When I was younger I used to go hiking with my grandpa. I enjoyed being in the mountains, it was exciting and fun. Inevitably though, my legs would tire long before his would. Not knowing the trails like he did, I would begin to doubt the wisdom of walking so far. I would begin to ask how much further it was until we would get back to the car. When I could see the car at the trailhead, I knew rest was not far away. He would always say, "it's not far, just two more miles." It didn't seem to matter how long we hiked, the answer was always "two more miles." Even when we were almost there and I could see the car, he would cheerfully say, "just two more miles." As I got older and my legs got stronger we could go on longer hikes. Grandpa loved to climb the fourteeners, peaks over 14,000 feet high. I went on some of those hikes. I didn't always make it to the top. When we climbed Mount Harvard, I gave up just short of 14,000 feet, feeling I could walk no further. My dad stayed with me. We were very high up in the mountain. I could look over the edge of a ridge, it was a dizzying drop and we could feel the wind rushing up the side of the mountain. I could see the rest of the group continuing on to reach the top. I was still very young, but I remember thinking that if I had known that it was only that short distance to the top I probably could have kept going just a little longer.
I got older and stronger and did make it to the top of other peaks. Mount Sherman was not my favorite. We could drive up to 11,000 feet, so it was a short hike, but it seemed like the whole ridge of the mountain was covered in slippery shale. I felt like progress was so slow, as my feet would slide backwards with each step. We were late getting to the top of La Plata, not reaching the top until late afternoon because grandpa did not feel well. My dad's knees locked up on the way down so going down was slow too. I had a flashlight and extra batteries, but they were used up by the time we met the search party coming to look for us from the base camp. It was well after dark before we made it back to camp. It started snowing August 3rd on Long's Peak as we reached the boulder field. We kept going but I didn't have the right gear. Wet and chilled to the core, it took me hours to warm back up. I loved those hikes and others like them. I was with family, I was in the mountains and it was an adventure, and since I'm writing about it now, spoiler alert, we always made it home.
I think there is something in all of us that likes a challenge, and the chance to stretch our abilities. We don't like not knowing how far it is to the end of those challenges. Grandpa would always encourage me to just keep walking. When I was younger I thought if I could just get far enough ahead, I could sit down and rest until everyone caught up, and in that way, I would not wear out. It wasn't a good strategy. I would run to get ahead, and find a place to sit down and rest. Grandpa would catch up to me before I was rested, and I would have to get up and start walking again. My sore legs would protest about getting up again. He assured me that this was a much harder way to hike, and that simply walking was much easier, than running, sitting, and having to get up again. He was right. I did get better at hiking, but I notice that I still have the same tendency to ask when going through a hard time, how much further it is to the end, and then trying to sit down on the trail. Neither strategy is helpful, since asking repeatedly does not change the distance left to go, and sitting down does not get you there faster. It just makes getting started again harder.
We are going through a difficult hike right now in the world with COVID-19. I have wondered how much longer until this problem passes. Grandpa would have said "just two more miles." Spencer W. Kimball who faced many challenges and much adversity in his life said: "There are great challenges ahead of us, giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, 'Give me this mountain,' Give me these challenges." He and grandpa both knew how to climb the mountains of our lives. They knew that giving in, and giving up won't get you where you want to be. What I have learned over the years is that focusing on the distance left has often kept me from enjoying the view and the good parts of the hike. I've also learned to love the effort, the attempt, even if you don't get to the top the first time. It's amazing to sit in the tops of the mountain and look down at the clouds and birds and mountains below. But we only stay a few minutes at the top. We have to get down off the peak before the afternoon thunderstorms roll in and back down to the camp. You can drive to the top of Mt. Evans, and we have done that too. But it is just not the same without the effort involved in the other climbs. The appreciation of the amazing view is mostly a feeling of wonder that you have climbed it yourself. So we take in the thrilling view, and then keep hiking, finding joy in the journey, because no one gets to just hang out at the peak.
In March, schools were cancelled for a little bit, then a little longer. Steven was told to work from home for a few weeks, then a few weeks longer, and then another few weeks were added. Closures of businesses continue to pile up and the list of rules for how to behave when going out keeps getting longer. It seems like this hike will never end, and somehow it feels like it is getting longer. I would worry, except I know it will end, and when we get back to the safety of the car at the trailhead, and then back home, what a story we will have to tell. So instead of checking the news feed constantly to see if anyone has seen the end of this trail, or sitting down and letting everyone do whatever they feel like for who knows how long, I need to keep going. How? Counting your blessings, or noticing the good, is one way. Remembering to do what needs to get done is another.
Robert Frost wrote a poem about stopping in the woods on a snowy evening. Though the scene was so beautiful that he pauses in his journey to take it all in, he concludes his poem by saying,
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
He knows he can't stop long, he has to keep going to reach home. So do we. Even though we have been "home" for weeks, there are still things that need to get done. Sitting and waiting won't get me there or get them done.
So what are we doing? Ready or not spring is here! I, like many of you I am really counting on a good garden this year. I check the news and notice that vegetable gardening and chickens are of high interest this year. Food you grow yourself isn't subject to limit one restrictions, amd the price is pretty reasonable. The variety can be exceptional. I would encourage you to grow all that you can. Looking ahead through the troubles that surround us, growing a garden seems like a great strategy, and also good therapy. It gets you outside in the sunshine, which always makes me happier.
So far this year we have planted peas, kale, chard, cabbage and onions. We have planted raspberries, rhubarb and boysenberries that came in the mail. We have pruned the elderberries, and hooked up the rain barrels. Steven and Robert are working on building another greenhouse in the garden, since we are past capacity in the other greenhouses. Megan is backfilling all the trays I used to start tomatoes with seeds for the cut flower garden she has planned for this summer. I'm working on my goal of making videos for a YouTube channel. We get lots of questions about gardening, and want to be able to help new gardeners have a good experience and success with gardening. We are working hard to get ready for our spring plant sale. We are planting, watering and transplanting, and planting some more. However long this takes, we will be in a better spot if we keep going with our garden plans. We are also contemplating expanding our garden. I have drawn and redrawn plans for flower beds, and additional vegetable beds. We want to find a way to utilize the space currently under the greenhouses in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, and also helps us with the problem of muddy patches in the yard that are caused by having the greenhouses up for several months each year. So we are dreaming and planning.
We are looking ahead to see if we can spot potential problems in our plans. We notice that seeds are selling fast, and so is canning equipment. Since we preserve so much of what we eat in the garden, we are trying to source things that we will use later in the season for canning. We have a year's supply of canning lids bought on sale at the end of the canning season, but we also need things like lemon juice for tomatoes, sugar for jams, and sauce mixes for things like pickles and spaghetti sauce. I'll get what we need now, so I don't have to worry about finding it when I need it later.
We are trying to be more intentional with our time. It is tempting to just sit down and wait until everything returns to normal, but like sitting down on the trail, it's really not helpful. Kids with unlimited screen time are cranky, and prone to fighting with each other. I get cranky when I feel like I'm the only one cleaning up. We needed a better plan. Yesterday, we made block schedules and planned out our day. We weren't super strict about it, but with a plan and a purpose in mind, we accomplished so much more. We worked on our goals. There was exercise, instrument practice, learning and helping. Yay! We are trying to reach out to friends and family, and to stay in contact with and lift others. We are participating in a worldwide fast on Friday for relief from our current troubles. There is lots to do.
I want to look back on this time with joy. This unique time will end. This hike will end and we'll start a new one. Our schedules will fill back up and everyone will have places to go and things to do. I can't see ahead past the current bend in our trail. I don't know what comes next. I do know this is a treasured time to hold them close and just be a family for a little while. In my experience it is easier to hold everyone close and enjoy them after they have worked hard all day and have something to talk about. It's easier to enjoy the day when you've made some headway on your trail. Keep walking. How much longer do we have? About two miles. We've got this mountain!