Gathering dust …
Sunday in the Park
November 25, 2016
It was the moment the 12-year-old boy looked down on me when we were hiking amid the red rocks in the dead center of nowhere at all, and said, with the kind of awe usually reserved for new things electronic, "Oma, how did you ever discover this place?"
That's when I was thankful.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are always gentle tug of wars over whose house we will be at, who cooks what, what to watch, and what to talk about. My adult children have spouses, who have relatives who live in different states. It's rare we all have any meals together, even though we all live in Utah. They have teenage children who are engaged in sports and bands and life. My job still has me working most weekends.
I knew this year I would have my son's family for Thanksgiving and I proposed something bold — We rent a house in the desert close to the most remote place I know and love: Boulder,Utah, a town of 180 people.
I found a place that did a magical thing. It looked appealing in the photos but it was jaw dropping upon arrival.
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No one would cook and we would enjoy the meal in the restaurant I have watched grow for the past 17 years and become, each year, more filled with love: Hell's Backbone Grill.
His little family agreed.
I found a place that did a magical thing. It looked appealing in the photos but it was jaw dropping upon arrival. The home is a kinda arts and crafts cabin with two bedrooms and two tiny lofts. It has high window walls and a wide deck for watching the landscape change. It is set at the end of a soft red, almost pink dirt road against giant red rock cliffs along a running creek. It abuts federal wilderness.
On our walk, my daughter-in-law spotted the big cat prints in the soft sand by the river. Both kids, who are TRAX riding city kids, were scaling the cliffs with ease and joy before noon the first morning. We saw no other humans until dinnertime.
The half hour drive on the scenic and always thrill-inducing Highway 12 was spectacular, and we arrived as the bonfire was crackling outside to welcome guests. There was cider and appetizers before we entered the tiny sacred space Blake and Jen and Keri and Oyouke and all the team had created inside the tiny restaurant.
We were seated family style with folks we didn't know but needed to. And the endless meal was served with love and great attention on platters, and dishes that might have come from the pantry of a kind grandmother added to the experience.
The meal was every item you wanted and so many more you hadn't considered, like the cream of sunchoke soup with port, rosemary and sizzled sage. There were three kinds of gravy (one was a mole sauce), two kinds of dressing and all the vegetables they had grown all fall on their farm.
Blake addressed the guests before the meal and later encouraged a break before dessert. So we wandered outside. By now, the deep, dark night sky was showing off. All the stars in formation and then clusters of stardust against the blackest and deepest of skies. And we were so entranced we "almost" didn't realize it was 20 degrees.
Once back inside the desserts were chocolate pecan pie and an apple and crabapple hand pie with a maple creme fraiche and a black bottom pumpkin pudding with smoke sea salt. And candies. There were long hugs and promises to stay in touch with new friends. And applause for the wait staff who had served with style and warmth and great grace.
Those two women, Blake and Jenn, have created magic in the desert. And won awards every year for their finely honed skills.
On the half-hour drive "home," we chatted about it all some more. And then when we got out of the car, even though it was way below freezing, we stood on the deck in equal awe of the perfect star-filled night against the blackest of skies. Thousands of stars.
This morning as I write this I have watched the flat early morning light be taken over by the strong sun that is showing where the green cactus and sagebrush exist in the cracks of the red rocks. Where the shadows make you imagine animal shapes and the light play makes you wonder if that might be petroglyph or just a water mark on the vibrating red rocks. I know where there is an easy walk to and through a slot canyon and I plan to show them that today. Tomorrow might be a hike in a place with crazy rock formations called Devil's Garden.
And in all these places where our electronics don't work or only work sporadically there are spaces for conversations about real life. Kids in school and tough classes. New jobs for the adults and what that means. And re-discovering how a walk along a river can carry a conversation for a long time without words.
All my years of wandering back roads and exploring little known places might have just been in preparation of this trip. This moment in time when we are reminded that nature nurtures in a way that is so primal we respond easily when isolated. We discover the heart-shaped rock and the walking stick branch. We hear strange noises that don't frighten us but whisper to us… remember.
This is the dust to dust we have come from/will go to. The red powder that will be in wheel wells and the floor of the backseat for weeks. And the stardust we are only occasionally in life gifted with so we don't forget. We are the stuff stars are made of…
I will try to very hard to keep that in my heart when I return home this Sunday to the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.