With our “Still Here” series, we are checking in with members of Utah’s art community to see what the past six months has meant for them. Writer and photographer Stephen Trimble lives in Torrey and in Salt Lake City. His latest book, The Capitol Reef Reader, is his 25th. In 2019, he was honored as one of Artists of Utah’s 15 Most Influential Artists.
Parked in Paradise
For nearly 20 years, we’d had a house on a redrock mesa in southern Utah. As much as we loved this retreat, we ‘d never spent longer than ten days here.
Then, the pandemic.
Wayne County, with 2700 people in 2500 square miles, would surely be safer than Salt Lake City. So off we went, chased south by the virus (a threat to us by virtue of our longevity), hurled from the city on the afternoon of the earthquake.
Now, my wife and I live in Torrey. Our lives keep evolving, as history runs on fast-forward.
March / With absolute limits on socializing, we spend our time simply. We look forward to long walks. We anticipate the next meal. We have become our dogs.
April / I’m living in a place I know and cherish. But I’m a move-in, a newcomer, a privileged second-home owner. Not always reciprocally cherished by the legacy ranching families proud of making the desert blossom like the rose. What does it mean to be a local? I’m still figuring this out.
May / I’ve parked myself in a remote corner of America, idling, while the rest of the world blows up. The summer of protest snaps to attention complacent white folks like me, requiring us to learn, insisting that we understand and acknowledge the consequences of white rage, white fragility, white supremacy.
June / I’m trying to write and not having much luck. As a conservationist writer, my job is to respond, to fight back, to write back when the Trump administration attacks our public lands. I’m horrified by plans to destroy tens of thousands of acres of piñon-juniper woodland — my home landscape. I start op-eds but can’t finish them. Piñon and juniper trees, as fundamental as they are to the West, seem insignificant in the face of our national crises. I’m stuck.
July / Wayne County has only two documented cases of Covid. We have financial safety and access to endless open space. We’re grateful. But Trump continues to lie, and people continue to die. His cultish supporters do nothing, say nothing in response. I keep reading the morning updates. It’s my responsibility to stay engaged, but the news feels poisonous.
August / And then, on hot summer days, we stroll down creeks, cool in the clefts between heat-shimmered slickrock. That first step into water washes away the toxic headlines. Peace descends. I photograph—my practice, my lifelong nourishment, responding with my camera to the caress of light on the land.
September / Earth, wind, fire. Catastrophe after catastrophe. A forty-foot spruce falls across our front yard in Salt Lake, grazing the house. Family and friends on the West Coast can’t breathe. Here in Torrey, we see smoky days—one so intense we don’t go outside. Then the wind shifts. The sky clears.
I’m beginning to understand just how far away Salt Lake City really is—in distance and culture. I’m settling in. I’ve become a rural Utahn.
Once more, I can write.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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