Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Green-on-Green-on-Green Pauline

I could write many studied and weighty books about the geology and the parks we've seen in southern Utah. You are hereby excused from this reading list. For now. Instead, I want to talk about Green-on-Green-on-Green Pauline and the town of Orderville, UT, pop. 596.

Orderville, strategically placed on the main backroad highway between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, endures where other towns fail. While Utah plays host to an overabundance of natural beauty, it also features an unforgiving climate. The soil is sand. The hills are high. The air is hot. Water is scarce. And its human history reflects that. Orderville, for example, was established at the direction of Mormon leader Brigham Young in 1870 specifically to live the United Order, a voluntary form of Christian communism/communalism (as defined by Joseph Smith). As nice as that sounds, in truth it was settled primarily by destitute refugees from failed settlements in Nevada. So it's a tough place. People here have had to team up to survive. Which is also to say, this place is the very definition of a closed community.

Not that we knew about any of this when we met Green-on-Green-on-Green Pauline. We had innocently parked beside the post office. Diane had just returned from mailing a package. I was hanging around the parking lot, snapping some photos:

The yellow bus & blue skies...

The painted rocks above the nearby high school depicting graduation class years (my favorite is "007")...

I was lining up a shot of the LDS church across the street when, seemingly from nowhere, a wisp of a woman with a crown of cotton-candy hair and a lime-green-on-green-on-green pants suit approached. "I just love your bus," she said with a smile. "I used to have one just like it, back when. Your bus makes me miss my old bus."

So we gave her the tour of the bus; and no sooner was it over when she asked to see our road map. She didn't care so much were we'd been, she wanted to show us not-to-miss places she had traveled in her microbus.

Call it the Divine Hand of Providence. Call it the Helping Hand of International Tourism. Call it what you will, but the next thing we knew, a congregation of townspeople began to form around us.

"Hi there, Pauline," exclaimed a middle-aged woman with a mop of brown hair, her kind eyes belying a strident sort of malice. She looked Diane and I over. "Nice to see you folks. Did you move here?"

No sooner had we assured her that we had not moved here, when Frank approached. "Hey there! You folks need some help? I see you got your map out."

"Hi, Frank," said Green-on-Green-on-Green Pauline. "I'm just showing them some places to go."

"Oh. I saw you had the map out and I figured you were lost." He turned to me, bright eyed and friendly. "I'm a truck driver and I know every inch of these roads. I can show you."

By this time the middle-aged woman was looming over Diane. "You been up to Temple Square yet? In Salt Lake." Diane replied that we hadn't, at least not on this trip. "Well, you need to go. You're in Utah and you should at least learn something about the Mormon Church."

"Rifle," said Green-on-Green-on-Green Pauline. "Rifle." She pointed to a place on the map of Colorado. "This is where we used to go, I think, on our vacations in our VW bus." She gave the map back to Diane. "The parks around there are so beautiful."

And so went our little party on a parking lot in Orderville, UT, a Federal post office on one side and an LDS church on the other: one woman trying to convert us on the spot to her faith, another woman trying to divert us from our itinerary, and a man more than willing to show us the way.

While I know some things about the Mormon Church, there's a lot more I don't know. Likewise, we know where we want to go on this trip (and where we don't want to go) and how we want to get there. Mostly.

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