Captain Tanner told us what to expect in Zion--lush green grass (you could walk barefooted!), plentiful food, shade trees, and he even promised to give us a piece of dried mango, the coveted treat he carried in his burlap backpack. It seemed unlikely that Zion could possibly live up to expectations. As we trekked through more sand and brush, we saw a line of green trees in the distance. That last push to Zion was hard, akin to day 2’s stinging sands. The difference this time was the sight of the finish line. If there was no one in front of us, I think our kids would have run.
Along the tree-lined path into Zion, people stood on either side, singing, waving bandanas, and welcoming us home. We parked our handcart, took off our boots, and laid down on the grass that was every bit as perfect as Captain Tanner had promised. Our dutch oven dinner of chicken, potatoes and carrots supplied everyone with more than one helping if they so desired. The mud cake dessert was delicious and we even had room for Captain Tanner’s dried mango.
Stomachs satisfied, some people slept, some went to the hair-washing station, and all of us, for the first time in days, changed clothes. Our uncle emerged from the restroom sporting a white shirt with elaborate embroidery down the front. I told him it looked like something he’d brought with him from the old country, a shirt reserved only for special occasions, like the night’s hoe-down.
The professional caller tried his best to entice the children, the adults, anyone really, to get the party started. “Step on down! Any couple will do!” he twanged through his microphone. He was so eager for recruits, I know from personal experience that if a person happened to even walk in that vicinity, to the restroom perhaps, you could suddenly be dragged into a promenade or possibly it was a do-si-do. Soon, the whole pioneer company, with varying degrees of success, was executing allemandes left and right. I think Pa Beck even chasséd. At the end of the hoe-down, we ate homemade ice cream. Chocolate or vanilla, your choice. This truly was Zion.
Breakfast in Zion was as heavenly as one might imagine. As we waited in line, Pa Beck accidentally dropped his pie tin. It made a satisfying plunk. One of our sons then dropped his pie tin. It produced more of a plink. All around us, teenagers began throwing their pin tins to the ground creating a chorus not just of plunks and plinks, but sproings and dongs, punctuated by the occasional resonant ker-plunk. The oddest things bring amusement during pioneer trek.
From the pie tin symphony we moved on to capture-the-flag, Ma and Pa skits, and family pictures. There were so many teenagers lined up for the youth testimony meeting, we had to break into companies so everyone would have a chance. A shy boy from our ward was the very first to bear his testimony, a proud moment for his young men’s president, Pa Beck. Another girl from our company, a girl who’d had a difficult couple of years, bore her testimony. Her mother, who was a Ma in another company didn’t hear her. Before the bus ride home, I saw this mother in line at the restrooms. She asked me if I could recall anything in particular from her daughter’s testimony. I told her what I remembered and her eyes filled with tears. She’d prayed for something very specific that her daughter would gain from trek and her daughter had said almost word for word what she’d prayed for.
In that last restroom line, one teenaged girl asked me, “Are you from Silverdale stake?” I told her I was. “Is it true that you guys couldn’t wear deodorant?” Instead of offering her a whiff, I kept my arms down and nodded. Another girl spoke up, “I heard your stake trekked until like 10 o’clock.” “No,” another girl said, “I heard it was midnight.” Down the line of Walla Walla girls, they talked, “Did you really sleep without a pillow?” “Did you only get broth for dinner?” Yes, it was all true, I told them. They seemed impressed with Silverdale Stake’s chutzpa. I was impressed too. Over the course of four days, I gained a greater appreciation for our pioneer ancestors, a greater appreciation for our modern-day youth, and a greater appreciation for the comforts of home. Trek confirmed to me what I already knew about my husband-- he would have made a truly valiant pioneer. Seven teenagers, most of whom I’d never met before trek, will always have a place in this Ma’s heart. But most of all, I felt the spirit testify numerous times that the Lord will be with us through whatever hardships our mortal existence may bring. With His help, we can all make it to Zion. Pioneer trek delivered on its promise--it was a life-changing experience.