Join the conversation!

Join the conversation!    Respond to Stegner and to me with your own contemporary responses.  If anything in my blog or in Stegner’s work triggers a memory of your own, if any of Stegner’s pronouncements about your home landscapes and culture moves you or riles you, I’d love to hear from you.  Write something of your reactions. 

Are you, too, hoping we create a “society to match our scenery?”  Are you feeling hopeless about our chances, or do you still believe in “the geography of hope?”  Have you seen your favorite landscapes change in your lifetime?  Was the change for the better?  Or do you mourn what we’ve lost?  Write a brief comment or a full-blown essay and share it.

Do you have your own recollections of a simpler and more peaceful Utah?  Of old-timers in out of the way places?  I’d love to hear those stories.  We all would.   Send them to me by mail or e-mail.  Post them as a comment of any length at the bottom of this page.  Record your stories or your grandmother’s stories and send me a tape.  I’ll be happy to receive your responses in any form, any media. 

I’ll be gathering these pieces of writing from citizens around the state over the coming months, creating a statewide conversation about Wallace Stegner’s work—and his home state—at the beginning of the 21st Century.  This give and take between Stegner and all of you eventually, surely, will become a book. 

 

Here is a brief guide to Stegner’s writing about Utah, along with contact info for me:

WALLACE STEGNER @ 100:  An intro to Stegner’s Utah

FICTION:

The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943)

Stegner’s first big autobiographical novel.  In creating the “Masons,” he retells the Stegners’ own frontier life of homesteading on the prairie and looking for wealth in the next boomtown—with the core of the book recreating Stegner’s own adolescence in Salt Lake City in the 1920s.

Joe Hill: A Biographical Novel (original title: The Preacher And the Slave) (1950)

The “Wobbly” labor organizer Joe Hill was working in a Park City mine in 1914 when framed for murder in Salt Lake City.  He was executed (most say martyred) in 1915, and became a symbol of the American worker’s fight against power.  Stegner tells the story of the man and the myth.

Angle of Repose (1971)

Stegner won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel about a writer/artist and her mining engineer husband roaming the West in the late 1800s. Their lives bring the West into the modern world.  No Utah locations, but their experiences mirror the stories of Park City, Eureka, and other frontier outposts. 

Recapitulation (1979)

Bruce Mason, Stegner’s alter-ego in The Big Rock Candy Mountain, returns to Salt Lake City in his sixties.  He vividly remembers his Bohemian youth, weekend romance at Saltair, a wedding in San Pete, the canyons of Capitol Reef…  This is the great Salt Lake City novel.

Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner (1990)

Just three stories (“The Blue-Winged Teal,” “Maiden in the Tower,” and “The Volunteer”) use Utah settings, but the homestead stories capture similar experiences from frontier Utah childhoods.  Stegner’s novels grew from these vignettes.

 

NONFICTION: 

Mormon Country (1942)

Stegner’s lively ode to his home territory—and a popular history of the LDS colonization of Utah.  Plenty of character studies, including Earl Douglass at Dinosaur, Everett Ruess, Marie Ogden and the Home of Truth, and Butch Cassidy.  His tone is more nostalgia and reminiscence than history.

One Nation (1945)

Stegner’s visionary look at race relations at the end of World War II.  Short essays on American Indians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jews, and Catholics.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (1954)

Stegner’s life of Powell is also the biography of the Colorado Plateau as a place and concept.  There is no better introduction to the land and natural history of southern Utah.

Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier (1955)

Stegner’s memoir of his Saskatchewan homestead.  Vivid stories about isolated ranches, small towns, and challenging weather—all a mirror of pioneer Utah.

This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers (1955)

Stegner edited this first Sierra Club “battle book,” using natural history essays and photography to fight dams proposed within Dinosaur National Monument.

The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1964)

Though non-Mormon, Stegner’s sympathy for the ordeal of the Mormon migration, his wide view as a cultural historian, and his gift for storytelling make this far more than a narrow work of history.

The Sound of Mountain Water (1969)

A collection of essays with plenty of history and geography.  Includes “Wilderness Letter,” and essays about Glen Canyon, Navajo rodeos, and growing up in Salt Lake City.  Stegner also writes about western values in “Born A Square” and western writers, including DeVoto.

Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil (1971)

Written as a “work-for-hire” for the oil company, Aramco, this yarn of exploring for oil in Arabian deserts parallels the oil development ramping up on the public lands of Utah.  (The Stegner family dislikes the edition currently in print).

American Places (1985)

A collaboration with his son, Page, and the photographer, Eliot Porter, in celebration of the U.S. bicentennial.  Stegner devotes full essays to the Utah High Plateaus and Great Salt Lake.

The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard DeVoto (1989)

Stegner’s friend and mentor, Bernard DeVoto, grew up in Ogden and wrote brilliant histories of the West.  In this biography, Stegner comes to grips with his iconic friend and their parallel roots in the Utah landscape.

Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs (1992)

The last collection of essays published in his lifetime, this includes Stegner’s letter of apology to his mother, “much too late,” and the essential essays that sum up his philosophy of living in arid lands (originally published as The American West as Living Space.)

Marking the Sparrow’s Fall: The Making of the American West (1998; Page Stegner, ed.)

Stegner’s son, Page, made these selections, including “Wilderness Letter,” the classic short story about cowboys coping with a devastating winter storm, “Genesis;” and essays about Salt Lake City, Saltair, Lake Powell, the San Juan River, and several wonderful statements of Stegner’s synthesis of the American West.

 

BIOGRAPHY & BACKGROUND:

Conversations With Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature (1983)

Stegner called these conversations with Richard Etulain the closest he came to autobiography.

Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work by Jackson Benson (1996)

Especially good on analysis and background of Stegner’s writing.

The Selected Letters of Wallace Stegner (2007; Page Stegner, ed.)

The letters span Stegner’s life and work and breadth of interests.  Informal and intimate.    Utah sprinkled throughout.

 Wallace Stegner and the American West by Phillip Fradkin (new in paperback! 2009)

Goes beyond standard literary analysis to place Stegner in context in the history of conservation in 20th Century America.

 

Post a comment below or send your responses to Stegner to Steve Trimble at:

 Stephen Trimble

779 4th Avenue

Salt Lake City, UT 84103

 or e-mail Steve at:

steve@stephentrimble.net

 

 thanks!

–Stephen Trimble

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5 responses to “Join the conversation!

  1. At the Stegner Symposium, Bruce Babbitt shared (eloquently) the influence that Beyond the Hundredth Meridian had on him as a citizen, scientist, and policy maker. Soon after I readthat book in the early 1980s I wrote this song about John Wesley Powell which my wife and I performed around Salt Lake for the next several years.

    Powell

    Pushing back Wisconsin woods so cold
    Follow him down, follow him down
    Laying tracks for Muir and Leopold
    To open up their way
    Fighting for the Union and he would not yield
    Follow him down, follow him down
    Till he lost his arm on the battlefield
    Follow him down that river

    Chorus:
    Then it’s faretheewell to the one-armed major
    Faretheewell to the noble crew
    Faretheewell to the dory fleet
    Swallowed into the raging flow
    Of the Green and Colorado

    With a soldier’s skill and a scholar’s vest
    Follow him down, follow him down
    Leading expeditions to the West
    For grand ol’ Illinois
    Long’s Peak offered him its first ascent
    Follow him down, follow him down
    And a glimpse of the maze where the river went
    Follow him down that river

    In the spring of 1869
    Follow him down, follow him down
    With the buffalo gone and the railroad line
    Just reaching Frisco Bay
    Kitty Clyde’s Sister in the swollen Green
    Follow him down, follow him down
    With the No Name, the Maid, and the Emma Dean
    Follow him down that river

    In the burnt rock canyon of Ladore
    Follow him down, follow him down
    With the watchword gagged by the river’s roar
    The No Name took a wave,
    Spilt her cargo as she split in two
    Follow him down, follow him down
    Save a whiskey keg and a soggy crew
    Follow him down that river

    Left for dead three times in the eastern press
    Follow him down, follow him down
    To the Virgin end was Powell obsessed
    But murmuring vexed the men
    Ever christening the rising view
    Follow him down, follow him down
    As the rations waned and the tension grew
    Follow him down that river

    Out of fear at Separation Falls
    Follow him down, follow him down
    Three mutineers watched from the canyon walls
    Two boats pass safely through
    Then bore their caution up the cliffs to trade
    Follow him down, follow him down
    For death on the ridge in a Shivwits raid
    Follow him down that river

    After ninety-nine days of dread and doubt
    Follow him down, follow him down
    Ten men when in and six came out
    To hear the hero’s praise
    Brave men guided by the river’s best
    Follow him down, follow him down
    They opened a door to the unknown west
    Follow him down that river

  2. After my talk in Kanab, Laurel Anderson sent me this evocative essay, “one of many I’ve written since moving here to Stegner country.”

    CANE BEDS

    This morning, here in Kanab, I watch the late winter winds snarl the branches of barely budding trees, each branch is like a witch finger twisted by both the pregnancy of buds and distress against the ripping wind crazy season of change. Final winter storms are creeping up unexpectedly and a day of slight sun turns over under the oppressive overhang of dark clouds and the snow just drifts down,down, sometimes joining with a force of wind that cuts power and leaves the landscape a dark evil grey. Even the seemingly indomitable buttes of red rock are shouldered in a coat of white snow and oddly spectral moving grey dark clouds. Early spring is here in southern Utah. The high desert where every change of the season is slightly unpredictable and full of temperate changes the palette of geology, biology and botany responds to. After all the storms of this past hard winter the desert flowers will probably, hopefully, put up a strong show of survivalist color. So the environment may be like all other relationships in life – owning a predictable degree of unpredictability and often showing the best results after stress proves its worth.

    I’ve lived here in Kanab for just under two years. Having come from just below the Adirondacks near the Canadian border there is something that feels just fine here although I can’t say exactly why. Maybe the roughness and integrity and an enormity of physical beauty as well as an insulated culture. I still don’t know but everyday life here speaks to me and somehow harmonizes.

    The Cane Beds are my personal route past our minimal civilization here in Kanab to something a little more opportunistic up there 90 minutes north in St. George where groceries, medical care and those other good and sometimes necessary things of life are available. Like a good dentist and sushi. There is an undeniably dignified, gentle and challenged quality of life here where I live in Kanab, this 1-traffic light town I am now settled in. I love the Quilting Society (a great provider of gossip and local history going back many generations) and the Back Country Horsemen, the Native Plant Society and the single small town movie theatre that now boasts its own smoke machine sure to thrill the crowds. I suspect it is the only movie theatre in America that allows pets, unofficially of course, at the ticket counter they look the other way as they scoop your butter popcorn and hope the Mayor, Cowboy Ted, doesn’t catch them. My dog Snuffles has put on a few extra pounds by snorfing for dropped popcorn between the seats. Every Sunday morning in Kanab there is a $4 all-you-can-eat brunch at Parry’s Lodge. The wallpapered halls of Parry’s host signed black & white photographs of the most famous stars featured in over 300 famous Western Films & TV series produced here in the Little Hollywood of the West, from Glenn Ford and Chuck Connors to Whitney “Whit” Pony. Mornings, on our way to do salutations to the sun in Tom’s Canyon, me and Snuffles jog past the cabin set for Gunsmoke and do a brief dry snuff at the empty trough where a sign still hangs offering “a hat full of water for $1.00”. At Frontier Town, the remnants of a movie set on the edge of town, the first Friday of each month is set aside for local talent playing to a local beer crowd; everything from Cowboy Poetry to Spanish guitar and Red Rock Rocksters and sometimes the Zion gospel Singers.

    To find anything else demands a 90 minute drive to St. George. Could do it on the general route thru Hurricane (pronounced Hurr-i-kun, not hurricane like the storm) but my personal preference is to do it thru this side road just north of Route 15 and across the quiet Cane Beds on a rutted dirt road where very few people and lots of open miles are at. Miles of mediation on this quiet road separated by just a dozen miles or so from easily accessible civilization and the one major road across this desert. Rutted ranch road passing Pinyon Junipers, running briefly alongside the Coral Pink Sand Dunes and through big ranch country where sage and outcroppings of red rock rule.

    And it is genuine cowboy country, God, I wish my beloved big red horse Tony Pony was here to share it with me but I lost him across a cattle guard before leaving California. In a lightning storm he went a little too crazy as we exited the paddock for the barn, bolted and ran across a cattle guard. The first time across he made it in a huge big thunderous leap. Then he came running back to me in a panic for the safety of his stall and didn’t make the second time across the cattle guard. I will never forget the sound of his leg as it was ripped out of him when he fell and was caught in the deadly teeth trap of the rails. I still have nightmares over losing Tony and shudder, grit my teeth every time I cross a cattle guard. I don’t want to say anymore on Tony. Simply can’t, an important moment of my soul and conscience went out with him the moment we put him down.

    Life does this thing of going on, I miss him and every time I see a cowboy tip his hat from his saddle on the Cane Bed road I feel both happy and sad knowing we’ve probably shared at least a little something between us about horses even if we don’t know what it is. Today a herd of cattle are moving across the road to new seasonal grazing grounds, and an older cowboy confidently walks his big horse in front of my car, guiding us thru the herd with a hand resting on his jeans and chaps. His stocky big-headed bay horse moves ahead through the herd, its head bobbing confidently like a metronome, his rider largely shaded by a cowboy hat except for a silvery moustache appearing below the dark rim shadowing the brim of his hat. A small boy trots by, looking like a Teddie bear in his saddle. Other ranchers ride by, a little uncomfortable with the presence of my big old SUV on this back road that belongs to them but nodding when they see my dog, and the reins & bits dangling from inside my age-beaten white beast of a rough road vehicle. A young woman nods, touching her cowboy hat and within a few miles their passage inside this shared time of ours in what is still ranch country is gone.

    This 18 mile dirt road across the velvety sagebrush and thru flat lands then towering red rock is a place where elk, horses, and cattle still live. It’s quiet, intent with some current purpose that may be passing and the underlying peace of everything that has gone before for thousands of years we will never really know about. Goes from pancake flat to gnomish strange shoulders of vivid red rock postured in those odd poses only the ancient metamorphic rock forms of this region can possibly offer. Beautiful,strange. Don’t drive here in the Cane Beds in a rain, an unforeseen flash flood can carry you away to heaven in a minute – I guess, so I hear. Hope to never see it unless that big red Tony Pony comes running down along the waves so we are born away together.

  3. Here is the url for the residence for artists in Eastend, Saskatchewan. Southern Saskatchewan is heaven on earth.
    http://www.stegnerhouse.ca/

  4. S.D. Williams

    My son and his wife just moved into an apartment on Twelfth East in Salt Lake City and a neighbor told them it was where Wallace and Mary Stegner once lived. Steensma’s book puts them there in 1937 when Wallace was an instructor at the University of Utah. This is what Wallace wrote about that neighborhood:

    “I am coming along Thirteenth East on my way to an eight o’clock class. It is a marvelous morning- it is always a marvelous morning, whether the air is hazy with autumn and the oakbrush on the Wastach has gone bronze and gold, or whether the chestnut trees across the street are coned with blossoms. The early sun slants across lawns and throws tree-shadows half way across the pavement and warms the faces of houses on the other side. Cars pass, people wave, walkers across the street give me greeting- universal friendliness. . . . I turn at the drugstore on Second South and start uphill toard the Park Building at the head of U drive.” from It Is the Love of Books I Owe Them

  5. I recently posted a reminiscence about Wallace Stegner on my blog, at http://www.paulettealden.com/blog

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