Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You Don't Have to Push A Handcart...

When I was a young girl, my mother made me a black cotton dress for a Pioneer Day Parade. I wore it proudly with a matching bonnet as I marched around the neighborhood. In my minds' eye, pioneers skipped across the plains, singing as they went. They cooked over fires, square-danced at night and slept under the stars. For a five year old girl, the pioneer life sounded glamourous, straight out of Bonanza. I dreamed of being a pioneer. Little did I realize that my pioneer dreams would one day come to pass. Last year on July 23-25th, my husband and I participated in a trek to Martin's Cove, Wyoming. For three days we were 'ma' and 'pa' to nine teenagers. While I was excited for the opportunity, I was apprehensive; scared, in fact, afraid of the unknown. Friends told me horror stories of blowing wind, unbearable heat, and endless walking. Still sound like Bonanza? No. And since the realities of being a pioneer contrasted with my childhood daydreams, would I make the journey anyway? Yes. Knowing this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I boarded the bus to Wyoming.

Over the course of the next three days there was plenty of time to contemplate what the true pioneers experienced. Being a pioneer wasn't just about fun times, but it was also about very hard times. Times of leaving family and friends behind. Times of walking many miles every day. Times of eating minimul rations, if at all. Times of burying loved ones in frozen graves and then continuing wearily onward. These were the times that tried pioneer's souls as they made their way to Zion.
Our transportation for the trail was a simple handcart, energized only by those willing to push or pull. No worries of rising gas prices here. Just lace up your shoes and get moving. We loaded it with 5 gallon buckets carrying personal provisions and started our thirteen and a half mile walk across the plains of Wyoming.

The scenery is stark. Sage brush and sand for as far as the eye can see. Blue sky above and a hot sun beating down. I felt like a flaming map of the Ponderosa Ranch. One afternoon I spotted a mother dear and her fawn, a reminder that had I been a true pioneer, they might have been my dinner. Pulling the handcarts wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The boys in our family were amazing. We called them the Clydedales because they kept a steady pace the entire time, barely breaking a sweat. From time to time we would trade and take turns. As the days became longer and hotter, the cart got slower and heavier. I realized that had I been a true pioneer, this would have been my life from sunup to sundown, every day until I reached my destination. I was going home in 3 short days. There was hope on the horizon.

A traditional part of trek experiences is "The Women's Pull". The boys in the company are taken away and the women are left to pull their handcarts up a steep, rocky hill. This was my personal challenge. Finding strength to do something that I had always thought would be hard. In a long dress, no less. I kept wishing Little Joe would ride up and rescue me.

With no hope of that on the horizon, my woman's pull began. Four teenage girls shared their strength and together our handcart made it to the top. My heart swelled with pride as I watched my own daughter push and pull with her trek family and come out smiling. We did it! The challenge had been met. For now and for the future, I know we can do hard things!

The Sweet Water River was a refreshing sight in the middle of sand and sagebrush. My feet were aching for relief in the cool water. Members of the Martin Handcart Company were forced to cross here when ice chunks were floating down the river in temperatures well below zero. They say in extraordinary times there are no ordinary people. That day I stood where 4 extraordinary young men stood. My feet were burning with heat. Their feet were burning from the cold as they patiently carried mother and daughter, father and son across the water until all were safe on the other side. Would the boys in my trek family have been that courageous? The answer. Yes. Would my small son find a time in his life to display that kind of strength? I hope so. I hope he can be a pioneer courageous as he goes through life, facing hard times, and coming out stronger on the other side.
The steps I took through Martin's Cover were some of the hardest I have ever taken. It was 105 degrees, and my water bottle was empty. I walked on hallowed ground, the same ground where the Martin Handcart Company was stranded in a blizzard. The temperature was eleven below zero, even colder with the wind chill. Food and water were sparse, four ounces of flour a day per person. They slept under the stars on the frozen ground. They would bury their dead in the snow, and then watch the wolves devour the bodies. My steps were heavy as I pondered if I would have been found worthy to be among those faithful pioneers. I hope so.

I think a lot about the little girl in the black dress. She has come a long way from neighborhood parades. This experience gave me a new source of strength. It came not from cowboy heroes, but real people, pioneers courageous. I learned something from those who traveled that same road so many years ago. We are all pioneers, taking life one step at a time with strength and courage, sometimes sacrificing, always serving. And with the trials and hardships, there will always be hope on the horizon...a future where we can say, "All is well."


Emily said...

Okay, you've got me in tears. That was a really beautiful tribute. Happy Pioneer Day!

KJ said...

very nice. I've never been to Martin's Cove. Let alone trek is. You are a trooper.