“To Be Accepted by the Land,” Ensign, Nov. 1971, 60
Lying remote and unspoiled, there is, in southeastern Utah, a land that few men have seen and fewer men understand. It is considered to be a wasteland of desert, scarred by silt-ridden rivers, good only for grazing a few cattle.
For some, this land recalls to mind legends of the Indian culture that once flourished here. To me, this land is a Shangri-la, peaceful and beautiful, quiet and alone, powerful and challenging. Its massive sandstone walls seem not to confine me, but act as giant sentinels, shielding me from the confusion and evils of the world. The streams that aimlessly meander from high mountains seem to whisper life as they give themselves into the greenery of the desert valley. At night, when the turquoise sky above the red and pink cliffs gives way to the full moon and stars, the cliffs are bathed in moonlight, becoming giant spice cakes, glazed with silvery icing.
In these ancient canyons, overtones of the creation still seem to linger and echo, yet at frequent intervals the silence is so intense it becomes a partial vacuum that draws one’s inner self out. It is here that I came, not to escape from life and its realities, but to more fully understand them. I felt that I must be accepted by the land.
My search to be accepted by the land, or to possess it, started two summers ago when I began staking uranium claims in this secluded area and doing assessment work on those claims. In the back of my mind I must have been thinking of possessing the land, of overpowering it. I came armed with four-wheel drive trucks, walkie-talkies, and drilling rigs. I came to conquer, to exploit, to take from the land.
At first it seemed to quietly accept my intrusion as I trudged along, placing pegs in the ground and erecting occasional rock monuments. But when the land saw that the tractor would follow, tearing down her walls to build roads, and the drilling rig moved in, thrusting a drill deep into her side, she revolted. She must have called to the West for the rain and lightning and wind. It came. It poured. We were sodden. Vehicles bogged and broke down. Drilling stopped. The fuel supply was running low. The entire area had turned into a desert lake. So with our equipment, which had once been so powerful and proud, we limped back to civilization. It seemed as if the land had said no; this was not the way to possess her nor to be accepted by her. We had been rejected.
My second attempt to come close to the land was in sharp contrast, a humble reversal of motive and technique. This time I was armed only with a knife, a blanket, and a small supply of simple foods, and was one of a group of some sixty people who would become very close friends. We were all members of a university-sponsored survival class, learning to live together with nature and the land.
We entered into the land as quietly as possible, trying not to disturb her. As we walked along her rivers and desert paths, we saw that she was very beautiful, magnificently arrayed with all types of flora and fauna. We discovered too that she could be harsh and unyielding, often lashing her elements against us, testing our determination and courage.
This desert land, we discovered, was also a great teacher. As time passed and experiences were shared, members of the expedition grew to appreciate each other. We found ourselves often sharing the last swallow from a canteen, or savoring together the last bits of rice cooked in a billy can. When it rained and two or three of us huddled under a plastic sheet that wasn’t adequate for one, though our bones were chilled, our hearts were warmed. We found strength in each other, and we somehow knew that the sun would soon come to warm us and to dry the good earth.
Time passed, and I detected the feeling that the land was beginning to accept me. Though there were yet times when it was too hot or too cold, and I thirsted for the water I could not find, yet those difficult times seemed to come less often, somehow making the good times seem better than before. These became lessons in appreciation. I suffered and learned patience and understanding. The desert was a subtle teacher.
Then it happened. After we had had a long and difficult day of hiking, there suddenly loomed at our feet a cliff, huge and forbidding, yet majestic. We must rappel down its smooth face. For me, being dangled over an 80-foot cliff by a thin rope was not only challenging, it was frightening. The summer before, I had slipped from a cliff, injuring my leg severely, and now old fears rushed in upon me, as unwelcome memories of that moment made me hesitate.
The members of our party who had had mountain-climbing experience went down first. As these people slid over the edge, I concluded that if I were to depart this world, it would be better this way, doing something exciting. So I volunteered to be the first person from the inexperienced group. As our leader tied me into the sling, he was very careful and exacting with every movement—not too fast, not too slow. He talked to me and reassured me; he seemed deeply concerned about my welfare. I watched, listened, and was intrigued. Suddenly I realized that his concern was more than something demanded by his position of leadership and responsibility. He had tied me into the sling as if he were my brother. He had tied with love the knot that my life depended upon.
As I slipped over the edge of the cliff, the thrill of mid-air suspension gave way to deep thought. All at once I understood. In that moment I knew what I had come here to learn. Everything—my goal, my objective—was suddenly clear. It was love! Love was the key to the world. It was the lesson that all the great teachers had taught. It was the love that Jesus personified. It wasn’t the rope that held me from instant death, but the love that had tied the knot that held me to the rope. I had come to be accepted by the land, and only as I loved it was I accepted by it.
At this moment I learned something of the meaning of love for all mankind—not just people close to me whom I already loved, but all people, all people everywhere, because we are all brothers.