Detroit Photographic Co. (1900) The Wasatch Range from the Valley of the Jordan. C. [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2008679699/.
I will never forget how I felt the very first time I went to Utah. I was a brand new convert from Southern California. I had dreams of transferring to Brigham Young University, and I remember driving around Provo, seeing the Y on the mountain, and feeling awestruck at the majestic feeling of wholesome delight. Just being there did something for my soul! So these were Mormons. This is what it meant to be a Mormon, I thought.
A few years later, after a few subsequent BYU rejection letters, a less-than-traditional route to a Temple marriage, and a desperate move to Salt Lake County for a much-needed full-time job to support our new family, I still naively idealized Utah. It was the beginning of Summer when we arrived, and that is right when Utah is on its best behavior. The green pastures, dotted by white steeples, against the still snowcapped backdrop of the Wasatch front looked like something out of a dream! I thought of Brigham Young and the early Saints, arriving at the top of Emigration Canyon and seeing the valley for the first time. I thought of how it must have felt, and the vision he must have had of transformation from barren desert to fertile valley. Looking at Utah through those lenses made it appear truly divine.
Then Winter came. There were days when I looked around at the thick smoggy haze and the dirty snow that had worn out its welcome, and Utah looked more like a toilet bowl in need of cleaning than some majestic Zion. It seemed that some days, a depressed and worn out feeling permeated, and the tension could be felt by everyone. The constant blizzard dump made it impossible for my husband to work, and we were doing poorly. I once made a trip to the bishop’s storehouse, and that was when I felt the lowest of the low. There is an underbelly of Utah, where poverty and crime exists, although driving around a brand new housing development in Lehi or some other suburb would never tell of such a thing. There is also a large non-Mormon population, many of them disaffected former members, and among them are a diverse population of people who are anything but a stereotypical cookie-cutter Utahn.
I think I might have come close to losing what budding testimony I had at the time we lived in Utah. It seems counterintuitive to see that as a possibility, but there is an invisible battle going on in Zion. There is a constant pull between tradition and progress. Admittedly, Utah does need to modernize many aspects of their state. Sadly, though, there is a price that comes with moving into the future and assimilating with the so-called “mission field”. Some people cheer on the demolition of the relics of old Utah, symbolically destroying the weight they have felt of their Mormon pioneer roots. It is true that roots do keep things from going very far.
Of course, some might call it being grounded.
I, as a grafted-in branch to a family tree filled with stalwart Pioneer ancestors whose blood and sweat helped build Zion, I implore you: please don’t let your roots disappear. You will be like everyone else. And you will regret it. I have lived in many different places, and I promise you, you aren’t missing anything. Do everything you can to keep Utah the pristine utopia that it was meant to be. There is a reason you, the Peculiar People, stand apart from the rest of the world. You have something they all want, whether they admit it or not. I can’t help but die a little inside each time I hear about rent prices and crime rates going up, old buildings being torn down to make way for overpriced lofts, or record-breaking crowds flocking to Zion National Park, only to knock over ancient rock formations and smear graffiti.
The truth about Utah lies somewhere in between the idealistic and the realistic, I think. While this Zion will never be a true Zion in this life, it has still come pretty close. It really has transformed from a barren salty desert to a fertile valley by hard work and divine blessing. Indeed, the Beehive is the most appropriate metaphor for Utah. We all have work, let no one shirk, put your shoulder to the wheel. That fortitude is still alive and well in Utah. That pioneer spirit still exists, and even though things have changed, and Utah isn’t perfect, regardless of the perpetual pull in the opposite direction, the industrious and wholesome attitude continues to prevail.
Remember your ancestors. Remember who they were, and what they stood for. Please don’t forget them. Don’t let Utah be just like every other place. Once it’s gone… it’s gone.