September 9, 2019

Discovering Greater Zion

By Lyman Hafen

 

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”  

– Marcel Proust

I recently stopped at a store on Telegraph Street between the cities of St. George and Washington.  As I waited at the sales counter, I looked out the glass door to the east and caught a perfect view of Zion’s West Temple standing majestically on the far horizon. Though I’ve looked at the West Temple thousands of times before, something about this new and fresh perspective made my jaw drop and my blood race.

After the sales transaction was complete, I pointed out the view to the store manager and told him what a unique and amazing vantage he had of Zion right out his store window.

“I’ve never noticed that before,” he said.

“It’s the West Temple of Zion,” I said.

“That’s nice,” he said. “I’ve never been there.”

As I walked out the door, I was tempted but did not tell him how many hundreds of people I see every day who have travelled halfway around the world to see what was standing right in front of him. 

When I was growing up in St. George in the 1960s, our town park was just three blocks up the street from my house. Today, it’s known as Vernon Worthen Park. Back then, we just called it The City Park. And that’s exactly what it was, although we weren’t exactly a city at the time. It was a full square block of open space covered by a bright green carpet of grass and shaded by a canopy of countless towering trees. That block once contained the municipal swimming pool, tennis courts, an artfully designed barbecue area, swing sets, slides, a merry-go-round, and teeter-totters. It was a kids’ paradise, and you could play there from sunup to sundown, breathing in the magical moistness of that cool green carpet at your feet, running and rolling and yelling and shading-up for a rest with a sharp blade of grass between your chapped lips—until your mom drove up and called out from the car window, reminding you of your chores still unfinished at home.

As a kid, I had no idea of the financing, the politics or the foresight that went into preserving and maintaining that special place in the middle of town.

It was just there. Mine for the taking. A kind of birthright.

I remember our family driving through Zion National Park when I was very young. Dad would have been behind the wheel of our turquoise Ford Fairlane and mom in the front seat with him. And my little sister and I would have been up on our knees (in the days before seat belts), wide-eyed, in the back seat taking it all in. As we passed through Springdale, I remember watching the buildings pass by—the houses, the motels, the curio shops, and the service stations. And I remember the feel of my father’s fingers under my chin as he reached his arm back over the seat and lifted my point of view from ground level up and up to the towering sandstone ledges of the canyon and even further up to where the high horizon broke against the purple sky. Along that stark skyline, I saw, for the first time, the turrets, towers, and spires of those magnificent castles in the clouds.

 

Even today, a half-century later, I still feel my little-boy heart swelling in my chest.

“Whose place is this?” I asked my dad as we drove up the switchbacks in the canyon.

“It’s yours, and it’s mine,” he answered. “It belongs to every American.”

Though I didn’t understand it then, that was my introduction to the concept of public space, to the idea of parks set aside for the benefit of all. I took that concept for granted much of my life.

Perhaps when it finally hit home for me was the day I rode an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building in New York City. From the viewing deck near the top of that amazing building, I looked up and down Manhattan Island and saw perhaps the greatest concentration of human activity on earth. I was overwhelmed by the mass of humanity in such tight quarters. And then my eyes settled on the giant rectangle of green in the middle of that island: Central Park. A sigh escaped from deep inside me as I considered the beauty and tranquility of that awesome open space smack in the middle of such a gray and dense metropolis.

What a concept.

Here in southwestern Utah, we’re blessed that so many of our citizens and leaders have understood this concept over the years. They’ve been willing to stick their necks out, put their reputations on the line, and create the kinds of parks and open space we enjoy today. From that old City Park in my boyhood neighborhood to Zion National Park, we are the beneficiaries of scores of public spaces, including municipal, state, and national parks. From ballfields to hiking parks, from desert reserves to petroglyph sites. From pickle ball courts to horseshoe pits to river walks and picnic spots. From Zion to Parashant to Pipe Spring and Cedar Breaks. From Snow Canyon to Sand Hollow to the trail heads in Pine Valley. You’d be hard pressed to find a greater or more diverse number of developed, maintained, and well-managed parks and open spaces anywhere on earth.

The French writer Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”  I have travelled the world and seen plenty of beauty and magnificence on this planet, but I’ve never been more moved by any of it than I was a while back when I looked with new eyes through a glass door on Telegraph Street.      

 

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