Sunday, August 11, 2013

Marion Lake 2013

This may not be entertaining, informative, or even interesting, but it’s a special experience i want to remember.  There are so many thoughts and experiences trying to get out that it is not likely this record will be very readable to start with, but I need to write before I forget.

Friday and Saturday, August 9 and 10, was the long-awaited backpacking trip with Lilli. Both of us overscheduled, we had this one opportunity to get out and enjoy a trip together.  We planned to go to Marion Lake again.  This is where we went last year about the end of August, and had such a struggle getting to the Lake.  

I’m such a slowpoke getting ready for anything, and even though I was prepping for it a week or so in advance, we were not ready to get out the door until after 11 am.  The weather has been so consistently dry and warm the last few weeks, but I did remember to check the forecast and noticed that it included a call for thunderstorms (30% chance, as they say), both Friday and Saturday.  For that I made sure to add in rain ponchos, but otherwise didn’t think much of it.

Wendy arranged for us to meet her mom on the highway near our trailhead to get a dragon-head prop which barely fit into the car with our backpacks, and made us laugh a little.  We visited for a few minutes and then, nearing 3 pm, we started up the road to the trailhead only to be reminded by a sign that we needed parking passes.  We went back to Detroit. I called Wendy and let her know that because we were so late getting started today we would want to enjoy a full day on Saturday, so we might not report in to her until as late as 7 pm.

We arrived at the trailhead and prepared to depart.  It was about 4 pm when we got on the trail.  We had done better preparation for what Lilli should be carrying, and a little practice hiking - though not as much as last year.  We started out strong; the sun was shining.

From early in the day I caught myself initiating many “disputations” with her, or pursuing them when she started them up  Contradictions, arguments, etc.  As the “adult” I often feel my children should be grateful when I correct them when they misunderstand something or mis-state something.  Like the rest of my Children, Lilli doesn’t seem to appreciate this service I provide, but follows the example I set and she corrects me right back.  I committed to her early in the day that I would curb my argumentative behavior.  I had some success at that, but mostly remembered after the fact, and apologized.

We headed into the forest and soon noticed the forest got extremely dark - much more than it should before 5 pm.  I knew a thunderhead was passing over.  We started to hear thunder in the distance, which was frightening to Lilli.  I told her about Lehi’s dream, and about the darkness and about the beautiful tree of life with the white fruit.

There were moments when the lightning struck close and she would scream and say she wants to go home.  We stopped walking a few times.  I sang Hymns to her and we prayed together once.   I do worry that she doesn’t have the confidence to pray herself, buI think it will come.  Teh wind blew needles out of the tops of the trees onto us - I thought it was rain every time it happened, but then I told her it was the fiery darts of the adversary.  She had enough concerns in her mind that I don’t think she cared what my lessons were at this point.

The most frightening thing for me was the wind.  Yes, Lightning can be dangerous, but I figured as long as we were surrounded by tall trees in every direction, the danger for us was relatively low.  But at one point we heard a tree fall, and that got me worried and alarmed her.  A few minutes later I saw that we were heading into an area with younger, more slender trees, and that they were swaying violently at the top.  We retreated back a few yards, though I didn’t tell her what I was worried about.   I said a prayer in my heart, and when I felt assured, we went forward.

Meanwhile, the rain was finally making its way through all the fir needles to start wetting us.  I was a little slow getting out our pack covers and our rain ponchos.  I couldn’t find mine the first few places I looked in the pack, so i got more and more wet.

Eventually we came to Ann lake, and there was still plenty of lightning nearby.  I didn’t want to pass by the small open area yet, so we went into an area of thick foliage and stayed out of the rain for a bit.  

As the rain and lightning tapered, we continued our trip and arrived at Marion lake.  At Ann Lake there was a little tent beside the trail.  I exchanged greetings.  It was a woman who started on the trail just a few minutes before us.  I’ll tell you about that later.  Another good analogy to sharing the gospel.

The weather was clearing, so we considered going around the lake.  But we were tired, and we couldn’t easily find the trail, so we stayed on the near end of the lake - the only area I had explored to this point. We found a flat place to put the tent which had a log nearby to set out our things and use as a table.  There was also a laundry line close by.  The storm was gone, but the rain was still dripping heavily off the trees, so I tried to keep the rain fly on top of the tent while I set it up - normally you put it on afterward.  In the process of getting the tent up and the beds out of the packs and into the tents, I managed to get distracted and let Lillis bag get a bit dripped on before it went into the tent.  Oops. So I let her have mine and I slept in hers.

We made dinner - hot chocolate to start, so we could warm up, followed by mashed potatoes, then a canned pasta thing which was kind of gross.  Our bodies were warming up.  Lilli wanted to get in her sleeping bag, so i let her do that while i did dishes and tried to prep our camp for the possibilities of rain and critters in the night.  I made one more pan of mashed potatoes and shared it with her through a small utility door.

We arrived at camp around six or six 30 and she was in bed probably by 8:00  and I was in by 9:30.  We had taken more than 2 hours to get to camp because of delays by the weather.

Eventually I got myself ready for bed.  She had been reading “voyage of the dawn treader” on my phone.   I found out right away that there was a lump in the middle of my bed.  My mattress seemed too thin, and it was the slippery one, and the surface on my side of the tent sloped enough to get me off that lump in the middle of the bed anyway.  Worse than that was the fact that the bag Lilli brought was not a mummy bag, so my shoulders were cold until sometime later I decided to put on my damp sweatshirt.  About 2:30 I prayed for just one more miracle today, that I could sleep, and I did - for four hours.  I did read to her for a while til she fell asleep around 10:30.  At about midnight a frog was crawling in our rain ponchos, which were sheltering our boots.  I didn’t know what it was at first and assumed it was a rodent or marsupial trying to get into our things.  The plastic was loud and woke me up, and in turn I woke up Lilli when I was trying to scare the intruder away.

Saturday morning was beautiful.  The sun came out and warmed things up comfortably in our shaded camp.  Some college-age guys had come in late the night before (they were one of the many reasons I couldn’t sleep) and one of them took a bath naked in the lake where Lilli could see.  She turned away and didn’t freak out.  We had oatmeal, hot cocoa and sausage for breakfast.  We got all our dishes done, played frisbee, and went fishing right by our tent for a while.  Actually, I think I did dishes while she fished - and I would come down and help her from time to time.  We aired our packs out, which had been under plastic during the night.  Eventually we were done with our fishing practice (no bites - not surprising) and ready to go on to another activity.  

We packed up everything as if we were ready to leave, except left the tent standing and and put all our gear into it except our daypacks.   That way we could come back to the tent for shelter if needed.

We took our lunch and our poles and went around the north side of the lake for the first time.  We saw that there are many more good campsites, and many of them were occupied.  We debated (each other) about how far to go.  I wanted to get clear around to the east end. We didn’t make it to the northeast corner, but close.  We found a place which might be interesting to fish.  And got out where we could see the sky and found that it was beginning to look threatening.  And we found that Lilli’s sandals had come loose and were not on her daypack where they should be.  We prayed to find them, and between that and the weather, decided not to fish but to return to camp.  

Lilli was quite concerned about the weather, and I don’t know if it was fear, inspiration, or good judgement, but she insisted and pushed/dragged me back to camp.  My map says our hike was 1.35 miles one way.  Without a pack she’s almost faster than me, but we’re pretty well matched.  On the return we found her sandals.  As we walked, like Friday, the humidity began to climb and we knew a storm was coming.

As we got within five minutes of our camp, we considered stopping to fish. Where we stood we could see the thunderstorm active in the west, and that the weather was moving from east to west.  The storm was trying to spread back to us upwind, but we remained just out of its reach.  Whatever was coming from the east was out of our visibility.  We decided to return to the tent.  As we arrived it was starting to sprinkle, and the sound of thunder was growing closer.  There wasn’t much wind, though.

We got into the tent - even had time to take off our boots and put them inside, in the corners.  There were several close thunder cracks, and then the wind picked up sharply and chilled the tent considerably.  Lilli could see the lake, and said, Dad, fish are jumping!

I turned to look and saw that the wind was whipping up the lake, and there were splashes that defied explanation.  She said, “are those apples?”  Then a few of the apples landed in the camp and I saw that what we had was golf-ball sized hail.  This was one of the scariest moments of the trip for me.  I had no idea whether our tent would hold out hailstones that big.  I thought they might pierce right through, so Lilli and I put our daypacks on our heads, huddled close and prayed for protection.  Eventually enough stones had hit our tent and bounced off that the fear was gone and we giggled a bit.  We looked outside in awe.

This lasted a minute or two.  As it moved off to the west we could hear the thunderous sound of the hail mixed with the thunder of lightning.  It sounded like a thousand horses running through the forest.  There was a convenient intermission where we went out and picked up some giant hailstones and got some great pictures.  Then some sprinkles started, so we got back in.  Then a “regular” hail storm came and nearly buried the big hail stones.  That was incredibly loud in the tent, and it got quite cold.  We got our sleeping bags out and got into them as the temperature kept dropping.  The hail lasted five minutes or so and the rain continued on for an hour.  The whole storm had us in the tent for about two hours.

The ground became saturated and the floor of the tent became icy cold.  That’s what got me into my bag.  We read some more from dawn treader.

When it eventually died down we loaded up our packs, got out of the tent and put it away and started down the trail. It was probably about five oclock.  About an hour later than we had hoped.
The trail was amazing.  There was a mixture of pine sprigs and hailstones making a Christmas carpet that smelled nice.

Eventually we got to the car, and found it damaged.  Dents in the metal and cracks in the windshield.  Mine seemed to be the most damaged vehicle, though I did see some evidence on others.  

OK, what did I forget to tell?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Loss of Henry Hill, and the Gain for the Rest of Us

We, the school board, made the decision to “close” Henry Hill, one of our four elementary schools.  The facts are pretty harsh: the education budget shrinks while the mandated services rise.  Three schools are sufficient to facilitate the population.  The economy has been poor, and there is no light at the end of the narrow tunnel for education funding.  There is also no evidence that lawmakers at both state and federal levels will ever understand that no organization – educational or otherwise – can operate effectively given the spiderweb of constraints that have been institutionalized.

The suggestion was initially bold and bright, and at the same time heretical.  This is not the kind of conversation we were accustomed to having, but the priorities make sense.  Classroom funds up, administration expenses down.  However, I grossly underestimated the resistance to the idea that would be felt in the community.  To me, school A vs. school B makes little difference.  They have the same stripe, and I would have generally trusted any administration of any district I might live in to determine how many schools are needed.

But that is not at all how the families feel who attend that school that is targeted for closure.  They seem to take that building and its educational environment as an integral part of their neighborhood and community.  I am beginning to see that my absence of feeling for that aspect of the asset is a personal defect in my character and in my understanding of what community means.  Even so, I guess that more people feel the way I do than the number who feel attached to a particular place for their children to get their education.

That means there is something special and different about the Henry Hill neighborhood, and I believe it is tied intimately with the fact that it is somewhat an immigrant neighborhood.  One of the well-spoken representatives of the parents’ community from that school admitted that for him, as a Caucasian native Oregonian, which school his kids attend was not as big an issue.  But he passionately explained the vital function the school performs for the immigrant community.

There's much I don't know about here.

Perhaps the high density of immigrants in this school  – matching their neighborhoods – offers them the security of likeness or sameness.  Perhaps the safety and social well-being they feel at this school comes from a certain amount of isolation from the larger culture of Monmouth and Independence.  That special sense of community emanating from the school building is special, good and admirable.  But at the same time it may be a sign that this little community may be isolating its children from some of the influences that will better prepare them for life.  

I don’t know well enough to judge.

But I believe if likeness and sameness have been part of the ingredients to the feeling of community surrounding that school, it is no less a value, and no less a miracle.

I remember a special community I was a part of for three years.  It was called Wyview, and it was a trailer park – married student housing at BYU.  It was filled with several hundred families with a thousand things in common: we were Mormons; we were young, married, college students, most with children, but none with teenagers; all poor, or humble enough to live in 40-year old drafty, leaky trailers – not manufactured homes, mind you – but with tin siding and actual wheels.

This was a special neighborhood, and a special time of life for me.  I felt security and friendship in that neighborhood; entertainment was plentiful, safe, and cheap, with walks, playgrounds, potlucks and outdoor games.  We worshipped together; studied together; played together, and served each other – like when a blizzard dumped two feet in one night, or the power went out for a day, or when anyone was sick, or busy, or sad.  The women especially were in tune with all the other families.

There is no direct comparison to the neighborhoods in Independence around the Henry Hill School, because the Wyview neighborhood was, by definition, temporary.  None of us would be living there if we graduated, took an absence from school, or allowed one of our children to advance past the age of 11.  Those where the rules.  We would be leaving it behind after only a few years and we all knew it.  But this much I can learn from my experience there that compares to the grief our district is experiencing today: I LOVED that neighborhood, and I miss it.  It was incredibly easy to get to know and love any of my neighbors, however briefly we might share a stretch of grass, a driveway and a laundry.   It was easy because of our similarities, and the many friendships planted there sprouted up quickly and have endured for years.

In South Independence, I suppose that children walk together with their friends to the Henry Hill school, and perhaps with their parents also, chatting and supporting each other in life and parenthood, and in their unique position in our local American culture.  I suppose that when families gather to watch their children in school events there is a broad sense of family that is greater than the sum of the homes.  I suppose that friendly teachers encourage trust and feelings of security in children and their parents.  That is admirable and desirable, and we should each as individuals be seeking that kind of community in any school we attend or work in, any church we participate in, and in the sporting and other clubs we support after work and after school. 

Unfortunately – speaking for myself – I have never developed that sense of community anywhere else I have lived since Wyview.  At least not based in a geographical neighborhood.  But I feel a similar sense of belonging with my colleagues at work, my associates on the school board, in my fellow worshipers at Church and in the performing arts booster club at the high school.

The sense of community that I personally feel from each of these associations is borne somewhat out of our sameness, but more so out of our common struggles, joint sacrifices, and shared accomplishments.  I have grown to appreciate and love people with whom I have very little in common except a narrow band of interests in our lives. 

In these associations it is me that has been changed, and it is my sense of connection to the community that has grown.  I have learned to respect gay people; I have learned to understand people whose first language is not English – not only their words, but as much as possible their perspectives; I have learned that small towns and large cities have completely different mechanisms for community, and that Portland is farther away from me than a small town in northern Idaho.

I have learned to trust people I consider "rich" because they have more than I do, and give successful people a chance to like me in my mismatched clothing, with my poor posture and drowsy disposition; I have learned that I don’t have much talent, but I have admired the creative minds of others and I have gained an ability to recognize the talents in the people around me that I need to rely on.  I experienced the joy giving money and food to people who asked, even though at first I felt unsure about how much they would appreciate my gift.

I have learned to forgive people in authority whose judgment I disagreed with, and more importantly, perhaps, I learned to trust myself enough to speak out and tell them that I disagree.   I have been offended and have had to cool down, and I have been humbled by the forgiveness of near strangers whom I offended in my fear and haste.  I have been touched by people’s concern for me, and I have tried to stretch my heart and reach out to others outside the comfort zone of people who are just like me.  

In attempting to associate with people different from me I have learned that fear is the unnecessary anticipation of imaginary pains.  I have learned that others also struggle with fear, and that I have not yet grown to the level of understanding they deserve.  

I’m going on and on in my private musings without being interesting to anyone not inside my head – so I’ll get to this point: community does not originate with a school or a neighborhood, it originates with people. 

And it will not die with the changes to a neighborhood or changes in the patterns of our lives.  But we CAN kill the sense of community with or without a school or a park or a church or path.  We have that capability.  All it takes is for us, the humans in this thing called community, to determine we will cease to reach out, that we will stop participating, that we will act in anger and vengeance, that we will stick with our own kind, that we will fear the future and cling to the past.

Years after leaving that treasured home at BYU, I returned, and found the trailers gone.  In the place of the rusty boxes with grass around each home, there were three-story apartment buildings – twelve units per building.  There was new blacktop on roads that didn’t even follow the same paths the old roads had; There were far more families, and fewer playgrounds.  My brother and his wife were living just a hundred yards over and 30 feet up from where Wendy and I had lived with our two little girls.  He didn’t know his neighbors.

Miraculously, a familiar tree – don’t ask me the variety, but I would call it a shade tree, nearly as broad as it was tall – still stood  in the spot that had been a sort of communal front yard, between our home and the Shurtz home.  As I write this I remember our children playing together; us relaxing and chatting together; helping each other move furniture. A couple of times we organized “block party” style community events. 

I miss those days and I miss that neighborhood.  It will never be back.  But the friends I made there will always be in my heart; the beauty I felt there I will always recognize when I see it in a new place; the lessons I learned there have changed me for the better.

If I failed to bring those gifts from that special community to the new communities I have been a part of, then I have failed indeed.

And that’s what I hope from the families of Henry Hill.  Will you please, please, bring that sense of community that you have been so blessed with and impart it to the other schools you will be attending?   You have not been robbed of your community school.  In fact, you have been kidnapped from it.  We have stolen you, that truly special treasure, meaning a group of people who know what a beautiful community is, and we are taking you with us into our other schools.   You are the seeds of a garden of human goodness, and I hope and pray that you will grow and spread your love to your new school communities.  

Yes, it’s corny, but it’s sincere . . .

I know we have a lot of work to do to nourish the transplanted roots; but I trust in the quality of your characters.  You have such great value.  Not only can we not afford to lose any of you, we cannot afford not to learn what you have to teach.