Gretchen E. Henderson

Gretchen E. Henderson is the author of four books, with essays in the Kenyon ReviewPloughshares, Brevity, and many other journals. “Life in the Tar Seeps” comes from her forthcoming book. In 2019 she was Annie Clark Tanner Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah, codirector of an NEH Institute on museums at Georgetown University, and writer-in-residence in nature writing at the Jan Michalski Foundation in Switzerland.

Life in the Tar Seeps

In the rearview mirror, the Wasatch Mountains of Utah rise from the Great Basin. Low hills shoulder limestone caves, tucked into parched slopes of tall grass that roll toward Great Salt Lake like ancient waves. Long-gone shorelines band the hills like rings in a bathtub. A two-lane paved road cuts between dips in the knolls, edged by marshlands that spread through the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. On this February day, the chill has fogged into crystalline snow, blurring the marshlands, hills, and mountains until we lose sight of all distances, just the road around us. Almost imperceptibly, the air smells like rotten eggs.