Literary Arts | READ LOCAL First

READ LOCAL First: Darrell Spencer

Each month we post for your reading enjoyment literary works-in-progress…works soon-to-be-published…or works recently released.

The Sunday Blog Read is a glimpse into the working minds and hearts of writers with a Utah connection. And we’re pretty confident you’ll be inspired.

So…curl up on the couch with your favorite cup-a-joe and enjoy!

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Darrell Spencer

Darrell Spencer is the author of five books of fiction, four short story collections (notably Caution:  Men in Trees, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction; and Bring Your Legs with You, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize) and one novel, One Miles Past Dangerous Curve.  For twenty years he taught at Ohio University before returning to his his native West where he is now teaching at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. He and his wife Kate Clark-Spencer , a visual artist, live in St. George.


from The Department of Big Thoughts, a completed but as yet   unpublished novel.

She whispered something in my ear I’ve forgotten as we danced.

                        –John Berryman

CHAPTER 1:  Poor Baby


Don’t we all. Dance, that is. Or at least wish to.
Jack Fixx had.
Too often.
He was not going to here in Wisdom, Utah. Not again.

Mormons dance around the subject of Kolob. They no longer talk about Kolob here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and yet their scriptures, their Pearl of Great Price for one, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of the words of Abraham, tell us Kolob hangs out next door to where God resides. Kolob is the star nearest to His throne. God created it first and it governs earth and the rest of the neighborhood. It stands as close as you can get without being spot on to the center of the universe. News, one would think, the world would celebrate. Where or who God was next to before He created Kolob remains one of the mysteries. Put your fists deep in your pockets and don’t ask. Bite your tongue. God’s ways are not our ways. Mormon congregations no longer sing

“If You Could Hie to Kolob,” which was once sung With Contemplation.

If you could hie to Kolob in the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward with the same speed to fly,
D’ye think that you could ever, through all eternity,
Find out the generation where Gods begin to be?

Google Mormons. Google the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You’ll get to Kolob. Google Mitt Romney. You’ll find your way there. What you will discover is that one thousand days on earth equal one day to the Lord thy God. Which is to say that Kolob rotates once while the earth rotates a thousand times. You can puzzle your own way through the logistics built into that concept. Set your watch by the physics of it. Feel the jet lag. Imagine the Broadway musical, its hit tune, its star a blonde bombshell, whisky-voiced and tap dancing: Is a jiffy still a jiffy on Kolob, still one-one-hundreth of a second? What about the world’s infrastructure and its infamous decay? And entropy—how would it work? Not to mention sleep. Alaska and its Land-of-the-Midnight-Sun business is a cakewalk by comparison.

Thus, Kolob Canyon here in Southern Utah, named by the Mormons, a piece of Zion National Park, fifteen, twenty minutes down Interstate 15 from Summit, Utah.

To reach the visitor’s center you turn east. You must check in. Pay a fee. You might as well pick up a few souvenirs. A refrigerator magnet. Pins. Postcards. The road bucks, and it horseshoes. It does both for five miles. It climbs. Is a rollercoaster of a drive complete with lookout points. Kolob is home to Taylor Creek and Horseback Mountain. There are sheer cliffs and there is Navajo sandstone and layered silk stone leftover from sand dune deposits. Lake Bonneville dried up. Removed itself and uncovered Utah. Winds blew. Now, there is kaibab limestone and lava. Juniper and cottonwood trees. Pinyon pine. White fir, Douglas fir, Gambel oak. Aspen. Coyotes and ringtailed cats and bobcats and mountain lions. You might spot a Grey fox.

You’re seeing all this means you’re driving along the Hurricane Fault, a 120-mile fracture in mother earth, and you have risen one thousand feet in less than twenty minutes. The Anasazi left their mark here. Pictographs. Potshards. Southern Utah was also Paiute Indian country. These Native Americans put together their Wickiups. Slept like logs. Grew their squash, their corn, their beans. Hunted. Gambled, a game called Bones. At stake, horses, buckskin, jewelry. You can bet at least one rogue managed to doctor the dice. Shaved a corner on one die. Figured out the machinations needed to insert the tiniest of weights here, there. 1851, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Brigham Young the spearhead, that is—sent men and women to save the people their Book of Mormon renamed the Lamanites, to convert the Paiutes away from The One Who Made the Earth, from worship of the sun, the moon, and the stars. The Mormon settlers were under orders to expand the Kingdom of Deseret. What they accomplished amounted to one more version of the white man’s burden, and, like white men elsewhere, these Mormons overgrazed the land, fenced the water supply, and passed on their diseases. Cholera, scarlet fever, measles, mumps, tuberculosis, malaria. They were, after all, only human. They made mistakes, one being they inadvertently wiped out, by some estimates, ninety percent of the population. The Mormons—sincere and dutiful folk in the extreme—meant no harm. Their efforts were all about the spreading of God’s word, the growing of God’s one true church.

Who possessed the good news? The Mormons. Whose Church was God most pleased with? The Mormons’. Came 1873, there were 528 Paiutes left alive in Utah. In the end, the Mormons accused the Paiutes of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, of the slaughter of the Fancher Party down by the Muddy River, emigrant southerners on their way from Arkansas to California. The Paiutes accused the Church. Swore under oath they saw Mormons dressing up like Indians and ambushing the travelers. They said. They said. Another account, passed down, generation to generation, claims the Mormons offered to escort the Fancher Party to safety. Even did so, part way, walking side by side, arm in arm, most likely humming hymns, then, given a signal, they turned and shot the adults and adopted out the children.

Dissemblers? Maybe. Fearful? Bet your life on it. Don’t forget Nauvoo. Kirkland. All those slaughters of the Latter-day Saints, of the faithful. The murder of Joseph Smith.

It is here in Southern Utah where the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert touch. Kolob Canyon, south of Summit, Utah, is south of Cedar City, Utah, two hours north of Las Vegas, Nevada, five hours south of Salt Lake City. Once and still and, God willing, always, this is Mormon country, the reddest of the red states. One local joke is that Mountain Standard Time is actually Mormon Standard Time.

Considering the trip?

This is the desert. Friend to no one. You might end up chewing your own arm off to save yourself. Choking down a foot, your hand. Left. Then right. You’ve seen the news reports. CNN. The nature channels. There is no negotiating a truce. You could disappear. The land, beautiful beyond your wildest imagination. Pinks run into blues and purples and reds. On the horizons orange turns grey and then a blueberry sets in against faint shades of mountain peaks.

Bring your own water. Drink during the summer months, minimum, a gallon a day. Minimum. Don’t fudge.

Buy a snakebite kit. Ask around and pay for the top of the line. Forget those westerns you saw on television. Don’t be cutting and sucking and spitting and shaking your head and saying yuk. You and your snake-bit friend will end up dead. Kill the snake and get to a doctor. At any cost haul the dead snake with you. The hospital in Cedar City—there’s a billboard proving this point—ranks in the top 100 in America. There is help in its ER like gangbusters. Ice the wound, bag the culprit, and get moving.

Familiarize yourself with the medicinal plants. Pick up pocket guides. Laminate one and carry it on your person. Remedies require teas or poultices. Learn how to do both. There’s pigweed and cattail. Mountain ash. You can use Prickly Pear Cacus pads for bandages. Also hemlock. Burns—use bunchberry, fireweed. Bleeding—shepherd’s purse, silverweed. Wounds, sores, rashes—jewelweed, birch, pipissewa. Learn what is edible and what isn’t. There are nuts and seeds, fruits and berries, leaves and bark, roots and tubers. Yucca and Barrel Cactus could save your life.

Binoculars are not a bad idea.

Order a whistle. Manufactured in America. Made of metal in Ohio. Quality, like the ones the NFL refs use. The NBA.

Pack your hiking boots. Bring along two pair. A floppy hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, light-colored loose shirts and pants. Rest in the shade ten minutes every hour. Keep your clothes on. Learn and practice your Ground Signals for Aircraft Rescue. You can pick up an illustrated card at any ranger station. Tuck it in your wallet. Keep it handy. A capital I laid out means Need Doctor. A big X, I am Unable to Travel. An arrow, pointed either north or south or east or west, means I am Proceeding this Direction. A compass is a good idea. Learn and don’t forget your distress signals. 3 Fires by Night, 3 Smoke Columns by Day, or 3 Shots in Close Succession. Rain gear is wise. Can’t hurt. Speaking of getting wet, think flashfloods, even if the downpour appears off in the distance so far it freezes you in your tracks and strikes you as one magnificent and holy event way over there in another life. Awe can strike you dumb. Get your butt out of the arroyo. Now. Fast. Move. Hie yourself. Go. Move. Move. Move. Find the high ground.

Not to mention the marijuana grows you don’t want to stumble on or the meth labs. You’ll end up on the news. Gone missing. Last seen hiking east toward the mountains. West in the direction of the desert.

I-15 is a corridor.

You don’t want to startle the drug dealers.


Jack Fixx, no fan of deserts, not fifty-five yet but most certainly a couple of steps from the twenty-first century’s measure of middle-aged, was—get the parlance right and step into your fedora—recoupling here in Wisdom, Utah, population 183.

And courting Dot Sorrow.

A-courting. There you go. Doing the bill-and-the-coo waltzy two-step. The slo-mo dance of love he had sworn off.

Dot Sorrow.

A country western song of a name. The name of a woman worth pitching woo for, which Fixx was earnestly doing, his cap set, the man up on his toes and seizing the day. Knocking on doors.

All that rigmarole, and—theatrical as it sounded, crazy as it was—dodging arrows, only not exactly dodging, and not arrows plural except in Fixx’s mind. Not yet. But—take this to the bank—where there’s smoke there’s fire. Where there’s polygamy as a way of life there’s paranoia. There are sideway glances and the sneaking of peeks. Shifty feet and eyes. Noises in the bushes. Dodgy rules. So far there had been one arrow sent Fixx’s way, an act that, as Fixx saw it, argued for the probability that others could and would follow, and the word dodging exaggerated both the evasive steps he took and the danger. What he managed was not to step into the arrow’s path. The shooter missed on purpose, and the one arrow thunked into a tree ten feet from where Fixx and Dot sat on her porch. It was night. Pitch black, but for living room light coming through a bay window, the curtains drawn aside and hooked in tiebacks. No street lights here in Wisdom. No moon at all that night. Fixx did flinch. He had picked up on an odd sound, had heard a whistling in the air. He had half ducked after he caught on to what had happened. More than too little too late. The arrow came from the desert and sagebrush south of Dot’s place. The road in front of her house dead-ended where fields began.

The arrow could have been an accident. Was most likely a prank. Small-town high jinks. Teenagers bored with keeping their hands in their laps. Youngsters on a lark. Most of the youths of Wisdom were at heart fifties kids even with their I-Pods and cell phones.

Dot’s name wasn’t Dorothy.

She was Dot. She could show you her birth certificate. Dot Sorrow. Always had been, even for that difficult and wretched time when she wore the backside of her husband’s name like a third arm. She would be Dot Sorrow on into any future you could conceive of. You called her Dorothy, and you ignited a quarrel.

Dot did what Dots do. She waited tables.



1 reply »

  1. Darrell Spencer, this is the closest I have come to finding you. Likely you do not want to be found. I have writing questions about a memoir I intend to self publish—Liars, Saints, and Sinners: Crime, Mystery, and Family History.

    I was in your Honors Intensive Writing, Fall 1987 and Creative Writing, Winter 1988.

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