Hope, Prayer, and a Whole Lot of Duct Tape

Busted Boots

Dear Will:

We were over 20 miles into a 50+ mile backpacking trip though the Golden Trout Wilderness in the High Sierras. With 35-40 pounds on our backs, we had completed the long, relentless slog up and over New Army Pass (12,300 feet) the day before, and somewhere on the backside of Guyot Pass (10,958 feet) my son, Seth, alerted me to a problem. My boot was coming apart.

I stared in disbelief. Clearly, the sole was detaching itself from the body of the boot, which seemed, upon reflection, sub-optimal to my purpose. I had come to climb Mt. Whitney—at 14,505 feet the highest peak in the contiguous United States—and the thought of doing so with half a left boot was untenable. As we tromped on, I kept rechecking the evidence (the way we do), as if on the fifth or eighth or tenth look I might discover that the previous nine had been an illusion. But a couple of dozen rechecks changed nothing. My foot was kaput.

When we set up camp in Upper Crabtree Meadow that evening, I considered my options, but not for long. The next day was Whitney, an all-day, 15-mile roundtrip requiring a 4,000-foot ascent, after which we would still be over 20 miles and three more mountain passes away from the trailhead. The manifest virtues of duct tape and hope (in that order) notwithstanding, the moment for prudence had clearly arrived. I tried to imagine it: Local Hiker Bags Whitney But Loses His Sole. With the welfare and safety of others directly affected by my actions, I just couldn’t take that chance.

There were 19 of us in total, six adults in various stages of middle-aged “fitness” along with 13 boys from 14 to 18 years old. I was by no means the leader of this expedition (outdoor competence being a necessary prerequisite), but I did feel responsible in a kind of paternal, ecclesiastical sense. And then of course there was Seth. Ten years ago I climbed Whitney with my oldest son, Luke, and while I can’t say that I relished the anticipation of the lung-shrinking climb to the summit, I did look forward to that trophy-shot of the two of us, hands on one another’s shoulders, the Sierra mountains stretching out behind us like a giant’s gnarled molars and bicuspids. Alas, it was not to be.

So the next morning the others began their climb to glory while I stayed behind supervising our campsite. I paced. I fidgeted. I fidgeted and paced. Anxiousness turned to worry as I tried to imagine my little group of intrepid alpinists. I knew, for example, that there are lightning showers every afternoon on Whitney, and if you don’t get off of the summit in time you may unwittingly become a Ben Franklin experiment. So you can imagine my state of mind as the hours passed and the afternoon rains came and my climbers were nowhere in sight. I quickly stowed our gear inside the tents, and then, with no other recourse available, I stowed myself inside as well, feeling helpless and useless as I imagined how I might report my experience later. (“How was your trip?” “In tents.”)

Seven hours. Eight hours. Nine hours passed. I lay in my tent, listening to the steady thrump of rain and praying for the safe return of my companions. Of my son. Finally, ten hours after their departure I heard the first voices. They straggled into camp, bedraggled and exhausted. Finally, over 11 hours after their 7am departure, the last of our group stumbled into camp.  I felt a surge of emotion that surprised me. We were safe. Together. At last.

I do not wish to overstate the significance of this experience for me. But I can tell you truthfully that what I felt that afternoon is not that different from the longing for togetherness—for homecoming—that I feel for you and every other member of the Santiago Creek Ward. I wait. Hoping to hear your voice. Praying for your safe return.

PW

How Things Work When They Don’t

antique-vacuum

Dear Will:

When it comes to home maintenance and repairs, I’m what they call in the trades Really Bad At It, or Utterly Useless, for short. You might recall, for example, how I somehow managed to destroy a fairly-new reverse-osmosis system while trying to fix a small leak under the kitchen sink. I could fill this page with other humiliating examples of my ineptitude, but let’s skip over that formality and go directly to this week’s confession: I’ve done it again. The legend continues.

As always, it started out innocently enough: I was simply trying to do a little vacuuming—a low-skill assignment for which even I am qualified. I might even go so far as to claim a certain degree of competence in the field of Automated Dust Removal. But as I was maneuvering out into the upstairs hallway, I became aware that the family Hoover was no longer Hooving. “This thing sucks,” I hollered at my wife, Dana. “It’s supposed to,” she offered cheerfully. “It’s a vacuum cleaner.”

Diagnosing that there must be something obstructing the brush mechanism, I set about disassembling the intake unit. I figured I just had to remove a couple of screws, clear out the obstruction, and put the thing back together. I can work a screwdriver, I thought. How hard can it be? Right? Well, more than a dozen screws later, I finally had it opened.

It took me little time to clean out the brush and intake, but getting the base to snap back into place proved a little trickier—especially when I discovered that a small, metal bracket had joined the loose screws scattered about me. I knew where the bracket belonged, but getting it back into place appeared to defy several physical laws while tenaciously affirming the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Soon I looked like Jim wrestling a crocodile on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. And the croc was winning.

Well, of course I never got the thing back together (see: Thermodynamics, Second Law). Within an hour Dana and I were standing in the aisle at Costco pursuing the only sort of appliance repair that works consistently for me. And then, as fitting punctuation to an evening squandered, we spent most of the time at Costco fingering her iPad and ordering a new vacuum from Amazon instead.

The new machine (not a crocodile, but a Shark®) arrived a couple of days later. Seth offered to take Sharknado out on its maiden run, and when he was done we were shocked to see how much gunk it had managed to collect. Walking around the house afterward, we noted how different the carpet felt—like it was brand new. Hmmm. (Let that thought swirl around your head for a little bit.)

So it turns out the old Hoover really did suck, but unfortunately not in the manner that it was supposed to. Who knows how much grime has been accumulating over the past many months, or how long, for that matter, we had been shuffling around in it? Ewww. So in the end, my failed repair work may have been the best thing that has happened to our carpet since it was installed.

And thus emerges the familiar pattern in another embarrassing tale: Something goes wrong, and in my attempts to make it better I make it much, much worse. But in the end—somehow—I end up far better off than I could ever have been had disaster not struck to begin with. Happens all the time. I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t thinking about carpet cleaning when he said that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28), but on the other hand, isn’t it curious how much good comes from the bad stuff we unintentionally make worse? Interesting how that works. Carpet Diem!

PW

Breakfast for Dinner

IMG_1234

Dear Will:

The thing about pancakes is that you get to douse them with syrup. Goopy, sweet, and delicious, syrup is one of the great nectars of childhood. Remember when you first discovered that—even though they were super-indulgent, dessert-like wonders—pancakes were a featured item of the Most Important Meal of the Day? Talk about beating the system! You would look at your siblings incredulously, blinking in amazement as if to say “Can you believe this?” in some sort of eyelash-flapping Morse code.

When I was growing up, I probably ate pancakes at least once a week. My mother would fry up a pound of bacon, cook a dozen or so eggs, and throw in the flapjacks just for good measure. It was both wonderful and no big deal. But then some fool invented cholesterol and spoiled an otherwise great thing for generations of kids to come. Add in the complications of over-programmed childhoods and it’s perhaps easy to understand why, one generation later, my children have pretty much subsisted on Cheerios and Quaker Oatmeal Squares for breakfast throughout their lives. It hardly seems fair.

So in order to assuage my guilt and keep them from reporting me to authorities, when they were small I began the practice of making Special Breakfast on Sunday mornings. It was an important bonding ritual for me and my kids since my wife, Dana—who has never been much of a breakfast-eater—was rarely around to cast a disapproving motherly glare at our mounds of goopy goodness. Guilt-free and giddy, we would slather and stab, forkful upon sticky forkful, unconcerned with caloric intake or the latest in nutritional science. And for one hour each week, I got to be the cool parent while eating breakfast the way it was meant to be eaten.

As a consequence, my kids and I have come to take our pancakes very seriously. We don’t use Bisquick (please) or Krusteaz (don’t insult me) or any other variety of ready-made mixes. As for me and my house, pancakes are strictly from scratch, with real buttermilk and a variety of other not-very-secret ingredients that, over the years, have turned the basic recipe from The Joy of Cooking into my own signature line against which my children judge all other so-called hotcakes. Straight from the griddle, we smear them with butter and genuine maple or homemade apple syrup. If Dana is around we’ll throw in a few blueberries so that perhaps she’ll cave in and join us.

Or at least, that’s what we used to do. These days, I’m in meetings from early to late most Sundays, and I get through the day without any breakfast, Special or otherwise. For his part, like any good teenager, Seth (the only kid left at home) would rather sleep in till noon if given the choice, so as with so many other essential family rituals, Special Breakfast now happens only once or twice a year. It’s just not the same. We’ve lost something important—and it’s not (I hasten to add) weight.

So with Dana’s complete (if unenthusiastic) acquiescence—we have declared that tonight shall be Breakfast for Dinner, an indulgent shout-out to years gone by when calories didn’t count and it was still possible for Dad to be cool.

And in so doing, we shall feel virtuous because we are fulfilling a mandate given by prophets of God, who said (and I quote): “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, wholesome recreational activities . . . and pancakes.” At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what they said. And if not, surely it’s what they meant.

PW