Monday, May 31, 2021

Tableaus of the American West, spring 2021

There are stretches of Utah that are, frankly, boring. Pastures, shrub-covered hills, sage and tumbleweeds. But down near the southern border, it becomes almost other-wordly. The sandy red cliffs rising against a backdrop of cotton candy clouds. I feel my stomach unclenching the farther south I go. 

At Zion that afternoon, it’s too hot to sleep in the tent. So I lay my sleeping pad out on the ground in the shade of my car and nap there. When I wake, it’s still hours before sundown, but I make a fire and roast hot dogs for dinner anyway. I read. I look at the fire. I move my chair in a steady orbit to avoid the smoke. I am discovering that more than half of what I enjoy about camping is spending time with other people. Maybe if I had a good place to hang my hammock, I’d feel differently. I make two unsatisfactory s’mores and go to bed. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I unzip my tent to look at the stars. It’s only a moment, but it’s beautiful anyway. 

The Grand Canyon is truly and actually GRAND. It’s also fucking enormous. I feel like I pass signs for hundreds of miles that tell me I’m at the Grand Canyon. I pull over after crossing the bridge at Glen Canyon, then walk back over it. It’s so far down to the water it doesn’t even feel real. Later, I take a small detour and hike ½ mile in the desert sun to see Horseshoe Bend. Maybe one day I’ll kayak around it. For now, I lean over gaze down, the metal of the railing scalding my forearms. I hold my breath as I glance over at a man close to my age, sitting with his legs dangling over the edge, hundreds of feet above the Colorado River. 

I’ve decided I hate camping by myself, so I cancel all of my camping reservations and book cheap motels. It’s probably just the fact that motels have internet access, but it feels much less lonely. In Williams, Arizona, I eat a meal by sitting down in a restaurant for the first time in 14 months. It’s surreal and a little nerve-wracking. I sit at the bar in a 50’s-themed diner and devour a burger and sweet potato fries with my book propped up behind my plate. At one point, I glance up in time to see one of the dishwashers in the back drop a cup onto the ground and put it right back onto the shelf. 

I listen to books on tape while I drive, or BTS, or podcasts, or my “Wandering Tunes” playlist. I’ve learned that I do best when I take a break every hour and a half or so. I pull over into rest stops and stretch, I wander the aisles of Maverick gas stations and side-of-the-road gift shops. I see a sign advertising the ancient site of Montezuma’s Castle and drive a few miles past two casinos to see it. I feel like John Steinbeck, “traveling with Charley.” But instead of a poodle and an RV, I have a journal and a Prius.

At a gift shop on Navajo land, things feel like April 2020. Masks are required, spacing is enforced, entrances and exits are calculated so that only a limited number of people are in the building at a time. After I spent so much time in areas that probably never really took the pandemic seriously, and as someone who’s been fully vaccinated for a while, it feels like a time capsule.  

There are whole stretches of the American southwest that look so much like the quintessential idea of “The American Southwest” that it almost feels fake. If I lived in a different country and had never been to America, and you asked me to describe Arizona, I’d say, “Big open areas with tall saguaro cactuses, flat-roofed adobe houses with dogs sleeping in the dusty driveways, the occasional tumbleweed, metal sculptures in the yards of the more wealthy.” It sounds like a movie set, or Disneyland’s Cars ride. But it’s 100% accurate. 

There’s something sort of surreal about the moment when your drive home turns from unfamiliar to familiar. I don’t know my way around Spanish Fork, but once I hit Provo, it feels like I’m “home.” Even if I still have an hour left to drive. 

I’m not entirely sure how to end this piece. I can’t tell if it’s a love letter to the American west or reminders for my next solo road trip. 

I suppose I’ll end abruptly, in that crisp way that you pull your car into your own driveway after a week away. 

Monday, May 17, 2021



Late yesterday afternoon, a 1-year-old coon hound mix lost his sanity when his owner walked into the bathroom and closed the door. Despite the fact that this is a frequent occurrence and that the owner always returns, the adolescent pup stood at the door and whined for the entire three-and-a-half minutes that the owner was gone. Other household members attempted to offer reassurances and comfort, but these had little effect on the worried doggo. It was only when the owner opened the door with exclamations of “Can you chill?” and “Why are you like this?” that the dog calmed down. Currently, all is calm in the house. (The dog declined to provide a statement for this story.)


It is that time of year where it’s hot during the day and cold at night. We recommend wearing shorts but bringing a jacket. Pollen count is very high, with winds expected to exacerbate any allergies. This report is only included to help meet the word count requirement. 


It’s that time of year—perennials are coming back, trees are blossoming, and the lawn mower is getting pulled out of the shed. But this year, Utahans are facing a conundrum. Their yards need water, but there isn’t a lot to spare. The state of Utah is currently in one of the worst droughts since the 1970s. With watering restrictions in place, residents have a more pressing question: Why doesn’t the drought prevent the millions of weeds sprouting up? Freelance scientist Rebeth Whitner has been studying the question for years. “The truth is…we don’t know,” Whitner says. “It could have to do with how much water each different plant needs to grow, but so far, our research indicates that there’s no real pattern. It seems like they do this just to spite us.” Whitner and her colleagues at the Center for Plant Science have been conducting experiments since 2014, but their findings have been inconclusive. When can we expect answers? Whitner laughs sardonically. “When hell freezes over,” she says. So in the meantime, wait to water, and just keep spraying those weeds. 


With the CDC recently lifting mask guidelines for vaccinated individuals, many are finding this new world has a few challenges to navigate. There’s the obvious uncertainty that comes with the fact that going mask-less is based on the “honor system.” There’s no way to know whether someone is vaccinated or not just by looking at them, sending some into anxiety spirals that can be difficult to come down from. But there are some unforeseen complications as well. One source, who wished to remain anonymous, shared her experience: “I didn’t realize how often I lip sync in stores,” Jane (not her real name) stated. “I’ve been doing it for about a year, and the first time I went out without a mask, I couldn’t figure out why people were staring and smiling.” It took Jane a few minutes to realize she’d been lip syncing to the Bruno Mars song playing over the loudspeakers. While most of us have found mask-wearing a little annoying, many have discovered unexpected benefits. “I went two days without brushing my teeth!” said one source, who also wished to remain anonymous. Others cited being able to cover acne, secretly mouthing rude things to people who walk too slow, and not feeling obligated to smile at friends’ babies. There’s also the benefit of not getting sick as often—while masks prevent the spread of COVID, they also prevent the spread of other infections like the common cold. It will likely be several months before we all adjust to a post-mask-requirement world, and there may be a few growing pains. None of us expected mask requirements to have silver linings, but it turns out there was something to smile about after all. Even if no one could see it.  


It’s been a long year and a half! We’re all coming out of isolation and getting ready for a summer of hedonism. Worried about that “quarantine 15”? You’re not alone. But luckily, you are only two steps away from having that “summer body,” and both take little to no effort. Step One: Have a body. Step Two: Experience summer.  


Last week we ran a story about a local cat who believed that the entire couch was hers. We erroneously stated that the couch belonged to the humans in the household. We have been informed that the couch is, in fact, the cat’s. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Full reviews of things half-finished


New Girl (television sitcom) 

I slept on this show for literally a decade, and then A recommended it, and now it’s 2 weeks later and I’m almost done with season 4. I am charmed and delighted by this ensemble-based sitcom. I dismissed this show for so long for a few dumb reasons. One is that I was (am) a hipster with no logic and had this unjustified sense of superiority for “not liking sitcoms.” The other is that I am intimidated by Zooey Deschanel and have an unfounded fear that every straight guy wants me to be her. (That’s probably some internalized misogyny, actually.) But I now adore Zooey’s character Jess, and I’m also deeply in love with Nick Miller. (Crush on TV character = another way I’m currently acting like an 8th grader.) 

Shadow & Bone (series on Netflix) 

I read the “Six of Crows” series last summer, and then devoured the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy a few months later. Leigh Bardugo has become one of my favorite authors. (Strong focus on characters and relationships, good world-building, suspenseful plots, diversity of all kinds!) The Netflix series combines these two separate series into one story. They take place within the same world, but in different timelines, and are really pretty damn completely different. Six of Crows is all “ragtag group of petty thieves pulling off an epic heist” and Shadow and Bone is all “a girl is the answer to a prophecy about destroying the work of dark magic.” Structurally speaking, so far I think they’ve combined the plots fairly well. I think it technically works, but in all honesty, I think some executive at Netflix made a poor choice in slamming these two stories together. Even if you were just thinking as a dirty capitalist, the fan base absolutely exists to get way more mileage out of this world. They could have done literally twice as many episodes and people would have watched the hell out of it. But too late now, Netflix, so I’ll embrace what is and accept these plots being interwoven. I’m a fan of the art direction/design. I think the casting is fairly perfect, with no A-list stars to distract or “carry”—just capable actors doing good work. (Thank GOD this wasn’t made in the 90s, when studio execs would have cast Leonardo DiCaprio as Kaz for the star power and made every character straight and white and neurotypical.) (Also, I hadn’t realized until I watched the first few episodes of the series that I’d been picturing the Darkling looking a lot like David Bowie. Ben Barnes is much better casting.) 

Dear Edward (book) 

I dragged myself through 80% of this book. It had so many good reviews on Goodreads, and it was on so many lists, and I always like stories with multiple intersecting perspectives. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mindset or something, but I found this book to be a BUMMER. A whole lotta focus on trauma. Especially about, and from the perspective of, Edward. I imagine the end of the book is probably uplifting somehow. Finding meaning in the tragedy or whatever. But the discovery of the letters felt sort of trite. It was a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” resolution being set up. I spent most of this book hoping for a final chapter like The Goldfinch’s, but eventually decided I didn’t have the patience to get through the rest of the story to get to it (if it existed). 

The COVID-19 Pandemic (a pandemic) 

I’m mostly including this as a reminder (to myself more than anyone) that the pandemic is not yet over. I got my second shot in early April, and as of Friday, our entire household is vaccinated. Today, I drove past a movie theatre and thought about being able to sit in a darkened room in front of a big screen again and almost cried. I still haven’t eaten IN a restaurant yet, and we’ve had two or three other vaccinated people over, and I just accepted a role in a musical with COVID precautions. So in my corner of the world, things are looking pretty good. Vaccinations are up and infections are down. I still wear a mask when outside the house, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I give the pandemic as a whole zero stars, but I give the current healing Utah curve a solid four and a half.