This story starts way back before I had many other stories. Just about the time I was handed a journal with my name embossed in gold on the right bottom corner, purchased at the local Mormon bookstore for my eight birthday. It starts on that first page where I began recording my presence on the earth--and all I seemingly wanted to write about was the desert.
Friends. A little bit of family. And the desert.
My entire timeline was logged in as BLP and ALP--Before Lake Powell and After Lake Powell. Here is the birthday party I attended before I left for the lake, and here's the report of how the lake was this time, "We camped in a windy cove. The lake was very choppy". We went often enough that there was always a time period in between where I'd be waiting for the next five hour trip through the desert down to the marina. Everything--every season, every birthday, every religious rite of passage was either before or after Lake Powell.
Leaving the dusty town of Hanksville on the way to Powell, I always regarded the Henry mountain range as the gate keepers of the lake. Dark, severe and serious looking, they were the last mountain range to be added to the map of the continuous United States. When our suburban took off south (after filling up at the Hole in the Rock gas station--a convivence store situated in a carved-out rock, a true desert gimmick!) there was always a feeling of dread. We have to pass the Henrys. The Henrys were the Mordor of my youth. But on the other side was blue water, deep as Wall Street concrete canyons, and red rock vistas curving and goosenecking for over a hundred miles. The only place I ever wanted to be--red chapped lips and tangled wind-wild hair, it always felt more like home than anything place I knew.
The story ends with me here, in Southeast Utah, in a little white house built by ranchers in 1948--their brands still carved into the lava rock fireplace downstairs. When I finish this essay I will stand up from my desk at the kitchen window and see the southern slope of the La Sal mountain range, then I will notice the pink rock and sharp canyons of the Dry Valley next to the famed Canyonlands National Park, beyond there I see the Abajos (also called the The Blues) mountain range where my girls now attend school (happily riding the bus each day for hours passing pinion and pine), but if I squint and look beyond the hazy horizon I can see dark shadows in the furthest vista of the western view--the Henrys.
I am home.
For now, my afternoons are dedicated to purpose of writing about how I got here--how I hauled my family from the alpine loops and sprawling civilization of the Wasatch Front down to the desert and up two thousand feet to a homestead of fifth generation ranchers, but not before we left our high demand religion behind, like a awkward-but-earnest band of reverse pioneers.
But it all makes sense to me now. Growing up within earshot of the BYU bell tower it would ring out the hour with a robust rendition of "Come Come Ye Saints"--the same notes I would rock my babies to in the upstairs nursery of the Retro House on Birch Lane. Perhaps the only song I ever heard daily my entire life, always came with a promise--
Far away in the West
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid
There the Saints will be blessed