Red Rock country and the Mormon imagination

The name of this blog comes from an Orson F. Whitney poem. The discovery of that poem also led to me writing my senior honors thesis on representations of red rock areas of the western United States in poetry and personal essays. Last month I returned to red rock country, specifically the four corners area and the Arizona Strip. It was the first time in 20 or more years that I wasn’t there only briefly for a burial. The landscape feels like home. It is inextricably connected with my imagination. I think the same is true for some other Mormon writers.

It’s also home to sagebrush Saints. It was good to be among them again.

I can’t fully articulate what it means. I’ve also shied away from working it into my own fiction. But it’s there, and it may come out at some point.

Meanwhile, here are a few photos from the trip (click on the images for very large versions of them):

11 thoughts on “Red Rock country and the Mormon imagination”

  1. Haunted by redrock country? Hey, I’m right there with you.

    I can’t fully articulate what it means.

    This is a good thing, IMO. But if I might make so bold as to say so, one of the things it might mean is that you’re feeling a bit of a stretch and strain in your roots.

    In my fiction (when I write fiction, which is almost never these days), the desert transcends the role of “setting” and enters the realm of “character” in how it acts upon other characters and gains access to their imaginations.

  2. I became cognizant of the stretch and the strain during a quick visit 15 or so years ago where I realized that I had become alien to many of those who had remained, and that I was struggling to see the landscape as other than nostalgia. It’s quite likely that part of why I have resisted writing about it is an awareness that I need to get beyond that. This trip helped.

    I should add, though, that my first story — Juniper Hands — does take place on the Arizona Strip.

  3. Oh, wow. That’s quite the omission. I wonder if it slipped my mind because it takes place in the future as if, somehow, that landscape isn’t tied to the real landscape. Interesting.

    Also: I don’t remember if/where I’ve said this, but it looks like it’s going to appear in the next issue of Dialogue.

  4. My pioneer ancestors all settled up north, in the mountain valleys of western Wyoming and southeast Idaho. I grew up in California, but nearly every summer we would make the pilgrimage up to visit my relatives in Utah and Wyoming. For me, my ancestral landscape is marked by dairy farms, alfalfa, cottonwoods, aspens, chokecherries, and small mountain streams filled with trout. I find it interesting that so much Mormon fiction references the landscape of southern Utah rather than that of the north–and perhaps this is why I have not always resonated with some works set in red rock country. And I feel a little embarrassed that I have now lived in Utah for nearly 15 years without ever exploring much south of Spanish Fork. Maybe if I spend a little time down south I will begin to understand Mo Lit in a new way…

  5. .

    I believe this is not the first time. . . ? Or maybe that wasn’t Dialogue. Or maybe it never happened at all.

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