The Erda Way
People who spend their whole lives in a city will never know how liberating it is to look out of their back window and see acres of alfalfa waving in the wind or how close to God they can feel by staring into a night sky undimmed by streetlights. They’ll never know what it’s like to smell the dust in the air after a rainstorm or wheat’s nutty scent when it’s wet. Buildings dominate their view. Stars barely even freckle their night sky. And all they get to smell is exhaust. City life is so confining. That’s why I loved growing up in Erda.
I know, "who’s ever heard’a Erda?" Well, now you have. But I can’t fault you for your ignorance. Most people don’t even know where Tooele is. That’s the city closest to Erda. Still lost, huh? Take I-80 westbound from Salt Lake City until you reach exit 99. After less than a half-hour you’ll be in the Tooele valley. Erda is the valley’s centerpiece. To the north, Stansbury Park swells with recent arrivals; there’s a new house completed there almost hourly. To the west, Grantsville continues as a cowboy haven. To the south, Tooele creeps northward with new subdivisions and Utah’s first Super Walmart.
And Erda sits contentedly in the middle and stretches eastward until it fades into the Oquirrh Mountains. It probably covers the most square mileage in the valley, but don’t worry about getting lost; there’s only one main road in the town: Erda Way.
That road’s name says a lot about my childhood and youth. You see, I grew up the Erda way. My dad managed the Church farm there, and farming was central to my life. Some of my earliest memories are of Dad and me in the swather. I loved being in the cab with him. I can still smell the grease that kept the blades lubricated. But the true olfactory treat came when the cutting started. It’s difficult to describe newly cut alfalfa’s smell. It smells green and fresh, but it’s nothing like grass. It’s so subtle that someone has to point out that you’re smelling it. Driving through the countryside, you’ve probably smelled it without knowing what it was.
While the smell of alfalfa is lovely, it doesn’t compare to sunset after a day of cutting. As the sun’s last rays stretch across the field, everything is golden. Vibrant greens radiate from each row of hay. Across the road, sprinklers scatter the sunlight into dazzling spectra. And shadows extend from the few trees bordering the field. Above it all, the sky seems embarrassed by the valley’s beauty, as if the sun were going too far. But her blushing only accentuates the scene’s splendor. A day in a tractor isn’t comfortable; in fact, it makes your body ache. But those sunsets are worth it.
And cutting time is only the beginning of Erda’s charms. I loved walking in alfalfa fields; there’s nothing else like it. When the breeze is right, you feel like you’re wading through an emerald pond. It’s so relaxing, even when you’re moving sprinklers. And you’re the only person around. I loved being alone with the alfalfa. I could think and reflect without the noise of traffic or car stereos. New thoughts and ideas came to me as I walked; my mind was open to the Spirit, and the Gospel became as green, fresh, and vivid as the field.
And my mediation often overflowed into the evening. I used to sit outside and think as I looked at a sky shimmering with stars. As I would gaze into heaven, crickets would chirp while the sprinklers’ rhythmic tapping kept time. I used to let the sky’s vastness envelope me. Some people say that they feel alone when they look into the heavens at night. I don’t. All of those points of light reassured me that God lives, that He is in control, and that there is a purpose to life. He always seemed so near when I looked up into His heavens. I never felt alone surrounded by so many of His creations.
And then, there are thunderstorms. Watching lightening bolts illuminate the valley used to help me unwind. Sometimes, my family would turn on classical music and turn off the lights as we marveled at each blue flash. We could spend hours in the living room or kitchen just watching the storms. Sometimes, however, they would get too violent, and the power would go out. We’d light candles and pray that the wind wouldn’t braid the wheel lines—four-inch diameter, aluminum pipes threaded through the middle of six-foot tall, bicycle wheels without rubber—into pretzels while the pumps were off. Thankfully, it hardly ever did, and when the storms would subside, the smell of wet dirt would fill our home. My sister Sherri loved it, and she would inhale, eyes closed, as deeply and often as she could until the air’s dusty perfume evaporated. And if the sun hadn’t gone down by the time the clouds parted, the air’s humidity would amplify the colors around our home. The grass and leaves on the trees would be greener. The dirt would be a richer brown. And the fields would glow.
Erda’s spaciousness also added to its beauty. Our nearest neighbor was fifty yards away, and their yard was large enough for all seven of my brothers and me to play football. We could run thirty yard routes before we risked crashing into a house or a fence.
Even Erda’s traffic was endearing. I wouldn’t even cross the street if I could see a car on the road; sometimes, I would wait three or four minutes for a car a half-mile away to pass me before I would start crossing.
And all of these things were part of the Erda way. I miss it. Erda’s farms, sky, and open serenity call to me. I long to return to the soothing simplicity of my youth because I don’t think that I’ll ever understand city life. In my opinion, it’s so confining, but Erda equates with heaven. Now, I know that cities have a lot going for them, but, one morning, I would love to wake up and look out of my bedroom window to see something other than a parking lot. An alfalfa field would be nice