Thank Utah’s seagulls, again, for saving the state from catastrophe | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

Thank Utah’s seagulls, again, for saving the state from catastrophe 

Taking a Gander

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Wow! What a winter!

Breaking all records, the long drought has ended and, at least temporarily, plentiful precipitation has saved the day.

It’s given new meaning to the moniker, “Greatest Snow on Earth,” which fell “greatly” in all-time record amounts across the state—over 900 inches at Alta—and clobbered the mountains across both central and southern Utah. Not everyone is happy; the ear-nose-and-throat specialists will have a “dry season” and the gastroenterologists will be scraping for business.

Confused? To the dismay of those particular medical specialties, Utahns will be cured of their dry coughs and will no longer be hopelessly resigned to “farting dust.” Drink up, folks!

It’s just one more disastrous crisis averted in Utah’s roller-coaster history that will likely be attributed to a miracle. Surely, Gov. Spencer Cox and most of the residents were praying that the drought would end, saving our much-treasured, amply-sized lawns and the trees that were never meant to grow here, and ensuring that Utah’s biggest industry—ski tourism—would continue its healthy growth.

The renewed water supply will also mean that pink flamingos will, once again, choose to vacation on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, and that the wandering naturists will be able to see water during their Sunday walks on the GSL shore.

Utah’s invariably-temporary end of the drought is likely to become another folk legend. It’ll go something like this in the history books: “Luckily, the seagulls had been poised and ready for takeoff. Flying from California, with their buckets of snow, they managed to make the 2022-2023 ski seasons one of the most profitable ever, dumping more than 30 inches of water and delighting everyone with endless schussing.” Then again, maybe that white stuff—all 75 feet of it—wasn’t snow at all! Ha-ha.

What, but a miracle, could explain the bonanza of welcome water? Sure, the relentless “atmospheric rivers” of moisture were an essential element, but we need to remember that it’s the “lake effect” that plays such a big part in the Wasatch Mountains' annual snowfall. Without those unique evaporative lake-effect contributions to the Wasatch snow depths, Utah’s northern ski resorts would have far less snow. It’s frankly amazing that so much snow could have fallen during a season when the GSL had retained only about 75% of its total surface area—shorted of almost 800 square miles of evaporative capability. That’s a miracle!

Sadly, there’s truth in the adage, “Be careful what you pray for.” Record precipitation is presenting the possibility of a replay of SLC’s 1983 snowmelt, when rivers flowed on the city’s primary thoroughfares after record temperatures changed the snow to wild torrents. Should that happen, we should try to have the seagulls ready and waiting, using their buckets, once again, to save the day.

Despite the ailing Brigham Young’s hearty verbal embrace of the vision before him when he arrived at the Salt Lake Valley— “This is the right place”—Utah has not exactly been the perfect spot to settle and thrive. Fraught with problems from the very beginning, it’s been a challenging location for living. Its high-altitude aridity is an unavoidable fact. Nevertheless, Young’s dreamy prediction of making the “desert blossom as a rose” has been mostly spot-on. Chalk it up to ingenuity, some fortuitous luck, and lots of hard work, Utah and the Valley of the Great Salt Lake have become a remarkably successful venture, one that would have surely baffled its early detractors.

Arriving late in the year 1847, the Mormon pioneers lost no time in planting the crops they’d need to sustain them through the next year, but autumn conditions didn’t favor a bounteous harvest, and they barely survived. The spring of 1848 brought a second planting of crops, and those did pretty well until a hoard of “Mormon" crickets (not sure they had actually been baptized) descended from the skies. The pioneers exclaimed, “Oh, sh-t!” and things looked pretty grim.

We all know the story: The people prayed and then, voila! A flock of hungry seagulls, divinely conscripted for that specific campaign, descended on the crickets and ate every last one of those crunchy little critters. That event became a popular folk legend, though some historians have questioned whether the birds actually saved the day or only made a small contribution. Most important, miracle or not, the settlers enjoyed a healthy harvest and were able to make it through another winter.

But, that’s not where the legends about seagulls end. Despite the rudeness of Californians—describing the garbage-eating and disease-carrying birds as “flying rats”—it is rumored that seagulls equipped with special saddles brought a plentiful array of pretty, young women to early Salt Lake City, who, at just the right moment, parachuted into the fledgling town, and helped Young to fill all vacancies in his 56-wife harem. Yes, that’s right; the seagulls, once again, provided fortuitous relief to the problems of the saints. And we all know now that those 56 wives contributed to wildly-plentiful offspring and a permanent economic and political “Young” dynasty.

Utah is a great state. Endowed with amazing natural wonders and geological treats, replete with intelligent and industrious people, blessed with one of the best economies and lowest jobless rates, it stands as a living monument to the American Dream.

It’s certainly worth asking: Without the seagulls, where would we be today? Audubon would be proud.

The author is a retired novelist, columnist and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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