Jay Meehan: A woke in the woods
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”
~ Walt Whitman
I’m pretty much ignorant when it comes to the natural world. My learning curve is such that if a marble were to find itself the topside, there would be little gravitational impetus for it to roll off. Not to say that I don’t stay in touch with rock strata and plant communities and the critters that dart between them.
Take, for instance, the two deciduous trees that are part and parcel to the paddock and pen and corral system out back. There comes a time each year when communiqués between us begin to flow at an accelerated rate. Overnight, buds will appear, informing me it’s once again time to monitor their thirst requirements.
History would show that prior to the appearance of buds at the end of each twig, however, their automatic intake valves remain rusted shut and it matters not whether the surrounding ground achieves periodic saturation. Meaning that, no matter how much I flood the plain, libation-wise, they are on the wagon.
Of course, not being one for moderation on any level, my initial reaction is to drown them. To hear them tell it, you’d think they were getting waterboarded at Gitmo. But, soon enough, a sort of balance is achieved. Over the years I’ve instituted a color-coding system whereby perfect pitch is achieved by a specific shade of green.
Now, in the wider neighborhood hereabouts, it’s a totally different story. From the sagebrush – Gambels Oak transition to the Pinion–Juniper pygmy forest communities, I listen rather than react. They are the locals and over time have got the moisture drill down to a, excuse the expression, science.
Could you imagine watering the sagebrush steppe parcels associated with the Wasatch Range on a semi-regular basis? As mundane as they appear from the trails, however, embedding oneself in the microcosm of it all is a liberating proposition. These zones are where epiphanies transpire, where one can become “woke” in the flash of an Alder cone.
For a longer period than anywhere else on this planet that I have called home, the Heber Valley foothills have served as my “place,” my stompin’ grounds. Its perch above the valley floor and directly opposite the rock massif that is Timpanogos has served me well, both practically and aesthetically.
Even the fruits of the gritty desert wind that sucks moisture from the land prove tasty. Although I continue to answer queries of geographical origin with where I’m “from,” the sense of having alighted in space-time is profound. And much of that is punctuated by the ongoing sense of a “woke” in the woods.
And, in these parts, that comes with just stepping out one’s backdoor, as good a spot as any to initiate the “mosey” in question. You can catch squalls cutting in on whirling dust devils for some Samba time or a Quaking Aspen grove going off in a color-ritual totally unrelated to those around it.
Although my biggest “woke” moment ever took place quite a ways south of here alongside a precarious hiking path when I stumbled upon a fragile thin-leaf Manzanita shrub completely overshadowing and outshining the featured act of a Grand Canyon sunset from the North Rim Trail. What a showoff!
When referring to the “woods” hereabouts, what I’m actually singling out are the various Sagebrush components that make up the groundcover nearly as far as the eye can see. Serving as a reminder that all living things are different from all other living things, they sing in harmony of a diversity only wisdom can translate.
It’s a haunted landscape, to be sure. A shimmering of the ghost of mountain man Etienne Provost can still be sensed skirting these same foothills not unlike he had during the fall of 1824 after escaping the wrath of Chief Bad Gocha and his Shoshone down at Utah Lake. The valley has long served as a crossroads, sometimes in a hasty retreat.
So if you want to get “woke,” get down on all fours and roam the sagebrush from ground level. And when dark arrives, just flop over on your back and check out the night sky. All is one when you get woke in the woods.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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After a pipe burst in her home, followed by her furnace going out, columnist Teri Orr is grateful to be safe, warm and dry. And amid the global pandemic, she understands she is one of the lucky ones.