Missing Mountain


Salt Lake City, Utah, United States—Mountain destroyed by mining—Kinde Nebeker and Allison Harbertson

Allison and I met at 7:00 am on Gun Club Road, just north of the huge gravel pit that used to be a mountain at the foot of Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City on Saturday morning, June 18th.

We walked across the foothills of sage and scrub oak, onto the site of the pit, gingerly and respectfully, and sat on the edge of where the living land met the bulldozed and moonlike landscape of an upper tier of the gravel pit.

We spoke much about how invisible this wounded place is. How we drive by it nearly every day and it’s like it has an invisibility cloak around it.

We each did a solo walk, to listen to the land. Upon returning, we both spoke of the wildness that is still here . . . maybe parts felt even more undisturbed than the public land at the foot of the Wasatch mountains nearby—because people are not allowed on this land. Always paradox.

There was a lone Russian olive tree in the moonscape that had not been plowed under. We created a simple alter under her branches and Allison read a poem that made tears run down my cheeks:

yes, we can move mountains.

on this bright morning when the world is renewed and the plants are arranging
into the greenest green
and the sky is almost near crackling with the light that is about to shine forth
it is strange to feel an acute sense of sadness burrowing in my chest
but i looked across the road and did not raise my eyes to the peaks where the clouds rim
and the sun rises
but instead i let them rest on the horizon directly across the road and discovered
the mountain had been stolen from us
stolen in plain sight but stolen just the same.

its beautiful stubbled face alive with spring grass and spurge
dotted with incongruous, cartoon-like, junipers
had been turned against itself
heaping and crumbled into states of rubble.

gravity would seem to say a mountain should fall from the top down
but natural order has no bearing here
so its massive form is herded and dismantled bottom up
by earth movers who look like toys at play in a sand box.

this stately mountain, whose height and girth and ruggedness are marks not of an instant made
but of millions of years of geologic happenings
including the accumulated baggage of a once mighty glacier
the slip and crack of a still visible fault line
the sinuous sculptural paths carved by both ancient and now winds
the trillion rain drops fallen
by the wandering drifts of snow
and the delicate to and fro of hoof and wing.

these reference points of eons
have been dug out
segmented and manicured
and finally reduced to piles of lifeless and dull gravel, sand, and rock
all sorted neatly and accordingly into a rank and file that only makes sense
if of course they are for sale
which of course they are.

oh boy can we move mountains!  we can take them down lickety split!
in years, not months!  oh wait
in months not years!
but i will tell you, boy
i won’t be impressed until the day we can build a mighty mountain up again minute by minute hour by hour
day by day
not by lifting a single finger of our uncalloused hands
but by a letting of the windswept lands just being what they want to be.