The March Symposium at the University of Utah was stellar. A lovely potion of respect and warmth and intelligence hovered in that room for two days.
Since then, I’ve received several responses I want to share.
Scott Williams of Salt Lake City sent me this most interesting idea:
“Your comments at the Symposium in particular left me with a recurring image of a statue of Stegner on one of the large median grass islands on 12th or 8th East or perhaps on East 2nd South, maybe even standing on the slope where it climbs the rise from Stegner’s old neighborhood and tennis courts to catch the first view of the University’s Park Building. I’m reminded of the monuments to Jorge Luis Borges I saw when I was in Buenos Aires last spring and how the spirit and words of Borges permeates that city and its culture.
Statues of great citizens are relatively rare in the West but common in eastern and foreign cities where they enrich the sense of place and create a public commons out of what would be simply a park. Even in those cities they tend to honor founders and war heroes, those who initiate community or defend it against attack, rather than those who allow it to thrive and endure as places of culture and cooperation. Salt Lake has a few such statutes but I can’t think of one that isn’t connected to the Mormon pioneer experience. It occurs to me that a statue of Stegner, and perhaps others going back to Chiefs Washakie and Wakara, would contribute to a stronger and more frequent consciousness of the diverse contributions to Salt Lake City beyond and subsequent to the crucial but overdominant story of the Mormon genesis. It could also be part of an urban experiment in shifting the public’s attention and adulation from founders and warriors to communitarians and peacemakers.
Terry Tempest Williams talked about making objects as a way of changing minds. The Stegner quote on Library Square is one such marvelous new object. I’m already wondering how we can create more. “
Michael Antman, a fine book reviewer, wrote to remind us of Stegner’s fine 1967 novel, All the Little Live Things. He wrote: “I thought you might enjoy this essay I wrote a couple of years ago on Wallace Stegner’s All the Little Live Things as the first entry in a brief series I did on great neglected books.” In his essay, he describes the novel as “nearly perfect. From my perspective, books that deserve this designation exhibit a seamless confluence of character and motivation, physical setting, point of view or philosophy, and literary style.”
Finally, Ralph Hafen, a retired lawyer now living in Salt Lake City, gave me copies of a fascinating exchange of letters. At the time of Stegner’s automobile accident in Santa Fe in 1993, Hafen was taking a lifelong-learning class on Stegner at the University of Utah, taught by Robert Steensma . Hafen sent Stegner a letter, addressed to St. Vincent Hospital, and received an answer from Marion Stegner, Page’s first wife, assuring him that the family had repeated Hafen’s stories to Wally while he was still conscious. Even on his deathbed, Stegner loved a good story about Canyon Country. In his letter, Hafen told the Stegners of floating through Glen Canyon in 1956 with Pearl Baker (who grew up at Robbers Roost Ranch) and finding Wallace Stegner’s name on the register inside a can stashed in a cairn at Music Temple.
Hafen also described one of his first cases after “hanging out his shingle” as a lawyer in Monticello, Utah, in 1955. The complicated saga had to do with property rights at Marie Ogden’s “Home of Truth,” the religious cult described by Stegner in a chapter of Mormon Country. Ralph Hafen settled the case, and remembered “driving out to see Mrs. Ogden in my old Lincoln automobile on Sunday afternoons. She told me her whole history. She was an old woman, bur her eyes would light up when she told me of all these marvelous events.”
I’m continuously struck by how close we are to these stories that take us back to a lost world. Ralph Hafen is an elder, telling us the stories he heard from an elder more than fifty years ago, when he was in his twenties. Shazzam–we listen, and we have just traveled back a hundred years!
Marion Stegner’s response, written after Wally’s death, was incredibly gracious: “If Wally had survived, you surely would have had an answer (response!) to your letter. He loved stories of the sort you wrote him. We are still in shock with his death. The outpouring of love and support from all parts of the world has been extraordinary. He was a man of enormous integrity and wisdom. His loss is profound, but he left us all with a rich legacy.
thank you again. sincerely, Marion Stegner.”
I was reminded the other day of Stegner’s quote “The brook would lose its song if we removed the rocks.” The beavers at our farm in the Catskills have abandoned the original dam in favor of building a complicated series of check dams in the blueberry meadow below the dam. In working to detour the water running through the meadow into the stream at a place where it can cascade down into the stream, I was struck by how silent the water was pouring through the meadow. Once “corralled’ into heading down the high embankment above the stream, the water burbled and “sang” as it cascaded through the gap over the rocks.