Cedar Mountain, My Secret Place

Get up and move.

Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna Messerly-Brown

Cedar Mountain is my secret place. You know, it’s that one place your mind likes to wander — but your body rarely does? Most people have a place where memories are painted in surreal colors and create warm fuzzy feelings that comfort and excite them. Mine are on Cedar Mountain.

Located just east of Cedar City, Utah is a mountain of history where cherished ancestors raised their livestock, harvested wood to build their homes, hunted to feed their families while bonding with Mother Nature and each other. Its history is not much different than today, except that people enjoy the luxury of time on the mountain to simply explore and fill their senses.

When my mind hikes Cedar Mountain in the dead of the night, or while I’m driving down a long stretch of highway, it usually ends up near Kolob Reservoir. On top of a hill, overlooking miles and miles of quaking aspen and cow country is a red A-frame cabin owned by the Sevy family. It’s where I came to know my father. I watched him discover his true self while cooking hunks of mutton in a greasy frying pan with all the expertise of a — well, a sheep herder. My father was a journalist for nearly 30 years. He worked for the Salt Lake Tribune. He started in obituaries and worked his way up to the position of sports editor. For years he wrote an outdoors column called “Here and There.” Dad loved to tromp the Wasatch Mountains to hunt, fish, ski or simply snap random photographs. One day he got tired of the cement jungle and hung it up to go herd sheep in the Escalante Valley Desert. He spent cold winter nights in the desert sleeping in a sheep wagon where he could watch over his flock (there was something he loved about the symbolism of it all). Summer days were spent scouring the mountain for “mountain maggots” who wandered away from the herd. He fixed fence, analyzed feed, rode horses at first and then ATVs along the mountain paths. It was a world I came to cherish on the back of a saucy horse named Charlie.

At night I would lay on the soft bed piled with blankets watching the fire blaze and listening to old sheep herders tell their “one-up” stories over instant coffee until I fell asleep. Before visiting him at the cabin I had never actually seen my father cook anything. Do the dishes? I don’t think so. Yet, there he was in the light of the cabin’s kitchen window at dawn rattling coffee cups and cleaning up. I learned to love the tinkle of spoons stirring coffee, the grind of the fireplace door opening and the roar of the fire as my father threw on a new log to keep us warm.

It would never have been enough for my father to herd another man’s sheep for long. He loved the lifestyle, loved the “office” in which he worked every day, but was a man of aspiration and he finally ended up buying the herd. My heart swelled each and every time I rode up a hill east of the cabin and looked beyond Oak Valley where the sheep munched peacefully then into the heart of Zion National Park. As I grew older, I realized my father really did need my help there. I could ride any horse on the place and he couldn’t hide his pride in me. I hungered for it, craved his affection and approval. I found it there.

The aromas of horse hair, leather, sweat, quakey leaves and lanolin would make the perfect essential oil for me. Scents can do that — you know — take us back to places and times we loved (or hated, if we let them).

In my journey to health and happiness I recently found myself wondering why it is that we so often rely on old memories that become skewed and glorified in our minds instead of returning to make new ones. My father is gone, and I miss him desperately. I’m sure he wanders those hills sometimes, but I don’t need him to because he has instilled in me an appreciation for the landscape of my own. Today is about going back. It’s about taking my mind (encased in my head) straight back to the environment in which I thrived.

My friends and I will hike down the face of Cedar Mountain, a 4.2 mile jaunt. We will laugh and trip and complain. We’ll smell the juniper trees and take in the colorful fall leaves. We’ll burn a calorie or two and probably replace each one (times two) with trail snacks along the way.

You see, sometimes bad memories and negative thoughts consume me. My strategy here is to create new, amazing memories that crowd out the sad, bad, ugly ones.

Exercising is a fantastic way to fight depression (and, believe it or not, the fatigue that can come with it). If, that is, you can find the strength to simply stand up and move.

Time with friends helps us gain perspective. When those negative thoughts float around in our heads they tend to grow bigger, darker, uglier and more damaging with every day. Take them out, shake them off in front of friends in the sunlight and you just might find they shrink back, cower even, in a recessed corner of your mind.

Laughter is a stellar medication.

So, I’m off now to find myself on a crazy hike with fun friends. I’ve look for myself in the cobwebs long enough; I’m not there.

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