TAKE IT, OR LEAVE IT
by Jim Stiles
It was true, then and now, that I did not look like the average Monticello homeowner. As I unloaded a pickup truck of furniture, my new neighbor, Todd Westcott, walked over to say hello and to welcome me to town.
My cottage is tiny and as we made our introductions, he commented on the size...
“This is a pretty small place for you and your family,” he noted.
“Well,” I said. “Actually I don’t have a family.”
Todd looked bewildered. “No kids? Not married?”
“Uh... no,” I replied. “But I do have two cats!”
I realized I wasn’t making matters better. But he quickly adjusted to his new neighbor’s solitary lifestyle. Our homes are separated by a small field. Behind us sprawled a beautiful horse pasture. My view to the east past the horses stretched all the way to the San Juans in Colorado. It was like having Lone Cone in my “backyard.”
But I worried about that field. I’d just left Moab, where fields and pastures were vanishing faster than I could shed tears for them. And it wasn’t just the pro-growth development gang that was carving up the county.
Some of the “greenest” environmentalists in Utah were busy building eco-condos and insisting they weren’t doing it for the money. So I wondered how long a vacant field in my backyard would survive.
One day I heard that Todd had bought the small field between us and the big pasture to the East. Someone suggested that he planned to subdivide it. I felt sick. A few days later, I saw Todd in his yard and waved him over. I figured I’d rather get bad news straight from the source that keep grieving over rumors...
Was it true, I asked? Had he bought the land?
Todd nodded. “Yep. For better or worse.” It was a big investment, he said.
So I asked the question: “Is it true you’re building a subdivision?
He looked at me like I was crazy. “What?” he asked. “Where’d you hear that? Nope. We bought this land so they WON’T build houses on that field. I love that view out the window in the morning. I don’t know what I’d do without it, so Amy and I decided to buy it...we’re gonna grow alfalfa.”
Growing alfalfa is no easy task and once, with a cutting planned and rain on the way, Todd was out until 4 a.m., trying to get the alfalfa cut and baled before the storms came.
The next day, he saw me in the yard and came over to apologize ...to apologize!.. for making noise during the night. In Moab, his concern might have been real. New Moabites would have complained about decibel levels after 10 p.m. and the emissions from his tractor. For me, the sound of his equipment cutting and baling was music to my ears.
I was a strange paradox. Here was my neighbor, a devout LDS Church-going conservative, who owns ATVs and 4WDs and even has a motorized bike with training wheels for his youngest boy, who works in the energy industry—here’s Todd showing more resolve to keep Monticello’s open space open than my richest, most politically-correct enviro pals in Moab.
My new Life in Monticello followed that theme. Its citizens were at least tolerant, if not totally accepting. Nobody egged my car or put peanut butter on the windshield wipers.
One day I stopped at the insurance office to check a premium. It was my first visit to the Monticello branch. A big serious, crew-cut, cowboy-type with a snap front shirt sat behind the computer. I handed him my papers and he punched a few keys. Finally, still looking at the screen he said flatly, “I like your paper.”
I was startled. “You do?”
“Yep.” Long pause. “A lot of my friends say I shouldn’t read The Zephyr. I tell them they should.”
I was almost speechless. “Thanks,” I mumbled.
“I think you’re trying to be fair at least,” he explained. “And I don’t agree with you on a lot of stuff. I got eight kids.”
That’s a lot,” I said. “But I don’t have any kids, so that knocks our average down to four.”
Bill Boyle, editor of the local newspaper, and I became good friends. Early on, he asked me if I’d be interested in sharing some of my Zephyr stories in the San Juan Record.
I thought he was kidding. My rants in The San Juan Record? At first I thought it better to lay low. I can’t stand newcomers who arrive in town on Sunday and by Monday are trying to tell their new neighbors how to live their lives.
So I imposed a five-year moratorium on myself. No Stiles rants. But finally Boyle convinced me the time was right and so my essays, some written for The Zephyr, some exclusively for the Record began to appear. The response was gratifying. People I’d never met approached me at the market or at the post office to say hello...
“Well... I read your piece this week.”
“Some of it was pretty good. Other parts of it... I didn’t like.”
And it was.
Bill deserves credit for daring to print my stuff in the first place. And I was grateful that even the more conservative parts of Monticello would at least give me a read.
Of course they loved my essays when I was critical of SUWA or the tourist economy, but they also read (and at least tolerated) my rants on population, consumption and the near-extinction of the buffalo.
Even my “Why I Never Became a Mormon...parts 1 & 2” were met, in most cases, with good humor and thoughtful, sometimes introspective assessments.
On the other hand, I failed to connect with the Anti-Mormons in any significant way. Maybe I was still put off by the rhetoric.
Former Monticello resident, author Amy Irvine, practically created a template for Anti-Mormon vitriol when she took extraordinary measures to explain how much she loathed the town, in her book, “Trespass: Living on the Edge of the Promised Land.”
Irvine found little to respect during her brief time as a resident. A self-proclaimed ex-Mormon and a sixth generation Utahn, she describes the moment when Mormon missionaries come to her door in Monticello:
‘“Come back and preach at me,’ I bellow, ‘when you’ve made love—to someone other than each other. When you’ve seen death. When you’ve walked—not driven—across the desert.’”
It was just the first of many hurled Irvine insults that portrays Monticello in as ugly a light as one can imagine. She mocked the people, their conservative values, their modest dress code.
She even criticized the lack of a good merlot in a little Mormon town where 90 percent of its residents don’t drink alcohol. Or the pitiful variety of cheeses!
It should not have come as a surprise when she wasn’t embraced by the community. Or that her words left bitter feelings.
Irvine departed years ago, but there remains a solid group of Anti-Mormons who share her loathing for anything LDS.
Because I’m not a Mormon and because my views are more liberal, I suppose it was assumed I was “one of them.” It created some awkward moments for me.
For example, I was at the post office one day, talking to Postmaster Dorothy when a woman I barely knew stopped to invite me to a party.
“You never come to our parties!” she complained. “And you don’t have to worry... none of ‘those’ people will be there.”
“‘Those’ people?” I ask.
“You know,” she laughed. “The people with the funny underwear.”
I grimace. “I like ‘funny underwear.’”
She tried to figure if I was joking. Finally she backed off, confused. It was my last invite.
The Mormon Bashing continued and I retreated farther from my old friends. But it followed me, even to The Zephyr facebook page.
Recently I had posted a history story about the uranium tailings cleanup in Monticello. Residual radiation from the old mill had caused cancer rates to soar in the 1980s and 90s.
A Monticello resident posted this on my page:
“I hope these Mormons get cancer from the background radiation under their houses and radon seeping up through their basements and die a slow horrible death, then burn in hell where they belong.”
I removed the comment and blocked the user from ever posting on the Zephyr page again. But it still rankles.
I don’t include these comments to further inflame an already volatile situation, and I have, in fact, seen the same kind of vitriol from members of the LDS community, but to remind my “progressive,” Mormon loathing friends that ugly language is hardly limited to one side.
If there is an epiphany to be found here, it’s not that I find myself agreeing with local Mormons on all issues, it’s that I find a high level of tolerance for my divergent viewpoints.
Next week: Take our friends when we find them.
(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr – Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online at www.canyoncountryzephyr.com. Stiles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)