Dear Governor Ducey,
I’m back from Utah whose fall colors are red and orange and yellow and where it rained hard in October. One great thing about the bowl that the Oquirrh and Wasatch Mountains make of the Salt Lake Valley is the way the clouds roil overhead. You can see from below, from the sides, practically from the top. That wide valley gives you the broad view, almost like a snow globe. Almost like you can get above and beyond the huge forces that press against each other like tectonic plates. They say, if there’s an earthquake along the fault line that runs along the foothills of the Wastach Mountain, that it’s not actually the big, fancy houses clinging to the hillsides of the mountain ranges that will suffer but instead the houses of the less-well-off that will crumble and fall because of liquefaction. The valley floor will shake and warm. Some strata will fail. Some will sustain. But a house that tries to bridge failure and sustenance can’t make it as a house.
One gets used to living in the flatlands that the fat, fancy houses are in the line of sight when one tries to look up toward the mountains for the fall colors. It’s not that bad. The houses are pretty. Their windows reflect the sunset. Maybe that’s a kind of beauty, too. Phoenix has an element of fancy people building higher on the hill. Flagstaff as well, but it’s not as pronounced as it is in Salt Lake. Salt Lake is the Grand Canyon of income strata—every layer so starkly revealed.
I don’t know exactly where you live, Governor Ducey. Maybe in a house that sits intractably into the hill. You don’t have to think about earthquakes or liquefaction. You don’t have to think about water or roads. You do not encounter much push back in your life. Your tectonic plates have been, for the most part, steady and unshifting. A degree in business. CEO of a company at a young age. A job at the Anheuser-Busch distribution company. The Economist Magazine estimates your net worth to be in the tens, possibly even hundreds, of millions of dollars. If you lived in Salt Lake, you might live so high on the hill that you’d live in Park City.
What I love about people who live on the hill is how they look down at everyone else. While most of the people are looking up to see what the weather will bring, you look down into the valley and say, “It’s all going to get swallowed up in the earthquake anyway. Damn the roads. Who needs water? Who needs schools? Bring me another beer, dear! Children, wouldn’t you like to collect some of those beautiful leaves from the oak trees for me? You don’t even need to leave the house—you can reach the branches from the deck.”
The day I left for my reading at the library in Salt Lake, I drove through the buckets of rain that fell hard and fast from Hurricane Rosa. When I arrived at the library, I saw on the news that Highway 89 by Cameron had split open. A truck and a car had been sucked into the ground. One person died.
The Navajo Times ran a story about infrastructure and how, with so many tax cuts, there are fewer and fewer dollars for road repair. Cameron is far away from Phoenix. Even if you stood on the highest hill, you can’t see it from where you are.
More tax cuts for the wealthy. Fewer dollars for public education. Fewer dollars for higher ed. Fewer dollars for roads. “It’s just the valley,” you say to yourself. “It’s going to liquefy anyway. Why spend money on that when I could use a new Mercedes Benz?” Tax cuts. Tax cuts. Tax cuts. Intractable force, it seems. Everywhere I go, tax cuts have won. It’s a heavy fact. It weighs like asphalt on my chest. Like a fallen beam across my legs. It is hard to move when the people on the hill seem so very good at securing their space on the mountain.
But one cool thing about earthquakes is that they’re not entirely predictable. Maybe those geologists are wrong. Maybe those tax cuts, like houses on the hill, are at risk. Maybe there’s a reason that election season is in the autumn—maybe that which seems intractable can turn and fall like the leaves.