The week after Ragnar, my family embarked on an activity for which we had been preparing for about a year: Pioneer Trek.
Today is a state holiday in Utah - Pioneer Day, commemorating the day in 1847 when the first round of Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake valley and Brigham Young declared they had arrived at their destination. It had been a long journey for those pioneers who had endured persecution in, and been driven from, numerous places (including Nauvoo, Illinois, and Kirtland, Ohio). (Did you know that because of Missouri Executive Order 44, it was legal to kill a Mormon in Missouri until 1976? That's interesting, innit.) Even though the day has much significance for those/we in the LDS community, it is, like I said, a state holiday and actually celebrates and honors all pioneers who came to Utah, not just those who were Mormons.
The pioneers traveled in companies, in general pushing/pulling their belongings in handcarts across the plains and through the mountains. Now, I've driven and flown across this country quite a few times, and if there's one thing I know for sure, it's this: I wouldn't want to WALK across this country. Some of the pioneer companies left late in the season, which is to say: too late. As in, winter hit and they ran out of food. Very tragic stories abound from these companies, as well as inspiring rescue stories, but many people died, and that's sad. It's easy for us, today, to be critical of how things went down: they shouldn't have left so late, they shouldn't have burned their blankets, they should have rationed their food better, the rescuers should have come sooner, yada yada. Still, it's reported that of those who survived and were in the Martin and Willie handcart companies, not a one, when it was all said and done, ever complained. I don't know that I wholeheartedly believe that, but I do believe that to have survived such an ordeal must result in lasting faith and gratitude, and a legacy not to be forgotten.
So. I've given you the background. And this is where I tell you that sometimes, for an activity, Mormons dress up like pioneers and walk in pioneers' footsteps. In places like Wyoming.
I know it sounds weird. It is pretty weird. And we don't do EVERYTHING like the pioneers did. For example, when we went, it was summer, not the dead of winter. And we were only there for four days. And we had things like People To Cook All Our Meals, and a toilet, and even a sink to wash our dishes. And we had water and tents. And shoes. And, of course, as pointed out by Josh: we also didn't get dysentery and coyotes didn't eat our children.
Okay, then why did we do it?
Well, it was our congregation's annual Youth Conference, a 'fun' weekend for the 12-18 crowd. Traveling out-of-state (and local conferences, for that matter) requires chaperons, and Darin and I volunteered, mentioning that we'd be bringing our entire circus. Our congregation does this Pioneer Trek about every 5 years or so, and with our oldest being 14, we figured that this is this only time our entire family would be able to go together before our oldest goes off to university.
In preparation for the Trek we had to gather a lot of equipment. We ended up buying a new tent and packed most of our belongings in 5 gallon buckets, which make for adequate seats when needed. Also, I sewed nine skirts. I'll repeat that: I sewed nine skirts. We made sure each kid had two pairs of shoes and a mess kit, and we were ready to go.
As part of the experience, each youth (and some adults) were given a name and background story of an actual pioneer. This proved to be more effective than I thought it would be - the kids really seemed to be invested in the people they learned about while in the very place that affected them so profoundly. People really got in to it.
The whole idea is to connect to our past. As for myself, I don't have ancestors who crossed the plains; in my family I'm the one who crossed the plains, and I did it in 1996, in a Jeep. Even so, I am grateful for what those early saints did. I know I can't begin to imagine all they experienced, but having been at the rescue location of Martin's Cove did give me more of a sense of closeness to those who sacrificed.
Throughout our days there we had people teaching us and sharing story after story, and for most of them I just sat there and listened and encouraged my children to drink more water. I figured I was there to encourage the kids to have a good experience, and since I hated being out in the heat, I could just keep those feelings to myself while playing the part of supportive adult and cheerleader -- after all, we were there for the kids. One teaching moment, however, completely caught me by surprise: I watched my friend Catherine reenact one pioneer woman's story of having to pull her husband in a cart. The pioneer woman (I forgot her name) was small in stature, maybe shorter than five feet, and not large. She was weak from lack of food. Her husband, a very large man had been injured and decided to give up -- he just decided to quit and let the cold and the animals take him, he was done. His wife would not accept this fate and decided that she would not go on without him, so she pulled him in their cart. Alone. In the snow. Now, watching the reenactment, I should describe to you that Catherine matches the description of the woman -- she's taller than 5', but she's tiny, an athletic build, she just ran the Boston Marathon this year (she has been known to run several marathons a year). She's very strong. Her husband, Scott, isn't near the large pioneer description we had heard. We watched Scott sit in the cart -- with no other belongings -- while Catherine, strong, fit, Catherine, struggled to pull that cart up a dirt hill in the summer. She couldn't do it. Could not. Yet, we had just learned about an exhausted, starving pioneer woman who pulled her large husband, and, presumably, their belongings, up a hill in the snow with Wyoming's fierce and biting wind, and in the process saved her husband's life. After about a minute of watching Catherine not be able to move forward any more, dozens of the youth ran down the hill to help her the rest of the way. And a lump formed in my throat at the same time I got something caught in my eye. You know.
As much as I was bugged by the heat and the stupid clothes we had to wear, somewhere on a bluff in Nowhere, Wyoming, I looked at the sky and thought it was beautiful.
Now, the question I get about Trek the most: would I do it again?
I can't talk about that right now. Ask me again in five years or whatever. We'll see.
Happy Pioneer Day!