, but human ecology, too: that thing we call community.

George reminds us that we are stewards, not masters, and will be judged by the conditions of stewardship. If we cannot cultivate a place or a community, cannot leave it better than we found it, then at very least we ought to leave it no worse for our being there by taking pains to mitigate our tracks and traces, collect our own rubbish, dispose of it responsibly–not leave it to moulder or poison, not bury our inheritance in waste and wanton pursuits.

In his second post, George asks us to disagree, and boldly, but without rancor and without guile. We ought, it seems, “to speak the truth in love,” both to each other and to this ramshackle place we’re squatters in. If we need, we ask and receive, as gently as we can, and plant something where we’ve left a void: a seed, a conversation, a compliment, plain thanks. We ought, it seems, to stay small.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen, speaking at the Days of ’47 Sunrise Service said the following about the question of community, culture, and wilderness in Utah’s own history (read the full account in the Desert News):

“Regardless of how one views the equities of Indian-Mormon relations in those times, the end result was that the land and cultural birthright Indians once possessed in the Great Basin were taken from them,” he said. “As tragic as that is, history cannot be unlived. What we can do, the least we can do from a distance of 160 years, is to acknowledge and appreciate the monumental loss this represents on the part of Utah’s Indians. That loss and its 160-year aftermath are the rest of the story.

“We can also work until the rest of the story becomes an integral part of the story; until Wakara, Wanship, Washakie and Black Hawk have their appropriate place in Utah’s history books as well as Brigham, Heber and Parley; until Utah’s history includes Indian history and July 24th commemorates everyone’s contribution to our state’s unique past.”

Indeed. And the same can be said of place after place, civilization after civilization, right down to Dylan Thomas’ bright and spinning place, that first garden, which was and is, of course, God’s, given to us with a charge to care for it, and for each other.

To finish up (if you’ll forgive the indulgence), this:

This is a rather wretched place,
All things considered:
More paradox than paradise;

A poky little patch of dust and scrub
Now parched, now drowned,
Shaken and, as often, stirred;

A heaven gone to ground,
Ground gone to seed,
Thorn- and thistle-crowned

And for the very birds €”
The dove, the hardy thrush,
The brown chat with his melancholy word.

It’s an abated wish,
This dense and dropping orb,
A momentary, dark, full-throated hush;

A nascent sun, an infant star,
This crib of Adam-Christ:
Worth falling and worth rising for.

Look for George’s next post soon.


Excerpt from my novel at The Provo Orem Word

Provo Orem Word March 2011 Issue

The Provo Orem Word, an online venue for artists in the Provo-Orem area of Utah, has published an excerpt from my novel The Pictograph Murders (Signature Books 2004) in this year’s nature-themed issue.   You can read the excerpt and rest of the issue here, or click on the picture.   Also, check out the ad for The Pictograph Murders and Wilderness Interface Zone on the inside of the first page.   My son Saul designed that.   I think it’s cool. The links weren’t working today but POW is trying to remedy that.

This issue also contains an interview with Terry Tempest Williams, who will perform a reading from her book Finding Beauty in a Broken World at Brigham Young University on March 17.   This occasion interests me for a couple of reasons, one of them being that Williams has not read at BYU in over 20 years, although faculty members like Eugene England were interested in inviting her.   I think this event long overdue and am glad for it.   If I were up in that area, I’d attend.

Beside Williams’ interview, there’s also a nice piece by George Handley titled “Secret Memory.”   George published an excerpt of his book Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River here on Wilderness Interface Zone.

The issue contains many other gems, including the eighth chapter of an epic poem titled “Rough Stone, Rolling Water” by Dennis Marden Clark.

The Provo Orem Word is an online literary magazine that publishes a nature-themed issue every March, but Rebecca Packard, the publisher/editor, is happy to take submissions all year long at The ‘zine publishes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.   For submission guidelines and a list of The Provo Orem Word’s other themes for this year, email Rebecca at the above address.     Rebecca says, “Not being affiliated with the area will not hurt an author’s chances of being published.”

I’m not a resident of Utah Valley anymore; it didn’t hurt mine!

Excerpt from Home Waters by George Handley

Home Waters by George Handley

The twentieth century has gone down in history for a number of ignominious as well as heroic events, but certainly one of its more troubling legacies is its treatment of rivers. As agriculture gave way to industry and massive development of cities, water was victim to an increasingly private and individualistic conceptualization of property. Consequently, rivers suffered greater transformation than in the previous ten thousand years. They were straightened, diked, and dammed, and where I live water was transported from less populous areas and fed into the Provo, all to provide more space for homes, more safety from floods to homeowners, and reservoirs to ensure the perpetuity of modernization. And as Donald Worster reminds us, the Mormons played no small role in this harnessing of water’s wild and unpredictable ways, seeing dams and dikes as the way of the Lord. Several small hydroelectric dams were built on the Provo early in the century, and then two major dams were built, one in the 1940s and the other in the 1990s.

Within a century of the arrival of the white man, 95 percent of the native species in the river and of Utah Lake went extinct, this despite the fact that it had been the meat of the native fish of the river and lake that provided for humans for thousands of years and saved the lives of the pioneers in those early, hunger-ridden years of settlement. But this is only the most overt and measurable of consequences. Aquatic species worldwide are going extinct at much faster rates than terrestrials. When the fish go, that means the invertebrates, zooplankton, plants, and whole swaths of life go, too. Continue reading “Excerpt from Home Waters by George Handley”