Sunday in the Park
It a familiar path to many, the road to Moab. I like leaving routine right away and start by heading to Heber, then down past Sundance and only briefly through Orem. Just outside of Provo, you turn off and start to follow the paths of the river and the railroad. You wind between rock cliffs and rushing river and on a good day, you and a locomotive are the only evidence of the passing of time.
Outside of Price somewhere, as the river you see becomes first, the Price and then the Green, the horizon opens up. Suddenly, on the clearest of days you are certain you are looking at the sky over Colorado and Arizona, as well as Utah. And you might be. On the best of drives, like I had last week, you see pockets of storms on the horizon. Dark, isolated rain clouds, maybe on the left, while the sky to the right is still blue and clear. That kind of wide screen trumps every piece of electronic equipment you own.
A keen eye starts to put things into high definition. The birds overhead are raptors with large wing spans. The object moving in the sage brush is an antelope. The white car coming closer in your rear view mirror is a highway patrolman. The little gas station you find off the main road stands alone in the desert. You watch the storm approach and the tattered flag whip around and clang against the pole. As you enter the tin roof building with the strange characters sharing cigarettes you think perhaps you have slipped into your own chapter of a David Lynch movie.
Back on the road, choosing the back door to Moab, you continue past Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point. Instead, you pull off at Cisco, a ghost town inhabited by creatures who scurry into abandoned buildings when you drive past.
You follow a river again, this time the mighty Colorado. More big-winged birds fly over the river and seem to be racing your car. The skies are still stormy in a delicious, make- everything-smell-fresh way and you have opened the sunroof to take it all in.
This time I am staying up river, 20 miles outside of Moab. So I get to keep my head in a place removed (at least temporarily) from the madding crowds. I have to confess I’ve never been a fan of the town of Moab. It reminds me of many little beach towns in Southern California, full of shops that serve the tourists but bereft of a soul of its own. But the spaces around Moab, those horizons and red/orange rocks and shouts of desert flowers amid the sagebrush. I ‘m a huge fan of all that.
Part of the trip is catching up with an old friend, a kind of much younger sister, who lives right on the river, between the rocks, with all the creatures of the desert in her backyard.
Sena Taylor was the first person I hired when I became editor of this paper. She had just graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in journalism. But her pedigree was much more impressive than that. Her family for generations had owned the Moab Times Independent newspaper. The quintessential, small town, Western paper, where births and deaths took up as much space as uranium discoveries. Sena had worked around hot lead press tables and chemical-filled dark rooms. She had a wisdom beyond her years and an inherent sense of social justice. I had only been editor a month when I hired her. I spent the next eight years learning from her.
Relationships forged over late nights sitting in hideously boring public meetings are something strange and rare. Late nights laying out the paper and making certain the headline matched the story. Late nights sitting in a car in sub-zero weather during the Singer/Swapp stand-off waiting to see who would blink first — law enforcement or the fugitives. Long days in the off season, wondering if naming the numerous potholes on Park Avenue could constitute a news story. When I left the paper in 1993 and Sena became editor, she was just 30 but seasoned beyond her years.
She stayed just a little over a year. The red rocks called and she, her husband and two small children moved back to Moab where she became editor of her parent’s paper for a couple of years. Fast forward to a divorce in her late 30s and a remarriage to an older man. A move out of town to his place on the river. A life breeding backcountry mules and leading trail rides. The two children, now a teen and a near teen. You’re pretty much up to speed.
Sena and her loving husband, John, live in a new house on the land that leads to the river. It is surrounded by hundreds of acres donated to the Nature Conservancy. Spectacular land, where John Ford first filmed John Wayne crossing the Colorado on horseback. Or more recently, where the characters from "City Slickers" took off on a slick-rock ride of their own.
The new house matches the land. Is perfectly situated on it. It is hardly visible from the road, just the tip of the roof, if you know where look, among the red rocks. There are wide, wraparound porches, a rock fireplace that opens to both the living room and the kitchen, hardwood floors and enormous glass windows that let the landscape become the living artwork. Outside the bedroom window is the formation known as Locomotive Rock, a series of wind whipped red rocks that resemble a steam engine train. Think of your favorite National Park Lodge, shrink it to be the perfect, single family home and you get the picture.
Dinner was casual, outdoors on a wooden table saved from an old mining office. The salmon had been laid out on the most impressive marble topped kitchen island, which turned out to be one of the old hot lead tables from her grandfather’s day at the paper. The sun set as we caught up. John made his "house drink" a kind of tequila gimlet you have taste to appreciate. And the kids, Taylor and Adam, joined the conversation in appropriate and thoughtful ways. Taylor made perfect, warm-from- the-oven-brownies for dessert and Adam added the exquisite touch of marshmallows and candles to warm them over. By the time I wandered down the red dirt road to my place at the bunkhouse, the sky was dark, the stars were bright and the coyotes were howling. I slept in a dreamy state.
The trail ride the next day took us up the slick rocks and down Onion Creek and into the Colorado to the proverbial island in the stream. John, all the while, pointing out a history of the land and Sena with her trained cowgirl, real deal, eyes, spotting the rare crown lizards, bright turquoise right now, posing for us on flat, hot rocks.
When you are with an old friend who is an old soul who boils down the complexities of life to living in harmony with the land and loving in harmony inside a small town, you can’t help but have mixed feelings of admiration and envy. I was reminded that life-long learning isn’t always something that has to do with books or how to work my iPod. Examples of respect for the land and the people who inhabit it are rare. I had a kind of National Geographic style visit to a place where a lot of folks rush past on their way to somewhere else. The indelible time there is something I can close my eyes and revisit, and smile about a precious Sunday, spent out of the Park