The desert of Southern Utah is my paradise. The shifting, dramatic colors of the slickrock change from orange, to tan, to deepest red. Slot canyons and hidden nooks abound, and it’s thrilling to simply be at such a place.
I had the opportunity recently to spend three days on a houseboat with my family at Lake Powell (courtesy of my parents). My husband and I drove down from Idaho, and my mood rose with the heat the further south we traveled. (Since the AC doesn’t work consistently in our car, we most assuredly felt the heat!) As the landscape turned more forbidding, it became more amazing.
That first night on the lake, I was awake at 3 am while everyone else slept. I looked out over the smooth water and saw the reflection of the moon and millions of stars nestled within the soft silhouette of sandstone cliffs. The only sound other than that of breathing was the sound of fish jumping every few minutes.
That place, that hot and harsh part of the country has always lured me in, even if my life circumstances have kept me away for years. I wondered how such a place could be beautiful and inviting when it is so hostile to life. Most of us couldn’t last more than a day or two out there under the summer sun without water!
Why the appeal, then?
I realized that Southern Utah is beautiful precisely because of its harshness. Its beauty and brutality are inextricably linked.
All those cliffs and rocks used to be a solid layer of ancient stone buried in the ground under other layers of stone. Then the shifting earth forced it to the surface. I can’t pretend to totally understand the forces of geology that brought it up, but I do know that once it was there, the stone was exposed to a hot sun, relentless winds, and seasonal rains. These forces blasted that stone with an endless abuse that would change it forever.
Rivers would gouge out canyons, meandering deeper and deeper with the passing years. Tiny pieces of sentiment carried in the air would pound out fins and fissures and arches, creating whorls and crevices and gullies. Flash floods would tear up trees that had dared to put down roots in the shifting sands.
The entire landscape is one of desolation, devastation. We humans are reminded of our mortality when we venture there. Yet it is too soul-bolstering to stay away!
Maybe it’s because we each have to face devastating harhness in our own private landscapes. We too get washed out by personal flash floods and hammered constantly by what should be tiny difficulties—but which add up to relentless trials.
Debt. Loss. Illness. Pain. Loneliness. Regret. Fear of not being adequate.
I know all of these trials and more, and sometimes they seem too much to bear. But maybe I’ve been thinking of it all wrong.
I want to be Southern Utah! Let all the gouging, painful, horrible experiences of life shape me into a new form—a better me. Maybe you simply cannot become the beautiful person you were intended to be without the harsh contouring that comes from struggle.
We can never hold back the wind and rain or stop the glaring sun from baking the land, but perhaps we can get a little better at embracing the process that is turning us into something thrilling. I want to be the sort of person that bolsters other people’s souls.