FEATURE — I remember sleeping at my neighbor’s house the night before moving day. A large truck containing all our worldly goods sat just outside the window in the driveway. I was 9 and though the memories have become fuzzy over the years I remember with vivid clarity how my mom tossed and turned that evening.
It was a restless night for me as well. I was young but not too young to know that I was leaving the only life I had really ever known — my best friends, the school I attended since kindergarten and the proximity to my grandparents that I so enjoyed.
We were headed to St. George, a town I really only knew for its amazing McDonald’s playground. Though we were doing it as a broken family, I had no idea that there in our tiny new town we would find something that would make us whole again. Actually it was more of a somewhere – or many somewheres, to be precise.
You see, the changing was hard; my parents had recently divorced and we were trying to carve out a new life with very little money. When you are poor with three kids to entertain, you do anything that is free. And so it was that my mother took me and my two siblings adventuring in the great outdoors.
The desert landscape that surrounded our home became the stage for our elaborate plays, the pools created by early spring runoff in Red Cliffs Recreation Area became our swimming holes and the towering cliffs and silky, soft red dirt of Snow Canyon State Park became our playground.
If you have lived in Southern Utah long enough, you know how permeating the red dirt can be; you bring it home in your shoes and then it seeps deep down into your carpet making itself at home. For me, it found its way into my soul.
For my family, it was the dirt that bound us. Our tiny little troop of adventurers became inextricably bonded to the land and to each other, made whole by Mother Earth and by our earthly mother.
Flash forward almost three decades and you will often find me running through Snow Canyon or communing with the ancient ones at the site of my favorite rock writing. The desert has many meanings for me now. It is a place of my childhood, a place of peace in the crazy present and a place I will hold dear well into the future.
A poem I wrote might sum it up best:
When I die
I hope they lay my bones in the desert
And let the sun beat down on them one last time
I hope the wind pulses through them
And sings a solemn song
And maybe at my wake the sky will weep
But though I be ashes and dust
My bed be not grief
There are many things I am grateful for on this Thanksgiving day: my family, my freedoms and the land I love … the dirt inside my soul.
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