I can pretend this endeavor began reasonably, but it didn’t. I can say I knew the end and why, but it would not be true. It’s been accumulating—insights piling from conversations with text, people, and place. Slanted notes on anything I had close by. It’s been solitary walks on white grass folded by deer. It’s been watching the same trees brush sky every season. It’s marking and being marked.
It’s being chased by grazing, black-sheened bulls. It’s being blessed by warm rain on a ridge top. It’s finding nests—frail spindles of string and sprig. It’s finding horseshoes glazed with rust and jawbones yellowing in a cradle of maples and clinging to them all as gifts of good luck from this unassuming place. It’s been daring to stare into eyes and caves and holes. It’s been feeling my own brittle self rest against fluidity and peace and upheaval.
Reason has been present, but emotion carried me here.
I ride the train to school. An early class made me witness to early light. The mountains glowed. The mine glowed. And when I needed distance to weigh readings the mark, that scar, stared.
I am reason; I am visceral. The very existence of both inside me speaks to their necessity. One is not to drown the other. As it’s been written, “Emotion is not a defect in an otherwise perfect reasoning machine. Reason, unfettered from human feeling, has led to as many horrors as any crusader’s zeal…. It is the human heart resonating with empathy, not the logical brain attuned to the mathematics of efficiency, that revolts at cruelty and inhumanity.”[i]
I am reason; I am emotion. Something within me revolts against destruction on that scale—ground that will not hold green and places that once were. I don’t know why I felt scraped and lost. All I wanted to know was: What did they look like whole? What did they once look like, before the mine?
So, I searched and used what blurry photographs I found to make the peaks I’ll never see—out of copper. For that was the exchange: copper for peaks.
That end became a beginning.
While searching for those photos I spoke with Utah’s historians, librarians, and specialists and again and again had to spell as their fingers hovered over the keyboard, o-q-u-i-r-r-h.
Which mountains are they?
No, not the Wasatch. They’re west of Salt Lake Valley. Right there.
Oh, the copper mine.
Yes, they carry that with them.
I spoke with people who lived in the Salt Lake Valley all their life. Most had visited the mine, but not the mountains.
It seemed the removal of some, removed the whole from memory.
And it was true of myself. While I did not grow up in this valley, I have lived next to the Oquirrhs for several years. Finally, last fall, I visited them. I felt shame that I knew nothing of these mountains. I felt unmindful that I had witnessed their destruction only subconsciously.
I did not want the mine—destroyed earth—to be all I knew of this place.
I checked out every book on the Oquirrhs and carried them home. The story I found was of the mine and corporations.
It didn’t satisfy.
There are deep questions that come from the part of us as old as rocks. They are questions that live within, taking time to carve us into receptacles. The Oquirrhs became my question.
I wondered how this came to be. I look at the Wasatch and they just are. I look at the breadth of the Oquirrh range and see the smelter smokestack, the valley’s radio and television antennas on Farnsworth Peak, the concentrator, the mine, and the recreation area Five Mile Pass. I know the Wasatch have protected land. Here, in the Oquirrhs, all, except for a small piece, is private property. Two ranges share the same valley, yet they are treated so differently.
How had this ignorance and apathy, both individual and collective, come about?
Every story extends beyond our own. In memory and writing we like to bracket lives and history, putting a dash in between a tight beginning and end, but causes and effects stretch beyond. Every life, event, or mark has, as the poet Robert Hass said, “a skein of causes.”[ii] And so a storyteller is a weaver and we speak of weaving a story.
I read the written stories. I found threads, but no pattern.
I wondered about the mountains still there, breathing aspens and slopes and sage. Somehow I knew they were the true beginning. They would not come from column-bound text. In the mountains, I thought, I would find a suggestion of what once was and perhaps, then, the skein would begin to weave.
I read the words spoken by a man who lived here before the people of my faith arrived. He reprimanded a congregation of settlers by saying “they should not have any mouths till they have ears.”[iii] I knew, that here, I’d have to go silent.
Baskets are essential for gathering. They expand our carrying capacity. They mimic and broaden our cupped hands, becoming an extension of ourselves.
And when they are stationary, they become gathering places where the concave collects. They become a fixed place of communication.
C.S. Lewis said, “What we need…is…a neutral something, neither you nor I, which we can both manipulate so as to make signs to each other.”[iv]
[i] Terryl and Fiona Givens, The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 15.
[ii] Robert Hass, “July Notebook: The Birds,” The Apple Trees at Olema (New York: Ecco, 2010), 3.
[iii] Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American landscape (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2009), 94.
[iv] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: Harper One, 2002), 563.