The summer after my junior year in high school, my family took a long Fourth of July weekend to travel into the mountains near our home and camp out. My family enjoyed camping. We always used a tent and cooked over a campfire. The natural world was a way for us to reconnect with each other and God as a family. Sometimes we would fish or do some light hiking, but usually, we would just relax and soak in the deep odor of pine, the rustling of Aspen leaves as the wind weaves its way through the jumble of peaks, the chipmunks and squirrels bumming left over crumbs from the last meal, and the quiet you could reach out and touch with your soul as if it were a heavy comforter protecting your spirit from the rush of a metallic, synthetic world. We would allow ourselves to get in synche with the rythms of the great unrushed creation.
On this particular trip, my family consisted of my mom, dad, brother, Bill, sister-in-law, Margaret, family friend, Darrell…and Sam our Irish Setter. I’m not sure who it was that found the camp sight, but it was a new one for us. Another common activity for our family was to explore using our car. We sometimes would take a map and just drive, so any of us might have come across the sign for a new, unseen lake and took the turn. I don’t remember the name, to be honest, but I know how to get there. I took my kids there two summers ago to retrace a memorable hike Darrell, Sam and I took.
As a group, probably due to the suggestion of Bill, (he has always been one to explore) we decided to take a short hike shown on a map of the area. This was a short hike, about a mile, and we decided we could do it together. Together obviously meant that Sam would go with us. Sam was my mountain companion while we lived in Colorado. She was my fishing partner when I escaped into the hills during the summer. Sam loved to follow the scents in larger and larger circles until I could no longer hear her and would call her back from the edge of some abys or just short from the skunk of which she was in pursuit. As our group approached the trail head, we noticed a sign listing the possible trails we could take and their respective distances. One trail that piqued the interest of Darrell and me was one of only 2 and a half miles… only a mile and a half longer than what we were already expecting to hike…. “That’s not bad,” we thought. So after we reached the smaller lake on the initial segment of the trail and the planned destination, Darrell and I decided we would keep going to the next place on the trail….a pass.
The first segment had been an easy walk through an evergreen forrest, the pathway made spongy by layers of pine needles. As we walked, some talking, others of us content to let our senses expand and take it in, Sam ran, her nose to the ground with tail swinging in long sweeping arcs and long red hair following as a graceful shadow. We reached the lake quickly and spent some time enjoying the quiet near the shimmering water, like a mirror tucked within the majesty of the towering peaks. Eventually, everybody else returned to the tent, to read or get the next meal ready. Darrell, Sam and I set off. The trail started out climbing only slightly more than before, but as we continued to walk, the trees began to thin as did the air. We were already at about 9000 feet above sea level, so our breathing was a little heavier than normal. Sam, however, continued to scramble with no apparent effect. Leaving the trees behind, we climbed to the base of a large boulder field which was descending from the summit towards which we were ascending. At this point, the trail began to switch back and forth in zig zags which controlled the angle of incline, but also lengthened the distance of the hike. So Darrell and I decided to climb straight up. The angle of the slope was not steep, yet at such a hight altitude, climbing roughly another 1000 feet in a fairly short distance caused us to take frequent breaks with heaving chests and shaking limbs. All the while, Sam continued to scramble around on the rocks, running 4 feet for every foot we travelled, except she would follow one scent trail 20 feet higher up the slope, find a better scent trail going down the mountain and follow it until it petered out 20 feet below us. Darrell and I watched her, looked at each other breathlessly and shook our heads, incapable of speech.
Reaching the pass itself, we found it to be a fairly flat meadow of alpine grass and vegetation broken frequently with rocks. Foolishly, we hadn’t brought any water with us, and we ALL WERE THIRSTY. Wandering around a little, we found a rock, hollowed out by the elements to create a natural basin in which three or four inches of clear water had collected. Darrell and I each took our turns holding Sam back while the other drank, then we let Sam drink her fill. That water was by far the best water I have ever had, and it seemed to be prepared for just the occasion.
The trail continued down the other side of the pass until it eventually ended at Grand Lake, a further hike of 10 more miles, but that would be for another time. I followed the trail until it began the first switchback and I was able to peek over the edge to see Colorado’s largest natural lake and the deepest in the United States in the distance. I told myself at the time, that one day I would return to follow the trail into Grand. I have yet to make good on my promise, yet still hope to finish what I started those 32 years ago.
As I turned to the east and walked to the other edge of the pass, I was amazed to see how the mountains unfolded into the prairie of eastern Colorado. Just to the northeast, Denver could faintly be seen through the brown haze covering it in the late 1970’s. It seemed as if the horizon would never stop my view, because I was so high. Magnificent. That must be how God sees through time, His view not obscured by a horizon of limits.
Last night I was outside enjoying the quiet of the neighborhood. As I leaned on the trunk of my disabled car, I looked into the sky and began to think of the family in which I was born. My parents were wonderful, loving people. They deeply loved God and people. Their relationship with Him was a living, everyday thing. They both worked hard during their entire lives. I was always fed, clothed and had shelter. I now know that we were poor, but I was completely unaware of it. Connie, my sister, says that Mom could go to an empty cupboard and make a meal. I have seen her do it, too. My dad died when I was in college, and one of my deepest regrets is that my children cannot and will not know the same wonderfully secure heritage I knew in my family. As all dad’s, I have made my share of mistakes. There are certainly many actions I would take back if I could. Actions I would take that I did not. But all that is in the past. However, if I could leave my children with only one quality, it would be faith. A deep settledness that God is forever…that He created and still creates… that He loves them deeply and sees them as beautiful, as do I. And that despite everything, their dad loves them like they cannot fathom. And that I love God to the depths of my soul. I believe that God showed us His love for us by giving a part of Himself to die, taking on our self-centeredness, but that the goodness of His love and nature could not be kept by death. That the original/continual creative power which is His life was reborn as a new man. One who understands our disease of selfishness, yet is able to inocculate us against the effects of our disease upon all we hold dear, and instill a healthy process in its place.
The bible says that God shows His love to up to a thousand generations of those who love Him and walk with him. I have been given a wonderful heritage of people coming before me who have loved God. They haven’t grown disillusioned when life was hard… they understood Gods love wasn’t contingent upon how much money they had, how healthy they were, even in the midst of relational struggles. They trusted God in spite of personal failures and the actions of others on their lives. I saw my parents do it and have heard and read the stories of the people from which I come, living out their faith…their God-given faith… and God has, indeed, shown His love. So through the eyes of faith, I look backwards to God’s provision, love, and blessing in the past.
Now…. it’s time to attack the rest of the trail…