We’re continuing a series at Tweetspeak — 50 States of Generosity, in which we highlight the 50 states of America and give people beautiful ways to understand and be generous with one another by noticing the unique and poetic things each state brings to the country. A more generous people in the States can become a more generous people in the world. We continue with Utah.
Utah (capital: Salt Lake City)
State flower: Sego lily. State insect: honeybee. State bird: California seagull.
In Temple Square, in the heart of Salt Lake City, is a tall granite monument topped with two bronze birds: seagulls. We went to Utah last September and drove past the monument several times before learning its history. The statue commemorates the Miracle of the Gulls, which is why the seagull is Utah’s state bird.
Wait, what? Isn’t Utah landlocked? As in nowhere near an ocean? Yes, you are correct! But Utah is full of surprises.
The reason why the seagull is so important to Utah lies in a bit of Mormon history. In 1848, hordes of crickets descended on the crops planted by Mormon pioneers. After fighting the infestation, the people prayed and seagulls came and devoured the crickets. If you visit the Great Salt Lake, you can see gulls that still feed on various lake-water pests. That was surprise #1.
Surprise #2 was that as we drove around the state, each highway sign was adorned with a beehive. Why? Again, it goes back to Mormon history. When Brigham Young and crew came to the Salt Lake Valley, he designated the beehive as the emblem for their new home, drawing from an ancient symbol dating back to the Tower of Babel. Thus, the honeybee has been designated Utah’s state insect.
But seagulls and honey bees are not the primary reasons tourists come to Utah. They come for red rocks and the Mighty 5 National Parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. All five parks are open in winter, which can be a less crowded time to visit. Each park is in the southern part of the state, and each is not too far from the others. But each park is also large, in terms of geography. Take your time. Take plenty of water.
Our trip focused on the northern part of the state, where the ski bunnies and the snowmobiles play. The state’s skiing motto is Get More Mountain Time (Get it? Utah is in the Mountain Time Zone.) We visited Snowbasin, which, in the summer, converts to a destination for mountain bikers.
Perhaps the most surprising thing we found was Bear Lake, the Caribbean of the Rockies. Surprise #3: the water is turquoise. And the lake is so big that it’s bordered by Utah on one side and Idaho on the other. We rented e-bikes and rode around the resort town, making sure to try some of its famous raspberry ice cream.
It’s definitely a state I would like to spend more time in, and I’m not alone. The 2020 Census showed that Utah was the state that gained the most population. That trend continued during the pandemic — if you’re going to work from home, why not work near rugged beauty?
Poet Luci Shaw, friend of Tweetspeak Poetry, has a poem about the beauty of the state in Tenting, Burr Trail, Long Canyon, Escalante. She compares her tent pegs to her written words. It’s a poem born of taking time in Utah, of sleeping beside red rocks, beneath clear stars, and leaving space for surprise to take root.
In this parchment land, the scribble
and blot of junipers and sagebrush–each crouched
separate, rooted in its own desert space–
spreads low to the sand, holding it down
the way the tent pegs anchor my tent, keep it
from blowing away. The way I want my words
to hold, growing maybe an inch a year,
grateful for the least glisten of dew.
Poetry Prompt: Utah Generosities
Use any of the things you learned about Utah (research more, if you want!), and put one or more of them into a poem. If you like, weave in a little generosity. Share in the comments.
More About Utah: Poets & Writers + Landmarks
Orson Scott Card, sci-fi author
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and many other books
Delacorte Prize, an award for an outstanding first YA novel has been won by several Utah authors
The Mighty 5, southern Utah’s national parks, nicknamed Forever Mighty
Moab Desert, Yes, Virginia, the desert can be beautiful
Steven L. Peck, biologist, environmentalist, poet
May Swenson, poet
Temple Square, Salt Lake City
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I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro