When I lived in Nebraska, friends and family outside the state would comment about how flat it was, how boring it was to drive through, and that the scenery never changed. I loved the huge sky, the taste of infinity that came from the vast horizon, the subtle beauty of the Sandhills, and the miracle that is the Nebraska sunset. There is spectacular scenery to be found, but I’ll let you find that in the guidebooks. The view as you drive across Nebraska on I-80 is similar to what those heading west would have seen as they trudged the Oregon Trail.
When I moved there, I was surprised to find that the elevation of Lexington was 2392 feet above sea lever. Sunglasses are necessary on the many days of bright sunshine because the higher elevation increases the possibility of sun damage to your eyes, which can lead to macular degeneration.
When you entered Nebraska on the Oregon Trail at Odell, the elevation was 1309’ above sea level, when you reached Fort Kearney, it was 2152, and by Lexington it was 2392 feet above sea level. What we in our cars perceive as a flat landscape, those westbound walkers knew in their legs and backs was an uphill climb.
Soon, the towering natural rock formation of Chimney Rock would come into view. It would seem so close, any day they would reach that milestone on their journey. But since it was 3891 feet above sea level, they could see it long before they were within an easy walk to it. So they would move steadily uphill, with tired horses, aching muscles, thinner air to breathe and a brighter sun beating down on their heads. Denver for those going there is at 5280 feet above sea level: the Mile High City!
They kept moving, even though Chimney Rock didn’t seem to be getting closer. But finally, they were really there., at the base of Chinmey Rock. They could rest, regroup, and begin the next phase of their journey.
Those on the Oregon Trail traveled up a steady incline, even though it looked liked it should be an easy, flat trek. Most of us, moving through our days, whether you’re like me trying to grow in health and create a peaceful, hospitable home, or reduce debt, or train to run a marathon, or be a caregiver to someone who resents needing care… we are moving through our days, and progress is not easily measured because it can seem like we’re just moving in place as our destination seems to be as elusive as Chimney Rock, until finally you realize that just by doing something, anything, positive that day, you’re closer than you expected.
It’s tiring to make your way, and it can feel like an uphill journey. If we focus on the goal, on being perfect right now, then we will wear ourselves out and give up. because the goal can feel too far away, and some days it seems to be getting harder to reach even though we’re trying so hard.
Having a goal is a good thing. Keeping track of little successes on the way is crucial or the goal will move out of reach: lifting another pound of weight in your resistance training, drinking another glass of water, paying $5 more than the minimum on your credit cards, actually meditating at all rather than intending to meditate. Each little success is a gift.
For those traveling west to find a new life, it was an uphill climb, The elevation of their journey went from 1309’ above sea level to 3891’ above sea level. Half-a mile of grade increase over all those miles. Our journey is more interior, but we are also traveling to find newness of life. Each step, each day, each time we do one little thing differently, we are moving onward and upward! May you find it to be so.
For those of you who pray, here’s a prayer from the Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer (2018):
For Travelers [since most of us are traveling in some fashion, moving toward a goal]
The world is yours, mighty God, and all people live by your faithfulness. Watch over those who are traveling. May they be careful, but not afraid, and safely reach their destinations. Wherever we wander in your spacious world, teach us that we never journey beyond your loving care, revealed in Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen
Grace, peace, and traveling mercies to you!