- The Salt Lake Papers: From the Years in the Earthscapes of Utah by Edward Lueders
In The Salt Lake Papers, Edward Lueders captures the simple beauty and effortless force of the liquid landscape he calls home. The Salt Lake Papers is a collection of brief meditations on place in the rugged Utah desert that is divided into two parts distinct in time and place: "Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake" and "Torrey, the Colorado Plateau, and the Colorado River." In both the north and south-central regions of Utah, Lueders is captivated by the hydrogeological systems that destroy to create, working outside human [End Page 460] notions of time, progress, and property by continuously carving new landscapes out of the earth to which we lay claim. As a collection of reflections on place, The Salt Lake Papers is a sequel to Lueders's premier creative nonfiction classic The Clam Lake Papers (1977). Where The Clam Lake Papers is a book of meditations on the perseverance of the natural world during the harsh Midwest winter at Clam Lake in Wisconsin, The Salt Lake Papers reflects on the landscape Lueders inhabits during his years as a professor at the University of Utah and eventual retirement in the area surrounding Torrey, Utah. Having moved from a freshwater lake in the North Woods to the saline sea of Utah, Lueders is a self-proclaimed "transplanted aquarian" (6) who remains awed by the power of water and its complex relationship with the surrounding landscape and human civilization.
The Salt Lake Papers draws attention to the legal fallacy of American land ownership as it contrasts with natural geomorphic provinces. In "Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake," he reflects on the inhospitable landscape of the arid American West; between the towering mountains and desolate deserts lies the Great Salt Lake, an inland sea that is, on average, "six times saltier than the oceans" (38) and capable of choking unsuspecting swimmers with its brine. Although we draw the perimeter of this lake into our plat maps and concern ourselves with our own claim to the land, the Great Salt Lake's water pays no mind to the human conception of property. It is active, steadily carving new land forms out of rock. Salt Lake naturally undermines human attempts to own it as its water level fluctuates and geomorphic processes alter the landscape and distort property lines. In considering who owns the Great Salt Lake, Lueders acknowledges the ever-changing nature of the physical landscape: "I can't help thinking it owns itself" (20). In one form or another the lake has existed before us and will continue to change and exist after we're gone.
To demarcate his experiences teaching in Salt Lake City from those he had following his retirement observing the river systems in Torrey, "Torrey, the Colorado Plateau, and the Colorado River" begins with a reflection on Lueders's personal relationship to the land: "At Salt Lake City I am in the world. At Torrey I am on the [End Page 461] planet" (69). While the book's first part emphasizes the dominion of nature over human notions of progress, the second draws connections between the natural and human worlds, claiming that "humankind … is instinct with language" (103). Lueders ultimately argues that abstraction through language causes humans to ignore their instinct and assert their dominance through human law that seeks to regulate and control the natural world. The human drive to use language to name landscapes and draw property lines is incompatible with natural law, but we can adopt Lueders's mindset by reflecting upon the grandeur of these natural spaces.
While readers interested in extensive explanations of the geological processes or environmental concerns unique to the Salt Lake and Torrey regions may find Lueders's reflections rambling and disorganized, those seeking personal insights on place will find his text intentionally conversational, flowing naturally from one topic to the next. The Salt Lake Papers is...