On August 31st, I attended the gala celebrating the release of Glyphs III: Poems and Stories of the Colorado Plateau. A shortened version of my essay “Bird in the Hand” written for and first posted at AMV, was published in Glyphs III along with a short poem. The famous Katie Lee delivered the keynote address. A folksinger, actress, essayist, storyteller, and defender of wilderness, the 80-something Katie is well known in Utah for her passionate advocacy of Glen Canyon, a great portion of which now lies drowned beneath Lake Powell. It was a pleasure and something of a relief for this lonely Mormon nature writer to meet and mix with people who get this aspect of my writing. I don’t know how many other Mormons attended this celebration. A detectable “Along with our clothing we shed conventional religion” aroma wafted from the attendees.
Katie Lee had a table there displaying her published wares, at least one of which had, by Mormon standards, a “crusty” title. But among the books was a stunning black-and-white poster. It’s a photograph of a V-shaped gap between two, maybe three monumental canyon walls that fill the frame. On a stone at the narrow end of the V, dwarfed by colossal sandstone palisades, stands Katie Lee, her wiry backside as bare as the surrounding rock. Her head turns up and slightly to the right, so the viewer glimpses a glory of wonder on her face. Against the ancient sandstone walls and their shadows, her body, shining with reflected light, looks as young as a three-year-old’s. Her white hair, cropped short and standing on end, compounds the impression that one is looking at a naked, tow-headed child standing among huge trunks of petrified time.
I heard the phrase “those sexy rocks” spoken a couple of times that night to describe the Colorado Plateau’s sandstone landforms. Of course, “sexy” has broadened its meaning in contemporary usage. Now, even modest people can use the word to describe something that has for them highly charged appeal or interest — attraction — without necessarily causing themselves to blush. Coolly efficient high technology can be said to be sexy as well as a heat-stamped arrangement of sky, water, and desert rock. However you wish to describe it, an undisputable charisma flaunts itself in every square inch of heaven and earth, a mystique hanging about prodigious designs and unexpected encounters that excites the mind to possibilities.
My experience has been that many Mormons, being focused on other matters of mortal probation, find rocks and uninhabitable spaces unattractive and don’t understand why some folks make such a fuss about them. Instead, a typical Mormon might find exciting the prospect of feeling that burning in the bsom that comes with personal revelation or the sudden dawning of prayed-for inspiration. Me, I find the Mormon idea of eternal progression highly attractive as well as illuminating of certain irresistible qualities of the creation. And as far as I’m concerned, nothing excites the imagination and moves the soul like a good baptism by fire or episode of personal repentance. Repentance — mm mm mmm. Very hot.
Like I was saying, I felt deep pleasure the other night at being among people who understand how thoroughly engaged I feel when I’m out in nature. They’ll get it when I tell the story about coming home from a walk in the dark to see the Milky Way, its southernmost end so luminous I thought an artificial light was shining behind our house, arc like a rainbow into the branches of the tired juniper in our yard so that stars twinkled like dew on its branches. They’ll listen to the field notes I’ve taken when I’m out hiking, for as long as I want to read them, without feeling suspicious of my purpose or doubtful of my love for what I do. In fact, they’ll add their voices to mine in testimony of the extraordinary come-hither appeal of the natural world and what it suggests about what’s really going on in this teeming wilderness of being.
On the other hand, I don’t know if the self-described defenders of the natural world would get how I find concepts like repentance and eternal progression as drop-dead gorgeous as I do.
But now when I think of either side of the divide, the image of octuagenarian Katie Lee standing, child-like, face turned full-on to the Mystery, rises to mind. Clothing doesn’t make us any less naked before the piercing effects of creation, salvation, and progression. Physical nakedness doesn’t necessarily open us up to it any more. Clothes on, clothes off: In some ways, it hardly seems to matter, because where the Mystery is concerned clothes grant no special protection against the sudden onset of feeling exposed.
But I don’t see why Mormons shouldn’t have the edge in engaging the Mystery in their literature, including literary nature writing. All they have to do is pay attention to what’s going on around them more — even just a little more. They can even keep their clothes on while they do that. If they can combine the Mormon above-average sense for repentance, atonement, and other aspects of belief with wide awake senses, then broaden the current state of the Mormon conscience beyond the pricking of mere guilt to embrace intelligent responsibility, then Mormons could produce some of the hottest nature writing on the planet. Of this I have no doubt.
10 thoughts on “Those Sexy Rocks: A Night with the Moab Poets and Writers Group”
Wow. Thanks for linking to “Bird in the Hand”. A fan is born.
I’ll look forward to reading some more. Until then, I’ll just channel a little Annie Dillard as I enjoy remembering her visit to BYU and thinking about your swift …
You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.
It could be that our faithlessness is a cowering cowardice born of our very smallness, a massive failure of imagination… If we were to judge nature by common sense or likelihood, we wouldn’t believe the world existed.
Mormons. hot. and nature writing. All in the same phrase. I don’t know, Patricia. I’m having a hard time fitting all three together (or even two out of three). Managing to join all three might be radioactive.
“I find the Mormon idea of eternal progression highly attractive as well as illuminating of certain irresistible qualities of the creation.”
Agreed. And not just eternal progression, but eternal creation. I think we do sometimes get too caught up in the probative aspects of our current estate and miss the reminders of what it’s all leading to — the relationships, sensory/sensual experiences, the creative processes we can engage in.
Chino Blanco, Nice to see you over here at AMV, thanks for dropping by and reading. I like your Dillard quote, especially this: It could be that our faithlessness is …
a massive failure of imagination.
Nowadays, the role of \”imagination\” appears to be relegated to the world of \”children\’s make believe\” rather than the wider sense of the fertile, inventive process of generating new prospects or simply seeing something in a way that you — or maybe everybody else–haven\’t seen it before. I think imagination is due a renaissance.
As to this from Dillard: If we were to judge nature by common sense or likelihood, we wouldn’t believe the world existed.
Of course, another way we handle the problems of belief nature presents us is we simply make it over in our own image, sentimentalize it, idealize it, etc.
Wm: Mormons. hot. and nature writing. All in the same phrase. I don’t know, Patricia. I’m having a hard time fitting all three together (or even two out of three). Managing to join all three might be radioactive.
Oooh, that bad, huh? Sorry I couldn\’t check that sentence with my rhetoric Geiger counter, but it broke at the \”… repentance… mm mm mmm very hot\” line. Some kind of subatomic dilemma, I think.
I like what you said about eternal creation and absolutely agree. Thanks for raising that point. Of course, with eternal progression comes eternal creation. I think that idea from Eccles., \”there is no new thing under the sun,\” poetic and applicable to a point but also suffering from a failure of the imagination.
Sorry, I think I’m with #2 on this one …
Clothes off = hot
Clothes on = cool
(Hot/cool in a Katie Lee/Napoleon Dynamite kind of way)
As to the odor emanating from “Along with our clothing we shed conventional religion” … well, nothing like olfactory information to trigger memories, and this particular smell has brought to mind Edward Abbey’s “One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain’t nothin’ can beat teamwork.”
Goodness that last graf was pissy for no apparent reason. Note to self: try to imagine how nice a revival of good manners would be. More reading, less inane commenting, thanks.
No problem, C.B., I just chalked up your comment to the Mystery.
Just out of curiosity, do you read any of the new tree-hugger, rock-snogger lit, or are Abbey and Dillard Alpha and, er, Delta?
No, here in Taiwan, I tend to read whatever happens to get passed along to me from friends in the backpacker set. At the moment, that’d be Thomas Berry’s The Dream of the Earth
If you suggest some titles, I’ll get them in for the bookshelf at our river retreat … http://www.cloud9tw.com
By the way, I thought of your swift again when I read this Interview with a Parrot
I’d be interested in hearing what you think of Craig Childs. _The Secret Knowledge of Water_ is usually thought to be a good place to start. I liked _Soul of Nowhere_ a lot, too.
The incident with the swift tipped me off to avian intelligence. Before I met that swift I didn’t pay much attention to birds.
Thanks for the link about Alex’s dying. I think I’ll try to find a way to blog about that — and somehow tie it to a Mormon theme.
Hey, thanks, the two you’ve recommended are now on their way here, along with a third called The Pictograph Murders that I’ve no idea about, except that I’ve heard the author is quite gracious about indulging random requests for reading list suggestions, cheers.