The above image is the contributor’s copy of a project pitched to me in the fall of 2016. The editor of Reaching Beyond the Saguaros (Serving House Books), Heather Lang, proposed a haibun project to our Fairleigh Dickinson MFA group. A haibun is a Japanese travelogue combining prose and poetry. I loved the sound of this idea, especially since for much of my MFA I felt disconnected from the community of my fellow students because I lived in Utah and most of them lived in New York and New Jersey. I had clicked with Heather because of this distance (she lives in Las Vegas) and because I admire her literary magazine Petite Hound Press.
When I took up my section of the project I had recently learned that I had been accepted to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. This began a new path in my life that I had been working towards, and wanting to walk on, since my high school days. And soon after the reception of this news, my days in Utah became a series of “last time for a long time” moments. One of these was a trip out to West Wendover, Nevada with several family members.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the small gambling town. I have absolutely no luck and there’s not much to do besides drink, gamble, eat at mostly okay restaurants, and go see shows at the concert hall. That weekend during my cousin Brent’s birthday Penn and Teller would be performing their comedy and magic act. I had seen the duo before in Las Vegas with our cousin Dylan, who in turn has seen them live almost a dozen times. My grandma, her sister, and two of her daughters also joined us for the show. We all went out to dinner at an Italian place called Romanza. They happen to make amazing cocktails and this was the restaurant that started my love of Caesar salad.
However, before this night began, Dylan and I drove into Wendover together. We discussed the upcoming election, the Marvel shows on Netflix, and other topics. Because this was going to be my last time for a long time, I asked if we could pull over at a rest stop that over looks the Bonneville Salt Flats.
It looks like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel. A blanket of gray-white salt left behind from when a great saline lake covered much of Utah towards the end of the last great ice age. Every kid in Utah learns about Lake Bonneville and we’re shown where the lake left geological imprints in the Wasatch Mountain rage. There were times when I would find myself looking at the mountains and visually tracing the lines of where the shores used to be.
There’s almost always wind whipping through the peaks of the Silver Island Mountain Rage along the northern edge of the Salt Flats. I can’t remember if this was the first time I noticed it, but that afternoon the wind blew salt onto my lips and when I licked them I tasted a unique sea. So different from the time I walked along the harbors of Long Beach, California. There was a distinct lack of fish, but supplemented with an earthy base note, almost as though the air were a salty, dry rain.
But when I returned home to write about northern Utah, Layton, and Salt Lake City for the haibun project I was smothered by writer’s block. Each word of the first couple of drafts of my part of the haibun was pulling out like teeth. It felt like an exercise in futility and seriously began to affect my self-confidence. I was unsure if my piece needed dialogue, but inspiration for some came from a conversation with my sister about my upcoming move. She reiterated how much she had missed the mountains of home while living in North Dakota, and warned me that I would soon feel their absence in England, in a place without them.
I rounded out my haibun with the constant memory of the mountains turning from spring green to summer brown every year and other recollections of what home was to me.
To my surprise Heather liked it. I passed it on to her to give to the next person in the travelogue chain and pretty much forgot about the project as I continued with my preparations for my PhD program and transatlantic move.
As the days continued to countdown to the day I would leave, I pulled my part of the haibun out of one of my iCloud files to read at my going away party. I’d never lived further than 40 miles from the city I was born and raised in, and since I spent the last half of 2016 preparing to move to England it seemed like a fitting piece to read aloud. I’ve always been very shy about sharing my reading in front of my family. A lot of my works tend to use colorful language and situations I dare not speak of in front of my grandmothers, but the haibun was my ode to the home I would be leaving behind.
There’s nothing like making people feel something when they read your work. One of the few times I’ve gone to an open mice night and actually got up to read, a woman handed me a note saying that she had been touched by my poems. That night in front of my family I began with Walt Whitman’s O Me! O Life!, a poem that I rediscovered at the beginning of my MFA program and one that basically set the internal tone for what I wanted to achieve with that degree. (Here is a short clip of Robin Williams reading part of this amazing poem from the movie Dead Poets Society.)
Then I read a short poem titled The Place (Without) (unpublished) inspired by Harold Pinter in an afternoon workshop I took from Renee Ashley. A prose poem titled Here to Live Out Loud (unpublished) and a free verse piece called Are You Alive from Planet Earth? (Here and There) (unpublished) inspired by two of my dearest friends, James and Jennifer.
I was in a rhythm as I performed and so when I got to “Layton, Utah,” my piece of the haibun. To avoid breaking any of that momentum, I kept my eyes focused on the pages in my hands. After I finished my ode to my home I looked up and saw that, the people I love and adore most in the word were all speechless and several had been moved to tears.
It was the best gift I could have ever received before beginning my PhD journey.
Ginger Lee Thomason
Being from Northern Utah: On a quick drive westward from
Utah’s capitol, through beige desert ranges, we stopped at the Bonneville
Salt Flats on the way to a little gambling town. (Possibly for my
last time in a long time.) When the wind picked up, we could taste a
desert sea blowing through the peaks, and almost see where the earth
curves amongst rippling refractions off asphalt and salt. Images to imprint.
The Wasatch, Uintah, and Oquirrh surrounding Home have just
been my whole life. Always to the east. Their millions of years of
memory seen through my infinitesimal birthdays.
“You’ll miss the mountains,” my sister said. “Their absence is an
Summer weekends up the Ogden, Farmington, Little, and Big Cottonwood
Canyons to find the evergreen amongst golden brush turned
into tinderboxes. To visit an old saloon, where they put brats on top of
hamburgers and see where people have stapled signed dollar bills to the
walls and ceiling. And there are initials everywhere of lovers, families,
and friends. You can find my graffiti at the Shooting Star in the ladies
I’ll miss memories the most.
© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. “Layton, Utah” was first published in “Reaching Beyond the Saguaros” Serving House Books, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image 1 was taken with a Samsung phone by Tami Forbes in May 2017. Images 2 and 3 were taken with an iPhone 6 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2016.