Don’t Follow Me

Lake Ediza

Dear Will:

When you’re camping in the backcountry, something tugs at you, and you pretty much HAVE to throw some water and a protein bar into a daypack and head off to find out what’s on the other side of that ridge. Thus on a recent trip to the High Sierras I found myself wobbling across a log bridge and climbing a massive chunk of rock to see what I could see. My climb took me into the midst of a tangle of streams where I beheld a lovely view of Lake Ediza below. But THEN, I looked back toward our campsite and beyond, through an opening in the distant trees, and I saw this:

Double Waterfall

Makes you want to grab your daypack and go, doesn’t it? I immediately declared to anyone who would listen and several who wouldn’t that tomorrow we were all going to head off in search of the double waterfall. Which we did. Now as it turned out, that cascade tumbled down the mountain just 10 minutes from our campsite, leaving us plenty of time to respond again to that familiar tug: “Where does all of this water come from? Let’s find out.”

So we kept climbing, following the stream up and up until we came to a glacier scooped into the base of some magnificent, jagged peaks. From underneath the ice, you could see the meltwater forming drip by drip, a beard-stroking reminder of where double waterfalls ultimately come from. Wow.

Meltwater

The trip back to our campsite seemed simple enough: retrace our steps along the intermittent path that meandered more or less along the stream. We talked as we clambered over rocks and ducked under branches, distracted by the wonder of wilderness. Imagine my surprise, then, when the path I had chosen spilled out onto the shore of the lake, well below the spot where we had set up camp. What?

Somehow we had lost our way. No, lost is too strong a word, for we knew where we were. We just weren’t where we intended to be. So rather than enjoy a whistling-and-skipping descent beside a mountain stream, we had to trudge and wheeze—up and up—to return from whence we started. (You know how Grandpa talks about walking “uphill both ways” to get to and from school? Well, that day we were Grandpa.) I look back on that pointless detour and I’m dumbfounded. Where did I make the wrong turn? How did I manage to make that hike so much harder than it needed to be? I just don’t get it.

And yet, I do. Figuratively speaking, you might say I have climbed this hill before. How many times have I made a muddle of things in life when a straighter, truer course had already been laid out before me? How often do I still find myself ascending a hill for a second or third time, or worse: straining up an incline I should never have had to climb in the first place? How often do I become distracted from my purpose or think I know a better way, only to find myself suffering some self-imposed adversity? So dumb. So unnecessary. And way too typical.

I know: It need not be this way. On Sunday mornings we sometimes sing that Jesus “marked the path and led the way.” All we have to do is follow. So I declare to anyone who will listen (and several who won’t): Let’s find out what’s on the other side of that ridge. But don’t follow me. Follow HIM.

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PW

What You Really Should Do

Dear Will:

The guidebook said to follow the deeply-rutted, Old Quarry Road down to the tide-pools. It was a longer walk than we anticipated, and there were at least three rusted-out, abandoned old jalopies along the way to persuade us that it was a good thing that we decided to hike rather than attempt to navigate the “road” in our rented Grand Marquis.

About halfway down the road we met one of the locals coming up the other way. He asked us where we were from and what led us to Old Quarry Road on the northeast edge of Kauai. After giving us some great advice about the tide-pools, he smiled and changed the subject. “What you really should do,” he said, “is follow that road for about a half-hour. It will take you to the most amazing waterfall you’ve ever seen. Just climb through the gate and follow the path. Can’t miss it.” He gestured to an apparently private, grass-covered road. He assured us that the owners didn’t mind, and the way he described the pool at the base of the falls sounded glorious.

We stuck to the plan instead and had a marvelous time at the tide-pools. But when we returned to the car, we got out the guidebook to see what it might tell us about the secret falls. There was hardly a mention, just a passing reference to something that might have been the place. It gave us pause that our guidebook, which made a big point of trying to get us to discover Kauai’s hidden treasures, made no attempt to encourage us to discover this one.

Still, we were so intrigued we decided to go back the next day and follow the guy’s advice. We arrived at the gate at the same time as another pair of apprehensive out-of-towners. We climbed through the gate together.

Just a few minutes into our hike, the road forked: to the left the road extended maybe 20 or 30 feet before becoming completely overgrown with grass; to the right, the road veered sharply uphill in what felt like the wrong direction. We all paused to consider our options. My wife and kids and I decided to venture onward while the other couple lost their nerve and decided to turn back.

It’s a good thing we persevered. The road continued to undulate up and down and around, but eventually we could hear the sound of rushing water. When at last we came around the final bend in the path, this is what we found:

(That’s my daughter there in the middle.) Since visiting this slice of paradise, we can’t stop talking about the secret falls.  We talk about it to anyone who will listen (witness this letter). For me, it was the highlight of our ten days on the island.

Subsequently, it has occurred to me that my experience was somewhat akin to the scene described as Lehi’s dream in the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 8). You may recall that in that dream, Lehi follows a path that eventually leads to a tree whose fruit “filled [his] soul with exceedingly great joy,” to which he adds: “I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also.” With some trepidation (“they knew not whither they should go”) some of his family members made their way along the path to the tree, while others were lured away by their peers who encouraged them to go a different way instead.

Later, we are told that the tree in the allegory represents “the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22). For those who find their way to the path and stay on it even when they are fearful or uncertain, the reward is “the most joyous to the soul.” But for those who choose a different route, no such reward is forthcoming.

We commented that very day in Kauai that the couple who turned back had missed a great opportunity they might never get again. If only we had known, we could have encouraged them to keep going, sharing with them our knowledge of the delightful, glorious reward that awaited. Perhaps we could have strengthened their resolve to carry on even in spite of their doubts.

Which is, I suppose, one of the reasons I write these letters. . . .

PW