In two days Utah and Mormons the world over will celebrate Pioneer Day, a holiday honoring those who left their homes in Europe and the Eastern states to trek across the wilderness of the American west, to start a new life in a place where they could practice their religion free from persecution and in the company of fellow believers. Some of my own ancestors were pioneers, although I don't know if they traveled by covered wagon, pulled a hand-cart, or just carried a knapsack across the plains. Whatever their mode of transport, it was definitely more difficult, dangerous, and tiresome than my move to a new apartment 15 blocks away. Not wanting to be a huge burden on anyone, and to help relieve the stress of moving, I've been loading up my rolling cart each night and transporting a load of belongings from one apartment to the other, like a cat moving her kittens. At first I had trouble with the rolling cart, whose small front wheels will catch on any bump or groove in the pavement--and these are common in Harlem--and tip forward, spilling over. But after a few trips (in several senses of the word), I learned how to best handle the thing and learned the terrain of my journey, so that now I can make it there and back in a jiffy, with no real hardship.
My journey takes me up hills and down hollers, along a tree-lined cliff, past parks and a lovely college campus. I go along Broadway, dodging people, and down bumpy side streets. Instead of rivers, I ford ditches overflowing with the water gushing from open hydrants, and instead of wild animals I encounter catcalls from old guys that lounge on stoops. Instead of rolling grassland, I see littered pavement. Instead of the Great Salt Lake, I see the Hudson River. Then I know, this is the place.
The bumpy pavement and hills of Harlem are nothing compared to the roadless Rocky Mountains of the 1850s, but making my daily trek has me thinking about those pioneers. Their bravery and strength amazes me. I like to think that if I had lived back then I would have made the journey with them, all uncomplaining and energetic, but would I? Without sunblock or mosquito repellent? Could I have left my home and possessions, buried my children along the wayside, faced starvation, and exposed myself to all of the elements of nature in order to follow my faith? Hmmm... I doubt it. But it gives me strength and courage to know that I am descended from those who did, and it makes my walks seem delightful in comparison.