Over the last ten weeks, the Juvenile Instructor’s Summer Book Club has taken readers on a guided tour through Jared Farmer’s award-winning On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard UP, 2008). Jared has graciously agreed to share his reflections on the book, ten years after its initial publication.
“Utah, I Loved Thee”: Reflection by Jared Farmer
My gratitude to David G. and other members of Juvenile Instructor’s summer book club for their thoughtful comments about my second book, now ten years old.
On Zion’s Mount may be the most personal work I’ll ever write, and the least personalized. I don’t share with readers that I come from Provo. I don’t explain how my narration of Utah Lake and Mount Timpanogos, of Utes and Latter-day Saints, is also the story of the author losing his religion.
Although I never had a testimony to bear about Mormonism, I became, in adolescence, enthused by the historic Mormon idea of gathering in a sacred homeland. I felt I belonged in Utah, or belonged to Utah, and I wanted to assist societal reconsecration of a landscape that was, in my view, being defiled by improvident, unbeautiful development. Beyond career goals (earning a doctorate, joining the professoriate), I hoped that my Utah project would reveal something—something exalted, or at least redemptive, about the post-1847 record of place-making—that could sustain my heterodox belief in being Mormon.
My personal search ended in failure.
Academically, On Zion’s Mount found success, albeit in certain fields more than others. Some of my intended readers shunned the book for being too Mormon, or not Mormon enough. Even among reviewers and admirers, it seems to have been rarely digested whole. For this I take partial blame, for my work contains immoderate details and oversubtle arguments. If I could do it again, I would be more direct and less polite.
Writing this biography of a mountain, my greatest challenge was scale. The project needed to work on multiple levels: the local (Utah Valley) and the bioregional (the Great Basin); the territorial/state (Utah) and the ethnogeographic (Numic homeland, Mormon Zion); and, finally, the sectional (the American West) and the national (the United States). I devised parallel narratives to cover these scalar relationships. Thanks to the New Western History, I didn’t need to argue for the significance of western history; rather, I made an argument for the significance of local Utah history (including Nuche and Saints) for historians of the United States and other settler-colonial nations. In addition to decentering the early history of Deseret (away from Salt Lake City), I endeavored to write a postwestern, extralocal history that contextualized the Beehive State in national trends more than regional ones.
I recall my misery inputting the final edits as a transplant to Long Island, a geographic region that alienated me unlike anywhere I’d lived. Looking back, the continuing irony of my Utah project, born of love, is that it took me to a place—professionally, personally, and spiritually—whence I can’t go home.