As a native Utahn transplanted to New England, I have always felt sentimental about mountains. Growing up I thought they were spectacular to the view, obviously dangerous to climb, yet created a curiously comfortable cocoon in the valley.
Mountains seemed like great protectors to me, and so I missed them when I moved away. Other Utahns react similarly, I know. Yet my own children, who grew up in New England, have always found the mountains threatening, foreboding and not quite real.When the Mormons first settled the Utah valleys, they sought protection. In 1852, Brigham Young wrote to Col. Thomas L. Kane:
Ourselves and our friends can find a place for many years to come amid these wild mountain regions, where surrounds the health inspiring atmosphere, and the clear cool mountain rivulet winds its way from lofty and rugged eminences, presenting a scenery bold, grand and beautiful, to some sequestered vale, where downtrodden liberty shall feel exalting aspirations, and contentment find repose.
The mountains provided for early settlers such important items as water, timber, wild game and granite for their temples. But they also provided protection. Once settled in the valleys, the pioneers felt isolated by majestic mountain peaks.
On a recent visit to Salt Lake City, I looked again at the impressive mountains, trying to analyze why they meant so much to me. I walked around my old neighborhood in East Mill Creek, where the mountains seem almost close enough to reach out and touch. I still had the overpowering urge to stop and just gaze at the grandeur that my own mother had felt so keenly that she recreated them in moving paintings that now line my own New England walls.
The next day I drove with my sister Mary to Cache Valley, where our mother spent her formative years. It had been several years since I had been to Logan, and as we drove by Ogden, Brigham City and on to Logan, looking at the valleys and barns, I could not help but exclaim at the beauty around us. It seemed to us that day that Cache Valley was the most beautiful and most impressive in all of Utah.
No wonder that Thomas Wolfe was almost ecstatic in his 1938 description of Cache Valley. He saw during his Western tour a "sense of grandeur, sweetness and familiarity . . . cupped in the rim of bold hills, a magic valley plain, flat as a floor and green as heaven and more fertile and more ripe than the Promised Land . . . the most lovely and enchanted valley of them all . . . a valley that makes all that has gone before fade to nothing - the very core and fruit of Canaan - a vast sweet plain of unimaginable riches - loaded with fruit, lusty with cherry orchards, green with its thick and lush fertility and dotted everywhere with the beauty of incredible trees . . . a land of peace and promises of plenty."
We drove to the Utah State University campus, which affords such an enchanting view of the valley, and looked out to see the Logan Tabernacle and Temple, both built of mountain granite. Buildings like those bring the mountains closer and increase the feeling of protection inherent in those peaks. Then we had dinner at the Bluebird Cafe, my mother's favorite, which seemed historically and traditionally the same, on Main Street across the street from the tabernacle.
The university had undergone massive changes since I last saw it. We stayed in a Holiday Inn-like motel situated on the campus itself, making conferences much more convenient, but suggesting a crowded feeling. Old Main, the most impressive old structure on any Utah campus, seemed pushed into the background, playing second fiddle to more streamlined, less-defined buildings geared to function, not style. Yet the location of the campus and the beauty of the valley was overwhelming.
We had arrived in 70-degree, sunny weather. By the next morning, snow was falling, and my winter coat was back in New England. Yet that was typical, too, of the Utah in my memory, and it seemed to enhance the esthetic experience. The entire weekend was dreary and cold, causing a heavy mist to fall around the mountains.
As I headed back to Salt Lake City on Sunday, there was a break in the clouds and a promise of a return to the sun, but the view, even more spectacular than before, brought Switzerland to mind. That is a comparison I have never made before, because Utah summers are more known for barrenness than greenery, but this view was green and lush. I was an irritant to impatient drivers behind me because I had to keep slowing down to appreciate the full impact.
It was clear that no matter how many years I have lived in the East, I retain a strong attachment to my mountain home.