Before leaving on vacation, I wrote about my support for the Outdoor Retailers threatening to boycott Utah as a convention site. Because I don’t understand how ranchers and farmers don’t recognize the incongruity of being eternally mad at wilderness advocates while, at the same time, eternally worshipping oil companies (both sides claim to be the proper stewards of “their” land), I wrote that I couldn’t wait to get to Greece where “oil grows on trees and the cows don’t vote.”
That prompted some nice lady—at least I assume it was a lady since the handwriting looked like my grandmother’s—to write me a lovely note. It said: “Dear John Saltas. Stay in Greece. Thank you.” She didn’t sign her name. What a surprise.
Sorry, hon, but I’m back. Physically, at least. Mentally, I’m still in the middle of the Aegean Sea, on Sifnos, listening to Merle Haggard in a beach-side tavern owned by an Egyptian-born Greek. I’m eating snails by the bucketful on the beautiful island of Crete with relatives I’ve never seen before and washing them down with a firewater that beats all, Tsikodia. I’m sipping Ouzo on Santorini at sunset. I’m swimming in perfectly blue, warm waters. I’m sleeping in a drop-dead gorgeous monastery run by my dad’s cousin. I’m wandering amid the historic ruins at Corinth, Mycenae, Epidavros and Delphi. I’m driving though the Roumeli region of central Greece, the rugged, alpine homeland of my wife’s father. I’m in the magical Pelion, land of the centaurs. I’m drinking yet another Mythos beer in the Athenian Plaka, mere yards from the Acropolis.
Right now, Greece is to me as Georgia is to Ray Charles.
I really didn’t know what I’d find there. But here’s what I didn’t find: cows. In a month, I saw maybe four cows, counting the dead one hanging upside down in the Athens market. It’s not like I didn’t have the chance, since I saw more of Greece in a month than most Greeks do in a lifetime. In Crete, I was told about a certain rule, and maybe it’s a rule throughout Greece. I don’t know how much it’s enforced or even how. But the rule is that you can’t build on or develop lands on which there are olive trees. The olive tree is considered a national treasure on Crete, home to about 35 million olive trees and no cows. I couldn’t have been happier to find a place where, given a choice between cows and lifestyle, the people simply voted against the cow, saving the “horta” for themselves.
The result is that Crete looks pretty much like it always has, give or take a village here and a ridiculously dangerous highway there. That causes me to wonder what Utah will look like in just 50 years. My own homeland of Bingham Canyon is already dead and buried. The farmlands where all my buddies grew up in Riverton, Herriman, South Jordan and West Jordan are disappearing fast. Each day our valley is more Phoenix and less Bluffdale. Each day, a little more is taken from the Utah land treasury.
I didn’t take the message from my letter-writing friend to mean that I should actually stay in Greece. Rather, I took it to mean that she believes, like many around here, that the business of screwing up Utah should be left to the natives. I disagree. I think it’s time the natives changed their diets.