Working this project was probably mostly responsible for derailing my blogging days ;)
But I don't want the sweet memories to fade, so here we go.
We dress up in pioneer clothing and spend a few days walking across Wyoming pulling handcarts in heat, wind, and weather to reenact the early pioneers of the Latter-day Saint church history. It sounds nuts, I know.
But, the experience is peppered with some really amazing spiritual moments and those who come looking for them will walk away magnified.
I had a wonderful conversation with a young man not of our faith, about how this experience really is symbolic in discovering the depths of change we would push ourselves for the knowledge of a Savior just as those pioneers changed their very location to find a peaceful place where they could grow and transform themselves. Hopefully we find that "place" for ourselves in our own lives.
Every morning was absolutely beautiful.
Even if waking up early was painful.
I got a kick out of watching this pioneer and his antics.
And this one who had responsibilities and took them seriously.
I (along with some other great photographers) was asked to document the experiences. I knew the Women's Pull would be hard. I didn't know how hard.
The men gathered for a brief talk about honoring their priesthood responsibilities and the privilege to walk along side the women in their lives ensuring they never walk alone. Then the men lined a very steep hill and watched in silence as and the women in their families pushed those handcarts up the hill just as so many pioneer women pushed alone for their posterity years ago.
It was hard. Harder still to silently watch and not jump forward to help.
These kids really can do hard things.
Busy photographing all the emotion going on around me, my own girl came up the hill with a friend beside her. When she moved her hand to purposely cover that of of her very scared friend as a gesture of comfort, I could barely see through the lens of my camera for the tears.
Every night these kids cut loose with pioneer games and square dancing.
So fun to see them get into the dancing. It was a hit.
Annie will kill me for saying so ... but she said it was an excuse to hold hands with boys ;)
We have such a good group of kids and amazing leaders.
The final day of the trek, the group took a bus up to what is called "Sixth Crossing". It is a place where Newel's beyond-great grandfather was buried when he died of starvation leaving his wife and children to continue on without him.
The morning of our departure, Annie came to find me. She'd been experiencing difficulty breathing. We'd rushed straight back from half a world away and exhausted, kind of jumped right in. The day before, she'd spent hiking in the sage brush and asthma was flaring. As a preemptive strike, we went to the medical tent for some treatment.
But the asthma medication has a tendency to make her shaky and nauseated.
Still ... she didn't want to miss the day and boarded the bus with her friends while Newel and I followed behind in our car.
When we reached our gathering point, she told me she had been sick on the bus but assured that she was feeling better, had hydrated and wouldn't miss the trip.
So we pushed forward.
At the site where his many-great-grandfather is buried, Newel shared some thoughts.
Following a brief lunch, we pushed on in the heat. I was taking pictures as Newel carried my gear when we were summoned off the trail by our stake patriarch. He told us that he had received word that Annie had collapsed back at the monument.
Newel and I both ran at breakneck speed, the reverse length of the trail.
When we arrived, my baby lay on the ground gasping for air as medical helpers worked to slow her heart rate and regulate her breathing.
Newel and the other men there, circled to give her a priesthood blessing. The medical work quickly took effect and she began to recover. I felt my own heart rate settle and breathing still. The air shifted creating a thin place. I could tangibly feel the presence of another woman long ago. One who, in that same clearing, had knelt over a dying husband, perhaps sought a similar priesthood blessing, knowing she had to wrap up her little ones and continue her journey to fight for her own breath of life.
And because of her fight to breathe in all that she held dear, there we sat in the dusty heat relying on heaven's help for her own many-many great granddaughter at the hands of her many-great grandson.
What if in her own hard moment, facing the horror of pushing forward alone, she had given up?
As I waited for color to return to Annie's cheeks and the light back in her eyes, I was overwhelming glad she had not.
And just because making this overly long video spotlighting 300 of our church youth took me a thousand hours and should have a place of honor:
Just kidding on the thousand hours ... but only sort of ;)