A DISASTER GONE SPIRITUAL
Is it possible that something on the face is a complete disaster but can turn out to be a great spiritual experience? It happened to us this week.
We were honored to be invited to go to Wyoming with Jolene Allphin and a group of 30 guests to visit the Handcart sites. Jolene and Sherryl Fowers have been doing this for 15 years and look on this gathering as somewhat of a mission. When it was over I understood why. They tell heart filled stories on the sites as they happened during the fateful disaster in October and November 1856 at Martin’s Cove, Rock Creek and other meaningful sites in the area.
Storms were brewing as we left our home early Wednesday morning. The group met at 8:30 AM in Evanston, Wyoming. We were introduced to our trail boss, Larry Walker, who had served a mission at the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater handcart site. He was instrumental in designing the trails for the handcart groups doing treks in the area. The trail boss and storytellers used walkie-talkies for direction to the 8 cars during the three days of traveling around. They worked pretty well.
The first day we tried to get out of the car at Ft. Bridger and other sites but the drizzly rain and wind made it difficult. We ended up spending a lot of time in the missionary humanitarian compound telling stories at the Willie Sweetwater Sixth Crossing. There is a big warehouse on this site with a workshop on one end and a sewing center on the other where the missionaries produce humanitarian supplies to donate. There is a large meeting hall in the middle. The ladies there said they make as many as 3 quilts a day. They all have a camper close by where they sleep and spend non-working time. This is a 6 month mission and I never thought I wanted to do it but it looked like they were having a lot of fun and doing good. They help the stake treks during the summer; they man the visitor center and besides their humanitarian efforts, they square dance, have devotionals and eat together often. They have had as many as 70 couples at both sites.
We had an interesting group with 6 small to medium, well-behaved children, 3 teens, two young married women without their husbands, 4 empty nester couples, 2 men without their wives, a lady from Brazil, an older widow (Sister Hinckley’s sister Joann Baird), A young married couple with the girl’s mother and two women without their husbands. One of the empty nesters was Michael Moody who spent many years as the director of music for the church. He wrote the music to "This Is The Christ" among other things. It was a joy to have him play and accompany our singing on several occasions.
The first evening we met at the Riverton Wyoming Stake Center for a fireside with President Anderson who helped compile the "Remember" book http://www.amazon.com/Remember-Handcart-Companies-Rescuers-Present/dp/B000CD96SW (must be out of print--it is pricy) which is about the past and present rescue of the Martin and Willie Handcart companies. The "Second Rescue" was the effort of the Riverton Stake to do the temple work for all the members of these companies plus the rescuers. This was an amazing experience for the members there. President Anderson related many wonderful stories about how the Second Rescue came about. Our spirits were filled. The current Stake President’s wife, Amy Phister, joined us for the rest of the week. She spent years organizing the treks before the missionaries took over and is still involved. She was the model for some of Julie Rogers paintings on the http://www.tellmystorytoo.com site--namely "Give Thy Angels Charge" and "The Vault of Heaven." Jolene's book on this site is a treasure trove of handcart stories.
The second day it rained in torrents all day keeping us out of most of the places we wanted to go but Jolene kept us inspired with stories and songs. We had a nice program inside the Muddy Gap Cabin where many of us told our stories dressed in pioneer clothing. We visited the Martin visitors center that afternoon and many of our group walked out to Martin’s Cove in pouring rain with 6 inches of water on the path. They came back soaked, cold, but uplifted. Some of us stayed in the log kitchen and made a stew, headed up by James Oliphant. We had a nice dinner together and then another program with more stories and singing.
On the third day we had another great program with a group of missionaries at the Sweetwater Sixth Crossing, Willie Site including a re-enactment of the burial at Rock Creek where 13 were buried in a circle, feet in, covered by white linen sheets and snow. The ground was too frozen to dig a grave. One of the pioneers had these sheets in their handcart saving them for a home in Zion. It was a very touching scene. The original plan was to do it on the very spot at the site but the road to Rock Creek was impassable because of the rain. It cleared a bit in the afternoon and we were able to get out and walk along the Sweetwater together and pull a few handcarts around.
That night we ate meatloaf together at the Grubstake in Atlantic City, which is the last town before the road to Rock Creek. Since we were the only people in the restaurant the owner let us stay to tell more stories and sing together. Some of the group braved the snow and mud that night and went to Rock Creek to sleep...and I mean "brave"! We slept at our nice bed and breakfast with the mystic hippies who owned it. The next morning we would wake to 3 inches of snow. I could look across the plains and imagine how it must have looked to those pioneers those many years ago. How daunting that must have been.
We left that morning and my spirit was filled with the sweet songs and stories told with such emotion and love these last few days. I have been to these places before but telling the stories while we were there made a difference in my understanding of the sacrifice and suffering...and our bad weather made me more empathetic to theirs.
Our group was awesome beyond words. They would be my pick of mates if we ever did this for real. Thanks to Jolene Allphin for her passion and knowledge of the stories. She is a true inspiration. This may be her last year...she says but I don’t know if she will be able to stay away, unless it is raining and snowing again.