Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wife Rule #79: There's a Lot to Learn From a Hike

There's a lot to learn from a hike.

My earliest childhood memories of experiencing the Wonder of Nature often involved Dad dragging me off to some corner of the desert and forcing me on a death march up a lonely trail of barren sandstone slick rock, under the intense heat of a baking afternoon sun.

Like a member of a chain gang, I dragged my poor, whining, parched little-boy body up the rock. I always enjoyed whatever landmark was at the destination, but the journey was arduous, the desert landscape lifeless.

Then one day all that changed. I remember the epiphany vividly. We were hiking along the Devil's Garden trail in Arches National Park in eastern Utah. The trail was long for short legs, and the few hundred feet of elevation gain had defeated my will. Another death march, slogging through dry quicksand and up steep, gravelly hills and rocks.

I hardly noticed the beauty of the towering sandstone fins on either side of me. The majesty of seeing Landscape Arch, the world's biggest, along with Dad's stunning revelation that a whole football field would fit inside the hole, faded quickly as the hike turned into a mental battle that I was losing.

Suddenly, the trail left the sand and sage and followed several cairns up onto the top of one of the sandstone fins we had been following. For the first time on the hike, I could see down over the expanse of fractured earth, dotted with pinyon pines and junipers. Each crevasse, full of shadow, held a mystery. The earth was suddenly full of beauty and wonder that I was oblivious to just minutes ago.

The trail continued along the narrow fin, when suddenly the ground fell away from both sides, exposing us to significant drops just a few feet sideways in either direction. I felt like I was on a boardwalk in the sky. It quickly became apparent to me that treating this hike casually could result in a misstep which might send me plunging a hundred feet or more to my death.

This "death factor" kicked into gear certain emotions and physical sensations which I do not remember experiencing before that time in my life. All at once, Dad had an addict on his hands. Energy rushed to my legs, and with my heart pumping and my mind racing, distance and elevation became non-factors. Desert fever had set in. The journey was more captivating than the destination. Another hiking nut was born.

Nearly thirty years, and more than thirty similar hiking trips later, I found myself walking this trail again. This time I had with me my wife, and for the first time, my five kids. My parents and my brother and his wife and children were also there. In all, six adults were shepherding eight children ages eight and under along a somewhat treacherous stretch of trail. As a father responsible for my children's safety, I felt the "death factor" like I hadn't in years, as I watched my kids navigate carefully the narrow fin, knowing that at this moment, any stumble or trip could be disastrous.

Why would my wife and I willingly subject ourselves to this risk and anxiety, which would not exist if we had just stayed in the car?

Well, my wife mainly does it for me. And I do it because my father did it first.

You see, there is value in such an experience. If the world were always experienced via looking out the window of the back seat of a car (not a totally safe environment either, by the way), so much would be missed. Life is about getting out on your own two feet, and expending a little effort slogging through the sand, and climbing the hills on the trail. Life is also about those moments that burn powerful memories in your mind--those epiphanies--that only occur on the high roads, where the ascent involves some risk and you have to watch your step, but the vistas are incredible and the sensation of walking in the sky is unforgettable.

As a father, I want nothing more than to share the exhilaration I felt in such growth with my own children. I want them to have every good experience and good thing that I have enjoyed.

Isn't that how it is with our Heavenly Father? Isn't that why He sent us to earth, to get out and walk on our own two feet and exert a little effort and struggle and eventually to rise to heights never before experienced?

And doesn't He watch over us carefully, letting us walk, but staying close by, ever close by, to lend a hand over the tricky spots and to remind us not to stray to the right or left on His path to the sky? Doesn't He send His angels to help with anxious hearts and able hands?

So, we follow His lead. We learn from Him, and then encourage our own children to follow our leads. We share with them the best hikes we know, and walk alongside them to help the journey be safe. All the stories, and descriptions, and pictures in the world can never match the experience of walking the trail ourselves.

I wasn't disappointed that day with my kids; they were tough on the trail and they loved the views.

Yes, there's a lot to learn from a hike.


Jenny and Al said...

Ha ha! Hopefully you guys didn't let Mike lead you on any "shortcuts" on that hike. :) I wish we had been there.

Shell said...

How could you be scared of having them walk on a fairly even surface, but have no qualms lowering them down a cliff in the fiery furnace? I will never understand you Curtis Boys!

LuckyMatt said...

It's all about whose feet are on the ground. My kids still fall down in the middle of an empty room.