“We’re not going to survive if we think we’ve already lost”.
Amy Irvine, 6th generation Utah native and author of the books Trespass and Desert Cabal, joined us for a three-day writing workshop during our stay on Comb Ridge, a central location to the Semester in the West program. On Amy’s first night with us, we discussed our hopes and fears with one another and felt the gravity of the environmental crisis on our hands. The concerns held but previously unstated by the group washed over us harder than the night’s pelting rain.
Using the consuming guilt and fiery passions held by everyone, Amy harnessed our drive, and helped us uncover the potential of 21 driven individuals, allowing us to regain a sense of power in a moment of vulnerability and despair. “Every one of your voices counts in a way you can’t imagine”, Amy announced after giving us our cumulative project: writing a comment letter on Bears Ears National Monument’s precarious fate. “Can you say the thing that nobody has said in a way someone might listen?” she asked. The comment letters we wrote were designed to be different than the typical letters sent in comment periods, focused on place and moments within the place that had inspired us to write a letter. The goal of the letter was to invoke a similar feeling of familiarity with the location to readers who may have a part in the decision-making process regarding Bears Ears.
Amy helped us gain confidence in nature writing, focusing deeply on our location at Comb Ridge and bringing to mind the late author Ellen Meloy’s “Deep Map of Place.” Bright colorful sunrises and sunsets falling across the sandstone ridges, along with sneaky cacti and black sagebrush growing in small stone cracks provided bountiful inspiration. As our visit with Amy went on, many members of the group became increasingly self-assured, sharing pieces with the group which evoked a new sense of hope and confidence. Each of us submitted a final comment letter to the BLM, hopefully guiding the agency as it struggles with how to best manage the unique resources of this remarkable place.
By Kate Dolan
Photo by James Baker