Yesterday, we drove from Salt Lake City to our house in Torrey, Utah. We'll be here the rest of the week. In Bargaining for Eden
I write of both how much I cherish this place and how uneasy I am with the notion of "owning" a mesa, of building a second home in the rural West, of doubling the density of development in this gateway community just outside Capitol Reef National Park
. This is my devil's bargain.
Neighbor's hay barn, toward Boulder Mountain, Utah.
(Photo © 2008 by Stephen Trimble)
Sure, a land trade that gives a billionaire ski resort owner his heart's desire ? private ownership of the heart of the mountain ? is quite different from our purchase of 30 acres of land that has been privately owned for more than a century. Still, as a lifelong environmentalist, now I have to come to grips with these issues of "property," and ownership, and development.
In the 1970s I worked as a park ranger at Capitol Reef, and I've been visiting these redrock canyons and mesas nearly every year since. Long-time residents always saw me as an outsider, an urban environmentalist on pilgrimage. Now, as a tax-paying property owner, I have a little more credibility, a slightly larger platform on which to stand when I ask the county commissioners to save open space, to preserve dark night skies, to plan for the future with all of us who care about this amazing place.
And I'm in love with the place. That's why we took on this home. It's downright magical.
Last night, I sat outside in an orange blaze of sunset fading to dusk, listening to booming nighthawks and rolling thunder, and watching our sacred datura plant.
Sunset over Thousand Lake Mountain, Torrey, Utah.
(Photo © 2008 by Stephen Trimble)
The datura plant runs for a dozen feet along our foundation. Two plants, really ? one more robust than the other ? blossoming extravagantly between deep green leaves. The flowers last only one night, creamy trumpets unfurling in soft darkness, each releasing a puff of perfume to the breeze. In the morning, they wilt in the desert sun. Every part of the plant produces alkaloids that are recklessly hallucinogenic (and fatal in big doses). The old Yaqui sorcerer of Carlos Castañeda's imagination tells tales about unraveling the secrets of the plant, ingesting datura seeds to alter the mind and "fortify the heart."
These datura that grace our stucco wall each year constitute my one gardening triumph at our house. I collected spiny fruits from a plant growing at the base of a slickrock cliff a hundred miles away at Soda Spring, on the Hole-In-the-Rock Road at the edge of the Escalante Wilderness. The pods dried and split and spilled seeds that I planted the following spring. To my delight, green shoots sprouted from the sand. Every year, they resprout. This would not surprise a master gardener. I, however, am thrilled.
Datura opening at dusk ? last night!
(Photos © 2008 by Stephen Trimble)
As dark gathered on our redrock mesa, I counted eighteen blossoms poised to uncurl. I chose one flower and did my best to photograph the sequence of moments as it unfurled, but when I ran inside to sit down to the fresh fig salad being concocted by my wife, Joanne, I missed that last beat when the flower opened. It's dramatic. I have a river-guide friend who insists that travelers on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon remain seated in front of opening daturas the first few nights on the trip. This gently forces them to make the transition to river time.
After sunset last night, after the datura spectacle ? and after that delicious fig and feta salad ? we, too, are now thoroughly on river time, or mesa time, in our case. Slowed down, mindful, attentive, living in place and in the present, with joy.