Review: Trespass, by Amy Irvine

When I read literary nature or science writing or writing about Earth stewardship, I measure its effectiveness, first, by whether or not the langauge is engaging enough to rouse my sensibilities, and second, by whether or not the writing discusses human behavior toward this planet in creative yet responsible ways. Thus I appraise a writer’s language on two points: passion and sustainability.

Passion, or soulfulness, reflects the writer’s depth of feeling for and engagement with her subject. If a nature writer is capable of making deep connections with a landscape, senses alive and open, consciousness aroused and heightened, her language will filter through that enthusiam, offering the world to readers with transparency and, sometimes, magnification. Passionate nature writing engages readers in the way any out-of-the-ordinary experience engages them, so that they might feel wonder, consider their position, or form their own attachments. Fully formed passion thus demonstrates not only the writer’s profound affection for her subject but also reveals something of her love affair with her audience. Even when a writer feels ambivalence toward her audience, her ardor for her subject ought to throw off bright enough sparks they leap across any gap between her and potential audience members, igniting interest in willing, perhaps even forgiving readers.

My ideas about sustainability in language arise from my belief that human language is an energetic, originative part of the Creation. We might even consider language a natural resource, a great wilderness in its own right. Like other features of life and landscape it erupts, blossoms, and erodes. It has power and provides an environment for experience. If we get out into it, we have adventures and not only witness events but also cause them to happen. So any effort we make to improve our behavior toward the natural world ought to include efforts to improve behavior in the natural environment we call language.

Good logic is a component of sustainable language. I’ve written before on the role of logic in creative writing, but briefly, writers need logic for the same reason scientists need logic: to tell stories about human inquiry and experience as accurately as possible. Taking responsibility for what you say and how you say it is part of developing a sustainable presence on this planet, just as taking responsibility for how you use other natural resources is part of your stewardship accountability. Thus narrative art”“all narrative art”“ought to be open to judement upon its coherence.

I can’t always separate a writer’s passionate engagement with her subject from the degrees of sustainability her langauge demonstrates. I imagine the best writing to be seamless that way. I divide the two criteria simply for convenience of discussion. Writing about nature should be alive and its langauge ought to be sustainable. These are my standards for nature writing: Take “˜em or leave “˜em.

Now that I’ve said all that, I have to say that Amy Irvine’s memoir Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land falls so low on any scale I might set up for either of my two criteria as to barely register. This is because, for the entire stretch of its narrative, Trespass rarely leaves the interior landscape of Irvine’s soul, an environment that has suffered years of abuse, abandonment, trauma and illness from which it has not yet recovered. That bile rises into her language is not only natural, it’s to be expected. Holding her to my standard for nature writing thus seems uncharitable because Trespass isn’t really literary nature writing per se. First, Trespass reflects Irvine’s desperate drive to make sense of her life and leans heavily upon the arm of the confessional, rising frequently to the pitch of the cry of outrage. Second, Irvine’s very serious health issues keep her off balance.

A self-described Jack Mormon, Irvine vents spleen on the Utah Mormon culture with constancy of purpose. The invective starts mildly and somewhat stereotypically: “In Utah, fitting in”“not standing out”“is paramount to all other qualities. In both a social and professiona sense it is how one survives” (20).

A temple tour she took, she says,

“¦ solidified my image of the celestial kingdom”“the Mormon version of heaven”“as a place that would be a sterile-looking white room. I had imagined entering it in a white robe, and now I imagined I would be wearing those dreadful booties too. A very large man with a long white beard would hand down judgment of my life. He would tell me that I hadn’t been good enough, that I would have to go to a lower level of the kingdom”¦ As God spoke, I would look down at the spotless ivory tile. There would be not one speck of dirt. I would hear no wind, or birds, and through the robe, hanging heavy and opaque, I wouldn’t feel my own body. It was there on the temple tour that the idea of heaven began to terrify me”“not enough to keep me from getting baptized, but enough so that I would quit attending church by the time I was twelve (33).

And so on, ranging between better and worse. She describes Salt Lake Mormons as “relatively sophisticated and worldly “¦ if only by necessity,” because “You don’t become a major metropolis without “¦ learning the skills of tolerance and compromise, even if only for the sake of getting along (28).”

But most of Trespass unfolds in San Juan County, Utah, where I live. San Juan County Mormons get the worst of her language. They are, as she puts it, “hours away from anything remotely urban, more insulated than nearly any other county in the lower forty-eight” (19). The result, according to Irvine: “a relic of the oldest kind, its people and culture “¦ not only oppressive but nearly prehistoric in their ways” (29). She provides a list of “you must understands” about San Juan County Mormons, describing them as “unyeilding,” saying that they’ll go to great lengths to “protect their way of life and all that they see as theirs.” She asserts “the term “˜democracy’ doesn’t really apply “¦ only God’s laws and cattle rule the land”; “Everything is described, measured, and comprehended in terms of divine will and forage” (40).

Irvine displays the LDS culture and religion to the world in sepia tones of unflattering snapshot moments from its far history. From the Mountain Meadow Massacre, to her Idaho-Mormon grandmother’s “hard-edged” behavior, to the anonymous fellow she witnesses deliberately drive his vehicle over achaeological features, to the historical LDS practice of plural marriage, she takes the most painful events and most starkly controversial matters and conflates them to typical modern Mormon beliefs and practices. She waves quotes lifted from prophets one hundred and fifty years ago as the contemporary standard, some of the least attractive teachings of Brigham Young being among them. She purports that her source for what she learned about temple rituals was a bunch of whispering, preteen and teenaged Mormon girls, saying, “I learned “¦ that at the [celestial kingdom’s] highest level “¦ were roads, and they were paved and glittering with gold” (96). She professes some admiration for Joseph Smith”“what she describes as his shamanistic skills of seeing into other worlds”“to set the stage for expressing her repulsion at how washed out and uninspired ward and stake houses appear and how sterile LDS temples are. On and on it goes. Such constant kvetching undermines the potency of her language.

Perhaps her least transcendent moments occur during strident remarks she makes about the LDS missionary program, which she apprears to find especially threatening. In a chapter interspersed with fugues about Mormon sexuality, she waxes juvenile about why male missionaries (she speaks as if sister missionaries don’t exit) are called “companions.” Her confrontation of two elders at her door reaches the heights of a melodrama wherein she sees herself in the heroic female lead:

The missionaries stand before me, poised to pierce the most vulnerable parts of my psyche “¦ I stand straighter still, look the tall missionary squarely in the eye “¦ The elders want in. The power of the priesthood is most effective inside”“between the walls”“where domesticity tames even the most wild of beasts.

“”¦ Come back and preach at me,” I bellow, “when you’ve made love”“to someone other than each other. When you’ve seen death. When you’ve walked”“not driven”“across the desert” (103).

Despite appearances, Irvine’s complaints against Mormonism don’t fall back on the usual “all organized religion is stupefying and anti-progressive” refrain. Truly, she longs for a more spiritually compelling way of life. Her actual charge against the church is a charge against agrarian culture, which she sees contemporary Mormonism as being steeped in, especially in San Juan County.

To argue this point, she charts the movement of the Ancestral Puebloan culture (called “Anasazi” in Trespass) away from the greater fitness, the heightened sensuality, and full-bodied spirituality of the hunter-gatherer way of life into the apostasy of agriculture, drawing parallels between the church’s prospects in the American West and the collapse of the Ancestral Puebloan culture in the Four Corners region. Agriculture, she asserts, makes people aggressive, sick, sexually distraught, and incapable of truly vibrant spirituality. Eventually, it falls upon itself in fits of psychosis. The hunter-gatherer life, she asserts, was the more fully realilzed life, the ecstatic life. Following her logic here, as in other places in the book, becomes a bit of an adventure, marked as it is by flights of imagination and spurning and it does grounding in logic.

But whether or not Irvine’s arguments contain weight-bearing walls is not the issue. Trespass is exactly what the author says it is at its outset: an excavation she has undertaken to uncover what she needs to know about who she is. Occasionally, she admits that she suffers from the problems archaeologists do when they draw hasty conclusions about a layer of stratigraphy without wondering what lies beneath it or don’t take proper care of the details of provenance. She understands that archaeology destroys in the process of unearthing the story. This leads me to believe that on some level she realizes that she’s still troweling through the surface stratum of her soul. Yet because her situation is desperate, she feels compelled to make something whole of the jarring fragments she’s found even while their context slips through her fingers.

But I gotta say. If I wrote about another species with the degree of misapprehension and unbridled imagination that Irvine displays in her treatises on Mormonism, no one would take me seriously. If I described another religion through the same jaundiced eye that she does, I’d be labeled “insensitive” for the least of it and “intolerant” for the worst. If I wielded as much defensive anger and fear against another culture, ethnic group, race, etc. as she does against the LDS culture and faith, I’d be called “hateful,” a bigot, a racist. I would be branded, in her words, as “a real Mormon” who “would never question anything at all” (98).

So her language is hardly sustainable, and therein lies its deepest trespass. At the outset, Irvine remarks ominously upon how San Juan County residents have been known to burn environmentalists in effigy. I haven’t lived here long enough to be privy to that behavior, but I have seen the window stickers of the Calvin figure peeing on the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance acronym that she mentions. I’ve witnessed anti-SUWA signs on floats in Fourth of July parades. SPEAR (San Juan Public Entry and Access Rights, an off-roading group) members have demanded to know whether I’m an ATV rider or “one of them tree-huggers.” I’ve read the half-page long tirades against environmentalists published on the Letters to the Editor page of local papers. Yet Irvine herself focuses the language in her book on fashioning straw men, hanging “SJC LDS” signs on them, and burning them in glee. The language of Trespass is so caught up in throwing punches at the local culture it gives anybody in San Juan County who might be aching for a fight just the fodder they’re on the lookout for, effectively stoking the fires of conflict.

And boy, I’d sure hate to be a Mormon nature enthusiast living in San Juan County after its residents read this book. Oh “¦ wait “¦

While Irvine’s anti-Mormon spiels grate on the nerves, more troubling for me is her lack of passion when she speaks about the land she professes to love. This single failure of feeling suggests the severity of the trauma she has suffered and how deeply it has shaken and disconnected her. When she describes her forays into the backrocks she moved to San Juan County to be close to, I hear no tones of ardor in her voice, no music in her words”“only a degree of relief such as a person who is chronically depressed might feel after taking a sedative. Irvine is one of the “hiking wounded” who take refuge in angry environmental activism. She’s aware of this, but as of Trespass’s publication date, she lacks the means and energy to overcome her obstacles. Toward the book’s end, Irvine’s shaman friend Jessica sums up my impressions of Irvine’s dilemma succinctly: “In the wild world, you indeed found hallowed ground, but kneeling on it has failed to infuse you with anything soulful. In this sense, you are no better off than those you criticize” (395).

It goes without saying that most Mormons won’t like this book, even if they summon the will power to make it past its numerous burning Mormon effigies to reach the inner sanctum where Irvine’s actual points about agriculture are ensconced. If you are an aspiring Mormon nature writer or a Mormon interested in writing about Earth stewardship and have the heart not to take Irvine’s effigies personally, perhaps you should set aside some time when you’re laid up with a hiking injury (like I did) to make the mental trudge along Trespass’s switchback trails, just to see what’s out there. Then go thou and do better. Much, much better.

18 thoughts on “Review: Trespass, by Amy Irvine”

  1. Never read the book. The thing I remember most about it, is actually a review written in the L.A. Times where the reviewer committed these choice words to print in a national newspaper:

    “IRVINE can claim some of Mormon history as her own: Her great-great-great grandfather, Maj. Howard Egan, served as bodyguard to founder Joseph Smith and later to Brigham Young as the Mormons migrated west, across the plains and into the mountains, killing other emigrants and impregnating their daughters, but also surviving.”

    ?!

  2. Thanks, Patricia. I think you’ve framed this review perfectly. I’m sure it must have been a difficult one to write.

    Seth:

    Allow me to add to that: ?!!

  3. Irvine actually claims multi-generation Mormon heritage on both sides, but describes her father’s side, the Egan line, this way: “They were originally Mormons, but more recent generations have become Gentiles, or non-Mormons.” Irvine identifies — somehow — more closely with her father and his family’s history than with her mother, who is noticeably absent from the book. Irvine’s maternal grandmother makes several hard-lipped, “use a shovel to put out brush fires as well as kill kittens” appearances, however.

    Egan is one of those colorful historical Mormon figures who was there for the church from very nearly its earliest beginnings and one of the first to take plural wives. According to Irvine, Egan shot and killed the man — another Mormon, I believe — who impregnated one of his wives while Egan was away on one of his many exploits. Irvine describes these early frontier-type Mormon men this way: “These were Mormonism’s fiercest and fittest, men who were ruthless with their guns not for self-preservation or self-gain, but because their religion asked it of them” (p.21).

    Hard to tell for certain what that reviewer was getting at — probably just a flamboyant sound bite, which I’m beginning to realize in today’s rhetorical settings matters more than accuracy.

  4. Stephen M,

    I don’t think Irvine uses a line like that or puts quite that spin on her beliefs about agriculture. I take responsibility for it.

  5. Patricia, I am interested in what nature writers you would suggest as good reading. Obviously not Amy Irvine. You seem to have mixed feelings about TTW (same for me!). Who would you recommend. I’ve been reading some Michael Pollan lately as I don’t know that he qualifies as a nature writer, he’s more of a food writer, and his writing definitely takes a journalistic tone, but it is very good. I’ve enjoyed _The Omnivore’s Dilemma_ more than a lot of books I’ve read recently. So, who IS a good nature writer?

  6. Laura, I almost always enjoy Craig Childs’ writing. His training as a hydrologist (a scientist who studies the properties, distribution, and effects of water on the earth’s surface and atmosphere)invests his writing with an above-average degree of rationality, yet his language is alive and open. He’s hands-on in his involvement with his environment, so more senses are in play when he reports his experiences. He’s into the adventure of it all, into putting himself out there to see what happens, so he’s kind of fun to follow. He’s full of feeling that comes out in sometimes quite gorgeous and provocative passages that spark my own thinking and feeling. Most importantly, he presents what he experiences without forcing conclusions on you, he just gives you good reason to do your own thinking. In my book, that alone makes his writing more sustainable than that of many other nature writers who poke their pens in your eye, as Irvine is prone to do. If you’re interested in Childs, try _The Secret Knowledge of Water_, or, if you like animals, try _The Animal Dialogues_, which I read most recently and very much enjoyed.

    In a workshop I took from him, Craig emphasized that we must always tell what happened in the order it happened and not make stuff up, because people will stop following your writing where you do that. I believe he was quite devoted to this belief, so I accept his sometimes extraordinary stories without doubting that they happened. Beside that, having had similarly unusual and sometimes outrageous experiences with animals and plants and landscapes, I get that nature is extraordinary enough on its own and not in need of embellishment. If you embellish your stories about your experiences in nature, that means you’ve missed something. If you go out in nature but devote the large part of your writing to outrage and angst, then you’ve really missed something. Craig Childs remains part of the picture without forcing his own image on the landscape. I deeply respect that. I actually learn useful things from his writing, not only about other species or conditions in the environment but about how to write.

  7. Oh! Laura, I should add that Craig includes in his stories interesting experiences with other people, an especially fetching quality in his work.

  8. While I appreciate that the author seemed to be especially harsh towards your home, I find it odd that one of your criticisms is “She waves quotes lifted from prophets one hundred and fifty years ago as the contemporary standard, some of the least attractive teachings of Brigham Young being among them.”
    Since when do we LDS disbelieve a prophet just because he said something a long time ago?
    If a later President of the Church didn’t override it, whatever Brigham Young said is still valid.

  9. Mel,

    Fair enough. Many teachings of prophets from long ago are still vital today. Some of the teachings of the early prophets, such as grow and produce food locally rather than buy from outside the area, were good teachings that we haven’t adhered to religiously in modern times but that, given today’s agricultural problems, suddenly seem like great ideas. Some ideas, like withholding the priesthood from men of African-American descent, perhaps reflect particular prophets’ interpretations of the Lord’s will as it filtered through their cultural upbringings.

    Regarding Irvine’s use of Brigham Young, here are specific examples from Trespass.

    “The Mormon interpretation of the Utah’s Native American heritage takes quite a different perspective: as one of the lost tribes of Israel, the Saints believe that contemporary Indians have been here since Biblical times, that they are the direct descendants of Hebrews—an unruly bunch that were cast off by boat to North American, as punishment for their sins. In the early days of settling Deseret, to fulfill the prophecies in the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young urged the Saints to take the Indians and ‘dress them up [,] teach them our language & learn them to labor & learn them the gospel of their forefathers.’ He encouraged the brethren to ‘raise up children by them,’ and, so they would be received by God, make them ‘a white and delightsome people.’ Even now, despite DNA testing that proves Native Americans are not of Hebrew descent, the Mormons anticipate that their long-lost dark-skinned cousins will play a significant role in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the end of the earth as we know it” (p.51).

    To drive home her points in the above passage, Irvine repeats this bit of intelligence later in the book, with greater detail that supposedly sheds light upon its meaning:

    “[Young’s] backup plan called for the Saints to take Indian children—many of whom were orphaned during the exterminations campaigns that frustrated Mormon settlements resorted to—and raise them in their homes as Mormons. Later, Young counseled, the young Mormon men would marry Indian women of the new era, who, over the generations, would produce increasingly light-skinned, better-behaved children. The plan brought the Church one enormous step closer to their goal of creating the ‘white and delightsome people’ that had been prophesied” (91).

    I’m not a Mormon history buff, so I can’t cite specific modern teachings overriding these, though Irvine, among her many errors in fact, fails to note even in passing any other possible interpretation of “white and delightsome” (think “salamander”) or note the 1981 change in the Book of Mormon from “white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome.” But I’m not aware of these specific teachings of Brigham Young being advanced across modern Mormon pulpits or in the Ensign.

  10. Just finished this read of environmental destruction and suffering exceeded only by the internal turmoil of this author. Unresolved personal conflicts exacerbated by living in the midst of the CHURCH certainly get stirred to the frenzy she describes so well in dealing with oncoming storms. Her own story unfolds like quicksand and should be,in my opinion, called – –

    “Forgive us our trespasses” – Her most unforgivable trespass is writing about her father before he left this earth. She violated the order of her personal totem which makes this novel really dark. Just my take. Lavonne

  11. Interesting take, Lavonne. Thanks for stopping by to share it.

    Trespass is a dark work. My personal take: On some level, Amy Irvine is aware she’s trespassing against those she feels have trespassed against her.

  12. Patricia, This is a very interesting comment: “Hard to tell for certain what that reviewer was getting at — probably just a flamboyant sound bite, which I’m beginning to realize in today’s rhetorical settings matters more than accuracy.”

    I have noticed this and heard other people comment on it, and more than once I have had grief because I don’t (or try hard not to) talk in rhetorical soundbytes, but people think I am and cut me off at the end of a bytelength. (Please forgive me if that sounds self-pitying, I’m simply trying to explain what happens without getting too personal.)

    My father said once in class that if you ask why the gods punish Oedipus when all that he’s done for Thebes is good, why they ordain that he has to kill his father and marry his mother, you’re asking a question you can discuss for two weeks.

    Shortly after that Rene Girard came to BYU and said at the end of one of his lectures that if you take the story of Oedipus and strip it of anything that would tie it to a particular time and place and culture, and move it to medieval France you have the story of Jews during the bubonic plague, who were the saviors because they were the best doctors, but were also the villains because they had caused the plague (transfer it to west Africa and you get Verna Aardema’s delightful “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears” (with delightful illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon)).

    Girard elaborated on his comment the next day, saying that a myth is a story a group creates to justify their mistreatment of one of their members. (He published a version of the lecture in Literature and Belief 4, 1984, 7-15, as “The Bible is Not a Myth.”)

    In other words, the people of Thebes deposed and blinded their king and sent him into exile and created a myth to explain why they were justified in doing so. (Girard doesn’t quite say this, he leaves it implicit, but does make a nice comment that Oedipus’s name, Wounded Foot, reminds us how often throughout history the lame and those with physical defects have suffered physical (and often verbal) violence from those of sound body, and suggests that the historical Oedipus was indeed lame.)

    It occurred to me in grad school that, by Girard’s definition, myths act as metaphors. Metaphors belong to a class of figures of speech that work by displacement. A metaphor displaces the literal level of a comparison. When someone says, “The resurrection story is a metaphor for the way Jesus lives on in the hearts of his followers,” they mean the Resurrection never happened as a physical event.

    A myth similarly displaces the literal level of a story. If you insist that Oedipus’s actions toward the father who raised him are more moral than Laios’s actions towards a defenseless baby and towards the stranger at the crossroads, but that the story essentially sides with Laios by defining Oedipus’s compassion as hubris, as his tragic flaw, then you clearly don’t understand the story. That is, the mythic level has displaced the standards by which we normally make moral judgements.

    Which is all a very long way of saying that in the current rhetorical climate soundbytes act as myths and metaphors in displacing cogent argument.

    Of course it’s ironic I would say that because I don’t argue in any kind of straight line or straight logic. What Samuel Johnson said about the metaphysical poets ransacking art and nature for examples and yoking by violence together the most heterogeneous of ideas he could have said about me, if he’d had any interest in my work.

  13. Harlow,

    You’ve brought the whole library to discuss a book. 😉

    I have noticed this and heard other people comment on it, and more than once I have had grief because I don’t (or try hard not to) talk in rhetorical soundbytes, but people think I am and cut me off at the end of a bytelength.

    And do what? Send a soundbyte back at you?

    Girard elaborated on his comment the next day, saying that a myth is a story a group creates to justify their mistreatment of one of their members.

    This could be so—I’ll keep this in mind as I continue reading through The Hero with a Thousand Faces. If it is true, it’s an interesting variation on might makes right.

    It also means that myth is a means of dispersing guilt.

    When someone says, “The resurrection story is a metaphor for the way Jesus lives on in the hearts of his followers,” they mean the Resurrection never happened as a physical event.

    Yes, that’s what people mean when they say stuff like that. So why don’t they say it that way? I wonder if cases like this might overextend the meaning of the word “metaphor,” comparable to how folks overextend the word “irony” to cover, for instance, funny coincidences. Or maybe this kind of metaphor is a lower form of metaphoric language. Or maybe comparisons like these aren’t really metaphoric, but rather the word “metaphor” is appropriated to inflate the language’s legitimacy.

    That is, the mythic level has displaced the standards by which we normally make moral judgements.

    This is interesting, Harlow, because I’ve been trying to find fitting language to explore how we shift the burden of our moral decisions onto exterior conditions, either by appealing to authority (God’s will) or by reducing the viability of another’s condition (you brought this on yourself, you were asking for it, you don’t fit the category for viable life, etc.. There are probably dozens of other ways we relieve ourselves of the burden of doing the best thing possible under the circumstances.

    Myth, as you’re taking it off Girard, falls into the appeal to authority category, I suppose.

    Which is all a very long way of saying that in the current rhetorical climate soundbytes act as myths and metaphors in displacing cogent argument.

    Yes, along with name-calling, etc.

    Of course it’s ironic I would say that because I don’t argue in any kind of straight line or straight logic.

    You wouldn’t be overextending the meaning of the word “ironic” here, would you? Hm, Harlow?

  14. I read the book. Liked it alot. Loaned it to a friend who also liked it alot. Your criticisms seem to be mostly that Irvine is critical of the Mormon Church. Her criticisms are valid, to say the least. Having lived in Utah for 32 years and being non-Mormon, I am constantly infuriated by the “don’t challenge authority” mindset of its members and the creepy theology. The number of people that belong to the Mormon church that have serious hangups, especially sexual, is stunning. If Irvine wants to examine the whole strange relationship between the Mormon culture and the extreme anti-environmentalists in southern Utah, she’s got an audience. Pretend it’s not a very good book but look around at your neighbors in southern Utah. Grave robbers in Blanding and ATV pigs in Kane County. The common denominator? Religion.

  15. “When I read literary nature or science writing or writing about Earth stewardship, I measure its effectiveness, first, by whether or not the language is engaging enough to rouse my sensibilities, and second, by whether or not the writing discusses human behavior toward this planet in creative yet responsible ways.” (a reminder of the approach this review takes).

    Lisa: If you are truly interested in sustainable non-reductive discourse on this topic, then I suggest you check out Patricia’s blog Wilderness Interface Zone, which actually deals at times with some of the very issues and incidents you raise above.

    I would caution against charges of sexual hangups and creepy theology, though. I’m not disputing your experience of living in Utah. However, the kind of language you use above is not going to go far in reaching the Mormons who are environmentally minded. I’d also note that the common denominator is Westerners. It’s a matter of some debate whether or not Intermountain Mormons relationship to the environment is more a matter of religion (especially since from a pure doctrinal point of view, there are some pretty good arguments for environmentalism) or more a matter of being third and fourth (etc.) generation Westerners, the descendents of cattle ranchers and sheep men and homesteaders. After all, there are plenty of grave robbers and ATV users (seriously, pigs?) who are not LDS. And I know very few Mormons who were not raised in the Intermountain Region who are serious ATVers.

    If you not interested in that kind of dialogue, that’s cool. But that’s what this blog and WIZ is about — exploring the Mormon culture in ways that are generative and sustainable (e.g. lead to dialogue that doesn’t break down because of entrenchment on both sides) and deconstructing the tropes and canards about Mormons and non-Mormons both.

    Also: I don’t know how much you know about Patricia’s writing career, but she doesn’t “pretend” anything ever. 😉

  16. Also: I lived in Kane County from ages 4-12. Not enough to really know what’s going on, but still probably enough. And in my experience, the best Mormons, the ones who were the most doctrinally knowledgeable, the most charitable, and the most, well, Mormon tread the earth pretty lightly. Maybe not always Sierra Club lightly (except less material consumption most likely than your Bay Area liberal [where I also lived]), but pretty lightly. Of course, that could all have changed. Sadly, the younger generation wasn’t quite so bound to the earth. That wasn’t a Mormon thing, though. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was very much a materialism, outside influences thing.

  17. Your criticisms seem to be mostly that Irvine is critical of the Mormon Church. Her criticisms are valid, to say the least.

    Lisa,

    I’ve been waiting for you. What took you so long?

    My criticisms of Trespass rest on my two stated criteria: Writing about nature should be alive and its language ought to be sustainable. My conclusions about Amy Irvine’s language in Trespass is that it is neither. To support my point, I pull examples from her writing, a good deal of which happens to be about the Mormon church. If you note, I remark that her ideas about the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and her criticism of agriculture also run toward the fanciful.

    Having lived in Utah for 32 years and being non-Mormon, I am constantly infuriated by the “don’t challenge authority” mindset of its members and the creepy theology.

    I’ve lived in Utah for about the same length of time. I find that the anxiety some people feel toward the “don’t challenge authority” mindset of some of the church’s members to be roughly equivalent to some Mormons’ “non-members are not to be trusted” angst. In other words, when it comes down to the language, I don’t see much difference between the two.

    As for “creepy theology,” you’d have to be more specific. Right now, it looks like your argument is relying upon common name-calling to make its point. Got something better to offer?

    The number of people that belong to the Mormon church that have serious hangups, especially sexual, is stunning.

    Another sweeping generalization. I could say the same thing about people who don’t belong to the Mormon church, judging from sitcoms, but I wouldn’t be making an especially meaningful statement if I did.

    If Irvine wants to examine the whole strange relationship between the Mormon culture and the extreme anti-environmentalists in southern Utah, she’s got an audience.

    Oh, no doubt about that.

    Pretend it’s not a very good book but look around at your neighbors in southern Utah. Grave robbers in Blanding and ATV pigs in Kane County. The common denominator? Religion.

    I did more than pretend that it isn’t a very good book. I presented a good argument that it could be a better book. Through the words of her shaman friend, Irvine herself implies rather strongly at the end that she is no better off than those she criticizes.

    I do look around at my neighbors here in SE Utah. You can read my take on the “grave robbing” here:

    http://wilderness.motleyvision.org/2009/getting-digs-in-on-the-611-se-utah-artifact-raids/

    Note that I also critique in that post the kind of digging language you’re using here, noting a common denominator between that and stealing artifacts: objectification of another culture, reducing it to an exploitable resource to bolster tightly held beliefs.

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