Tag Archives: Page Stegner

All the Little Live Responses to the Stegner Centennial Symposium

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.”

Wallace Stegner and Don Trimble teach their sons

Page Stegner wrote of his father, Wallace: My father could never just look at scenery.” 

            Neither can mine.

Page:  If we happened to be driving across the Colorado Plateau through southern Utah, say from Cisco to Price along the Book Cliffs, he’d offer up an anecdote about Powell being rescued by Bradley in Desolation Canyon, and then explain to his slightly annoyed eight-year-old boy (me), who was trying to concentrate on his Batman comic, who Powell was and why he was important.”

I grew up with the same commentary aimed at me from the driver’s seat.  My father, Don Trimble, worked as a field geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey for more than thirty years.  He was a mapper, working his way across big pieces of the West, ridge by ridge, quadrangle by quadrangle.  He loved history as much as geology.  He knew much of what Stegner knew.  Younger geologists described him to me as “a latter-day John Wesley Powell.”

Wallace never missed a chance to teach Page: “He’d point out the La Sals and Abajos to the south and tell that boy something about laccolithic domes, betting him he couldn’t spell laccolithic.  He’d comment on the immensity of geological time and the number of Permian seas responsible for the deposition of the Moenkopi, Chinle, Wingate and Kayenta formations (he could identify them all) on our left and the Dakota sandstone and Mancos shale on our right.” 

This Thanksgiving week, I drove my father along this same route along the Book Cliffs that Page remembered.  My dad loved the road trip from Denver to our little house near Capitol Reef National Park.  Now 92 years old, his eyesight has deteriorated, but he reveled in watching the parade of rocks roll past the window.  Even if he couldn’t resolve every detail, he knew those formations. 

When we reached the beginning of the Book Cliffs at Grand Junction, Colorado and began following the rampart of sculptured gray badlands that runs for nearly two hundred miles, Dad was thrilled.  Coming upon this grand feature on the Earth’s surface was like running into an old friend in a bar.  He sorted the layers, looking for the sandstones deposited by both the transgressive and regressive encroachment of the Cretaceous sea.  He shook his head, still filled with wonderment: “I know the Colorado Plateau was uplifted intact, but how could this feature possibly be so continuous?   I can’t think of anything else like the Book Cliffs, anywhere.”

 

Don Trimble at the Book Cliffs

Don Trimble at the Book Cliffs

Page: “He’d observe the Fish Lake Plateau far to the west and remember something of his boyhood summers at that lake, though he was never particularly loquacious about his own childhood except in his writing.   Crossing over the Wasatch Plateau and heading south through the Spanish Fork canyon would remind him of the specific dates of the Escalante/Domínguez expedition through the regions (September 23, 1776) and that it was exactly fifty years before Jedediah Smith came through following essentially the same route.  He had a kind of holistic relationship with the land, and he couldn’t look at it without remembering its geological history, its exploration, its social development, its contemporary problems, and its prognosis for the future.”

I hadn’t read aloud this passage by Page to my father, but he spontaneously mused on exactly the same topics as Stegner had, while we drove into the sun sinking behind the San Rafael Swell.  He pondered Powell’s singleminded courage.  He asked if I remembered the details of Father Escalante’s route, and joked that he could always remember the date for their expedition: 1776.

He looked out across all that open space and sighed, fearing that our endless doubling in population would do us in.  Remarkably, he remains an optimist, even with these concerns. He takes the long view of a geologist.  We’re just in another extinction event, like the Cretaceous and Permian extinctions before us.  Humans came, and they will go.  His knowledgeable, forthright realism mirrors Stegner’s. 

I would have loved to make this drive with both of them in the front seat.  

Stephen Trimble