Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jenna Griffin (’17). Jenna loves foreign music, old cookbooks, public transportation, and sunsets in new places. After graduating with degrees in writing and French, she is spending her first post-grad year as an English teaching assistant in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France.
Four were sophomores, the other six of us freshman. We were fresh out of childhood homes and newbies in the backcountry, and spring break was an opportunity to prove ourselves. We had driven across the country in search of The Southwest, and we found it settled in the bottoms of our packs and in our socks and in the sweat behind our ears. We found it in the play of hot and cold color. Hot and cold weather too, as it turned out.
An important lesson: always expect snow.
A complication with the backcountry permits led to a wonky itinerary: two miles on day one, twelve on day two, thirteen on day three where we would backtrack along the same trail and then some. We would hike back to the car on day four.
After a day and a half on the trail, we felt capable. Inventive. Experienced. We knew how to set up camp in the dark and how to cook pasta without getting too much dirt in the pot. We had used a tampon to stem a bloody nose.
On the third day, a certain dark turning in the atmosphere promised changing weather. A cold breeze brought rain, then hail, then snow—a lot of it. We had all lived through at least one Michigan winter, but never had I seen flakes the size of silver dollars. We marveled at how quickly they could pile onto the tops of our backpacks and soak through our hair and chill our skin. It fell for hours.
The snow had followed two days of heat and sun because that’s how the world works. Of course, we weren’t prepared for the world as it was, but for what our minds had believed it to be. We stumbled through this accumulation of the unexpected and we tried to do it with as much dignity as we could muster—which wasn’t all that impressive. We strapped trash bags to our packs and we stuffed our hands into our armpits. Our decidedly un-waterproof pants stuck to our quivering legs.
Our game plan: retreat. More than a few sleeping bags had been soaked. We were dead tired, and my feet felt like two big bruises stuck to the bottom of my legs. We were also already heading in the direction of the car, which made the decision easy. As we continued on, the snow stopped, the mists cleared, and we were suddenly met with the sight of a golden mountain—a sight we received as a benediction. We prayed, radiant.
Though they stay with us in a way, miracles do pass. The mountain disappeared almost as quickly as it had come, the sun set quicker than we imagined it would, and we had far to go in darkness. We weathered paths obscured by fresh snow and the shadowed flicker of our headlamp beams pulled us dreamlike through the final stretch of forest.
When we reached the car we piled in with the naïve hope of sleep. We shared sleeping bags, and we spoke of angels, of warmth, of the eyes we had maybe seen blinking between the trees, of grandparents’ homes. An hour, maybe two of sleep, and finally the sun appeared. I had been searching for him through foggy windows all night long.
I have been thinking about this moment lately. We came to Zion in prayer and in ignorance, in thanksgiving and in possibility. We came in growing pains too, because suddenly we were the ones in charge, and on more than a few occasions that reality settled deep and foreign in the pit of my stomach.
If I’m being honest, it still does. It’s been over three years since I set foot in that particular national park but these sorts of moments just keep coming. I am constantly coming to terms with the fact that a) I have no idea what I am doing and b) I have to make the decisions anyway. Sometimes, when I’m shivering and tired and more than a little nervous for the state of our vehicle’s brakes on snowy mountain roads, that’s a hard pill to swallow. Even then, though, I find I wouldn’t have it any other way.
At dawn we drove down the mountain, out of the snow, and into the parking lot of Meme’s Café. The restaurant was the color of a vegetable garden, and we were surrounded by sweetness. We ate jam and thick toast and omelets exploding with peppers, and the shadows of the night were still with us but they looked like blackberries now. We invited them fully, welcoming the stains on our lips as darkness chased away the emptiness in our bellies.
We left full and fulfilled and hungry for more of everything.