A Sense of Place and People



Coming across the meadow into the town of Pine Valley after descending from the hills. The Pine Valley Ward chapel is visible, painted white, off to the right hand side of the road in the distance.


We drove up yesterday, after church, through Snow Canyon (the colors are never the same twice, and yesterday the lava and the red sandstone cliffs were shining with the intermittent rain) to Central and then on to Pine Valley.  This is where my Scots ancestors first immigrated to Utah after accepting Mormonism.


Between Central and Pine Valley, snow suddenly appeared on the road and on either side.  A very different climate.  A relative who lives in Central (where he herds cattle) told us last year that one of the reasons that our ancestors settled Central was to escape the relatively heavy snow of Pine Valley, which very commonly comes right down to a ridge a few hundred yards from his house and then abruptly stops.


The home where my first Scottish ancestor lived still stands in Pine Valley, and is still occupied, though it has been reconfigured a great deal since it was built.  Nearby is the Pine Valley Ward chapel — built in 1868 and the oldest ward chapel still in use within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We attended church here for the first time during our last visit.  (They still use a pump organ!)


I love coming to this place, and to Central (where the dilapidated shell of the house in which my grandmother grew up still stands; if I had the money, I would buy the place, though I don’t know exactly what I would do with it), and to St. George (where my mother was born and raised).  I’ve always felt a strong sense of piety toward my ancestors — a deeply conservative sentiment that my early reading of Russell Kirk and others reinforced but didn’t create — and a strong sense almost of veneration toward the places associated with them.


Ahlan wa sahlan is a standard Arab greeting, given to someone just arrived.  Very few people, I suspect, still think about what it literally means, which is that the person being welcomed has reached kinfolk, a friendly people (ahl) and a level place (sahl) where a tent can easily be pitched and where one can feel at home.  Even nomads need a sense of roots and belonging.


Which reminds me, in passing, of an article that I came across today in which a young man, only recently wed, makes, on the whole, a non-religious case for marriage:  http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/01/26/man-top-5-reasons-to-grow-up-and-get-married/


I don’t think that we’re likely to hear a talk like this one from the Conference Center pulpit anytime soon, but it is, in its way, another summons to the life of family, a reminder of the central values of covenant, community, commitment, and continuity.


Posted from St. George, Utah.



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  • Tracy Hall Jr

    I love Pine Valley, which I claim by marriage. Helen’s ancestor Robert Gardner Jr was cursed with skills in lumbering, so he spent much of his life in Church callings bringing out lumber from cold, high places. He did the timbers for the St. George Temple & Tabernacle, and cut the long straight-grained pines needed for the pipes in the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ. Nearly all of this came from upstream of Pine Valley. Three of the houses he built in Pine Valley still stand: one is inhabited and much changed; the other two will someday rot away. I have the same mixed feelings about the burdens of preservation: fortunately we have covenants that preserve all that is really essential — our relationships.