Thursday, April 2, 2009

Another Planet

When I first came to Utah, people often said, "It must be culture shock for you here." I'd usually respond with something like, "Well the people are nicer and the land is more beautiful here. But everything else is about the same." Back then, I was just a tourist. Now I'm experiencing culture shock. It is quite different than St. Anne's Hill in downtown Dayton, and it is the other side of the universe from Oakwood, where I lived just 4 years ago.

I haven't seen a single BMW in Utah. The best vehicles are pickup trucks. My neighbors have mud-encrusted llamas and lambs instead of well-groomed yellow dogs. I observe herds of cows on my way to work instead of the homeless making their way from the night shelter to the day shelter. There is no zoning, and not a thought about doing anything as silly as passing an ordinance about paint colors or the types of fences allowed. There's no real need to hang curtains in my windows. There are more chickens and pheasants than people in this little town. The sky is full of stars and the churches are full of people.

My daughter Liz visited me the week before last. While she was here, we took a trip to southeastern Utah, where all the red rock is, along with vast amounts of empty public land, cattle grazing on the open range, mountain bikers, four-wheelers, and other Utah enthusiasts. It was nice and warm down there, and I was glad to get a break from the cold and snow.

We stayed in a rustic cabin on a little ranch in Blanding, explored Cedar Mesa, where the Indians known as the Anasazi, which means "ancient", lived. We saw lots of natural bridges, went to Moab and hiked in Arches National Park and Canyonlands, and even glimpsed a little corner of Glenn Canyon. The rock and land formations were fabulous -- a geologist's dream. There were giant rock goblins everywhere, mexican hats, temple-like formations, bridges and rock rainbows. More than once, we said, "Wow. It looks like another planet!"

Here's a picture of the little ranch where we stayed, called Abajo Haven in Blanding. It is out of the way (6 miles outside of a tiny town), has fire rings outside the cabins and places to corral your horses if you want to bring them with you.

The rancher cooked some terrific ribs for us and took us on an interpretive hike that covered several epochs of Native American history and a Utah nature lesson too. Did you know that pine nuts come from Pinon trees, which don't produce pine cones and nuts every year? Back when the cliff-dwelling Indians were basket weavers (around 500 AD) and then clay pot makers (by 1000 AD) and living in large colonies in southern Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, a year with pine nuts was a cause for celebration. Pine nuts are very high in protein.

The trip was just one amazing sight after another. Here is a picture of Liz standing at the base of a rock formation in Arches National Park. She looks like one of those little action figures, doesn't she?

Here are some ancient Indian pictographs on rocks. The Anasazi Indians didn't have a written language, even though it is estimated that there were 2,500 native inhabitants of the San Juan valley. The lack of a written language might explain why the pictures look like children's drawings.

This made me start wondering about the development of written languages. Why did civilizations develop them? Why did some cultures get along without any written language? Historians see that the development of written language corresponds to the development of cities. Did people need to write laws as the population density increased? Was it for accounting purposes? Did it reflect a need to record history? Today, it seems as if the main reason we need written language is to communicate with people who are far away. Since I am a writer by trade, I've noticed that our culture used to be more oriented toward the written word, before the invention of film, TV, and now digital cameras. Written communication started out as pictures, evolved to use shorthand symbols (alphabets), and is now evolving back to pictures.

Here is a photo of the famous Delicate Arch in Moab. It really is a beautiful spot. To give you a sense of the scale, those little black dots in the patch of blue sky to the left of the arch are people walking around.

The most amazing place we saw was Dead Horse Point, a state park that overlooks Canyonlands National Park. Here's the view from there:

There was a huge dust storm when we first arrived at Dead Horse Point, and we saw a little rainbow reflecting in the dust in the air over the canyon. The place is called Dead Horse Point because, according to legend, cowboys corralled wild mustangs there on the "neck" of the mesa, which is 2000 feet above the Colorado River. They closed off the only exit route with brush, and left the horses there too long without water.

My friend Rose called from Ohio the other day and told me that the Magnolia tree in my back yard in Dayton is in full bloom. Back here in northern Utah, it has been snowing off and on all week. Spring is still somewhere down the road and around the bend. Liz has gone back to Ohio, which might explain why the sun has disappeared and the sky is still falling (as flakes of snow).

When Spring finally comes to northern Utah, I wonder if there will be something as wonderful as the old magnolia trees of southern Ohio. As I go through the transition from a tourist to an inhabitant of Utah, if this is another planet, I wonder if the native people speak my language. I suppose I'll need to learn theirs. But I think I'll try drawing some simple pictures, first.

1 comment:

Weaving Words and Fiber said...

Your description of the culture shock experience left my head spinning - wish I had the foresight to do the same when I moved to Florida 20 years ago. Also loved the photos - now I know where I want to visit when I come to see you!