“A Prequel, Just Like Star Wars!”
By Marvin Payne

The delicate balances in nature are elegant and deadly. I wrote here last of the vast and awesome Mt. Timpanogos. From its serrated spine that combs through passing racks of cloud to its draperies of stone that lull the eye against the sudden violence of breathless cliffs, abstractions rise like mist. We seem to hear whispers of “Solitude,” “Transcendence,” “Timelessness,” and “Mystery.”

Above the whispers, in a dark murmur that trembles with the scent of earth-core, we hear the consuming resonance of “Strength.” Everything up there is strong, from the snowy sweep of horizon against the searing sky to the few bold families of pines that winter in the high meadow, hoarding apart from one another like grim homesteaders.

But perhaps the greatest strength up there is in small things. The spider that spins in the knifing wind is blown off-course like a trout on a line, then on earth’s brief inhale she spins again, and spins again. The nub of moss springs back from the grind of a thousand heels. The branch bows to the ground by weight of snow until that moment in the spring when one more crystal melts and ice flings wide as the limb sways upward in release. And maybe strongest of all is the slim finger that stretches from the merest hint of accidental soil to display for a quick and aloof sun its tiny indomitable blossom.

Perhaps it was the strength of one of these that upset the deadly balance, that was the crucial quiver that, with a slap of wind, set the barrel-sized hulk of sandstone tipping, crunching the shale so slightly, shifting the ice beneath minutely, teasing the grasping nails of gravity just enough. And suddenly the silence is split by the boom and crash of the jagged monster careening blindly down the slope, sparking and singing against the stones.

I don’t remember the impact, the slam of stone on flesh, the utter, instant, quailing melding of mineral and bone. But it must have occurred, because – Hooo-ey! does my leg hurt! A veritable tsciatic tsunami!

All nature is out of balance – you’ve got your North Korean, Iranian, and Kashmiri nuclear crises combined on one pan of the scale, and you’ve got my pain on the other, and you’re gonna have to add the upcoming Democratic Supreme Court filibuster to the nuclear side if you hope to elevate my pain even slightly.

In the past week, mostly what I’ve done is play the guitar a lot. Almost nothing else. This is because it happens that perching on the arm of the couch with a guitar in my hands is slightly less scream-inducing than any other position I’ve found. I’ve mostly played hymn tunes – “Kingsfold,” (which is the most recent “Hie To Kolob” tune), “Come Thou Fount,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Nearer, My God, To Thee” (which is what they played on the Titanic until the trombones filled up with water). And I’ve crawled guitar sites on the Internet. I’m on page 79 (out of 188 pages containing 59,397 listings) of “guitars” on eBay. That’s about it, beside hobbling to the doctor without revealing that I’d also seen the chiropractor, revealing to neither that the acupuncturist is next, and not even revealing to you the fourth line of defense, because cleansing with wheat grass is just too out there for this kind of magazine. (Oh hey, don’t worry about any of these people being offended by what I’m writing here – health professionals don’t read stuff like Backstage Graffiti. And anyway, my acupuncturist reads almost only Chinese.)

I once wrote a column while in the (as now I can see, relatively trivial) discomfort of a dangerous and (as now I can see, triflingly) debilitating diet, and I apologized to you in advance for my brain maybe not working so well (I mean, so well as usual). As I do again now, on the cusp of writing more about Timp.

Which is a shame, because that Timpanogos column generated such a wave of response! I mean, I got double my usual two emails, and then the J.

.. Reuben Clark Law Society (of the whole world) called to ask if I would join them for their annual retreat at Aspen Grove and discourse on Timp. I said, “What would you like me to talk about?” They said, “We want you to talk on Timp.”

I said, “I’ll talk wherever you want, but about what, exactly?”

I think it’s because I was talking to an attorney. But, happily, this attorney teaches at BYU and had the geographical acuity to become suddenly aware that all of Aspen Grove is, indeed, situated, as it were (well, as it is), on Timp, and we got it all figured out. They called me because they thought I was an expert on Timpanogos! (Uh oh, here we go again – how about “expert regarding Timpanogos“? I should maybe mention here that there’s really no danger of offending these guys – attorneys and jurists don’t read stuff like Backstage Graffiti.)

Well, I’m not, of course. An expert, I mean. But I’m taking the gig, because many people don’t realize that often the only difference between an expert and an ordinary person is that the expert makes the same observations as the ordinary person, but with the defining difference that the expert writes them down. And if he gets them published, then hey.

Returning to the “raisin-detruh” of the column, let me now demonstrate with the use of journal entries. This will be, you see, something in the line of a “prequel” to last month’s column – just like Star Wars! Where they made these pretty good movies and then later made some cartoons to tell the wildly improbable story leading up to them. (I mean, Amidala was the “elected” queen of her planet – what was her platform? “I’ll let you wear your lipstick sideways!”? “A sullen, inarticulate, adolescent boyfriend for every post-babysitter monarch!”? ((Tsorry – the tsciatica. But really, when my son, a seminary teacher in St. George, heard Amidala say to Anikin “I love you deeply, deeply – I love you quite a lot!” he wanted to stand up in the theatre and yell, “Why?!” Whereas when in Spiderman, Mary Jane says to Peter Parker simply, “I love you,” he wanted to stand up in the theatre and yell, “Me, too!” Cartoon/movie. You choose.)) )

Some climbs:

31 August 1985

“We slid and scrambled down the snowfield that melts into Emerald Lake, where a few of us swam – briefly (count to five). We thought we’d had all the excitement such a day could afford, when on the cliff opposite us somebody spotted three mountain goats. Then a jet helicopter roared up from below and landed in the meadow where the lake and hikers’ shelter sits and flew out a guy who’d broken his leg in three places falling off a cliff.”

(Wonder how coherent his next column was.)

5 July 1987

(About my hiking seminary-teaching son, who had just been made a priest.)

“It’s beautiful to have a son who can imagine that the Savior might return on a Tuesday, and then join the ward hike up Timp at 5:00 AM on Wednesday.”

25 July 1992

“Very top of Timp. Looking straight down on Emerald Lake, several thousand feet below…

“Seeing mountain goats is a good thing. Seeing mountain goats where other people don’t is a better thing. Showing someone mountain goats is the best thing.”

17 September 1994

“Laurie (whom I had married nine days earlier) and I climbed Timp and had a glorious time. It was her first time all the way up and she was a marvelous blend of fright and fatigue and pure excitement. Being there with her made me see all the beauties more clearly than before. We came down the last third of the way through the dangerous dark until the moon broke out and lit us up.”

1 August 1995

“Up to the big snow-filled meadow on Timp that’s just below the saddle. Because of late snows there were waterfalls and streams everywhere, and a couple of surprise lakes.


1 August 1996

“Just got back from a big Timp hike. Quite intent on going up, we met a family of mountain goats quite intent on going down – we were close enough to look into each others’ faces and try to measure each others’ intentions …

“We came down the glacier in rather a hurry, the first thirty yards being nearly vertical, and all thereafter never much close to horizontal. At the top of the glacier, some nice BYU kids gave us their four extra trash bags to facilitate our slide down. But there were eight of us, so we sliced them in two at the seams and tied them on like diapers. It saved us a little wear and tear, but we looked very silly. We finished in a rich, thundery rain.”

I often use hikes to memorize scripts. As in

7 September 2001

“Top of Timp. Sun is shining – wind is howling. Very cold. I’m up here with J. Golden. Actually, I left him in the big meadow. I’ll pick him up again on the way down, down where there’s oxygen enough to enable thinking.

“Base of the trail now. 3 1/2 hour descent, but Brother Kimball slowed me down. He is, after all, 148 years old.

“You’re entitled to at least a couple of things at the top of Timp. One is a view of mountain goats -I saw ten, at this time of year like huge woolly snowballs. Another is Ding Dongs, regardless of your dietary regimen.”

10 September 2002

“No mountain goats, but we saw a couple of bull moose in a meadow on the way up, and on the way down one of them seemed reluctant to share the trail with us.”

Often the mountain and its denizens threaten me, but sometimes when I’m desperate the mountain saves me. As in

4 June 1981

“I’m on the back side of Timpanogos, on the trail above Aspen Grove. The many waterfalls are shouting, the snowfields are shining, bright clouds are moving through the saddle like so many ships, and up there the pines are standing like gods. I need this. I need this beauty to keep me from hoping I’ll meet a rattlesnake on the way down.”

Well, had I set out to write a book about Timpanogos (expertise -go-go!) I would have written more (in fact, I did write more, though not even sufficient to give someone an idea of where the trailhead is and what to bring). But the book I’m writing isn’t about Timpanogos.

There is actually a point to this column (unlike next month’s, which has no point whatsoever), and the point is not that you should get more moose into your journal. Even one moose can mess up a journal pretty badly. The point is: You can become an expert, too, simply by being the one who writes down their observations. “Expert on exactly what?” you ask. And I answer, “Expert on something that will outlast Timpanogos, whose legacy will dwarf Timpanogos, whose complexity and value and history and destiny already exceeds that of Timpanogos, Wheeler Peak, Half-dome, Chief Mountain, at least a couple of Tetons, and Popocatepetl all stacked on top of each other. You can be (in fact, are uniquely authorized to be) an expert on you.”

No one else can say how you felt on Timp. Or on the northwest corner of Kauai. Or near the window in the celestial room. Or how you feel about those one kind of Dove dark chocolate things. Or about how your leg really feels. Or about how a visit from the Holy Ghost feels to you. Other people, even apostles, can only say how it feels to them (the Holy Ghost, not your leg). Come on, you’ve got us all guessing.


Visit marvinpayne.com!

“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)

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