One of our IMR summer faculty/student collaborative research grants for 2017 went to Prof. Ranjan Adiga and his student, Rachel Kuhr. Here are Rachel’s three progress reports. Onward indeed!
May 30, 2017
Progress Report #1
I am incredibly excited to embark on this journey of combining mountain exploration with creative writing. I have been given the opportunity to form a narrative that will explore how my relationship with the Utah mountains has manifested itself in many different ways — through beauty, metaphor, landscape, direction, adventure, question, past, present, and future. I will return to the canyons, campsites, and ski resorts that hold many memories of my early encounters with the mountains. I will hike to new peaks in search of material for photographs, prose, and new memories, bringing my Nikon and a notebook along as a form of fieldwork that I have never previously tried.
For me, this project is an opportunity, granted to myself and my professor, Ranjan Adiga, to bring together two things that are important to both of us: writing and mountains. For me, I will do this by exploring and describing the mountains that have always been in the background of home. I will put to words through creative writing, and hopefully rediscover, what exactly my relationship with the Utah mountains looks like. This project is about making connections between these familiar peaks and my life, as well as exploring the relationships that other people, and perhaps humanity in general, have formed with the majesty of mountains and the ability to reach new heights. I will hike alongside my boyfriend and his sister (Cade and Juel respectively), whose family connection to Mount Timpanogos runs generations deep. I will spend time reading books from people who also made it their goal to combine the magic of mountains with the magic of expression through creative writing.
June 17th of this year will mark one year since we lost my boyfriend’s father, Greg Iverson. As part of this project, and as a marked celebration of Greg’s life, we will hike “Timp.” I will be able to hear stories and document family history while I experience the peak for the first time. This element of the narrative will also explore the healing process, both for Cade’s family and myself, which is a theme already embedded in mountains — climbing to new heights, clearing one’s mind, expressing grief through physical exertion and fresh air. For many, mountains provide a new perspective and a moment to reset. This experience for us will be documented in a way that brings many different narratives, past and present, together.
Prior to hiking Mount Timp, I plan to hike Mount Olympus. This is another peak I have never climbed, but it’s position within the Salt Lake Valley has made it a focal point of my life. This experience will embody the theme of perspective, changing mine entirely. I’ll hike additional paths, take canyon drives, and camp, as well. I’ll stop to take photographs, to write when inspiration strikes, and perhaps to read. I ordered Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, and Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land by Amy Irvine, specifically with this project in mind. I’m interested in placing these authors’ experiences with the Utah mountains into the context of my own experiences, interpretations, and writing. I wish to explore themes of place, belonging, direction, and grounding, but I also wish to make a connection to Utah — a culture of mountains and Mormons. Based on my research, Irvine covers elements of both.
My desired outcome is to create and string together multiple narratives in order to depict a much larger story — to use imagery, experience, and memories to explore mine and others’ relationships with the mountains. I’ll tell my story while watching it continue to unfold, and this, too, will be a prominent theme in my writing. Ultimately, the desired outcome is one of meaningful communication and depth of connection.
PROGRESS REPORT NO. 2
June 30, 2017
I am approximately one month into this creative writing project, and as I continue to delve deeper, I’d like to share what I’ve already done and what I still plan to do. There are three main components to this project: writing, reading, and spending time in the mountains as a means for conducting research. As I explore my relationship with the mountains, as well as relationships that seem to extend to humanity as a whole, I have found that each component is equally necessary and beneficial to me as a writer. Having grown up in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains, there is much I take for granted — significances that I fail to notice. Each day, I find that the connection I have with the canyons and peaks that line my backyard is multi-dimensional. In my notes, I drew a quick sketch with the word ‘mountains’ at the center and many arrows pointing to and away from it. The arrows themselves sprout additional arrows to show the complex network of past memories, present experiences, and future expectations that contribute to this relationship.
Although I have been writing all along, taking notes (and taking pictures!), I have spent the most time putting pen to paper (and fingers to keyboard) this past week. On Wednesday (June 28), I drove up American Fork Canyon and found an isolated place to write. I sat on a tree stump in the shade for a couple of hours, observing and describing the experience as it unfolded. The following day, I wrote as I worked a second job — outside, with a view of the mountain range. It was a different set-up, but this naturally produced a different perspective and some interesting connections to the literature I have kept with me for weeks now.
Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge is where I chose to begin my reading, and I am currently almost halfway through her work. Although much of her account focuses on the Great Salt Lake, I find her writing style and local roots complement my current project. Through a mixture of poetry and prose, Williams talks about the natural world in a way that is easily, and sometimes directly, attributed to the mountains that line the Salt Lake Valley. At the very least, her words are sparking ideas and memories that I will push forward in the coming months. This week I also began reading Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land by Amy Irvine. Based on initial impressions, I think this work will be similarly helpful as she spends much time discussing and describing the Utah landscape. This, paired with her inclusion of the Mormon Church, will create new avenues for me to explore in my own writing.
I’ve mentioned my boyfriend’s family’s long-standing relationship with Mount Timpanogos. We had planned to hike Timp on the anniversary of Cade’s father’s death (about two weeks ago), but due to snow at its peak, a ranger recommended that we wait until late July. My Mount Olympus hike has also been pushed back, largely due to scheduling conflicts and a strong feeling that I shouldn’t attempt it solo. I’m hoping to go sometime in the next couple of weeks. Neither of these hikes have been cancelled, and as I write and research, their significance only becomes more apparent. I did spend an afternoon with Cade’s grandmother in a sort of interview setup. She was able to dictate family history in Utah County with Mount Timpanogos always in the background of their lives and the forefront of their minds. Picture a grey haired, 80-year-old woman singing to me about Mighty Timpanogos. She gave me her thesis to read, as it details her family’s roots at the base of Timp.
I have hiked around Snowbird, gone horseback riding in Park City, ridden on the back of Cade’s motorcycle through American Fork Canyon, driven through Ogden Canyon to explore and photograph the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity monastery, and celebrated the anniversary of Greg’s death with family meditation and a drive through AF Canyon. I will continue to hike and explore different canyons, find places perfect for writing and reflection, and pursue a better understanding of what these mountains mean to all of us. My final product will come in the form of one document, compiling many thoughts, experiences, and remembered memories over the course of this summer.
PROGRESS REPORT NO. 3
August 3, 2017
This marks the last of my progress reports, leading into the final stages of my research and the compilation of my writing. I have done my best to split my time three ways: spending time in the mountains, reading works by other Utah writers, and putting pen to paper in order to explore and dictate my own relationship with the Utah mountains. It has been an incredible experience to look at my familiar surroundings in order to define, for the first time, a connection that has always been there. I’ve found that, as with most things, once you focus your attention on something specific, you begin to see the layers of details and stories that make up a single image. This project has become a web of the person I was, the person I am, the people I know, and the places that remain consistent through changes in time and in the individual. It has been a means for connecting with those around me through a common investment in the Wasatch range.
Involving Terry Tempest Williams and Amy Irvine has expanded this web to include the common ground of storytelling. I have been able to appreciate my home, the Utah landscape, through the eyes of others, realizing that pain and beauty have perhaps never coexisted more completely anywhere else. Largely stemming from this, Irvine is able to involve the LDS church in much of her writing. This has had the effect of supporting my own generalized view of the State of Utah — part mountain, part Mormon. From these two writers, and my own personal contributions, I have located the prominent themes of landmark and place. This element of my research has been entirely necessary as I work to put my own thoughts, experiences, and stories together.
For two weeks in July, I was in Northern Germany, far removed from the rolling hills of Central Germany and the impressive Alps to the South. My time spent in the mountains was limited but defining. At the beginning of July, I hiked to the summit of Mount Olympus, and I hiked Ensign Peak towards the end. Olympus, categorized as “hard,” was far beyond my level (lack) of expertise. It became an exercise in perseverance, and I ultimately learned what it means to hike for the purpose of pushing limits and reaching a destination. Ensign Peak, a hike I’ve completed many times before, was also an eye opening experience. Both in terms of Mormon/Salt Lake history and a mixing of cultures to obtain common ground, Ensign Peak is more than I had previously realized. Seeking out material with which to write makes me observant in new ways.
Much of the writing I have done so far includes my boyfriend’s grandma and her family history at the base of Mount Timpanogos. Because this hike is essential to their story, I still hope to make the trip. It would be unsafe to attempt it solo, so once again, my ability to complete the hike is somewhat dependent on others. At the very least, I will hike to the caves, a jaunt I can easily do myself. This coming Saturday (August 5), I’m going to take my brother’s razor to find and photograph the mountain wildflowers that are still in bloom. Prior to the beginning of fall semester, I hope to go camping with my family, remembering and reliving childhood memories that are largely responsible for my initial connection to the mountains.
While I have been writing all along, now is the time to complete and organize the different sections I’ve already begun putting together, as well as work through the editing process with my advisor, Ranjan Adiga. This is where my love of the Utah mountains, a love that has truly deepened this summer, gets to fully merge with my love of writing and storytelling. It’s an exciting journey.