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Stars and Grace

Aug 18 2002

Stars, and against them, a circle of pine trees, tall, dark figures against the night, standing as if in council around the ampitheatre. I lay on my back and looked up, listening to Mikeala, Ty, and Becky talk; I wondered if the forest watched and judged. Becky saw a figure in the woods, too, shorter and white, but when Ty sent his flashlight to the forest edge, there was only a tree stump. We turned off the light, kept talking, kept staring up, kept breathing in.

There used to be more trees and stars in Orem, Utah. I remember a childhood full of apple, cherry, and peach orchards. Then teenage years watching a few orchards give way to office buildings and new homes, and with them municipal pride and excitement at having a world class software company make its home here, something to add to the steel mill and local university. I remember growing up, leaving home, living as a missionary in Los Angeles, and listening to octegenarians living in South Central recall a time when Disneyland and all of Orange County were actually orange groves, when the morass of traffic and asphalt was still a network of loosely connected towns and semi-agricultural space. I remember the bright street lights, and forgetting what it was like to have the world get dark, and the Milky Way replaced with a sky-suffusing uniform glow. My later re-introduction to Utah was a shock in many ways, the lingering rural character of even the larger cities being one of them.

But Orem became a different place, more orchards and fields going to retail stores, office condos, and homes. The cities of Utah Valley grew into each other, and overflowed onto the benches, and then the hills. Six months ago, I left for California again, this time to a rural spot in Ventura County, but returned in June after running out of work and money. And this time when I returned, I found streetlights, and Orem without stars, one step closer to the metropolis.

We went in search of them Sunday night, up the canyon, then up a side canyon, away from the highway. We came to the Theater in the Pines, next to the trailhead to Mount Timpanogos. A half-moon did its best to outshine the stars, but hundreds of bright points came through, and the voice of the wilderness, and the breath of the mountain.

"You need to sing, Beck," said Mikeala, after we had sat and talked a moment.

"I'm not sure I can remember the words to anything," she replied, not wanting to impose on us, not wanting to take the focus off the night, but we knew she would.

"Sing 'Amazing Grace,'" Mikeala suggested. And she did, one verse, letting the words slowly find their way from her throat.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
'twas blind, but now I see

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