During the storms of life when we become spiritually depleted, sometimes we need “angels” to lead us by the hand, nurture our souls and revive us. At other times, when a wandering soul crosses our path, we may need to step in and take courage, and help guide them toward the covenant path. Most of us have been on both sides of this type of equation, at least I know I have. With help, I have weathered physical and spiritual storms and have been instrumental in aiding another.
September 1981 – Wind River Range, Wyoming
Our NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructors’ look of concern was evident as dark storm clouds gathered above. A storm was moving in fast in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. Yet, their faces soon faded from view as our group confidently took off, up the steep slope to begin our four-day walk-out. Soon after we parted, the map team was in discussion. I hiked over to the debating group grasping the idea, they weren’t certain where we stood. I knew I could read the contour map and after much explanation and persuasion, I convinced them our trail was a mile back. So, we trudged back through the snow, found the path which led us through a massive boulder field covered in ice and a foot of snow, and then spent the night atop a wind-swept glacier.
Traversing the boulder field by climbing over the ginormous rocks with a heavy pack was difficult for me as furious wind gusts pummeled us. They literally threatened to blow me over into the dark, glassy lake below. So, two of the biggest guys in our group sandwiched me between them. Every time the wind’s fierceness raced over the boulders they held me up and protected me. By the time we crested the glacier, the night sky was bright with starlight as the storm clouds had moved on. The snow had ceased falling and the air smelled crisp and cold.
By the end of the second day, I found myself standing alone in the woods, staring through the trees, glimpsing the vista between the branches. A new layer of snow, pristine and untouched captured my attention. Then I heard people. I turned to see my NOLS group scurrying about. What were they doing? Oh yeah, setting up camp, I recalled.
Someone called to me. I wasn’t sure why I was in the woods and not with them. I slowly turned and walked over to small, flat clearing nestled between the groups of trees. They asked me something; maybe to help set up the tent? I wasn’t sure. I must have looked confused, because they stopped talking and quickly grabbed another NOLS student who ran off to set up the tent.
“Tanya, you’re hypothermic,” Nick said. My feet were probably still wet, I thought, but I wasn’t shivering anymore. “Eat this.” I ate what he gave me. It was sweet. But we weren’t supposed to be eating. We were on our walkout. We were fasting as we hiked 40 miles over 4 days in Wyoming’s Wind River Range; I hadn’t eaten in two days. Someone else got me into the tent and was stripping off my wet clothing and getting me into my sleeping bag. Nick let me know that hot food was on the way.
Through the night Dave, one of my tent mates, stayed with me. He talked to me about life and watched over me. I woke up feeling stronger. Gladney brought me breakfast. After devouring it, I felt like Wonder Woman! These “angels” revived me and literally saved me from what could have become a more serious situation.
Once I was up and out of the tent, I noticed the map team. Once again, they were debating. Apparently, we were lost. I asked to see the map. Luckily, it was easy for me to determine our predicament. “Do you see two small lakes anywhere on the map?” They didn’t. Well, we were obviously no longer on the map.
“What should we do?” they responded. Knowing we walked off the west side of the map, I suggested we head due east until we recognized something on the map. At this point, I knew I should have inserted myself on the map team after the first time there was a problem. Contour maps were not easy for “greenies” like us to read; we were all just learning. For some reason it was one of the things I picked up and could do well.
With abounding energy and confidence in contour map reading, the rest of the walkout seemed easy. The others were still fasting. At one point, Dave couldn’t feel his toes; so I rubbed his feet trying to keep them warm. Karin fell, injuring her wrist; so I helped carry her things. Even with the mishaps, we all survived although with some scars; Dave & myself had a few frostbitten toes, Karin’s wrist was broken, and previous to the walkout, Susan was evacuated out of the mountains by helicopter, but those tales are for another camp fireside.
As I reflected on these events, gratitude filled my heart for the angels who cared for me. Thoughts of times when “spiritual hypothermia” shook my soul, inexpressible gratitude filled my being as I was led by the hand, instructed, and guided through the confusion when I could not do it myself. Presently, I continue to offer my talents to those in need, yet am ever learning how navigate the terrain to help those who have wandered, find their way back “on the map” toward the covenant path.