I was eleven years old when my parents told me that life as I knew it was about to change. We were leaving the city and moving hundreds of miles away to a tiny farm town in Wyoming.
A lifetime of Disney Channel programming didn’t adequately prepare me for trading my one wild and precious suburban life for a town with only one stoplight that was full of people I would consider to be country bumpkins. We moved into a cabin on a farm, surrounded by an impenetrable forest and an excited suspense for the upcoming county fair.
The county fair was the most anticipated event for everyone in this place I was now told was my home. On a hot day at the end of July, my parents practically dragged me to the festivities. As I glanced at the ferris wheel, the cotton candy stall, and the taunting fun house, I was determined to not have a great time. No sir or ma’am. I was unhappy with my family’s decision to move to the sticks and I wanted to make everyone suffer because of it, especially myself.
A few cousins I hardly knew tagged along during our day at the fair and bore the brunt of my nearly silent resistance. And, unfortunately, they would continue to endure it as we all started 6th grade a few weeks later.
I was determined to be different at school. Different from Devin, who made his mom get up every morning at 5am to cook and apply unflavored Jell-O to his hair so it could harden into three humongous cones. Nor did I want to conform to the country bumpkins in our class who wore nothing but pressed wranglers and cowboy hats and spoke with vaguely southern accents despite residing 1,500 miles from anywhere that might be considered “The South.”
No, I was going to be different from all of them. I was going to blaze my own trail. So, I adopted the hairstyle that was too popular in the city (a tightly gelled duck bill in the front that I wish I could still pull off), baggy graphic tees (that featured safely rebellious expressions like “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come.”), and skater shoes (which had to come from Zumiez. There was no other option). I knew I was the most interesting student at my small, three-room elementary school.
And when my parents picked me up at the end of the day, country music blaring from the speakers, I would promptly turn the dial to something, anything else. Was I being dramatic? Yes, but a lifetime of Disney Channel programming had prepared me for that.
Nearly a year went by: fall, winter, something I learned was called mud season, and then spring. By now I had made some friends and grown a lot closer to my cousins, who even convinced me that some country songs weren’t all that bad. We all lived around the same 160 acres of dirt that had been cultivated by our ancestors since the late 1800s. When the weather was nice, we’d ride four-wheelers around the family farm before dinner and scream Shania Twain lyrics at startled horses.
But it wasn’t all fun. With school out and a whole summer stretching before us, it was time for all of us to get to work on the farm. That meant picking rock, staining the house, moving pipe, and, most importantly, feeding the farm animals. With residual resistance, I dragged my feet to accomplish most of these necessary tasks.
That is, until the day my cousins and I went to a pig farm and each picked out a tiny piglet. In an effort to expedite my assimilation, my parents had signed me up with the local chapter of 4-H, which led to me holding a little piggy in my arms as it oinked and squealed. I named him Frenchie. The idea was that we would raise these pigs until they were big, with well-developed hams and bulging boston butts. At that point, we’d take the pigs to the annual county fair, auction them off, and collect all the money earned. Whatever would happen to Frenchie after the auction was too abstract to think about. It just seemed like an astute business proposition to twelve-year-old me.
I devoted myself to raising little Frenchie that summer. Twice a day, I’d visit his pen, fill his water and food, sneak him a treat, and sit in the dirt with him. At first, Frenchie would keep his distance, but then he started wiggling his hairy curled tail every time I approached. Eventually, he’d run to greet me, snorting and caked in steaming mud. We developed a friendship, me and Frenchie.
That’s what made it even more devastating when I got the call. My aunt, who lived near the pigpen, told me that Frenchie was acting…odd. He was causing a racket and I should calm him down.
I raced over and found Frenchie circling his pen, squealing to high heaven. If you’ve never heard a pig really scream, count yourself lucky. It’s more than a screech, or a squawk, and certainly more than any squeal I’ve ever heard. Nothing I could do calmed him down. He wasn’t eating. Foam was gathering around his mouth. When I touched him, he jumped. I didn’t know what to do.
Days went by and Frenchie’s condition didn’t improve. Thinking he may have been the victim of bullying from the other pigs in the pen, we moved him to his own space. But even then he was losing precious weight and the weeds were growing everywhere in his pen except where he was circling day and night until he’d collapse with exhaustion.
That was when we called the veterinarian. He climbed out of his truck, a towering tree of a man with a handlebar mustache and tanned skin. He confidently strode over to Frenchie and performed some tests. After a while, he walked back to us, shaking his head and saying, with appropriate bedside manner, “I’m sorry. Your pig has a neurological disorder. It’ll have to be put down.” And then he added as an afterthought, “Oh, and… don’t eat the meat.”
I thought that was that. We buried Frenchie underneath a towering cottonwood tree near his pen. I visited often until, a few days later, a lightning strike hit the tree and blew it to smithereens. As I took in the scene: a charred tree, splintered wood, and the freshly dug grave, I felt my well-fortified defenses breach all at once. My resentment-filled attempts to make a new life here had come to this: a stinking pile of dirt and bits of smoking tree. I asked myself under my breath, “Now what?”
The community, including my classmates and cousins who I had come to know and maybe even like, offered their condolences. I realized how much these country bumpkins actually cared about me. One family even offered to let me take one of their extra pigs to the fair, which was a mighty nice offer.
It felt like I was starting over right after I had started over. I was left with an important choice to make: I could either cut my losses, miss the county fair, and do something else with my time, or I could take the offer, finish raising a new pig, and lean in. I chose to lean in.
I chose to straddle the divide between my urban and rural communities. I chose to listen to Fall Out Boy and Dolly Parton with equal devotion. I chose to spend afternoons at the mall and in huckleberry patches.
That’s how I found myself several weeks later under a big red and white striped tent, wearing pressed wranglers, boots, and a large cowboy hat. I guided my replacement swine, Succotash, around a pen, tapping it softly behind the ears to steer it around people, pigs, and the judge. Country music was blaring somewhere in the distance. I looked out at the community of people who were watching and supporting me. And I felt, even if I wasn’t ready to say it out loud, that I was home.
The Beehive: A Haunting in D.C.
Originally published by The Beehive
I started believing in ghosts when one nearly tackled me to the ground.
You read that right. A few years ago, I was working in Washington, D.C. and often found myself walking around the city in the early darkness after work.
One evening, I was headed toward my volunteer position at Ford’s Theater and had just left the metro at Gallery Place. Suddenly my bag was violently grabbed by someone. There was enough force to nearly knock me off my feet. I swung all my weight around, looking for my assailant. But when I looked around, nobody was there. Not only that, but there were no bushes, fences, or anything but open air around me for several yards in all directions.
I quickly turned and started walking again, feeling unsettled. As I looked around at the old buildings around me, I remembered something an old coworker had said to me years ago:
I was working in an office on the corner of South Temple and Main Street in Salt Lake City, right where all the action was. I was speaking with a coworker in front of the conference room window, which looked out over Temple Square and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
My coworker was going into detail about the structures that had occupied this space before our modern office building. At one point, he turned toward me and said, “Just think about all the people who have lived and died right in this very spot.” I nodded. And gulped. And proceeded to get scared whenever I worked late alone from then on.
As I walked toward my destination that night in Washington D.C., I looked around at the generations-old buildings. “Just think about all the people who have lived and died right in this very spot.”
After that experience, I would often feel a tug on my bag, arm, or clothing as I walked around downtown D.C. It happened about half the time when I ventured into the blocks around the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. After each experience, I became more and more used to it.
At first, I would swing around and never find a person there. Eventually, I would simply readjust my bag or my clothing, and continue on as if nothing happened. I mean, it wasn’t that inconvenient. Eventually, it didn’t even bother me.
Sometimes I think about what I would do if I was a ghost—if I was trapped in a space where no one could see or hear me for eternity. I think the sheer isolation and boredom would lead me to act out in strange ways, like tugging on an unsuspecting pedestrian’s coat. That’s how I picture it: a bored immortal soul, doomed to stroll the streets of our nation’s capital, trying to find enjoyment and a thrill. And then they see me, hurrying along in my ill-fitting suit and work bag, and they think, “Yeah, that’ll be a laugh,” and nearly tackle me on the sidewalk next to Shake Shack.
And honestly, I hope the ghost enjoyed my performance. If my embarrassment means they get a moment of meaning, so be it. I’m good with that. I just make sure I don’t think about it too hard when it’s the middle of the night, and I’m all alone in my dark, quiet room trying to sleep.
Originally published by The Beehive
I was wrapped in a warm sleeping bag, nestled between my dad and older brother. I gazed up at the canvas roof and listened to the symphony of crickets. Just as sleep was about to take me for the night, my dad nudged me.
“Do you want to hear a scary story?” he asked.
I nodded, and then realized he couldn’t see in the almost total darkness. “Yes.”
My great-great grandfather lived and worked in Alta, Wyoming. Alta was, even in 1928, a small, charming community. The small handful of families who lived there had been the first to settle the area, drawn to the majestic Teton peaks and rich farmland.
The Green family was one of the largest in the community and, therefore, heavily involved in all activities. The Green brothers—Elvin, Thomas, Oscar, Austin, and Doc, my great-great grandfather—all worked hard on the family farm and up Teton Canyon in the sawmill.
On a beautiful October day, the small community was abuzz in anticipation for a big celebration: the annual fall bonfire. To borrow a phrase that was extremely relevant a few years ago but nobody talks about anymore: “Winter was coming.” These farmers couldn’t wait for this last event before the long winter.
Doc, Elvin, and Oscar were in charge of supplying the wood for the bonfire.They couldn’t have asked three more experienced men to complete the task. Each had practically grown up at the family sawmill and knew all about cutting down the best wood. The trio woke early to hitch up the horses, ready the wagon, and set out.
The coming sun created a fiery orange line along the mountains as the men crossed over the rickety wooden bridge at Teton Creek. The empty wagon trudged along the foothills and entered the canyon. It kicked up a little bit of dust on the worn road.
As they headed further into Teton Canyon, they passed more and more boulders. They were spread out all over the flanking mountainsides, some as big as a house. To this day, the locals call one of the more prominent ones “Bread Rock” because it looks like a massive loaf of bread with a thick slice cut out of it, just waiting for huckleberry jam.
Past the boulder field, the trees got thicker and the terrain became more uneven and forested. The Green brothers found a spot near the creek, unpacked, and started the work of chopping down trees.
The hours passed quickly, the brothers wiped sweat from their foreheads as the sounds of axes falling echoed through the trees. Throughout the day, they talked about their work, their families, and the delicious meal they were sure to have later that night.
Around lunchtime, the horses started to behave oddly. They stamped nervously and threw their heads back. The brothers calmed them and started to talk louder than before, hoping to ward off any bears or mountain lions. They didn’t notice the clouds starting to drift in.
By early afternoon, they had a wagon full of wood and set off for town. It was now fully cloudy and threatening rain. They pushed ahead quickly. They had barely gone 100 yards when the horses started to get agitated again. They couldn’t be calmed.
In the boulder field, the wind picked up and nearly blew Oscar’s hat off his head. He grabbed at it and turned his head, seeing something out of the corner of his eye. He did a double take. There was something standing on the top of the mountain overlooking the canyon.
It was a giant black…something. Oscar shouted over the wind at the others and they all turned to look. Just as they did, it started to move. It passed over the edge and started down the mountainside.
Doc urged the horses on as Oscar kept his eyes on the thing. It passed over massive boulders like they were nothing. It descended too quickly to be a moose. Maybe it was a black bear?
The horses weren’t cooperating. They fought against the wagon in their panic. Doc had to concentrate on keeping them on the road.
Elvin and Oscar watched as the black thing reached the canyon floor. Their view was obscured by boulders, but they caught a glimpse of the creature here and there. It was coming closer to them.
Elvin reached for his rifle and made sure it was loaded. Oscar and Elvin exchanged nervous glances.
The rain came down around then. It wasn’t a trickle either; it was a downpour, a waterfall. The storm clouds swirled around the canyon, dumping everything they held. The brothers were soaked within minutes.
Oscar, Elvin, and Doc wiped the rain from their faces. The horses were more eager than ever to get home and hurried along, more focused than before. Doc ventured a look back and clearly saw their pursuer on the path behind them.
It was close.
Elvin lifted his gun and aimed at the thing. It definitely wasn’t a black bear. There was no snout, no features at all. It also didn’t lope along like a black bear. Oscar racked his brain, searching for what this could be.
As the thing gained on them, they got closer to the old bridge over the creek. The wind shifted and started blowing from the direction of the thing. Their noses filled with the smell of rotten eggs.
Oscar’s face was filled with absolute terror as they watched the thing cut a corner behind them. It was now only 60 yards behind the wagon, which was bumping along at a furious pace. Some logs bounced out of the wagon but no one noticed. All three Green brothers were focused on the creature chasing them.
Elvin’s finger had been on the trigger for a while now, but he hesitated, trying to figure out where to aim. As it gained on them, he fired a shot over its head. It didn’t even flinch.
Doc yelled at the horses to go faster. They approached the bridge going faster than any of them had ever gone before. The giant black thing was near the wagon, moving furiously, swiftly.
They hit the bridge with a massive bounce that sent several logs flying out both sides. Elvin and Oscar grabbed onto the wagon and glanced around, hoping the old bridge would hold.
When they looked back, they didn’t see anything. Both of them blinked and looked around. The sulfur smell was gone. The black thing was gone. It had vanished as soon as they crossed the bridge.
They grabbed Doc’s shoulder and he quickly turned to look. Realizing the thing was gone, he slowed the horses, which gratefully started trotting.
The Green brothers breathed a sigh of relief as the storm eased off and blew over the mountains toward Jackson Hole. They headed straight to the celebration with the wood… and with a good story as well.
In that tent in the woods, my heart was pounding. My eyes were wide and sleep had completely left me as my dad finished the story and said, “Pretty scary, huh?”
“Yeah,” was all I could get out.
Suddenly, I had to go to the bathroom. I sniffed the air for sulfur and even though I didn’t smell any, I didn’t want to take the chance.
I held it till morning.
Originally published by The Hill.
By Kyle Treasure, Christine Cooke, and Amber Maxfield.
A Trump voter, a Hillary voter, and a nonvoter walk into a room — and study the Constitution of the United States, together.
That wasn’t a joke. That’s precisely what the three authors of this article have been doing regularly for the past few months.
The truth is, we see the world differently in many ways but also have a lot in common. We share a desire to better understand the U.S. Constitution. We want to join the conversation, not just add to the noise by being opinionated but ultimately uninformed.
So for this Constitution Day — Sept. 17 — we’d like to share three things we’ve learned:
1. Understanding the Constitution will help you identify fake news and other distractions.
Major news sources focus primarily on the federal government but often neglect state and local politics. That’s a problem because it suggests that all noteworthy government action is at the federal level.
You may be familiar with “checks and balances” — the relationship between the three branches of government. But the Constitution is also very clear about federalism — the proper relationship between state governments and federal government. Woven throughout the Constitution are mechanisms to make sure federalism permeates our entire system. Did you know that prior to the 17th Amendment (ratified in 1913), the Constitution called for state legislatures, not the general electorate, to elect U.S. senators?
The thesis of the Constitution is to limit power, both horizontally and vertically. Imbalanced coverage of politics at the federal level can become a distraction from government at the state and local level.
Though media and commentators often criticize congressional gridlock, it isn’t entirely a symptom of a broken system: It’s an outcome that our founders anticipated. Like the constitutional amendment process, change in law is supposed to be slow. Frequent changes in law are not usually healthy, regardless of whether the policy is considered a “win.”
During recent presidential administrations, we’ve seen what happens when law is quickly changed — executive orders lead to chaos and anger. While news outlets cover the pros and cons of executive orders, the truth is the Constitution does not explicitly say anything about executive orders.
2. Studying the Constitution has a unifying effect.
Regardless of political party, policy preference or voting decisions, Americans share something remarkable — the most provocative governing document in the history of the world. We share a common story of independence and freedom. That’s a point worth emphasizing.
The game of politics is naturally divisive. Politics can give us a sense that government and civics is really about teams — your team versus my team, the winners versus the losers. Conversations get ugly quickly when we are hyper-focused on parties in power, nominated candidates, and legislative agendas.
On the other hand, unity is found in principles. Americans believe in liberty, equality and opportunity — unifying ideas.
Naturally, Americans who are united in these principles still may never agree on everything, and that’s OK. In fact, commentaries on the Constitution like the Federalist Papers show that conflict and compromise have always existed. But recognizing the persistent threads in principle give way for a launching pad in common ground, revealing that you and your neighbor voting for different candidates is merely a product of a two-party system. Perhaps the only true conflict is between these principles and our inability as a nation to follow them.
3. Reading the Constitution is easier than you might think.
The Constitution itself isn’t that difficult to read, in part because it was intended to be read by farmers (18th-century American voters). A lot of information is explicitly spelled out. It’s certainly easier than the Bible, for instance. Sure, there are interesting interpretations of clauses and complicated case law that give phrases greater meaning, but not all of the text is that hard to discern. Give it a go.
Of course, to really understand all of the text, commentaries provide context. There are a lot of options out there. Take a look at the Avalon Project out of Yale Law School (they publish the Federalist Papers online). Peruse Heritage Foundation’s Guide to the Constitution. There’s also just good old-fashioned Wikipedia or Google to answer basic questions (like what is the president pro tempore of the United States Senate?).
Keep in mind that the Constitution isn’t very long either. In total it contains 7,591 words, including the 27 amendments. A quick read in comparison to say, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which was 257,045 words, making it 34 times the length of the U.S. Constitution. Many of us read that magical book in a week or less. While the content of the Constitution may not feel as riveting, it’s worth it.
It’s true that right now, most Americans seem frustrated, whether Trump voters, Hillary voters, third-party voters or nonvoters. But for us, studying the Constitution was refreshing. Honor the Constitution for this Constitution Day by taking some time to read it. You might even enjoy it.
Originally published by the Deseret News.
“SLC, you’re killing me. Put your phones away. We can see you. This isn’t a movie. What is up with you guys?” This tweet from Joseph Morales — the actor who plays Alexander Hamilton in the touring Broadway musical — created a firestorm on Twitter last weekend.
Morales retweeted some of the most vitriolic reactions to his observations. Fans of the musical responded by unleashing nasty retorts and personal attacks.
It was not a great time for civility in our local discourse.
This coincided with coverage of the White House Correspondents’ dinner, where comedian Michelle Wolf mercilessly roasted the media, the administration and anyone linked to them. Allies of the White House shot back with equal venom.
President Trump is often accused of bullying, but is taking potshots from a podium the best way to respond? Or a tirade on Twitter? Does being politically active mean throwing out clapbacks at any provocation? Or is there a better way?
I think there is. Former first lady Michelle Obama alluded to it when she said, “When they go low, we go high.” But what does “going high” really look like?
Someone who made a habit of “going high” was former first lady Barbara Bush, who didn’t compromise her decorum even when Sinbad ridiculed her physical appearance at the 1991 White House Correspondents’ dinner. Her pattern of living prompted many to say after her passing that she embodied the principles of civility, grace and respect. We would do well to emulate her.
“Going high” also looks like seeking out and embracing the commonalities with our fellow Americans. For instance, as Americans, we share certain rituals and values.
Rituals are one of the most effective ways to unite any group of people. Religious communities and families understand that and have used rituals for years to unite their members, but rituals can also bind a nation. Fifty years ago, Americans shared the experience of watching Walter Cronkite deliver the news each night. Today, online memes are commonly shared hundreds of thousands of times, bringing millions into a massive inside joke. The point is that it doesn’t matter what rituals bring us together — the important thing is to have shared rituals in the first place.
Many Americans also share in the value of engaging locally. Communities are bound together when we get involved in each other’s lives through acts of service.
During last year’s horrible hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, communities banded together to save their neighbors and make things right again. When there’s a death in a family, it’s common for friends and neighbors to bring meals to a grieving home. When someone is too old to rake leaves, community members will often step in to take care of it.
The acts of service that unify communities are innumerable. Getting involved with our communities is especially important when we think we’re too divided over political or societal differences. Each of us can do our part to “go high” by becoming aware of the needs around us and then reaching out to help.
We must let our bonds of affection outweigh even our starkest differences.
President Abraham Lincoln said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
The Twitter users who responded to Hamilton’s Morales with hate and negativity did not “go high.” They went low instead of keeping with the principles of civility, finding common ground and engaging in elevated dialogue.
When vitriolic tweets and jokes are being hurled all around us, we must appeal to the better angels of our nature and go high.
In the midst of the firestorm, Morales struck a tone of principled civility with a subsequent tweet, referring to the idea that the Utah Jazz and Hamilton are competing for audiences’ attention: “The world is wide enough for @utahjazz and @HamiltonMusical.” Indeed, the world is wide enough for all of our differences.
Originally published in the Deseret News.
Americans with differing ideological opinions have become increasingly entrenched in their own ways of thinking — creating an ever-growing division that invites incivility and prevents productivity.
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, over half of those who identify as Republicans or Democrats have a “very unfavorable” view of the opposing party.
We’ve seen what this disunion looks like in politics. In 2009, Democrats scored a major legislative victory when they passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans retaliated by refusing to hold a hearing for the president’s Supreme Court nominee. Democrats have attempted to do the same for most of the new administration’s Supreme Court and Cabinet nominees. Back and forth it goes.
We’ve dug ourselves into a hole. Luckily, we can get out.
A story I heard many years ago could be instructive here: An old donkey fell down a well. The farmer decided to just fill it in, burying the donkey. As the dirt came raining down, the donkey started to shake off the dirt and step up. Pretty soon, it was free to walk right out of the hole and onto solid ground.
Democrats, Republicans and all Americans would do well to shake off vitriol and step up to something better.
We should shake off real or perceived injustices — especially with our neighbors, friends and families — and step up with elevated dialogue to foster real discussions.
We should shake off apathy and step up with compassion, rising above the cacophony to a new morning in America.
Stepping up as American citizens means being actively involved in the political process. Stepping up includes serving and being served. It means forgiving.
It includes going out of our way to talk with those who come from a different background than us. Organizations like The Village Square brilliantly accomplish this by intentionally fostering discussions between people with ideological differences to break down harmful barriers. It’s in discussion that we discover common ground we didn’t know existed.
Stepping up should also include our responses to bad behavior. I recently posted a tweet about the need to treat everyone with respect, even those with divergent opinions. I was amazed when I immediately received a negative response from someone I didn’t even know. They said that Black Lives Matter and the women’s marches after the November 2016 election figuratively threw the first stone of bad behavior. The danger of trying to figure out who persecuted whom first is best summed up by a statement often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
This is also a call to our elected leaders to step up. They should lead the way in shaking off old ways of doing business to find resolutions that will transform our nation for the better. We need our leaders to join this cultural shift.
There’s work to be done, and when Americans can learn to shake it off and step up, our nation will land on solid, higher ground.