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This is Backstage Graffiti number 142. I’m calling it “What I Learned On Timp This Time.” I have to write the words “This Time” because Backstage Graffiti number 57 and BG number 109 were also about ascents of Mt. Timpanogos, or “Timp.” Reading 57, 109, and 142 in a row suggests itself. You’ll find those earlier columns to be funnier than this one and less spiritual.
That’s because with every day that passes I’m less funny and more spiritual. I mean, the earlier columns have in them things like mooses in skirts. How spiritual can you get when you’re maneuvering literarily among mooses in skirts? I can promise with some confidence that you will never see in General Conference, even in the commercials between sessions, mooses in skirts. And so this column will be didacticker than almost any you’ve read before, even in Meridian Magazine. Sorry.
Or maybe that’s why you read Meridian in the first place. To nourish your soul. Researching “soul food” I found the following observation.
“To a far greater degree than anyone realizes,” (me, for example) “several of the most important food dishes that the Native Americans of the southeastern U.S.A live on today is the soul food’ eaten by both Black and White Southerners. Hominy, for example, is still eaten: Sofkee lives on as grits; cornbread [is] used by Southern cooks; Indian fritters — variously known as “hoe cake” or “Johnny cake”; Indian boiled cornbread is present in Southern cuisine as “corn meal dumplings” and “hush puppies”; Southerners cook their beans and field peas by boiling them, as did the Native tribes; and, like the Native Americans, Southerners cured their meat and smoked it over hickory coals…”
This observation was made in 1976 by Charles Hudson in his book “A Conquered People” The Southeastern Indians. The University of Tennessee Press. pp. 498-99. Its ISBN number, for those of you who are keeping track, is 0-87049-248-9. (I just found out what ISBN numbers are, so I’m keeping track.)
But really, these things catalogued by Brother Hudson are not soul food. Soul food is what you ingest by letting your eyes and ears and breath and skin and soul gobble up The Meadow (this place is usually called the “Timpanogos Basin” but we always call it “The Meadow.” The Meadow is capitalized because it isn’t just any old meadow. After climbing and climbing and switching back and stair-stepping up through woods of aspen, then big pines, you come up over the edge of a vast bowl that lies above timberline and feels like the top of the world, closer to the hot sun and closer to cold space-in the wind and dragged by clouds-so high, yet thrusting up beyond it is the gargantuan pyramid summit of Timpanogos, over a thousand feet higher.
In The Meadow you drink in the blues, purples, reds, yellows, whites, creams, myriad greens, and oranges of wildflowers more thick, mixed, bright, and abundant than any dish of okra can imagine becoming in its wildest dreams.
So then, I will interrupt the following single journal entry with the lessons I learned while knee-deep in soul food.
27 July 2013,
“Up Timp with Daina Bitters” (this is my dear sister-in-law visiting from Kansas) “and Suzy Malone and her son Ian. I made it as far as the far edge of the Meadow, the beginning of the ascent to the Saddle.” (The Saddle is the narrow ridge where you can finally see down into Utah Valley on the west side of the mountain, having climbed it from the northeast.) “Then I ran out of time and strength simultaneously.” (Although I’m telling everybody that I only ran out of time.) “I turned back and the others pressed on toward the summit, but were turned back at the Saddle by the clock and scary weather.”
Lesson Number One: Listen to your body. My wife always says “Listen to what your body is telling you.” She’s a dancer and an actress, younger than I am, and has, evidently, exceptional hearing. I listened to my body up there on Timp and didn’t hear a doggoned thing. But while I was standing still and listening, my legs felt not unlike Jell-o that has been prematurely liberated from the refrigerator, I was conscious of my eyeballs spinning in their sockets, and I felt this rapid hammering in my chest. How am I supposed to listen to my body with all that going on? Still, her words came back to me and I resolved to obey. At some point.
“It was a grand hike on heights I know and love so well. More wildflowers than I’ve ever seen up there or anywhere. It was astonishing.”
Lesson Number Two: Every now and then, photograph a columbine head-on. We always are tempted to photograph them from the side, to get those languorous wings into the picture. But head-on, wow. You’ll see.
“Saw a pretty moose on the way up.”
Lesson Number Three: Not every moose is skirted. Although from a slight distance, this one appeared to be dressed up to its middle in pink wildflowers.
“On my own, before I left the Meadow, I sat awhile trying to drink it all in. I had already lamented with my trail-mates that our cameras couldn’t capture it, and I realized with a bit of a shock that neither could my eyes, mind, or spirit. It’s just too big and glorious. I prayed that Heavenly Father would help me comprehend it. I thought of Moses, and how it was a special gift of grace that enabled him to comprehend things so much bigger than himself-not just see, but comprehend, which must require a temporary infusion of godliness.”
Lesson Number Four: To comprehend big, gorgeous things, you have to have a big, gorgeous mind. I should know this-I played Moses on film for the church, undergoing the very transformation mentioned above. Except I was on top of a rotating crane in front of a giant green-screen with the camera dollying around below. I had to look at that green-screen as though it were the ultimate, infinite, astoundingest, most sublime green-screen in all Creation, or even all the green-screens that had ever been or ever would be.
But in the Timp Meadow, surveying before me in hard reality the tiniest particle of that universe, I so didn’t get it. Many times I had put my feet one in front of the other all across that meadow, climbed that summit stone-by-stone, listened to it, touched it, smelled it, tasted it. Still I couldn’t take it in. I was hungering and thirsting to “get” it. The Lord told Isaiah that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways, that as the heavens are higher than the earth, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways than our ways.
I knew I had to have a mind and heart that was more like God’s in order to “get” it. I guess I was really “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.”
The kicker is that as I was sharing this idea with my friends while home teaching yesterday (it was, after all, the 28th, which is nearly after all) I looked across at Sandra Katzenbach and her daughter Mary and Mary’s boyfriend Joseph and it hit me that when the majesty and beauty of Timpanogos has crumbled away, theirs will still be unfolding-will always be unfolding. And it will require really righteous eyes to watch it, and to appreciate what’s going on.
A few days earlier I’d been thinking about being “spiritually minded” versus “carnally minded,” and had the whole thing reduced to “if you’re spiritually minded, your focus will be on the scriptures, whereas if you’re carnally minded, your focus will be on a burger.” After this time on Timp, I began to suspect that to be spiritually minded is to see the glory of things, to taste their splendor and dance to their music, to “know as we are known” and be astonished and reverent and deeply joyful in the presence of people (or mountains) we love. And to be carnally minded is… well, I was probably pretty close with the burger image.
“When I parted company with my fellow-travelers, I asked Daina to call Laurie” (my wife/Daina’s sister) “when she got to the Saddle and had cell phone coverage from the valley and ask her to drive up the canyon and get me at the trailhead. I guessed I’d be her at three o’clock. Very bad guess. Gross underestimation. And I’d forgotten that Laurie had commitments that would keep her in the valley until after four, so I raced and stumbled and blistered my way down the trail to make that rendezvous. Arriving at the trailhead a half-hour late, I was relieved that she wasn’t there.
As per the cell-phoned plan, I began walking down the canyon road through a light rain, to where she finally found me alongside Mutual Dell, two-and-a-half miles closer to home and about a thousand feet lower than our trailhead rendezvous (this is, remember, “Mormon Country,” and some places have names that mean things only we can understand-Forest Service administrators in the nation’s capital have been scratching their heads over what we might have meant by “Mutual Dell” for many decades). After that dash down the rocky Timp trail, the slow walk on the smooth road along the stream and then down the open canyon face across from steep pine forests was like taking a nap in Rivendell.”
Lesson Number Five: After you try to bend your head around impossibly breathtaking flirtations with godliness, take a nap in Rivendell. You’ll need it.