Mullen | Life Levitated: What to teach The Children about Utah? 

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Most days, my mailbox (both the electronic and snail variety) here at

City Weekly is filled with the flotsam and jetsam of modern commerce and public relations on steroids: a press release for a line of organic baby food; an announcement of some crazed X Games event (anyone for snowboarding on one foot over a sheer granite cliff into a pool of stagnant water while wearing only a feather boa?); the unveiling of the latest flavored vodka.

And then there are letters like the one I received earlier this week.

It came in an envelope obviously addressed by a little boy—uneven letters, scrawled in pencil and rushed, as if there were something more important to do on the playground, or at the Xbox, and that writing a letter to a grownup was cramping his style. I was right. The letter came from Alex Garcia, from Napa, Calif.

Hello, my name is Alex. I am a fifth-grade student at Napa Valley Language Academy in Napa, Calif.

The reason I am writing to you is because my class will be writing state reports and I have chosen your salty state of Utah. I would really appreciate if you were to post my letter in your newspaper so that I could get all the help I need. What I would like for any of your readers to do is to send facts, postcards, pamphlets, souvenirs and anything else that can be useful for my report in order for me to have the ability of making my report a lot better.

In my report, I will be writing about the state’s agriculture, history, economy, famous people, important events, historical figures, national parks and any other interesting things that have to do with Utah. Not only will I need to do an oral report and poster, but I must include a PowerPoint presentation to show to the rest of my classmates using all the information I find about this state.

Thank you very much for your help and support in making me a better researcher on your wonderful state! It’s something I greatly appreciate!

Alex Garcia, Napa Valley Language Academy, c/o Ms. Hernandez, 2700 Kilburn Ave., Napa, CA 94558

I figured if a boy found

City Weekly all the way from California’s Wine Country, I’d try to help him out.

But just what do you tell a sweet, unspoiled, eager-to-learn kid about this place? Do I give him the Utah Travel Council version? You know that one—the saga of a group of hard-scrabble, persecuted Mormon pioneers who followed a charismatic Brigham Young into the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847? They made the desert blossom like a rose. They built the Salt Lake City Temple with hand-quarried granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon and schlepped it by wagon all the way back into town. Little-known fact: Many of those early temple builders who came to Utah as Mormon converts were native Hawaiians—immigrants with brown skin, who were most welcome at the time for their construction skills. (Sound familiar? Contemporary, even?) They built tiny ramshackle homes—known as “Hawaiian houses”—in Salt Lake’s West Capitol neighborhood, a few of which still stand near Warm Springs Park, which was once an Indian encampment where Mormon leaders conducted dialogue with the truly native Utahns.

That’s part of what I might tell Alex. The pioneer piece is a large part of Utah’s history, but not the only part. He wants to know about agriculture and the state economy. What would you tell him about? Sugar beets? Cattle ranching? The turkey industry? Tourism?

This would probably bring me to national parks and the state’s natural beauty. You know all that; it could very well be the reason you came to Utah or it may be the reason you stay here—redneck Legislature and Byzantine liquor laws be damned. Do you think I ought to mention the infuriating and confusing sides of living in Utah to my pal Alex?

Would it be wise, for instance, to give him the unvarnished truth—that we have a Republican state senator who recently brought shame on himself and, by extension, the rest of us with a thoughtless, racist remark on the Senate floor? Hmm. Given the fact that Sen. Chris Buttars’ ugly behavior made news nationally, maybe Alex already knows about it.

I could tell him of most state lawmakers’ efforts to open Utah’s vanishing wild spaces to every last gas-powered locust (most people call them ORVs) and oil-and-mineral-extraction company. I guess I could tell Alex that’s because so many of our leaders still refuse to recognize a world of diminishing resources and the truth of global warming. They’d rather drill and develop in the red-rock country than conserve what we have and look toward alternative resources.

But I couldn’t end on that sour note. I love this state enough to tell him of the killer ski day I had in the Wasatch last weekend: It took a 90-minute hike on skis into the backcountry to reach the reward: two long runs in thigh-high, untracked powder. The sky was mottled blue; schussing along on the trail, I heard only the tapping of a downy woodpecker in an aspen tree.

That’s the version of Utah I think I’d leave with Alex. It makes it almost worth jumping through hoops to get a martini.

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