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(Who Gets to) Just Up and Move

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Nicole Walker | Longreads | January 2020 | 21 minutes (5,273 words)

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. — Louise Erdrich


Like white settlers did in the 1800s, the trees are moving west. Unlike the pioneers/white settlers, they’re not going very fast. About 10 miles a decade. It will take a long time for the trees to decimate buffalo populations, turn prairie into wheat, kill indigenous populations, and establish Walmart as the largest employer. Still. They’re coming. Thirsty, trees of the east move westward, as, due to climate change, the rain in the east is drying up. Fortunately, rains in the Midwest grow heavier. The trees, tempted by this, send their seeds a little further to the left. It’s mainly broadleaf, deciduous plants like the Scarlet Oak that want to move. Beware Gambel Oak, you scrubbier version. The big trees are coming for your rain.

Salt Lake City had once been the home of the Ute People. Utah gets its name from the Utes, but no one really talks about them. They had escaped white settling for longer than other Native Americans — mainly because of the time it took to bring first trees, then backhoes, then politics to the Salt Lake Valley.

In the 1600s, they were among the first to procure horses from the Spanish and they traded with Hispanic settlers, but remained unmolested until 1847 when the Mormons arrived. Before that, the Utes and some bands of Shoshone people had lived among the rivers and the lakes, catching fish and organizing plants alongside the banks. The rivers were everyone’s and no one had fences, but then the Mormons came and, although the Mormons didn’t kill the Utes straightaway, they pushed the Utes toward the Uintah Basin where there are few rivers and few fish. After moving Utes to a reservation and then taking that reservation back, they forced them into allotments where, even with irrigation, the ground was too salty and sandy to be of much agricultural use. The Mormons shrugged their shoulders and went back to plan their Days of ’47 Parade. The Ute children were sent to Indian Boarding Schools like Albuquerque High, from where half of them never returned home. Move out, the white settlers said as they pulled lines from the Book of Mormon to claim this as their one true home, where God himself told them to come in, make yourself comfortable.
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