My parents left Utah as part of the great migration to the west coast. When I was young, leaving and finding a place in the world was simply part of life. It is what we do. We are progressive and brave. While others stayed in the cradle of Deseret, we expanded and capitalized on gentile opportunity. I was proud of what we did. I still am; but as I have gotten older, I have realized the price we pay for it.
Two days ago, at 10:00 am, I stood with my boys over the graves of my wife’s kindred dead. Her grandparents, and her parent’s grandparents. Much of her family met us there. The bag pipers marched, followed by World War II veterans and commemorators of the Mormon Battalion. I wept. I have never seen the graves of my family’s dead. When my uncles, aunts and cousins gather to lay flowers on their graves I have not been there.
In an interview, Terry Tempest Williams was asked what she meant when she wrote, “Perhaps the most radical act we can commit is to stay home.”
I really believe that to stay home, to learn the names of things, to realize who we live among…The notion that we can extend our sense of community, our idea of community, to include all life forms — plants, animals, rocks, rivers and human beings — then I believe a politics of place emerges where we are deeply accountable to our communities, to our neighborhoods, to our home. Otherwise, who is there to chart the changes? If we are not home, if we are not rooted deeply in place, making that commitment to dig in and stay put…if we don’t know the names of things, if we don’t know pronghorn antelope, if we don’t know blacktail jackrabbit, if we don’t know sage, pinyon, juniper, then I think we are living a life without specificity, and then our lives become abstractions. Then we enter a place of true desolation.
Beyond Williams’ ecology, beyond the flora and fauna, are our own people. I need to know the sego and the alder, the sage and the Douglas-fir. I need to walk on the Kaibab and the Cascades. I also need to know my folk, despite the distance. I still believe that the diaspora is just, but the lack of proximity is a heavy price.