Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mormon Trees

This is a picture from St. Johns in 1994. I thought I would share a few lines from Wallace Stegner's Essay "Mormon Trees" from his book Mormon Country (1942).

These are the "Mormon Trees," Lombardy poplars. Wherever they went the Mormons planted them. They grew boldly and fast, without much tending, and they make the landscape of the long valleys of the Mormon Country something special and distinctive....They give a quality to the land so definite that it is almost possible to mark the limits of the Mormon Country by the trees....There are not as many Mormon trees as there used to be...their age and possible heart-rot made them a hazard.

Perhaps it is fanciful to judge a people by its trees....Probably it is pure nonsense to see a reflection of Mormon group life in the fact that the poplars were practically never planted singly, but always in groups...Perhaps it is even more nonsensical to speculate that the straight, tall verticality of the Mormon trees appealed [to the] sense of order of the settlers, and that a marching row of plumed poplars was symbolic, somehow, of the planter's walking with God and his solidarity with his neighbors....

Nonsensical or not, it is not an unpleasant thought. Institutions must have their art forms, their symbolic representations, and if the Heavenward aspirations of medieval Christianity found their expression in cathedrals and spires, the more mundane aspirations of the Latter-day Saints may just as readily be discovered in the widespread plantings of Mormon trees. They look heavenward but their roots are in the earth.

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