Mysterious Salt Lake City

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This was the reunion weekend, but I had other things I wanted to do.

Decades ago, DH and I heard about the Gilgal Sculptural Garden, a place of visionary bizarreness conceived and built by a devout Mormon by the name of Thomas Battersby Child, Jr.

Thomas Battersby Child, Jr.

Thomas Battersby Child, Jr., 1888-1963

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Back then the garden was still private property, though the owners were not sure what to do with it.  People knew about the garden: if they were polite, they visited on the one day a week the garden was officially open.  Perhaps more often they trespassed, on the theory that they “weren’t doing any harm.”  The garden is now an official city park, but mostly taken care of by volunteers gardeners and the non-profit Friends of Gilgal Garden.  People still trespass, some still vandalize, and a fair number of visitors still think they “do no harm” by climbing on the sculptures for their fun snapshots.

Perhaps the most famous sculpture is the Joseph Smith sphinx:

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Speculations?

Well, at the center of Mormon belief is a connection to ancient Egypt civilization and its writing system (Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham from a papyrus scroll he obtained in 1835).  Joseph Smith was also a Freemason, and according to scholars, the “Old Charges” (Freemason origin documents) claim lineage from Egypt as the birthplace of the art of masonry (or mystery).

So . . . .  Was Mr. Child a Freemason as well as a mason?  It was a moment of idle curiosity on my part as I made my way around the garden and saw the carved quotation:  “After me cometh a Builder.  Tell him I too have known.”  The line is from The Palace, a poem by Rudyard Kipling published in 1902.  And Rudyard Kipling was a Freemason.  In the poem, he used the language and imagery of Freemasonry — and masonry — to explore his feelings about his place in the community of artists past and present.  As I said, a moment of idle curiosity . . . .  It is enough that Thomas Battersby Child had his visions, and was brave enough to set those visions in stone for posterity.

The Train to Somewhere

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One year on . . . .

When the Human Stain took office, I decided to unplug from “current events.”  There are enough things to worry about without also worrying about things I have ZERO control over.  My resistance:  for a year I have avoided anything to do with the Stain.  No pictures, no news, no tweets . . . .  It is amazing, really, how easy it is to delete one particular person from MY human-electronic interface.

Which brings me to The Train — the California Zephyr, to be precise.  If you read the reviews, a major complaint from passengers is that Amtrak does not provide WiFi on this train.  How to stay connected?!?  Perhaps if more people were willing to disconnect, we can stop feeding the troll in the White House.  Sheesh.

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Union Station, Denver

I arrived (via bus, no less) at dawn, and rather liked the Christmas green and red illumination.  The train station was completely restored a few years ago, and the vast hall is one fabulous waiting room.  The interesting (or stupid, depending on one’s viewpoint) thing about Amtrak at Denver is that they do not announce the arrival of the California Zephyr, nor do they tell you when you can board.  So, I eventually wander out to the platform, hoping that the train had in fact arrived on time.  And it was there!!  I saw the line for Coach passengers, but did not see a line for Sleeper Car passengers.  As it turned out, there was indeed a sign for Sleeper passengers at the head of the Coach line, but you couldn’t see it because of the line of waiting people.  Anyway, one perk of being a Sleeper passenger is that you do not have to wait in line, and I got my ticket scanned immediately.

My roomette was not ready, so the sleeping car attendant sent me off to breakfast in the dining car.  People complain about the food, but really, what were they expecting?  I thought the food was fine, the company of strangers interesting, and the scenery spectacular.

Gross Reservoir and Dam:  Impressive, but how much water can Denver suck out of the poor Colorado River?  I guess we will all find out if and when the expansion goes through.

27 tunnels in 30 minutes, and all before the Moffat Tunnel!  And what do you know, the water in the creeks really do flow in the opposite direction after the Continental Divide!

Climate change?  What climate change?  Well, it has been a warm late fall-early winter thus far, and while the ski resorts had snow, Winter Park was making snow when we trundled by.

Ruby Canyon, accessible by rafting, otherwise fantastic views by rail.  By dumb luck my roomette was river-side, so I had beautiful sunset views.  In my book, definitely a “E” ticket ride.

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Ruby Canyon, Colorado River

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Ruby Canyon

And on to Salt Lake City, where the Church knows how to put on a show:

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Temple Square, Salt Lake City

And so I keep going, ready to keep resisting, year two.

Salt Lake City Marathon 2013

I have a soft spot for Salt Lake City; I moved there straight out of college, and what with one degree or another we ended up staying for almost a decade.  It was a culture shock moving from the very liberal environment of Stanford — and northern California — to a city at the heart of the LDS faith (despite the fact that Mormons were, technically, the minority population).  I grew to like the city, and perhaps more importantly, I learned to do a proper parallel turn in skiing, back when Ladies’ Day (Tuesday or Wednesday) at Solitude was $7/day . . . .

We moved away about twenty years ago, but I have returned many times to visit my travel buddy (tongue firmly planted in cheek, some of my best friends are Mormons!), and each time I go back, things are different.  Some changes are subtle, along the lines of “Oh, that used to be ___,” while others are “Oh my gosh, where did those buildings come from?”  Bless the Church leadership: the City Creek project has rejuvenated downtown Salt Lake City, and though it has completely changed the physical landscape of the city core, I think it is mostly for the better.

This past weekend we were in SLC for the 10th running of the Salt Lake City Marathon (and half marathon, bike tour, and 5K), because what could possibly be more fun than destroying your quads on a Saturday morning with 4000 other runners?

The weekend highlights, and lowlights, in no particular order:

1.  It rained.  DH claims it wasn’t raining at the start, but it was.  And 13.1 miles later (we ran the half), it was still raining.  The only happy campers were the dogs along the route, in particular the Portuguese water dog who sat in the curb gutters happily swishing his tail, somewhere around mile 6.

2.  The bomb squad made us get out of the TRAX train one stop before the start line so that they could sweep the trains with the dogs.  Interestingly enough, if you had a seat — which of course 99% of the people did not — you did not have to leave during the sweep.

3.  Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” played at the start line, and at the time we didn’t know why.  We lived in Boston a couple of years, but this Red Sox tradition did not start until after we left.

4.  Helicopters overhead the entire race, security at pretty much every intersection, police on motorcycle, bikes, and at least one (wearing holster and belt) running the race.

5.  Did I mention it rained the entire race?  The hail came later.  It is absolutely possible to get wetter than wet: every time you land in a puddle, your feet really do get wetter . . . .

6.  Wyoming exists so that trucks have a place to park when WYDOT closes I-80.

7.  Corollary to #6:  24 mpg westbound, 34 mpg eastbound.

8.  I think races should have instant temperature probes at the finish line: DH tells me that if only I had a nice layer of fat for insulation, I would have felt much better.  Yup.

9.  A big Jacuzzi tub is a hypothermic runner’s best friend!

10.  Thank you to my favorite Saint for showing up at the finish line with jackets and blanket and a nice warm car!!!!!

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History from the Bottom Up: Pioneer Memorial Museum

Almost a decade in Salt Lake City, and I never made it to the Pioneer Memorial Museum (also known as the Daughters of Utah Pioneer Museum), up North Main opposite the State Capitol.  That is, until a couple of weeks ago.  The building is newly renovated, and the staff is friendly, as is typical of all the public places in the city where the Saints like to make the Gentiles feel welcome . . . .

It is a museum devoted to Mormon memorabilia of the pioneer era (1847-1869): clothing, crockery, quilts, hand tools, pianos (hauled across the plains before the railroads), christening gowns, furniture, badges, medical tools (and a vial of pulled teeth!), sewing machines, a copy of the Golden Spike, Brigham Young’s 1847 roll-into-Zion wagon (and his bathtub, too), and of course, the legendary hand carts.  The DUP ladies, bless them, do their best — but it really does feel as though all the pioneer descendants cleared out their attics and held a gigantic garage sale — and some of these artifacts might have been the left-overs.  Conservation efforts are somewhat haphazard, but funding is tight and the museum staff are all volunteers.  The displays are overwhelming — not just one christening set, but hundreds of baby bonnets and gowns; not just one quilt, but cases and cases of them, their less-than-pristine condition a silent history of the hardships of pioneer lives.  Perhaps some selectivity is in order — but then, that would probably be contrary to the mission of the museum:  the testament to faith is not just one story of one important man, but all the stories of all the pioneers.