Monday, July 31, 2006

Four Brothers in a Three Man Tent

There we were, four guys huddled together in a three-man tent for 48 hours, waiting out a snowstorm. What’s worse, it was the middle of July. It’s not our usual idea of how to spend a summer vacation.

We were camping at 11,000 feet, high above the timberline in the Titcum Basin of Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Crowned by Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming at 13,785 feet, these glacier-spangled mountains are the most alpine in the American Rockies outside of Alaska.

The first two days of our adventure passed in beautiful sunny weather. We backpacked away from civilization into the spectacular Bridger Wilderness area. We were 25 miles from the nearest forest service road when the storm hit. On a small patch of high mountain meadow, surrounded by rocks and snowfields, we pitched our tent to shelter ourselves from what we expected to be a brief summer shower.

Temperatures were in the 30s when the storm struck. It began to rain and hail, then turned to freezing rain, sleet and finally snow. The temperature dropped to 25 degrees. Winds gusting at 60 miles per hour made it seem much colder.

We sought warmth in our sleeping bags, Evening came, then morning, as the storm continued. A short break in the clouds around mid-day gave us hope, and we took the chance to stretch our legs. Then the sky turned black again; the wind increased; the storm worsened.

A sound almost like thunder echoed several times during the afternoon. We peered from our tent. Avalanches of rock and snow rumbled and crashed, as if in slow motion, down the vertical granite walls of Freemont Peak and the other mountains rising a half-mile above us.

The second night of the storm seemed longer than the first. Finally, on the afternoon of the third day it was over. The evening alpenglow on the peaks was especially glorious. The stars shone with an unusual brilliance through with an unusual brilliance through the rarefied mountain atmosphere. The next morning, fragile multicolored wildflowers poked their way through the melting snow and it looked like springtime.

Backpacking in Wyoming, and even a summer snowstorm, was fabulous.

The most memorable part, however, was spending two days and nights with four guys in a three-man tent. What made it even more special was the fact that we are all brothers.

While shivering and waiting out the storm we talked, laughed, prayed, sang, reminisced, debated theology and politics, got on each other’s nerves, let our hair down, and generally had a grand time. A week earlier I had sweltered in 99-degree heat with humidity to match at a church youth camp in Georgia. It hardly seemed possible.

My brothers and I grew up in Tennessee, as part of a family of 12 children, but our separate paths had scattered us. At the time of this adventure we lived in four different states. Bruce and Jeff were both university professors, Raymond a building contractor, and I a pastor. A three man tent in the mountains of western Wyoming reminded us how close we still are in spite of living very different lives.

I have thousands of acquaintances and a few good friends, but if four men are going to spend two days and nights in a three-man tent, it’s best if they are brothers. They’re special.

That’s the kind of relationship Jesus desires to have with us. He said “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50


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