Monday, July 14, 2014

Pioneer Stock

Photo by Holgen Leue

Great-great Grandpa John Bagley was only eighteen when he left his family in eastern Canada. He joined with the Mormon pioneers to prepare for a trek across the plains from Illinois to Utah.

John was extremely trusted and took the responsibility of caring for a widow and her children in the wagon train. He drove the lead team of nine yoke of oxen into the valley in 1856 when he was just twenty years old. Later, Brigham Young requested that John accompany him in many dangerous situations as a body guard. At the age of 58 he wrote his life story in his own hand, recalling his adventures with Indians, wild animals, cholera, and starvation.

John's Journal
But there is one particular feat John is remembered for.
John had worked in a lumber mill with his father from the time he was a little boy. Four days after his arrival in Salt Lake Valley he started work on what would become six lumber mills in Big Cottonwood Canyon. He helped build roads, haul logs and build silver mines in Alta, and became known quickly for his ability and agility.

Photo: Lake Mary, Brighton, UT Project 365:185/366 Flickr
On July 23, 1857, nine months after John's arrival, 2,600 people (with 500 vehicles and 1,500 animals) gathered at the bottom of Big Cottonwood Canyon for a giant anniversary party. The first pioneers had settled the valley ten years before, and there was a celebration planned ten miles up the canyon in Brighton. The group followed Brigham Young and a long line of dignitaries in carriages and wagons. A marching company of 50 kids between 10 and 12 years old led the way up the canyon, along with a brass band that furnished music for the celebration.

At sunset a bugle summoned the campers to a central elevated spot where Brigham Young addressed them. On the morning of July 24, the flag was unfurled from a giant pine tree, standing on a peak. Prayer was offered, then singing, and afterward cannons roared. The Big Cottonwood Lumber Company, for which John worked, had constructed the road as far as Lake Alice, near Silver Lake, expressly for this occasion. Today there is a small chapel at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, in Brighton, close to where the celebration took place.

Photo by Blozan's Tree Climb
This is how John recalled the day of Celebration:
Brigham Young's tent was near a towering pine tree 100 feet high. That tree was selected as a flag pole for the unfurling of the Stars and Stripes. I had been reared in the timber lands of eastern New Brunswick, America, and was experienced in handling timber and logging, so I was selected by President Young to trim the tree for a flagpole.

Carrying my axe, I climbed to the top of the tree, trimmed the branches and cut the tip so there was a smooth top. I unfurled the flag, and much to the amazement of those below, I stood on my head on the top of the tree!

As I descended, I trimmed the other branches, and when I was among the trees that were not so lofty, I seized the branch of another tree and ape-like, swung from the flag pole and disappeared. The people below thought I had perished and were quite concerned until I finally appeared having made my way through the branches.
John Bagley

He sounds like a great, great-great grandfather to me!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Do Something Hard

From Under a Sunbonnet: 1990

Against my better judgment I became a pioneer woman for a week. Our church youth group recreated a Pioneer Trek, complete with sunbonnets, bloomers, aprons and handcarts. As a leader I was expected to be part of the four-day activity as a chaperone, even though the teenagers would be divided up and grouped as families with kids they didn't know.

Specially trained young adult couples played the parts of Pa and Ma, while the legitimate adults were assigned to accompany each family as participants. I had a 16-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter who were excited to go, so I reluctantly agreed to join the group. I knew we wouldn't be put in the same trek family, but we would have a shared experience and that was a good enough reason.

It was a grueling first day. The kids started out with energy. I started out tired. We put together our own handcarts and loaded them with supplies. Since they weighed several hundred pounds, each member of the family was supposed to help pull or push the handcart on the 13-mile hike.

Ours was one of the first wagons in the train and we set off with vigor. Excited jabbering and singing was heard down the trail behind us. By 2:00 in the afternoon the little enthusiasm I had had early that morning was gone. It was 100° and I was out-of-sorts with exhaustion, and hunger. Some of the kids were whining and complaining and I identified with them.

I started dragging behind, walking slower and slower as the other handcart families passed me by. Whose idea was this anyway? Why would we take a bunch of teenage kids into the wilderness and subject them to such hardship? I felt disoriented, lightheaded, and miserable.

The trail boss, a man I respected and trusted, noticed me and led me over to a stream where he soaked my bandanna in the cold water, and gave me a canteen of Gatorade. He suggested I ride in the support vehicle behind the group for a few minutes to regain my strength.

Relieved of my sunbonnet, in the air-conditioned Suburban, I cooled off quickly, and chatted with the driver, a good friend who was a physician. He assured me I would make it, so a few minutes later he caught up with the group and let me out, and then dropped out of sight again.

I walked a little faster, passing other handcart families to reach my own. Instead of the flat trail we had been walking all day, we were now going up a mountain. It got steeper and rockier, and was difficult to navigate in a long skirt. Soon I was actually scrambling on all fours, climbing over the rocks. I had passed one group and now I was behind a handcart that perched precariously on some rocks. It was off balance, and the kids in front were pulling while others were behind, trying to push.

Suddenly I noticed that it was quiet. The ma's and pa's had asked the trekkers not to talk. The kids had to negotiate the handcarts on this difficult stretch silently, cooperating by observing their companions, and just doing what became obvious to them. Then the pa's whispered to the boys that they could not participate in the work. It was time for the Women's Pull.

We had been forewarned that there would be a section of the hike where the girls pulled the handcarts alone. Of course it was highly anticipated. The young women were anxious to show off their fortitude and stamina to all the guys. However, the results were not anticipated.

The mountain was the most demanding area we would encounter. Everyone was tired, and shaky from heat and exertion. Going up the steep, rocky slope the families had needed everyone's strength, and now it was cut in half. The boys witnessed the trouble the girls were having; some ran for water, and others whispered encouragement, and went ahead to move big rocks out of the way. The girls had resilience, and discovered new muscles emotionally and physically, tears running down their cheeks as they exerted courageously. The young men were overwhelmed with respect, wondering if they could have risen to such a challenge.

I'm embarrassed to say I didn't have the energy to help. Getting myself up the hill was all I could manage. I was several yards behind a handcart that began to tip. A tiny girl, her face shaded by a big sunbonnet, supported it from behind. I watched as her feet dug into the dirt between the rocks, her back hardened and her shoulders tensed. Her arms clenched while she
pushed the wagon with force and determination. With the help of the girls in front pulling, she jostled the cart up and over a giant boulder in the path.

For a moment she caught her breath and wiped the sweat from her forehead. As she lifted the brim of her bonnet I saw it was Amy, my 14-year-old daughter.

Even after 22 years, the lessons of my Pioneer Trek continue to unfold in my mind. I would never have expected such inner fortitude of young city slickers; we all stumbled on power hidden deep inside ourselves. The experience demonstrated potential and capacity, and I knowwe can do impossible things when we need to. And so can our kids.

Sometimes the most help we can give someone is to let them do it on their own. Desperation can be the source of motivation. A person who is balancing their whole world is more careful about where they place their feet. I learned that from a girl in a sunbonnet.

Think about a time you did something hard. Are you in the middle of a Pioneer Trek experience right now? Write about it. Discover what you're learning. If you write about it, you can learn from it the rest of your life. Eventually you'll see the hard thing as one of the great blessings in your life.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Little Lessons Everywhere

One day I was sitting in my friend Julie's kitchen, watching her four-year-old through the window. Lauren was playing on the sidewalk when the sprinklers suddenly went on—she shrieked! Arms thrashing, feet slipping, she twisted blindly and howled for help.

"Just walk forward," her mom called through the window. We could see that she was only a few feet from relief, but her predicament was too overwhelming, and her wailing was too loud for her to hear. "Lauren! It's OK! Just walk!" Tears mixed with drops of water and ran down her cheeks while her older brother dashed outside to rescue her. He took her arm and steered her out of the spray.

She wiped her eyes and smiled up at her mom before she started skipping down the sidewalk. The whole traumatic episode had only taken a minute or two, and was forgotten immediately.

I can look back at times when I've been surprised by what seemed like a deluge. I've howled for help with such a racket that I've drowned out the quiet response, "It's OK, Marty, just walk forward." That's usually when someone shows up to walk with me a little way, and suddenly my tears are gone, and my path seems clear.

I love it when that happens.

Have you had a life lesson lately? Write it down!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Tribute to Moms

Colonial woman dipping candles.

"They had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth."
Mosiah 17:2
Into the hot wax; out of the hot wax. Into the hot wax; out of the hot wax. I watched as the woman dipped her candles. She held a dowel with ten pieces of string looped over it, and repeatedly lowered it into a vat of melted wax.

The first time it looked like nothing stuck to the strings at all. Another dip, and they still looked clean. Patiently, the woman dunked them again, and again, and eventually I could see a film of wax building. Time after time the thin layers adhered to each other, and slowly the strings began to look like candles.

After countless dips.
I've watched other women engaged in an old-fashioned art that also involves patience and repetition. It is mothering. Time after time they dip their kids in character building experiences---say "Please," "Thank you," "I'm sorry;" share your toys; pick up your coat; mind your dad; love your brother; don't whine; feed the dog; say your prayers---over and over again the same admonitions. At first it seems nothing is sticking. The kids are still the same. But eventually they begin to wax strong.

A work of art!
Each experience a child has in character building is like one more dip of the candle.
It is repetitious, it can become wearisome.
But it's worth it.

Art by William Adolphe Bouguereau

"Be not weary in well doing,
for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.
For out of small things proceedeth that which is great."
—D&C 64:33

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

"We go to art museums, longing for a glimpse of the world through someone else’s eyes. The images we see of starry skies and fields of flowers are not valuable because they are truth. The yearning to see them is based ... on the desire to learn a different way of looking at the world. Memoirs provide the same benefit." ---Memory Writers Network

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

My mind is like a DVD player. I can slide in a memory and be entertained for hours by the colors, the fashions, the songs, the scenery—I'm never bored. I remember details: like the orange and red flowers on my parent's brown bedroom drapes. Or the sandpapery bottom of the swimming pool the first day of summer, before I'd developed any callouses. I can remember the last names of all seven Lindas in my 7th grade science class. I can even remember things that aren't memories. Like prom. (I was hiding out in my girlfriend's car watching Goldfinger at the drive-in, pretending I didn't care.) But I can still picture the bouffant hairdos the luckier girls wore.

Sometimes when I write these memories, I'm afraid someone else will remember it differently and call the history police. What if one of the Lindas reads my blog and remembers there were really eight Lindas in Mr. Stucki's class? Will I have to publicly retract my statement? Is it libel? Will I be sued? Will my work ever be trusted again?

The great thing about writing a Memoir is that it is, by definition, a biographical account according to your own memory. Nobody can second guess you. If you recall hearing about Kennedy's death while you were eating breakfast, it doesn't matter that it didn't happen until after lunch. Maybe you got up late or maybe you were eating an omelet at 2:00 in the afternoon. It doesn't matter because it's your recollection. It's OK to record an event the way you remember it. Don't second guess yourself, or postpone writing your memoirs until you check all the facts. Get those important memories down, in a way that others can catch glimpses of life in a different light. Your impressions will help both you and your readers see the big picture.

Bonni Goldberg said, "Memory is an aspect of imagination. For writing, memory is one of your most important tools. A phrase from the lyric of a song, a poetic phrase in a book, a fragment of a story, an object from the past is enough to spark the creative, intuitive mind ... Especially rich are incidents and images stored away that you aren't sure ever actually occurred ..."

Remember that!