Arches National Park, Austin Texas, Culture, Life changes, memoir, Mountains, National Park, personal essay, religion, Salt Lake City, Utah
I drove across the border from Utah into Colorado unceremoniously. I half expected a big sign pleading, “Hey Lisa, we’ve had 19 wonderful years in Utah. Please turn around and come back” as if, like a desperate lover, trying to make one last attempt to change my mind about leaving.
It’s not you, Utah. It’s me. Things change, but I still love you.
You throw your hat in the ring and BOOM! You actually land that promotion you applied for at work. High fives with the husband and then you realize–
We’re moving. The kind of moving where you have to move your house, leave your friends, leave your hair stylist/frizz tamer/color wizard/therapist. Leave your favorite restaurants, your class at the gym (even though you’ve been on the back row for years), and leave the brilliant it-just-makes-sense street system, laid out like missile coordinates.
I thought I would be crying as I drove with the majestic snow-covered Wasatch Mountains in my rear-view mirror. I wouldn’t have them any longer to keep me humble and remind me that I’m small and the rest of the world is bigger than me. They’ve been my companion of 19 years in the arid high desert and even though I don’t ski I will miss them something awful.
Utah is plagued with a misunderstood reputation. Of the nearly two decades I spent there, I rarely saw a polygamist and had probably the most diverse set of friends I’d ever had–representing different lifestyles, races and religion. It’s not to say that Utah didn’t have room to grow and mature. When I arrived fresh from California I was accustomed to eating alone in a restaurant. The first time I asked for a Table for One in Utah the hostess froze, not knowing what to do with me. I thought she was going to offer me a consoling hug and whisper in my ear, “It’s okay, honey. I’m here if you need someone to talk to.”
Now I can easily go into a restaurant alone or even see a movie alone and everyone else seems to be okay with that. Time changes perspectives, and while Utah isn’t a big coastal metropolis like New York City, LA, Seattle or San Francisco, it’s been growing up.
Utah has been a growing experience for me. It’s an interesting clash of cultures when people who feel more sophisticated than a city come to town. I was one of those. I probably spent my first year with a lot of eye rolls. “Geez,” I would say to myself. “They call this sourdough bread?” I thought I was too sophisticated and polished for Utah. Little did I know it would polish me.
I eventually found that I could spend years trying to prove (to no one, really) how much more awesome I was than Utah or I could fall madly, deeply in love with the state. And that’s what happened.
I got married here and we celebrated our new life together with friends and family in a tucked-away historical restaurant in the nearby mountains. I didn’t find my husband here (I had to go to Scotland for that), but we dated long distance for two years and when he’d come to town he took my hand and dragged me to the obvious wonders I was ignoring–Zion National Park, Bryce National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Antelope Island. All in my own backyard, but I was blind to them all because I had been so concerned about what was different from where I had been before.
Utah is different. But so is every place else when you really think about it. And I’m not just talking about the geology or terrain. People will be different, customs will be different, and the DMV will be different. But that’s okay. We all can’t be the same, otherwise, there’s no reason to travel to different places. What made Utah different made me different than I was before I landed there. It made me lose the chip on my shoulder and helped me understand that while my viewpoint is different than some in Utah I had value and perspective to offer. I didn’t argue, I discussed. I quit rolling my eyes and started seeing. I found other voices like mine and we shared. And I also found a sameness I didn’t think I’d find.
Actor Ty Burrell (of TV sitcom Modern Family) and his wife call Salt Lake home and expressed exactly what I’m trying to say here, when he wrote in Huffington Post, “We didn’t realize the incredible impact that having the differing viewpoints of both the religious and secular populations of Utah would have on us. So many cities are actually mono-cultures and Salt Lake has an inherent diversity that’s not always apparent.”
You see, this mix and diversity is so delicious. And most people don’t even see it.
Utah was the third state I spent significant time. I grew up in Oregon, then spent almost 10 years in the San Francisco Bay Area in my 20s, then settled in Utah. Now I’m moving to the south to Austin, Texas, which seems to be a conglomerate of all those places I lived previously.
Already I’ve found Austin to be very different. For the life of me I can’t tell how to get around on the street system here and I miss the mountains of Utah that always helped me know how to navigate direction. Some here call themselves hippies and others call themselves very conservative. But everyone calls me ma’am and says “howdy.” I like all of that.
Though it hurts to break up, Utah, please know that you will always be in my heart. Thank you for 19 wonderful years.