Wild About Utah: I Notice, I Wonder
Allow me to share an excerpt from my nature journal.
“July 5, 2020. 6:10 p.m. We are perched on the east side of Buck Ridge, racing the sun’s western descent as we conclude a day on Utah’s Skyline Drive. He is drawn to the bull elk in the meadow below the ivory cliff’s edge. I can’t pull myself away from the purple cones. Not brown, not gray, but vibrant violet cones stretching straight upward. How have I missed noticing these before? I wonder what purpose such a hue serves.”
Utah has inspired writers to notice and wonder for centuries. Father Escalante described Utah’s geography, ecology, and native people he encountered in his 1776 travel diary, and a decade before, Juan Maria Antonio de Rivera was writing in his own nature journal as he searched for silver ore and a way to cross what we now call the Colorado River. We can gaze at the many petroglyph and pictograph panels detailing deer, bison, bighorn sheep, and interesting beings sprinkled throughout this state, including my favorite Head of Sinbad in the San Rafael Swell, that have survived the environmental and human efforts to alter or erase.
John Wesley Powell captured his nature experience this way: “We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pygmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders….How beautiful the sky; how bright the sunshine; what "floods of delirious music" pour from the throats of birds; how sweet the fragrance of earth, and tree, and blossom!”
Early Utah explorers such as John C. Fremont also chronicled meadows, springs, and plants he encountered. More recently, Ralph Becker recorded his multi-week experience hiking almost 200 miles in Utah’s Capitol Reef Waterpocket Fold like this: “Upper Muley Twist Canyon is a fine work of art. Tremendous Navajo sandstone fins rise steeply to the east, creating the backbone of the Waterpocket Fold. The Kayenta sandstone, a pinkish and tan ledgy rock, begins making an appearance just under it. Wingate sandstone is becoming a dominant formation. It rises in great humpbacks...In the Wingate, arches appear everywhere.”
As an educator of Utah’s young citizen scientists and budding nature writers, I delight in escorting children along trails just like these described by those writing before, watching them notice, wonder, and then record in words and sketches the Utah that speaks to them the most clearly.
It is true, as Pamela Poulsen wrote in her foreword to Claude Barnes’s chronicles of the Wasatch Range through the seasons, that “nature divulges its innermost secrets only to them who consistently tread its by-paths.” I’ve found that the longer I sit with pen and paper, the more seems to happen, or at least the more I notice and wonder.
Sweat bees come and go;
Cumulus clouds, too.
Winged visitors land on my pages,
tasting my sketches,
testing my adjectives,
begging me to dig deeper
through the Douglas fir cones
and caddis fly larva casings
to find the magical secrets that
why I am Shannon Rhodes
who is Wild About Utah.
Barnes, Claude T. The Natural History of a Mountain Year: Four Seasons in the Wasatch Range. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1996. Becker, R. “Modern Wanderings Along the Waterpocket Fold,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 83, no. 4, 2015. file:///Users/a00610473/Downloads/fall%202015%20uhq.pdf.
Jones, S. “Early Explorers: Lake Legend, Quest for Silver, Brought First White Man to Area 231 Years Ago.” Deseret News, October 20, 1996. https://www.deseret.com/1996/10/20/19272182/early-explorers-lake-legend-quest-for-silver-bro ught-1st-white-man-to-area-231-years-ago
Powell, J. W. "Down the Colorado: Diary of the First Trip through the Grand Canyon, 1869," in Paul Schullery, ed., The Early Grand Canyon: Early Impressions (Niwot: Colorado Associated University Press, 1981).
Sound credit to Kevin Colver.