The Wasatch Front has been muted into dusty gray views of city and old mountains, weathered by ancient seas and canyon winds and now softened in haze of summer smoke. It’s a fishbowl. The Wasatch Mountains to the east and the Oquirrh mountains to the west trap air- and particulate- against the earth. The omnipresent haze burns in my lungs and leaves me resenting this heat, this valley, even these mountains that I have long praised as the most obvious redeeming feature of the smoggy, overwhelmingly Mormon stretch that I call home.
In the early summer the mountains are bright with yellow flowers and gopher snakes and tiny rattlers peer out of rocky crevasses and linger on the trails while waiting for the sun. Later, as autumn approaches, streams run dry, as does my motivation to keep climbing the mountains. My love of sun wanes, and I anticipate far-too-absent snow. Hiking, I sometimes come across large Great Basin Rattlesnakes coiled beside the narrow switchbacks. Once, I heard a familiar sound beside me but could not register what it was until a quick glance revealed a fanged head ready to strike mere inches from me. I had nightmares for months after that experience, but found it comforting that the snake clearly did not want to strike; if it had, I would surely have been its victim.
From the peaks, I can see the Great Salt Lake and all its wetlands. My study of geography has given me immense appreciation for this spot. It is a hub for migrating birds, providing food and rest for over ten million travelers per year. Seeing low-flying mallards swoop daringly past my windshield while driving on Legacy Highway is always a thrill for me, as are the flashy red-winged blackbirds swaying with the undulating reeds and grasses. This spring I delivered to the New State Duck Club near Bountiful Pond, the Amazon van kicking up gravel in an area unmapped by my GPS. The waterfowl on either side of the drive watched me with as much interest as I watched them, and I could hardly contain my giddiness when I handed over packages to the tiny, insular little community far out in the wetlands. How have I been so close to so much beauty and yet so wrapped up in my ugly cupboards and decades-old car and this constant drive to make things better? When I see the lake from the mountains or travel out into the wetlands where the little animals make their incredible homes, I realize that everything is already perfect the way it is.
In 2017 I was a student at Salt Lake Community College, placing small, sleepy kids in carseats to drive half an hour to the Redwood Campus each morning. I would watch for the hawks on fence posts and could never contain my excitement at see each red-winged blackbird so close to my hurtling steel box, yards from me yet eons away. There were days when traffic was heavy and my hands on the steering wheel shook from the stress of being late to class, yet seeing the patient birds waiting for their prey felt grounding. Like them, I tried to place myself inside each moment and let outside concerns blow away with the canyon winds.