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We are not in the memories of our Mothers


We are not in a familiar attic somewhere thumbing the edges of old photographs. We are not stooped over, pulling out old boxes, breathing in their decay and peeling back pieces of brown tape that will never stick again, holding things we once loved up to the light. There is not a vase on the windowsill, or not a vase, but an old tumbler full of the skeletons of roses, the line where the water used to be marked in a bright circle by the sun, their white heads hung. We are not spreading the prints out on the floor looking for the faces of our parents in foriegn landscapes, saying ‘look how young they are,’ looking for our own faces in their faces, noticing how the passage of time has both taken something from them and added something in its place. Our fingers are not pieces of a collage against skies we’ll never be under. We are not in the memories of our mothers. We are driving through Arizona.


We are driving through Arizona and it feels like nostalgia, like the fabric of time is stretched over us and it is pale enough to see the sky through.


We are cutting the corner off Arizona with our car, following its dogeared edge from Nevada to Utah. Driving the crease of it, where the land is worn in from the millions of people who folded this corner of Arizona too, who sliced a shortcut from state to state.

Utah is the pinkest place I have ever been. It felt tired, and ancient, like it was volatile once, fleshy mounds bursting up like gums, that had slowly been worn down to a state of precision. This is how the land is different to our bodies. Over time it collapses to become more perfect, more refined, more sudden. Like a memory, it sharpens, while the space around it fades. The land, bursting red and orange and pink, shrubs and cacti pilling across its surface, is like longing, is like our minds cradling our pasts to our chests.


We were heading to Zion National Park on the recommendation of a few friends.

When we got there a long line of cars stretched back but we had a pass and a booking, and a campsite near a river edge, poplars dwarfed by the sheer faces of the surrounding land masses, rust orange now, the sun set early behind them, a narrow strip of blue between.


We took a walk along a path by the river. At a small, cobbled beach we tried the water, fresh as anything, rolling over stones, making everything else quiet. In the shadow of that early sunset we felt the slow release of the heat of the day. A snake felt it too, curled on the orange path, and we joked about how Ruby would post it on instagram amongst photos of Lizards of the US with no context. We found this irrationally funny. Laughing about it long after we settled into camp for the night, put down our still-charged phones, enjoyed our first night sleeping on our airbed in the tent. Like most things in life, the snake was harmless, and we were the threat, and every other human in the park, treating the natural world like a sideshow, a consumable.

Zion is a theme park and the theme is nature. 

In the morning thousands of people were shepherded into buses with open portals to the sky, walking the same concreted tracks, trying, but failing, to get the same picture as everyone else, but with no one else in it, distant shouts bouncing off cliff faces and spiralling around the valley. Like everyone else we traced up the edges of the ravine. We pushed back against the walls under overhangs to watch water coming off them catch the sun in long streaks of white. Like everyone else we took off our shoes to cross the freezing river and to catch a deeper look into the canyon, where the land changed again, to become more fluid, a newer kind of erosion, layered and unpredictable. We decided not to do the Angel’s Landing that traverses sheer drops, citing height phobias and past intrepid-hike traumas. We stopped for lunch at the main rest stop, where a double-storied farm-style lodge boasted food we couldn’t afford, backdropped by another cliff of faded orange, ancient sediment. We sat in the grass in the mottled shade, people-watching. 

Zion is a theme park and the theme is nature. 


It was beautiful though, the red and the green of the sunburnt landscape, large trees to dwarf us, large cliff faces to dwarf them, the oldness of it, the untouchability of its highest peaks, the way the sun could only track such a short line across the available sky.

The ‘You are Here’ markers on the maps and the trail entries are there to remind you that you aren’t here when there is a crowd, you are the crowd.


Zion is a theme park and the theme is nature.


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We found a track that could only be driven to, away from the bus-system (which to its credit was well organised and blissfully kept cars - the evil things they are - out of the main park), up a winding road and to a ridgeline. It was less busy and wound under overhangs and across flat orange plains of rock, and was higher up, so we were level with peaks, the land layered and slipping down. It was hot and we were there to find a swimming hole, or somewhere we could sit with our legs in the water but according to some locals it was a treacherous walk to the nearest hole and not the sort of walk you want to do with no service and no one you know knowing where you are.

We headed back to the campsite for another resourcefully assembled meal by Ruby and to watch the sunset, or not the sunset, but a shadow rise up the cliff face, its edges burning out, embered by the last light of the day. And then all of a sudden it was extinguished, and the rest of the night slipped in quickly, a crevasse of stars above us.


In the morning, a doe grazed behind our tent. She lifted her head to look at us, not startled, but wary. Once again, we were the threat, and she disappeared amongst the stirring tents, silent, as if she was never there at all.


Later that trip I called home and talked to Dad about Utah. He spoke about Zion as an untouched paradise of remote hikes and a profound silence. It’s easy to forget that your parents had other lives, that they lived in other places and saw things you haven’t seen or didn’t imagine. I didn’t know he had been here. We were not living in Salt Lake City and skiing when we could and making weekend trips to these sunburnt landscapes to hike and feel the quiet swallow us whole. We were not in the memories of our fathers.


Maybe the familiarity of the landscape for me was a kind of inherited memory, the pinkness of the place a filter my eyes recognised, the roadmap of Utah in my blood. Walking the paths my body walked before in a different life without knowing. To drive the same roads, resealed over and over but carving the same lines. The roadmap in my blood wasn’t enough to get us out of there though with dead phones and no GPS and we pulled over, trying to remember how to read maps in the road atlas we found at Walmart. 


We are not in the memories of our fathers. We are driving out of Utah and into Arizona.

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