Tom Clyde: Cycles of fall, and 9/11
And like that, the fall colors have started. A week ago, things were late-summer green. Now there are patches of gold on the hillsides. There’s a patch of something on the mountain above the hay farm that turns yellow a week or so before anything else. Every year, that’s the first in the area to turn. It seemed to happen overnight.
I wasn’t expecting much from this fall. After the dry summer, leaves were drying out in July, and seemed likely to just turn brown. Then, after the driest period since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s from April through July, we had the wettest August in history. It was like a second spring. The grass came back to life. It was too late to solve the pasture problem for the cattle — nothing grows when it’s 40 degrees at night. But it all greened up.
The next couple of months are my favorite time of year around here. The heat is over and the mosquitoes, flies and other bugs are gone. Eating dinner out on the deck is pleasant. It’s hard to mark the departure of the birds. When they come back in the spring, the arrival is noisy and obvious. One morning will be peacefully quiet, and the next, the sandhill cranes are trumpeting out in the field and a flock of geese announce they have checked in. They seem to sneak out in the fall.
The hummingbirds are mostly gone, down to a few stragglers. The red-tailed hawks seem to have left a couple of weeks ago, when the potgut squirrels hibernated (Aug. 15 at my house, you could set a watch by their schedule). There are still a few cranes around, but they are thinning out. The osprey cruise up and down the river bottom, casting huge shadows. The bald eagles will start showing up in a couple of months.
Other migrations have begun. The vacation crowds are winding down as people go back to work and school. It’s possible to make a left turn in Park City again. It still feels busier than normal. The plague refugees aren’t going home. They’ve put down roots and are here to stay. Last ski season felt significantly busier. Part of that was reduced loading on the lifts — those empty chairs backed up the lift lines. But it felt busier. At the end of the season, the numbers confirmed it. We had record skier days at Utah resorts. Despite being sort of shut down through the spring and early summer, everything seemed busy. Traffic in Park City was terrible. Traffic through Kamas was like a holiday weekend all the time. This week, the sales tax figures were released. They confirmed what we all were feeling — things have been booming. Apparently the plague is good for business.
Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. For me, that morning began like any other fall morning. The clock radio wasn’t on yet, but the dogs always wake me up before the alarm. I was in bed, thinking about what I needed to get done that day and whether there was time for a bike ride. When the clock radio came on, instead of the normal news, there was reporting on a plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York. At that point, it was unclear what had happened, and it sounded like an accident involving a small private plane.
I turned on the TV, and it became obvious that it was an airliner and the damage was huge. I watched from my bed and saw the second plane hit, and then the reports from the Pentagon and Pennsylvania where the fourth plane had crashed. In a fog, I spent the rest of the morning glued to the TV. The towers collapsed. The explosion of speculation as to what had happened, and who, why and how, was as useless as it was unsettling. Nobody knew anything beyond what we could see. And what we could see was terrible.
We were five months away from hosting the Olympics. Suddenly our previously unknown little town, safely tucked into the mountains, was seen as the next likely target for a similar attack. It was all completely unthinkable the day before, and became the entire focus of the event the day after. Somehow, we pulled it off, but not without a lot of anxiety.
A couple of years ago, I went to the 9/11 memorial in New York. It was such a beautiful day that it was impossible to comprehend the horror that had happened where I stood. The memorial is powerful, to the point that I was unable to go into the museum. It was too much. While I stood by the reflecting pool, a parade of firefighters marched through carrying a photo of one of their own who had died there, marking his birthday, I think.
This morning, I looked at my pictures of that trip. There were dozens of them, but not one from that morning spent on the memorial grounds.
Twenty years later, the question from that morning is still there — why?
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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