I just got home Saturday after spending a week with my daughter Sarah and her two oldest daughters at their Stake's handcart trek. It was a wonderful experience in spite of the hot, sweaty, dirty, and tired aspects. There were a number of things that made a great impression on me. First and foremost we are serious wimps compared to our pioneer ancestors. We trekked about 5 miles on most days whereas the Mormon handcart pioneers traveled from 16 to 20 miles on most days. We had unlimited availability of drinking water and our rations were really more than we needed. There was no hard tack and thin gruel. I didn't even manage to lose any weight by the end of the week. We even had the gall to complain about the toilet facilities. The real pioneers had no toilet facilities and took significant casualties during their experience. The youth did get a good glimpse of the sacrifices made by our pioneer ancestors and gain some appreciation for value of their gifts to us.
Sarah and I were not assigned to a particular handcart "family" but were part of the activities staff. Consequently I ended up doing some cooking in the staff area and assisted in pulling/pushing one of the staff handcarts. Sarah had told me that I wouldn't have to pull a handcart, but we would just have to walk along with the handcarts. However, I was quickly shamed into pulling as I watched a member of their Stake Presidency, age 68, pulling a staff handcart that was definitely undermanned. As I hung out and assisted with camp duties in the staff area I spent a great deal of time talking with President Richardson, President Robinson, members of the Stake Young Women's and Young Men's presidencies, the wonderful people assigned to the medical staff, and others The fact that I was hot, dirty, sweaty, and tired seemed of little consequence. It was a very uplifting experience to say the least. It just reinforced for me how easy it is to feel happy when you are in the company of really good people. Later, I had the occasion to hang out for an hour or two with a small number of the less positive trek participants. The contrast was very stark. It was as if their negative attitudes created a little black cloud that hung over the group.
Sarah and I were specifically tasked with instigating music during the trek. We fulfilled that in a number of ways. We distributed almost 100 penny whistles and more than 150 harmonicas to the 250 youth participants. We gave a 30 minute lesson to get them started on playing a simple hymn. We chose Sweet Hour of Prayer. I taught harmonica while Sarah taught penny whistle. Amazingly, I heard a number of kids playing that hymn or other hymns on their harmonicas or penny whistles throughout the remainder of the trek. The following day we taught the words to several of the hymns in their trek journal/hymnal. There was also a trek choir which performed on several occasions during the trek. Other than that we were supposed to try to instigate music as we trekked along. I didn't have a lot of success getting the youth to sing as they trekked, but I played either the harmonica and penny whistle on various occasions. I could play the harmonica as I walked while the penny whistle was much easier to play when we took rest breaks. The penny whistle requires too much breath control for me to play while I walk.
I had several touching music experiences during trek. Once while I played hymns on the penny whistle in the staff area I was joined by a young women who began to sing the melody. A short time later she was joined by her sister who sang alto. Sarah told me that another young lady joined in too. I ended up going through all of the songs I could play in the little trek hymnal several times. I felt the spirit such that I had difficulty continuing to play. The trek choir performed one evening and did quite well. I was moved to tears. Sarah was particularly impressed with the choir because their adult leader wasn't able to come on the trek. Some of the youth just stepped up and took charge.
It gave me great joy to watch my two grand daughters performing ably and with good attitudes through some fairly difficult experiences. I must confess, I would have been very disappointed if either of them had turned out to be a whiner. I was also very happy to watch Sarah serving cheerfully in difficult circumstances. She chose to take on the role of mother hen to a particularly hapless 12 year old boy. It is an understatement to say he was poorly prepared for the difficulty of the trek experience. Sarah managed to get him to the end of the trail with copious amounts of gentle persuasion and encouragement and the patience of Job. When I saw him on the first day I thought there was no chance at all that he would last through Friday. I was particularly amazed with the young man's change of attitude. He went from being extremely negative to a more positive attitude. I know that for him this was absolutely a life changing experience.
I will have to add some photos later as I left Linda's camera at Sarah's house.