Teri Orr: Red rock religion (Part 1)
October 30, 2015
The reunion came together over Facebook. Friends from long ago would be camping down river from our mutual friend, who owns a ranch on the Colorado. Could I sneak away, for even a day?
The invitation was too sweet to ignore. The four of us had survived the 80’s in Park City and if you were here, you know that is certainly a badge of honor, steeped in a certain kind of sweat equity and a bushel of crazy. Three of us worked together at this paper covering minor offenses –told with poetic license — in the police blotter, and being on the front lines for a national news story involving a 17-day standoff between law enforcement and a polygamous family wanting to avenge a ten-year-old murder. And stories that have never ended — the Sweeney family willing to donate vast swaths of the beloved mountain for public trails with a trade-off for greater density. Should the time ever come, they could afford to build on those steep hills.
The man among us was a minister back then and now. He gathered those who believed and wanted to believe, in a tiny brick church on Park Ave. He was under the umbrella of the Methodist but to make room it became known as the Community Church. One of my reporters got married in that old brick church. The other reporter married the minister.
None of us had much money so "going home" for the holidays was rarely an option. Those were the years we made home here. We had huge dinner parties in tiny houses with cheap wine and stories and music that lasted long into the night. We all worked crazy hours and were devoted to our jobs and our loves. Back then I was the only one with children and mine were already teenagers who flourished with the extended family gatherings.
The ’90’s happened — a wind sweeping us in different directions. The smart reporter formed her own consulting company using some of her many degrees to help shape policy for the next 25 years in th U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Departments. The minister, her husband, took a job in Boulder, Colorado in a church divided over whether gay people had a place in a pew. The other smart reporter became editor of this paper for a spell and then returned to her home and her family’s paper, the Moab Times Independent. She divorced her husband and married a man older than she. He/they just celebrated his 80th birthday.
There were Christmas cards on occasion and when my son married, he asked Mark to return to town to perform the ceremony. And then life just happened, to us all for a while. The babies they had grew into young men and women. And then, silly as it sounds, we all reconnected thru Facebook.
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I drove south on Sunday afternoon and returned Tuesday afternoon — a quick turnaround and a fulfilling visit with old friends.
When you turn up the river road after a rainstorm in the fall, you enter a primal place with slick, still-wet red rock cliffs taller than any cityscapes. The cottonwoods are just starting to turn from green to golden. And your rational self tells you the vibrations you feel are tires on the pavement but you consider the possibility it is the river canyon speaking in code. The S-curves take you into a time warp where there are no buildings and no cell service. And soon you are spotting hawks and mountain bluebirds and watching out for cattle meandering across the road.
At my friend’s ranch more than 20 miles upriver, the recent rains made the red dirt road muddy instead of dusty. I move into the guest house once featured on the cover of Architectural Digest for being built right into a giant red rock cliff. The living room window is in the center open curve of the rock part of the living room and the outside wall.
The first evening is with the woman who owns the ranch, who still writes for her family paper, and her husband, as well as friends of theirs visiting who own a ranch, one of only two, upriver from them. These are homes bordered by BLM land and stand alone for miles in the desert wilderness. The women visiting from three different states are all sixty-something therapists. Joining us, too, is the new ranch hand, a grandson, 22, who has come from South Dakota to live in the West for a bit.
It takes no time for the women to start talking about books and politics and faith and food. It is the gift of post-menopausal women — the ability to no longer care about little things and the need to connect and dissect and immediately pass big ideas along with the bread basket.
It is dizzying, really. The easy comfort of the man and his grandson, my friend surrounded by female friends which are in short supply, living on a remote desert ranch. In the morning our friends from Colorado will arrive. I drift off looking out the upstairs part of the living room window set in the rock wall, seeing tall rock towers silhouetted against the night. Life, I am reminded, can be beautiful spent on a Sunday, out of the Park…
To be continued
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.