by guest poster MFranti

Standing high on the Wasatch Fault, I peer across a 35 mile expanse to the adjacent mountain range and see a great and spacious* valley littered with concrete and glass buildings, stucco houses, and giant metal factories belching pollution into the air. I get a tiny bit of satisfaction thinking that the industrious bees of Deseret are confined by an unavoidable geologic boundary in their quest for growth. My optimism spoils when my gaze drifts southward to the new (sub)urban sprawl and then northward to the growing state capital.

It the past, the tallest building in a city was a symbol of what a society valued. In Salt Lake, the LDS Temple used to stand as a beacon to all of the world that it was a city devoted to its God. Later, the LDS Church corporate headquarters replaced the Temple as the tallest building in the land, but still represented what was important to the Saints. Today, the tallest building in Salt Lake City belongs to Wells Fargo Bank.

It is Sunday and the valley is quiet. The roadways are but a trickle of their usual flow and most local businesses are are closed for the holiday. It is the day the Saints flock to their chapels to sing praises unto their God and commune with one another. In contrast, the local canyons are experiencing an invasion of pilgrims seeking the sublime. Mountains have long been a metaphor for the house of God, a place to commune with deity. Indeed, the masses have come to worship with the Goddess in her granite temples formed by ice, wind, and water.

I, too, have come to meditate with the Goddess Nature. Unlike the last time I visited this place, the black asphalt is full and cars wait like scavengers to pounce a vacant spot. I am greeted today by the sound of flowing water and happy dogs accompanied by their people. No need for snowshoes this sunny afternoon, the trail is well blazed. Mr. Pink and I take the same route we’ve taken in the past and head west along the creek. We stop to play for a bit in the water because yellow dogs demand a good soak-no matter what the water temperature is. When we’re done throwing and retrieving sticks, I make sure to inspect the creek’s riparian zone. Rule # 2746: where there is a water-land interface or wherever edges meet, there is life. Contrasting environments juxtaposed create a habitat for a more diverse and dynamic ecosystem. Staring at the water, I muse over Salt Lake’s proximity to my current location and hope for day when we stop sabotaging our own interface with the land. Unfortunately, I can’t identify any critters with my untrained eyes, but I am smitten by several naked branches poking through the snow. They remind me of red Japanese glyphs on white rice paper. I briefly entertain the idea of an encoded message in the snow for me to decipher and then turn around to continue my hike.

The rocks on the left of the trail have been colonized by spongy green bryophytes informing this traveler that this location is always damp and shady. It makes sense, the snow here is hard and icy and it’s doubtful the sun will makes its way through the mountains to thaw the ground. It will be early summer before the soil is exposed again on this stretch of trail.

A few more yards uphill the trail veers south and I am in direct sunlight. I remove my armor to keep cool and notice a tiny spider hurrying along the compacted snow to an unknown destination. He seems aware of his vulnerability out here in the open, but press forward he must if he wants to make his appointment safely. Mr. Pink is long ahead of me and has already made new friends. By the time I reach the picnic tables, he has forgotten that I belong to him. I take a few minutes to survey the area, comparing scenes from the early morning trip in my mind. I squint upward towards the heavens to guage the time of day. About12:30, I estimate. The sun is well overhead starting its westward descent. To be sure, I ask some oncoming hikers. 12:42. Not bad for a guess I think, and congratulate myself for knowing a bit about the sun’s journey through the winter sky.

I wish to sketch the trees and mountains, so I take a seat on a familiar snow covered log and absorb my surroundings. Mr. Pink returns and takes a bow in front of me. The sun exposed snow is granular and looks like sugar. It makes a horrible snowball but the dog appreciates its moisture content. For fun, I lob handfuls into his mouth and he thinks it’s worth chewing. Dogs are always good for a laugh. From above, a small rodent hurls threats from his tree. I think he’s telling me to “get off his lawn”. Who can blame him? I take up a lot of space. Scattered all around are last fall’s maple leaf remnants, broken branches, and abandoned Douglas fir cones. In time, the leaves and branches will become worm food and change form into a soil that feeds those abandoned Doug fir seeds. And up shall rise the next coniferous king of this forest! It is a simple, elegant, and efficient exchange of energy that makes life possible, for which I express gratitude to the Goddess.

A breeze passes through the trees and reaches my ears while I sketch the ridgeline to the south. Those mountains are covered in several species of evergreen trees with the occasional bare aspen grove sprinkled in. From here, I can only guess what resides in those far off mountains. I continue to draw what I see, the steady meter of dripping water provide a beat by which to work. Soon the birds chime with vocals and we have live music.

It is only through the actions and advocacy of my fellow patrons to natural granite temples that make these sacred places available for all to visit. We face exceptional opposition to preserving wild spaces so close to a major city. Those who work to protect and restore the wild and our environment are ridiculed, dismissed, maligned, out-financed, out-lobbied, and almost completely silenced by those with power. Our elected politicians and “planning” boards seek to exploit this land to their idea of its fullest potential no matter what the long term costs may be. And as long a profits (prophets?) are made, state sanctioned contamination of our water, pollution of our air, and destruction of our wilderness and plant and animal habitat will continue. Damaging the environment and its denizens in the name of economic growth says a lot about the values of a community. It is no coincidence that the tallest building in this land belongs to a financial institution.