Dirt Rich

Dear Will:

You could have called them a bunch of dirt farmers and you wouldn’t have been far from wrong. At the end of the 19th century, dirt was about all you would have found in that part of the Big Horn Basin. That, and maybe enough sagebrush to support a couple of scrawny cattle. Maybe that, but not much more. However, if you were a child, newly arrived from Morgan, Utah, peeking out of a tent at that patch of nearly-nothing, perhaps what you would have seen was an endless horizon, full of promise, stretching west to a tomorrow so brimming with life that only a child could have believed it possible.

My grandfather, Lloyd Taggart, was that kid. Only nine at the time, he was sent with his parents and siblings and maybe 200 others to establish a so-called “Mormon colony” in northern Wyoming. In that mix was an eight-year-old charmer named Louise Welch. Over time, love grew where perhaps crops could not, and by 1916 the two were married, united in their commitment to build a life together in the Big Horn. Raised by family-first pioneers, Lloyd and Louise before long had a brood of their own, with nine kids crammed (somehow) into a two-bedroom home in Cowley, a town built on such prime real estate that to this day its population has never topped 1,000—even if you include those scrawny cows.

I don’t mean to pick on Cowley. My mother was born in that two-bedroom sardine can, and her eyes would twinkle when she remembered the place. The point is that Lloyd and Louise didn’t exactly get a running start in this three-legged race of theirs. But when they settled, at last, in nearby Cody, the two of them established a presence there that from my distant perspective seems incomprehensibly larger than life. Lloyd built a hugely successful construction company that laid down roads throughout the state, including, most notably, in and around Yellowstone Park. Louise, meanwhile, was an originating member of Cody Play Readers and of the Cody Music Club which, I’m stupefied to report, is still around today. And somehow in the midst of all that they acquired and ran the Two Dot, a 170,000-acre cattle ranch north of Cody on Pat O’Hara Creek (you know the place). All that—and so much more that you wouldn’t even believe a fraction of it—while raising those nine precocious kids.

How does that happen? How do two pioneer kids go from next-to-nothing to something-almost-unimaginable? You can bet that grit and industry were big contributors, but I have a hunch that more than a little of their ultimate prosperity and happiness sprang from their loving partnership, built upon a sure foundation of faith in God. You see what needs to be done and get busy doing it, day after day until your legs ache and your back buckles and all you have left at sundown is the strength to fall to your knees and thank your Maker for being part of it all. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” said Jesus, “and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). That’s not a surefire guarantee of success, but I believe it is a promise that when you put first things first, you somehow find a way. Paul said as much: “All things work together for the good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).

Thus when your church asks you to start over on a dusty, waterless plain, you do it. And when that same church asks you to preside over a fledgling flock of believers—for over 29 uninterrupted years—even though you’re trying to build a construction company and run a cattle ranch and help build a hospital and a bank and serve on the boards of a variety of local businesses . . . (hang on . . . gotta catch my breath) . . . well, you do it is what you do. And all the while, you follow that ancient credo: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). And thus—somehow—it works out.

I suppose that what I’m saying is that, if you should ever feel like your life has been dumped and scattered, leaving you to more or less start over without much more than a canvas tent to your good name, perhaps you should invite God to look over your shoulder as you to peek out of the tent-flap at the horizon ahead. There’s no telling what you might see. Nor what you might accomplish together.

PW

P.S. My grandmother, Louise Welch. is the taller girl on the right, standing between her father and the horse. I told you she was a charmer.

The Parable of the Unwise Bee

Dear Will:

OK, I admit it: I’m about to plagiarize with impunity—although I guess it’s not really plagiarism when you give the original writer credit. In any case, I came across this tale recently and felt prompted to share:

The Parable of the Unwise Bee by James E. Talmage

Sometimes I find myself under obligations of work requiring quiet and seclusion such as neither my comfortable office nor the cozy study at home insures. My favorite retreat is an upper room in the tower of a large building, well removed from the noise and confusion of the city streets. The room is somewhat difficult of access and relatively secure against human intrusion. Therein I have spent many peaceful and busy hours with books and pen.

I am not always without visitors, however, especially in summertime; for when I sit with windows open, flying insects occasionally find entrance and share the place with me. These self-invited guests are not unwelcome. Many a time I have laid down the pen and, forgetful of my theme, have watched with interest the activities of these winged visitants, with an afterthought that the time so spent had not been wasted, for is it not true that even a butterfly, a beetle, or a bee may be a bearer of lessons to the receptive student?

A wild bee from the neighboring hills once flew into the room, and at intervals during an hour or more I caught the pleasing hum of its flight. The little creature realized that it was a prisoner, yet all its efforts to find the exit through the partly opened casement failed. When ready to close up the room and leave, I threw the window wide and tried at first to guide and then to drive the bee to liberty and safety, knowing well that if left in the room it would die as other insects there entrapped had perished in the dry atmosphere of the enclosure. The more I tried to drive it out, the more determinedly did it oppose and resist my efforts. Its erstwhile peaceful hum developed into an angry roar; its darting flight became hostile and threatening.

Then it caught me off my guard and stung my hand—the hand that would have guided it to freedom. At last it alighted on a pendant attached to the ceiling, beyond my reach of help or injury. The sharp pain of its unkind sting aroused in me rather pity than anger. I knew the inevitable penalty of its mistaken opposition and defiance, and I had to leave the creature to its fate. Three days later I returned to the room and found the dried, lifeless body of the bee on the writing table. It had paid for its stubbornness with its life.

To the bee’s shortsightedness and selfish misunderstanding I was a foe, a persistent persecutor, a mortal enemy bent on its destruction; while in truth I was its friend, offering it ransom of the life it had put in forfeit through its own error, striving to redeem it, in spite of itself, from the prison house of death and restore it to the outer air of liberty.

Are we so much wiser than the bee that no analogy lies between its unwise course and our lives? We are prone to contend, sometimes with vehemence and anger, against the adversity which after all may be the manifestation of superior wisdom and loving care, directed against our temporary comfort for our permanent blessing. In the tribulations and sufferings of mortality there is a divine ministry which only the godless soul can wholly fail to discern. To many the loss of wealth has been a boon, a providential means of leading or driving them from the confines of selfish indulgence to the sunshine and the open, where boundless opportunity waits on effort. Disappointment, sorrow, and affliction may be the expression of an all-wise Father’s kindness.

Consider the lesson of the unwise bee!

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

PW