Uncle Spud and I were sitting on the porch cleaning guns and sharpening our spurs when I reminded him that tomorrow is the 24th of July.
"The 24th was a great day," Spud said. "I remember it well."
"You remember Utah's first 24th of July?"
"I do," he said smugly. "I was there when Brigham Young said, 'This is the place.'"
"This country must have been beautiful back then," I said wistfully.
"It was," he nodded, "but it wasn't as nice a place to live as it is now."
"I'm not," he insisted. "When I first came here in 1847 all of the American West was a big wilderness study area. There were no roads, power poles or 7-11s. The land was just the way God created it: grassland, forest and desert. It was a good place to be a wild Indian, but when left in its wilderness condition, the whole state of Utah couldn't support more people than the population of Carbon County. There just weren't enough nuts, berries and barbecue buffalo wings to sustain large groups of people."
"What changed?" I asked.
"Our pioneers followed a master plan," Spud said. "Back when God created the world, he commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth. When he did that, he fully expected that one day the whole world would be filled with people. When the world was filled with people, God knew that unaltered wilderness couldn't sustain them all. So early in Neolithic times He taught men to be farmers. Farmers plowed the land and planted potatoes, seriously altering the wilderness. God saw that it was good.
"Farmers had advantages over hunters and gatherers. They could live in houses and have plenty to eat, even when the buffalo migrated to Kansas. The farmers learned to domesticate wild animals and make them our friends. Cows traded milk for hay and horses pulled plows for a share of the oats. Wolves became puppy dogs. Things began to work out real well for an expanding population.
"Soon the farmers had burned up nearly all of the trees in the wilderness for firewood. Then they discovered that God had given us coal and natural gas so we could save the trees, if we really wanted to. Men also discovered that iron works better for arrowheads than flint, so they began to mine iron, copper and tin. Mining changed the look of the wilderness, but God didn't mind. He had put minerals in the ground for our use, giving us dominion over all the earth.
"Then, when men didn't have to spend all of their time chasing deer in the forest and cutting wood to make fires, they had time to think. When they had time to think they discovered electricity, medicine, internal-combustion engines, fast food and Face Book. They learned to make flush toilets, air conditioning and ATVs. People got fat and happy.
"Then, with too much idle time on their hands, some people began to dream instead of think. Some dreamed of wilderness and wanted to recreate it. But, not being thinkers, they couldn't imagine what real wilderness was like. To them wilderness was Yellowstone Park with friendly bears and park service rangers.
"Unfortunately, in real wilderness there are no rescue helicopters. Everything reverts back to the laws of nature. The strong survive. The weak and foolish perish. Real wilderness is Mozambique. People live in huts with dirt floors; mosquitoes, dirty water, disease, famine, and corn husk toilet paper. Our pioneers lived like that in the Utah wilderness. Without hospitals and telephones, God was their best hope and closest friend.
"God blessed Utah with coal, oil, and other natural resources to make our lives better. I wonder, is God now troubled, or amused that we are too stupid to appreciate and fully utilize those wonderful gifts? Will our grandchildren live to see our foolishness as divine comedy or human tragedy?"
"What does this have to do with Pioneer Day?" I questioned.
"Like Moses, Brigham Young came to the Promised Land to tame the wilderness and make Utah a great state," Spud said. "Power plants, mines and oil wells are part of the plan."
"Mission accomplished," I said.
"I'll drink to that," Spud smiled.