Wait, what? you may find yourself saying. If you were A) educated in the American public school system; B) grew up outside of Utah; and C) are not Mormon and you have no idea what I'm talking about, you're not alone. Pioneer Day as the 24th of July has come to be known celebrates the day Mormon pioneers, having been on the run from all manner of persecution, first entered the Salt Lake Valley and decided to call it 'home.' The story of the Mormon pioneers has been told many times and the stories of what they endured and the faith they demonstrated are amazing. The best I've ever read on it is in a book called "Journey to Zion" by Carol Cornwall Madsen. Madsen compiled the diaries and journals of myriad pioneers who made the journey to get behind the Zion Curtain and it is such a compelling read. I had ancestors who were a part of it and as I read Madsen's book, I could not help but be humbled and grateful for what these people experienced.
The 'pioneer' legacy looms large in Church culture today. The sacrifice of these people is legendary and is a part of the family history of so many members. Each year, literally thousands of youth groups from the Church recreate bits and bobs of the journey in the form of two and three day 'treks.' It helps connect youth to the past and to give them but a tiny, tiny sense of what happened all those years ago.
The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I, along with Our Lady of Awesome, did a trek together several years ago when we lived in California. We donned our 'pioneer' clothing, loaded up the handcarts (seriously) and with a large group of kids and other adults dragged our way through the high desert of scenic Riverside County (you know, the Inland Empire, or as it is truly known, 'The Land of Meth and Camaros on Blocks'). What made it all the more interesting is that the week before we were to make the trek I had fractured (hairline) my spine in a roller-blading 'incident' that we don't speak of anymore. The only way I made it through the trek was the modern pioneer's best friend, Mr. Vic O'Din. Some of you may know him. Anyway, it made it bearable. It also made it easier to forget some of the more challenging bits of the three days. I do to this day though, remember some of the actions of the kids on this trek. Watching them forget their own exhaustion and hunger and dropping everything to help pull another group's cart up what seemed like an impossibly steep hill stays with me today. It still inspires me.
That experience reminded me that I would have made for a lousy pioneer in 1847. Frankly, I'm not sure I would have survived. Let's face it, pioneering for me is having to fly Economy Class now because I've lost my elite status with a few airlines. Suffice to say, I am grateful for those who sacrificed and endured the way that they did all those years ago. They are for better than me.