Friday, August 07, 2009
2 More City Blocks, or A-Treking We Go, or Pioneer Children Sang as They Walked and Walked and Walked
When I was a young girls' camper, Ray Baird would take us on hikes throughout the mountains of Camp Shalom and the Uintahs. As young girls are wont to do, we would complain and ask how much longer. "Two more city blocks!" Ray would always reply. Every time it was the same answer. It always baffled us how those two city blocks stretched into many, many more miles.
Last night I was asked to speak at our stake youth conference pioneer trek. I even made my own little pioneer skirt and apron to really get into the theme of things. I studied up on my pioneer stories. I worried, because I was scheduled to take my second minor field exam this week, plus a myriad of other responsibilities falling into my lap made for a very full plate. One thing at a time, I thought. Two more city blocks.
Well things fell into place, as they always do. My exam was pushed back to next week, and I was able to concentrate on the task at hand. Virginia and I drove down through the rolling hills of Virginia, had dinner at a greasy little diner in Marshall, Virginia, then pranced into camp just as the sun was setting, where the kids were constructing makeshift tents and regaling stories of thier long trek pushing and pulling, fording streams and making jokes, sweating and falling and getting back up again.
It was a delightful evening. Only dinner wasn't cooking very quickly in the Dutch ovens (darn thick potatoes). Dan and Virginia and I started the group off, singing some old Eliza R. Snow trail hymns, but we didn't know the tune too well. It fizzled out. And dinner still wasn't ready yet. Kids were starving and tired. But I started telling them stories around the campfire under a full moon. I love how Eliza wrote about it:
“Many, yes many were the star and moonlight evenings, when, as we circled around the blazing fire and sang our hymns of devotion and songs of praise to Him who knows the secrets of all hearts—when with sublime union of hearts, the sound of united voices reverberated from hill to hill; and echoing through the silent expanse, apparently filled the vast concave above, while the glory of God seemed to rest on all around us."
And pretty soon everyone was listening. Intrigued. Enraptured by the stories of yesteryear. Interested because they'd just walked a bunch of miles in their shoes. They loved hearing how Margaret McNeil Ballard was too short to cross the rivers, so she held on to her cow's tail and made it. Or John Stucki, whose father put a piece of buffalo meat in the back of the handcart for safekeeping for Sunday's meal, but as John pushed that cart, hungry, he would cut off a sliver every day. When his father found the evidence, instead of punishing him, he put his arm around his son and cried, grateful that he could somehow provide for his growing boy. Or little Agnes Caldwell, who ran alongside the rescue wagon in the snow, wondering why they wouldn't pick her up, later to discover that her running kept her blood circulating and saved her legs from frostbite and possible amputation like those lying in the wagon.
Two more city blocks, guys. Keep going.
My favorite story, though, was this:
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hillslope, and I have said, ‘I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it.’ … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.”
If I can just make it to that hill, or that spot ahead on the horizon. If I can just get through this one more exam, and then that dissertation. If I can make it through this week. The thing is, there's always another two more city blocks--another hill, another valley, another item on my list. But that's what keeps me moving. It keeps my blood circulating and prevents my own frostbite. And I look back at where I've been,and I realize the hands that have pushed and pulled, the energy that has come in such small, beautiful ways.
Two more city blocks.
R.I.P. Ray Baird. We still love you and think of you and sing your praises. And Oh! Pioneers! You, too.