Beyond Hyrum, an old macadam road runs south for seven or eight miles, lined by weathered, listing telephone poles from an earlier time and a simpler life. In summer, the rolling fields on either side smell of fresh cut alfalfa. In winter, an untouched blanket of snow covers the countryside, protecting the fertile ground and its secrets.
At the end of the road lies the whimsical borough of Paradise, and just beyond, the little outpost of Avon. These are some of the oldest and most pristine settlements in Cache Valley. If you stand on the Paradise bluff and look south across the river bottoms, you may catch a glimpse of a bull moose forging along the creek or see a herd of mule deer moving quietly through a golden field of barley. Colorful pheasants abound, as do Canadian geese, eagles, ducks, hawks and owls. Backyard birds liven the landscape … the sparrow, the robin, the dove and magpie, the starling and finch all fly endlessly from tree to tree and barn to barn from sunrise to sunset.
On the ground, or hidden in the hollow of a fallen log, you may spot a fox, a raccoon, a porcupine, or the occasional beaver. Elk are frequent visitors here. Close your eyes, and your mind drifts back to a time when the Shoshone gathered in these bottoms each summer to pitch their teepees along the meandering Little Bear. Smell the wood-smoke rising from the Indian camps as their little children run naked through the shallow, slow-moving river. See the men bartering over cloth and blankets, animal hides and shiny stones, dried beef and hand-made beads. Blink, and although your back to the present, the vision lingers, and you walk away feeling somehow connected to this place … a little more settled, and a little more at peace.
For 15 years now, I’ve left my home in these river bottoms each morning to ride my ancient Klein mountain bike up and along the county road, and then through the canyon to the base of Porcupine Dam. Too old now to worry about setting new PRs, I ride for the exercise, but mostly to spend an hour or two outdoors in this last unspoiled place.
After COVID-19’s sweep of cancelations last year, I had almost forgotten about the annual foot-race that descends upon our community on a Saturday morning each June … the Ragnar Relay. For a few hours, the landscape changes. As I crest the hill from my home, and merge onto the highway, I work my way into the procession of trucks, SUVs, cars and vans that dart in and out of traffic as they leapfrog one another to stay close to their team, their friends, their tribe. Each vehicle’s windows are colorfully painted with slogans like “You Got This!” or “Find Your Inner Wild!”,or “Girls Run The World!” Most trucks are carrying a crew of supporters in their beds, comfortably sitting on outside furniture that was once inside furniture, similar to the redneck parade you’ll see along Logan’s Main Street next month.
I pass my local church where porta-potties now line the parking lot, then duck to avoid being drenched by a well-meaning water-cannon. Every vehicle has one, and every vehicle has some miscreant chuckling behind it’s trigger.
Then there are the runners. People of all shapes, ages, and sizes, I see rainbows in their hair, and stuffed animals strapped to their backs. Some are in serious, full-body lycra, but most are dressed just like me … shorts and a T-shirt. One or two are being pulled along by an ESA (emotional support animal), but everyone, I mean EVERYONE, is suffering from the same, singular, self-inflicted impairment … some version of an electronic device stuck in their ears. Earbuds, Ipods, or headphones are blocking the auditory channels on both sides of their stoic faces, pumping their heads with reruns from their favorite playlist … for the umpteenth time.
Oblivious to the sound of a robin calling for its mate in the trees overhead, or the gentle babbling of the adjacent canal, the lowing of cattle in the fields, the hoot of a nearby owl, or the steady “chit chit chit” of a sprinkler line in the distance, these technozombies in running shoes have opted instead for the regurgitating thump thump thump of their brainless club music or even worse, some screeching diva celebrating her dysfunctional life.
I veer off the route and head to my quiet place along the Little Bear at the base of Porcupine Reservoir. Peace returns as I watch a German brown jump after the dragonflies that skim the river’s surface, the light shimmering as if it were flakes of silver, falling from the gentle breeze as it passes over. In a now pensive mood, I consider this beautiful place, named Paradise by Apostle Ezra T. Benson as he felt this must be what heaven is like. I know the only way I’ll ever leave here is in a pine box.
On my way home, the race is still going and I become determined to wake my Ragnar friends from their ritual stupor. I ride close and offer each one an enthusiastic greeting: “Looking good!” Nothing. “Great job!” Silence. “Beautiful day isn’t it?” Blank stares. By now the day’s heat has melted their plastic ear accouterments in place, permanently blocking their audible connection to the outside world. My mood is brightened as I’m joined by a monarch butterfly, who flies alongside me in tandem on and off for the better part of a minute. She is present … and listening.
It’s now late afternoon and today’s Ragnar foray has once again been reduced to a memory. For those who came and went, the blisters have been bandaged, the selfies posted to Facebook, and a victory celebrated. I ponder the victory that was lost. Next year, if you come this way again, check your earbuds, Ipods and headphones at the gates of Paradise. You’ll return home with much more to savor than a PR or a plastic trophy … you’ll take with you a piece of heaven.
Marc K. Ensign is a resident of Paradise and owner of Jack’s Wood Fired Oven in Logan.