FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: Lost in Yellowstone (chapter 29)
“An angel in a different form.”
We don’t know much about angels, really. The idea of ‘guardian angels’ goes beyond what our mind can perceive. For some, I guess it’s easier to discount them than to believe in them. After all, you cannot see them, and they don’t go around tapping you on the shoulder – at least not literally.
I’ve been thinking on all this. Perhaps the Lord gives details about these kinds of things to us in small portions so that those who want to believe can get enough facts to make it possible to, and those who do not want to – well, they can go right on not believing.
On this six-day journey – it would have been seven if not for an unexpected resurgence in strength – I am sure angels guided us and protected us every step of the way. How they work is not for me to know. Whether they go ahead of you and shoo away snakes, or scare bears to run that way instead of this way – we’ll have to wait on that information. Truth is, I don’t have to know how to know what.
Remember how Elisha and his assistant Gahazi were once in a big bind with the Syrian army surrounding their city; and the great prophet tells his servant Gehazi to look up in the sky, and the Lord opens the servant’s eyes and he sees chariots of fire all around. Angels – that’s what he saw, no doubt, in chariots ready to swoop down at any moment, hovering overhead to protect God’s servant and him. You may remember that this is when Elisha gives us that great quote of faith, “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.”
I can say today, without hesitation or trepidation, that they who were with us down in the belly of Yellowstone were more than were with them. I looked up every dark night in that wilderness and gave the Lord thanks for that. As I traveled along these long, long days, including early this Friday morning, those thoughts of thanksgiving and praise never were very far away. I walked through this ‘dark valley’ that morning, knowing dangers lurked around; and, amazingly, I saw none. Some unseen beings in my midst saw plenty, I am sure, but I saw none.
But angels do not just come in the heavenly form. Sometimes angels are just the people we meet on the way. I think we do well to call them by such a name because it indicates something truly remarkable about their good hearts and service. I have just such a man to introduce you to today – a forest ranger named Ethan – whom we met on this sixth day of the journey.
I had hiked along through that section of forest from our camp site to the bottom of the mountain that would lead us out of there, and I had nothing except my thoughts for those two and a half hours. After a couple of hours, I made my way to the beach of Heart Lake, which serves as a reservoir for the Snake River. It was easier to walk along the brim of the lake than in the heavy sand, so my trail for perhaps half of a mile was a few feet from the early-morning splashing waves. I could see some kind of lodge or cabin ahead on the northwest side of the lake; and my thought was that this would be where I would go. But before long I saw a sign on my right that pointed toward another cabin; so, I left the beach and took that path, and some ways before I came to that cabin I came to a sign that read:
8 1/2 miles to the Trailhead.
Eight more miles and we’d be home.
As I came to the cabin. I remembered it well from the first evening’s hike, which seemed years and years ago. It had been vacant that initial night, and it appeared vacant still. I came to it and found a place to sit and rest for a while, as I’d already gone two-and-a-half miles. I figured it was pushing nine o’clock; so, I had been hiking two full hours. I had noticed that the only two places that concerned me on my body was my left hip and that tendon or muscle on the hamstring that runs on the inside of the leg. Both the hip and that muscle were pretty sore; so, still having a bottle of my homemade oil I brought, I found a corner of the porch – no one was near anyway – I massaged those areas for a couple of minutes, hoping that would give me enough blood flow to get me up the mountain and back to the Trailhead.
I had just finished the massage and grabbed my bag to get ready to go when somebody from within the cabin opened the door. It startled me, mainly because I had just been a bit indecent, but he hadn’t seen me. He had heard a plane that had been flying overhead. I’d been watching the plane, too, thinking that it might be out looking for Todd and me. He must have thought something of the sort, too.
My ranger was a young man – I would learn he was twenty-nine years old – and he came to the door in sweats and no shirt. He had long blonde hair down to his shoulders; and when I first saw him I could not help but think he looked a little like a Greek god. He came out of the ranger’s station and greeted me, and we stood there for a minute as I explained briefly the journey I had been on.
“Let me check something,” he said, and he reached inside and grabbed a big black notebook with wrinkled pages and began searching through it. He came to a place that told where two hikers the past Sunday had been taken out of the park on horseback, and there still were two others out there. The note went on to suggest that the other two hikers might be in trouble, too. I do not know if the book stated that on Saturday that they would begin a search for the other two hikers or if the ranger told me that himself.
He provided some other useful information, too. We had not heard yet how or when Roy and Randy got out of the park. I was glad to hear they made it out on that Monday.
“Come on in here,” he said to me, opening the door to the dark brown log cabin, “and I’ll get dressed and hike out with you to the Trailhead. Today’s my day off, and I was going to climb up Mount Sheridan; but it’d be better if I took you out.”
I went in the cabin and could see that he had slept in a makeshift bed in the corner of the room.
“This is my first time here in this cabin,” he said, as he grabbed some wood to put in the wood-burning stove that sat in the corner, “because I just came here from North Carolina. So, I don’t know if there is any food in here or not.”
When he had gotten the fire started, he rummaged through a back room while I sat down on a stool to rest. Pretty soon he came back with some peanut butter and some fairly old croissant bagels. Having not eaten any real food in a week, I disregarded the staleness of the bread and made me a sandwich with peanut butter heaped high on it – and I made an extra one to carry with me.
As I was eating, Ethan went back into the kitchen and came out a minute later with some “Tang” drink mix, and he gave it to me to drink along with some water for me to pour in my own bottle. As I ate and drank, he went about gathering his clothes and some other items for his backpack, then we went back outside getting ready to go. Ethan first walked down to the lake to wash his face, I expect, and came back and finished packing his backpack.
“I can put your bag in my backpack,” he said, holding his hand out for my blue tent bag. I handed it to him, and all I was left to carry was my water bottle. I did not mind that at all. As we prepared to start our trip, Todd came walking up the trail. I had been at the cabin for a good hour, so that gave Todd time to catch up.
I introduced Todd to Ethan, and Ethan ended up taking Todd’s backpack (which was far heavier) and then lessened the weight of his own and traded backpacks with Todd. Todd was very agreeable to the switch; and, for the first time, I noticed that Todd was showing signs of fatigue. He had made it this far, and the mental and physical stress began to take their toll.
As we prepared to leave, two other hikers came up the trail we came up on, walking briskly. They smiled as they walked by, and I pointed, and said, “Ah, Mr. Lyons and Mr. DiMaggio.”
“Very good,” DiMaggio replied with a smile, and I tapped fists with the two men and they were off. We were not far behind, but we would not see them again.
It was 10 a.m. in the morning, and we had eight more miles to go on our historic journey:
Eight miles, two-and-a-half of it up the mountain.
Ah, I could not help but remember what Roy had said that first Sunday evening: If we can just ‘make it through December.’
We had a chance now, thanks in no small part to our guardian ranger who happened to be at the right place at the right time to help us finish our journey.
It is true, friends, of this I have no doubt: Angels come in different forms, and they that be with us are more than they that be with them.