Marching to Carmel
by James L. Ferrell
An excerpt from The Peacegiver by James L. Ferrell, published by Deseret Book.
Dinner was cooking, and the aroma of homemade chicken noodle soup, his grandmother’s specialty, wafted through the air. Rick looked for his grandmother but she was not around. He looked out the bay window and across the fishing pond to the pasture beyond. His grandfather Carson was standing in the middle of the pasture, a good four hundred yards away, looking toward the house. Rick knew instinctively that he was waiting for Rick to join him. He eagerly sprang from the house and started down the dirt path to the fields below.
The sights around Rick flooded him with memories-the pond just below the house where he had caught his first fish, the stream that drained from the pond and had been the site of many “twig races” between his cousins and him, the rolling mounds of the pasture that had created challenges when he was moving sprinkler pipe but had enabled so much snowmobiling fun during the white of winter. This was Rick’s favorite of all places-the open space and wonder of his childhood.
“How’s my golf partner?” his grandfather asked with familiar jocularity when Rick reached him. He was wearing his trademark golf shirt, khaki pants, and tennis shoes-his “work clothes.” These clothes were part of the family lore, both because he never seemed to change them (or else had multiple pairs of the same outfit) and because, for a rancher, he was remarkably ill-suited for hard labor. Much to Grandma Carson’s chagrin, he invested heavily in hired hands and was usually the first to suggest an alternative to chores when his grandchildren were visiting. He retained his love for youthful adventures almost to his dying day. He looked as Rick remembered him, although without his usual glasses. “I’m fine, Grandpa,” Rick lied.
“Oh, she’s fine too,” he lied again, feeling a bit uneasy.
Grandpa Carson looked deeply at Rick. “And the kids?”
“Oh, they’re great, you’d be real proud of them,” Rick responded enthusiastically, grateful for a question he could answer honestly and with little effort. “Alan has a lot of you in him, Grandpa. Right down to his distaste for hard labor,” he added, jokingly.
Grandpa Carson smiled pleasantly, but did not burst into the ear-to-ear grin Rick remembered so fondly and had hoped to elicit.
Grandpa Carson rested his eyes on Rick without saying a word, and Rick’s discomfort grew. He felt compelled either to turn away or to speak over the unease he was feeling.
“He and Eric are good young men,” he blurted, choosing to do the latter. “Fun loving, but serious about serious things-well, for preteens anyway.” Grandpa Carson again nodded pleasantly, still saying nothing.
“And the girls!” Rick exclaimed, over-talking the way one does when wishing to avoid other topics. “Anika and Lauren are little angels. They just make me smile.”
“Yes, Ricky,” his grandfather interjected. “They make me smile too.”
“Never knew them?” Grandpa Carson responded.
Rick nodded sheepishly.
Grandpa turned his head and gazed off into the distance. He squinted ever so slightly, which creased his skin from the corners of his eyes to beyond his temples. To someone who didn’t know him, this mild squint would seem merely an attempt to focus on a distant object. But Rick knew better. This, like the beaming smile Rick had hoped to see, was a look he recognized. His grandfather was focusing his thoughts more than his vision. Something was on his mind, and Rick was afraid he knew what it was.
“Do you remember the time we mowed the weeds on that little peninsula on the lower pond and made it into an island green?” Grandpa Carson asked, nodding toward the lake in the southeast corner of the pasture.
“Yeah, I remember,” Rick chuckled, relieved by the question. It had taken them nearly all day to cut down the grass to the nubs and rig up a flagstick-a project they had embarked on instead of moving sprinkler pipe. Grandma wasn’t very happy about it.
“Do you remember your hole-in-one that day?”
Did he ever! Rick had told the story so many times before, with such pride, that over the years he had forgotten to feel bad about the three-foot diameter hole they counted as the cup. “I’ll never forget it, Grandpa.”
“Do you remember how happy you were?”
“Oh yes, absolutely. I think I smiled for a solid week.”
“Me too, Ricky,” his grandfather agreed. “That was a great time.”
He paused for a moment remembering the day. Then he turned back to Rick.
“Are you that happy now, Ricky?”
Despite his foreboding worries that the conversation might turn this direction, the question caught Rick short. He wanted so badly to say “Yes,” but the best he was able to do was an unconvincing, “Yeah, I think so.”
He dropped his eyes toward the ground, betraying all that his words had tried to keep hidden.
“I’ve been watching you, Ricky. I ask for reports as often as possible, and occasionally I am even allowed to check in on you. You make me so proud, Son.” (He often called Rick “Son,” and Rick loved it when he did.) “You’re a hard worker, and a great father. But I know something of the struggles you are going through as well-both because I see them and because I’ve been through some of them myself. You’ve been in my prayers for years, and never more so than now. There are many who are praying for you, my boy.”
Rick stood in silence, halfway between embarrassment and gratitude. So Grandpa knows, he thought to himself, resignedly, he knows.
Rick cut the charade. “I don’t know what to do,” he lamented. “Things are pretty rough right now, to tell you the truth. I’ve done everything I can think of, but nothing helps.”
“I know, Ricky. I know. But there are a few things you haven’t thought of. And the most important of those will not be something you do, but will rather be something you allow to be done to you.”
“What do you mean?”
His grandfather smiled. “Come, I want to show you something.”
Suddenly, Rick found himself on the top of the range of hills that ran along the eastern border of the ranch. He and his grandfather were standing next to the enormous boulder that towered like a sentinel on the “bald spot” of the mountain-the very highest point on the range and the destination of many horseback rides during his youth. From that vantage point, looking westward, he could see the whole of the ranch, with its pastures, lakes, and forests. The farmhouse was a tiny dot, but he could see it, along with the pond in front. From this height, the roof of the barn was visible from behind the huge cottonwoods that normally shielded it from view. Far below, at the base of the hill, flowed the Squalim River, where Rick and his family had played so often-fishing, camping, and floating on inner tubes through the gentle rapids.
“Come, Ricky,” his grandfather said, putting his arm around Rick’s shoulder and turning him from the view of the ranch. “I want you to see something.” He walked Rick to the top of the bald spot to look out toward the east. To Rick’s surprise, they looked down upon a vast desert wilderness. “I never saw this view before,” he said. “Has it always looked this way?” But his grandfather didn’t answer. Did I ever look to the east of the range? Rick asked himself. He couldn’t remember.
Immediately below them spread a desert plain. From his vantage point high on the mountain, Rick could see far in every direction. To the north, the plain rose gradually on the backs of rounded hills. Southward, however, the sands continued as far as the eye could see, with rugged peaks thrusting heavenward here and there in the far distance. Twenty or so miles to the east, the plain fingered its way into a bleak and foreboding region of medium-height mountains. The fissures and cracks in the barren hills made the whole area look like it had been baked in a kiln. Through a few of those cracks, Rick could see beyond the hills into a deep, lake-filled valley that shimmered in the distance.
“Grandpa, has the land always looked like this?” Rick tried once again.
“Yes and no, Ricky,” he answered. “The land has looked like this for millennia, but no, you have never seen it from here before.”
“I don’t understand.”
Grandpa nodded but said nothing. He seemed to be waiting for something.
“Look,” he said finally. “David and his men approach.”
Rick squinted in the direction his grandfather was pointing, toward the northeast. Far below on the desert plain Rick could make out what appeared to be an area of scrub brush. But as he looked closer he saw the brush was moving. “David?” he puzzled aloud, unsure who his grandfather was talking about.
Rick suddenly found himself in the desert valley among a group of men, about six hundred in number. Dust clung to their clothes, which for most of them consisted of a roughly hewn outer garment that reminded Rick of what he had seen offered by street vendors on trips to Tijuana. The robes were fastened around their waists with thick leather belts. Smaller, lighter, pieces of cloth were draped over their heads and bound by a cord; these were close in color and weight to the undergarment that showed through rips and holes in their robes. Their beards were full and wild, their leathery faces and hands chaffed and dry. Rick couldn’t help thinking that their skin resembled the baked terrain he had witnessed moments before from the ridge. They looked like vagabonds from Old Testament days who had been living in the wilderness for years without the tempering influence either of civilization or of gentle women.
Rick soon discovered this was precisely who they were.
A party of ten or so men approached the multitude, and the crowd parted, allowing them to move into the center of the throng. There Rick saw a most magnificent looking, strapping man. There was a dignity about him that set him apart both from the other men and from the terrain about him. It was obvious from his skin, clothing, and beard that he had been living this way at least as long as the others, but something was different about him, almost like his soul remained moist where others’ had long been parched. Rick then noticed that the man’s clothing, while every bit as dusty and worn as that of the others, seemed to be made of finer material. Rich colors peeked through the dust. He belongs in other places, Rick thought to himself, loftier places. This is not his home.
The approaching party stopped before the man. “David, son of Jesse, we have been to the house of Nabal,” spoke the man in front.
David, son of Jesse! thought Rick. He looked inquiringly at his grandfather. “Yes, Ricky,” he said, as though reading his mind, “this is David, son of Jesse, future king of Israel.”
“It is as you thought, my lord,” said the spokesman, whose voice pulled Rick’s attention back to the scene. “Nabal’s shearers have gathered their plenty back to Carmel and they are making merry and feasting.” The crowd of men, who were now gathering around the party of ten, nodded their heads happily and smiled their baked lips in approval.
“But he denies that he knows you, my lord. He refused to recognize our service to his men and his property. He mocked us and rejected our request for provisions. We have returned with nothing.”
At this, the crowd erupted in anger. “This is an outrage,” shouted a man to Rick’s right. “He should pay for this, rejecting the son of Jesse,” shouted another, shaking his fist angrily. The crowd howled their approval, and others began to shout further incendiaries. They began to stir each other into a rage.
“What is going on here, Grandpa?” asked Rick.
“The twenty-fifth chapter of First Samuel,” he said. “Perhaps you have been golfing a little too much,” he added, his eyes dancing playfully.
“David and this group of outcasts have been forced into the wilderness for survival,” his grandfather continued. “After David slew Goliath, his fame steadily climbed throughout the land. King Saul became insanely jealous of him and for years has been trying to kill him. David has lived the life of a vagabond, and these men, mostly fugitives from the law and outcasts from society, have gathered to him in the wilderness. We are now in the deserts south of Judea, in an area known as the wilderness of Paran. The body of water you noticed in the distance a moment ago was the Dead Sea.
“While here, David and his men have been protecting the shepherds and flocks of a rich man named Nabal. Bedouin tribesmen frequent these parts, and without protection many of Nabal’s sheep would have been lost. David and his men could have fallen upon Nabal’s flocks for their own sustenance, but they didn’t. Neither did they take for themselves what the flocks and their handlers needed. Nabal’s shearers have now gathered back to the Judean town of Carmel, to Nabal’s estate, to shear and celebrate their plenty, and as you can see, David and his men remain here in need. Their provisions are running short.”
“Despite this-despite all their help in enabling Nabal’s plenty-he is refusing to help them?” Rick asked indignantly.
“No wonder they’re outraged,” Rick muttered.
Rick turned back to the men, who were yelping and waving their fists in the air around David. Since the word from his men, David had stood still, his countenance fallen to the earth. Rick looked at him through the crowd. He had been stung by the report of Nabal’s rebuff, to be sure, but appeared now to be regaining his composure. Rick could see the tension rising in his face as his men shouted around him. David’s eyes narrowed and all at once seemed to fill with resolve. He flung his arm overhead, holding erect a long steel blade that glistened in the sunlight. “Gird ye on every man his sword,”5 he shouted above the clamor. “We are going to Carmel to pay our respects to a fool named Nabal.”
The men went wild. And among those men Rick suddenly noticed a man who could have been his twin. He, with the rest, was cheering wildly, his sword in hand.
Startled, Rick watched as David commanded a third of the men to stay with the meager provisions and then organized the remaining four hundred or so, Rick’s twin included, for a march to Carmel. As he watched, Rick suddenly understood that the man was not his twin but himself. He was marching to Carmel with David. But why? He wondered. What am I doing in this dream?
The procession headed north toward the hills, kicking up the dust of the desert floor. When the trail of dust finally disappeared around the rise of a hill, Rick turned to his grandfather.
“Why have you shown me this, Grandpa?” he asked. “Why are we here? And why did I see myself among David’s men?”
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.