Heavenly Perspective on the Handcart Pioneers

Why would the Lord of the elements stand by as their fury killed his children? Why did they decide to begin their journey long after it was safe to do so? Why did they not all die of fatigue, starvation and hypothermia long before their rescuers found them? These and other questions filled my head as we pulled, pushed and walked behind our handcarts on the high plains of Wyoming last week. We covered a very small portion of the trail they had taken a century and a half before.

My wife Sharon and I were in charge of the music for a company of 300 plus youth and adults working to get a greater appreciation of the Mormon handcart pioneers in general, and the Willy and Martin companies in particular. These two parties suffered more casualties than any other wagon or handcart train of the entire Mormon exodus.

Based on the counsel of their leaders and their own inclinations, the 980 pioneers of the two companies decided to leave despite their late departure date. When a ferocious early storm hit them on the plains west of Casper Wyoming about 220 of the members in the parties died from starvation and exposure to the cold.

Even in June, the cold winds howled against us almost constantly. We took our small sample of discomfort, multiplied it by a factor just short of infinite, and tried to imagine what they struggled against.

I concluded it is sobering that so many died, but it is astounding that so many survived. They had to pull their carts through icy rivers, deep snow, and steep inclines. They pulled continuously for 27 hours to surmount Rocky Ridge. They had to keep warm enough to stay alive. How could any human generate the energy to do this on the four ounces of flour a day they were reduced to? They had heavenly help.

Their own testimonials given later speak of unseen forces moving the handcart forward when they were too exhausted to take another step.

Without the courage and sacrifice of the rescue parties sent from Salt Lake City few if any of the handcart pioneers would have survived. Still 220 including many children and elderly did not make it and were buried in shallow graves along the way.

From an outsider’s human perspective this is a tragedy.

From what we understand of a heavenly perspective, there may be another conclusion. To Christians our most important purpose in this life is to prove ourselves worthy to live with our Heavenly Father after we die. All else is secondary. The reward is great, our commitment to receive it must be total. It seems to me these pioneers both those who lived and those who died proved their commitment. Assuming the survivors maintained that determination for the rest of their lives, they have now achieved their worthy reward.

They have also given us an example of what level of commitment it takes. Wise people have said that our challenges today may be even harder than those faced by the pioneers. This seems incredible given our comfortable conditions. Our opposition may be more subtle than bitter cold, lack of food, and rugged terrain. But is it worse to suffer starvation and hypothermia for weeks or to suffer drug addictions for decades? Worse to see your loved ones die by the wayside, or see them miserable and hopelessly mired in wickedness? Worse to lose your family in death, or see your family disintegrate by following the trends of much of today’s society? Our life is physically easier, but our dangers are equally as great.

On the other hand, the path to safety is the same for us as it was for them. Follow the example and teachings of the Christ. Pray for the Lord’s Spirit to guide and sustain us. Should we be called to lay down our lives for others, be ready and willing to do so.

Memories of being born

This week is my birthday, so suffer me as I relate my humble entrance into the world. According to memories gathered mostly from my mother, I was in a hurry to launch into life. Hustling from the car into the hospital my father carried my mother and my emerging head. This might explain some of my eccentricities. Seeing the sidewalk and door threshold pass under your eyes as your first view of the world could warp a person’s perspective.

My dramatic entrance might have saved us some medical bills. My father could have haggled with the hospital and doctor for a price break since he had already done half the work and all the heavy lifting of getting me there. Mom, like every mother has never been adequately reimbursed for her labor and nine months of lifting in the project.

And hand it to my Dad. Carrying my head was no easy chore. I know because I have had to do it ever since. I have a noble, large, or big head depending on whom you ask. I settle for 7 ½ at the hat store, too small, but the biggest they have. I am not part of the human race according to the “one size fits all” cap makers. I am not one of the “all” unless I string an elastic band from the last button to the last hole in the adjustment strap. This sometimes keeps the cap on, but it leaves a red wrinkle line that looks like I’ve been wearing a garter on my head. My high school football helmet was too tight, but the next size up was the water bucket.

Soon after I was born as my mother was cradling me in her arms in the hospital. Her maternal grandmother Rosetta came in to see the new baby. She looked at me, assumed I was hydrocephalic and said, “You’ll never raise that child Gladys.” The new mother didn’t take that comment well.

The pioneer stock of my Grandma Rosetta’s generation were long on work, short on tact. I never really warmed up to Grandma Rosetta. She scared me. When she died my mother asked my brother Gordon and me if we would like to go to her viewing and funeral. I said, “No. I don’t think that would be fun.” Mother said sternly, “It isn’t supposed to be fun. This will be the last time you will see your Grandma Rosetta.” That seemed like a good idea to us. We went. She was less scary dead than alive.

Grandma Rosetta took care of us when my mother gave birth to our two sisters. Mother tried to sell us on the idea by reminding us that Grandma Rosetta put raisins in the cereal. Raisins were a rare treat for us, and we might have bought the package deal of Grandma Rosetta plus raisins except for one flaw in the sales pitch. Grandma always served cooked cereal. We were “Wheaties breakfast of Champions” guys. Who knew that one day I would be a born again cooked oatmeal convert? Even back then I noticed cooked cereal sticks to your ribs. Wheaties evaporated on the trip to school, and it was only half a block.

Oatmeal never really had a chance with us kids because like most country folks of her generation, Grandma Rosetta called it “mush” Surely a less appetizing word does not exist in the English language. Nobody but sled dogs gets excited by mush. Something gooey and slimy in the sound. And yet mud on the other hand, or on both hands, or squished between your toes, or on your clothes is one of natures aesthetic gifts to young boys.

According to my mother the standard protocol when I was born was 10 days of complete bed rest after giving birth. (Hence our extended relationship with Grandma Rosetta, raisins and mush) It was obvious the mothers needed to rest and regain their strength the doctors said because even after ten days the women were still weak, dizzy and wobbly. Apparently nobody ever considered that the ten day rest was part of the problem. After twenty days she may well have been twice as dizzy and weak. Ten days in a hospital today would make anybody weak and woozy especially when you got the bill.

So what have we learned from this story: 1. Be kind to big headed people. They are carrying a heavy load. 2. Don’t judge a food by its name. 3. Be considerate of, but not wedded to opinions of authorities. They may change. Ten days in bed may be nine and a half too many. Who knows one day doctors may tell babies like me who are being a burden to their mothers and fathers and who seem anxious to get out and be on their own to jump down and walk to the hospital.

The Day(s) of our Lives

You’ve heard, maybe even pondered this thought, “What would you do if this was your last day on earth?” For some folks this is not a rhetorical question. As the end of the day approaches, some of them stretch out on the grass, and say, “I guess I’ll wrap it up for today, and forever.” Others are carried off to exotic jungle or desert locales never to be heard from again.

These folks are fruit flies. They are about as big as the period at the end of this sentence. The size of their lives is about the same. They live for one day. The ones I met live in a bottle with grass and their definition of food. In this ingenious arrangement they multiply faster than one a day. This increases their population so that twice a day some person –last night the person was Sharon my wife expertly assisted and mostly watched by me—shakes the excess flies into tongue range of two small brown lizards and two psychedelically skinned orange and black frogs owned by our grandsons. They are on vacation in Mexico (the grandsons, not the reptiles.)

They (the reptiles not the grandsons) love fruit flies. They live in two terrarium micro worlds (the reptiles not the grandsons) the lizards in a desert scene and environment, the small frogs in a steamy jungle. When we poured in the fruit flies, the lizards skittered and the frogs hopped over, popped their heads or tongues and a fly disappeared instantly.

Watching this scene I had deep metaphysical insights, ok, shallow metaphysical mind wanderings. “Do these flies feel shortchanged?” They only get one day on earth, and they spend it on one blade of grass. The “lucky” travelers have their exotic vacation cut short. Do fruit flies echo the sentiments of Job, “The days (in their case day) of life are (is) short and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1)

Are the apparent injustices of fruit flies recompensed in the hereafter? Do they fly off to an eternal heaven of grass and an endless supply of rotting fruit with no frog or lizard tongues whipping out to cut their existence short? I have no answers to these cosmic questions I can only refer you to the experts, the screen writers of the Disney movie, “A Bug’s Life.”

Equally important, how does their situation relate to us? Most of us are not fruit flies although some of us exhibit their intelligence and perspective. (Some of us in Congress appear to have the perspective of fruit flies, spending money as if there were no tomorrow).

We as a species however are generally more fortunate than fruit flies. In America we live an average of 77 years (male) and 84 years (female) or 28,105 or 30,660 generations of fruit flies not factoring in leap year which they do not celebrate.

But are we happier, or merely suffering through what Shakespeare’s Hamlet calls, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Pain, sorrow, disappointment, tragedy, boredom, staring at a blank computer screen and being able to think of nothing better to write about than fruit flies. Life can be a grind sometimes.

Here are three ways to challenge and conquer in the battle of life. Way #1, lengthen your perspective, preferably to infinity. Heaven goes on forever, so compared with that, anything including Methuselah’s 900th year birthday party is shorter than an eye blink. Hang in there through the gloom. Eternal sunshine awaits you.

Way # 2 consider C.S. Lewis’s opinion that no matter how ghastly the pain, as soon as it is over a person forgets about it. I don’t know about you, but when a toothache stops, I don’t reminisce about how it felt. So I’m guessing we won’t get nostalgic for the old days when we were miserable on earth.

Way #3: Short or long life, good or bad experience, the eternally important question will be, how did we handle this project of living. As the old Scotch saying put it, “What e’re thou art, act will thy part.”

Bonus tip, when life gets tough, look around. You can usually find somebody who has it tougher, maybe on the end of a lizard’s tongue.

Managing the Herds

Last week I recounted my potentially perilous adventures managing our cattle herd. I got feedback that some people were not impressed with my cowboying adventures because I don’t have a horse anymore, and our herd consists of two steers, (technically calves, but big for their age.) My unimpressed friends being typical Americans equate importance with bigness.

O.K. you guys, you want to play the numbers game, you’d better sit down for this. We also have another herd of over a hundred head. Not impressed yet? We have still another herd approaching 2,400.

For those of you who get hung up on terminology. In the interest of full disclosure, our 100 head herd is technically referred to as a brood, clutch, hatching, nest, parcel, peep, battery or flock. Chickens actually, but they do have heads.

The other herd may not qualify as 2,400 head since the heads are pretty much indistinguishable from the tails. In a group they are known as a bed, clew, bunch, or a clat. Common name is worms. As of last Wednesday, we are the owners of two pounds of red wigglers. One pound is in a commercial wormery we purchased. The other is in our own construction, a worm high rise made from four stacked tires.

Before you dis these humble contributors to our ranch, farm, grove and garden operation, know that we paid $1.28 a pound for our steers on the hoof. The worms were $23 a pound on the stomach.

Not too many “Yipee Ty Y Oh” songs about the romance of herding worms. On the other hand, even the great Aristotle mentioned worms in his writings. He called them the earth’s intestines. We call them our garbage disposal. They eat table scraps, leaves, dry grass, newspapers, and, according to Job in the Bible, eventually us. (Job 19:26) They pay their dining check with “castings”, a polite term for what they leave behind when they crawl away. Castings create gorgeous rich compost that is gourmet dining to vegetables, fruit trees, and pastures.

All these are part of the mini ecosystem we are working on. It’s an old idea being dusted off. Find out what Mother Nature wants to do, and plug into the natural order rather than trying to force her into doing things our way.

With the steers we are building movable paddocks so we can simulate how cattle graze in the wild. They don’t eat everything in a given spot. They munch their favorite plants then move on. By moving them in the paddocks we hope to keep them doing their natural thing rather than penning them in until they have eaten the vegetation down to the dirt.

With the vegetables we are covering the weeds with cardboard we get free from a furniture store. By the time the cardboard disintegrates most of the weeds have died out for lack of light, and their vegetable matter and the cardboard work into and loosen the soil.

The chickens pay their tab with eggs, meat, and by kicking around the cow pies looking for insects thus fertilizing the pasture and helping to feed the animals.

We’re not experts yet. We have had some tasty successes, and some frustrating failures. But we like the direction we are going. If you have questions or advice, we welcome both.