I was probably twelve years old. My grandfather, a former businessman and Mormon bishop in Los Angeles, had heard of a mountain meadow only a few miles above his home near Millcreek Canyon. It was an easy hike, he was told, and worth an afternoon among the trees. So he packed us up, my cousins and me, and marched us into the mountains early on a Saturday morning. It was warm, and clear, and we hiked, a ragtag group of adolescents, toward a secret place that none of us had seen but every one of us believed in.
We were just old enough to carry our own weight up and down the trail. I still remember the freedom, crossing open streams and jumping over logs that had fallen in our path. I had lived nearly my whole life underneath the shadow of the Wasatch range, but no one had introduced it to me until that day.
My grandfather grew up in Ogden, Utah, the son of a merchant, towheaded, and full of mischief. He came of age below the looming peak of Mt. Ogden, and met my grandmother underneath the watchful mist of Mt. Timpanogos as a student at Brigham Young University. He helped build trail improvements at the Timpanogos caves, and tested his limits on the peaks overlooking Utah Valley. As our guide that day, he hadn’t been on the trail that we followed, but he knew where he was leading us. It was a path he’d been carving his entire life.
He’d recently moved back after several decades in L.A. He was a Reagan republican, a faithful Mormon, and had made a barrel full of money in the corporate world, but Utah was where he belonged. My cousins, anchored to Southern California by no fault of their own, were on a summer vacation and even less familiar with the Wasatch than I was. As we hiked, listening to his stories and making plans for future alpine conquests, I felt a sense of pride in ownership. This was my secret now.
After a few hours, we made it to the meadow, a little tired, mostly hungry. We stopped to rest and eat. “I bet you didn’t know the sky could be that color,” my grandfather said, laying on his back, staring into the clouds. “That’s called clean air, boys. Breathe it in.” It was the late 1990s, and though Southern California had worked hard to clear their smog, it couldn’t compare to the air in Millcreek Canyon that day.
Underneath the blue, we made plans to run the Colorado River, and to climb Mt. Whitney. We laid in the dirt, on the grass, breathing in the scent of the meadow, and listening to nothing. He told us about pioneer trails, and family history—heritage we were lucky to know. He lectured on handcarts and Mormon ancestors from our grandmother’s side, and shared his jealousy that it wasn’t a part of his own story.
My grandfather offered a piece of our inheritance that day. It wasn’t money, or goods, or a tax-free gift of estate. It was a place. It was shared, free and open, paid for by a history of labor, settlement, war, love, greed, wealth, poverty, race, apprehension, purpose, and the unknowing grace of a natural order that no one can fully consume or control. It was ours if we wanted it.
Since that day, I’ve planned to offer my children the same gift. I’ve hoped to pass on the birthright that I was given that afternoon in the mountains. But this inheritance that exists beyond account numbers and interest rates, outside of market research and data sets, cannot be controlled by financial planning or open markets. It must be cared for. It must be nurtured.
Every day my inheritance tastes more and more like something else. Like asthma, and chronic lung disease. Like miscarriages, and heart failure. It tastes like a diesel bus, the Sunset Strip, dying crops, and plastic masks. I had hoped to tell my kids the secrets of this place, and I still do. But it’s too often killing them to breathe it in.
Tim Glenn is a historian, writer, musician, and a student of the West. His novel, Forever Desolation, won first place in the 2017 Utah Original Writing Competition. He lives with his wife and two kids in Green River, Utah. b. 1984