By: Norm Rasmussen
My wife, Kathleen, and I, had traveled out from Michigan to attend the funeral of my brother-in-law Jerry Cheadle. Jerry was employed by United Parcel Service as a delivery driver, and was on his job in Burns, Oregon on October 26, 2006 when he suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism from a blood clot. Jerry was preparing to retire on January 1, 2007 from United Parcel Service at age 65. God provided the ultimate retirement two months early: Heaven.
Sharon Miller, Pastor of Living Word Christian Center in Mt. Vernon, did the best job I have ever experienced at a funeral. So many came from miles around. Many testified of how Jerry was used of the Lord to touch their lives. The funeral procession stretched out for eight miles ' a sight to behold. UPS trucks and drivers lead the funeral precession. Jerry will be greatly missed by many he worked with, by many of the customers he served over the years, and of course, the Body of Christ. By me and Kathleen - By Flora, their son Jim and daughter Jodi, and the rest of the extended family. (This photo shows what was painted on the end of Jerry's pine casket. Classic! Patricia Ross painted the artwork, and Dave Traylor made the coffin.)
SLIDE LAKE ENCOUNTER
On November 8, 2006, a few days after Jerry's funeral, I took my 102 year old father, Ray Rasmussen, for a ride to Prairie City. From a distance, we gazed at the beautiful Strawberry Mountain range covered with freshly fallen snow. The longer we gazed, the more I felt compelled to see again dad's favorite fishing lake when we both were younger: Slide Lake. Picturesque Slide Lake is one of a few lakes found in the Strawberry Mountain range in Grant County, in Eastern Oregon.
'I'm thinking about walking up there tomorrow, Dad. They are predicting heavier snow for the next several days, and if I don't get up there tomorrow, it may be too late. Want to go with me?'
'Yep!' he exclaimed. 'Take me with you!'
I wish it could be. Dad is (was) wheelchair ridden ' barely able to even use his walker anymore. (Update: Dad died in 2008 at the age of 103 1/2: You can read some about him: http://www.precious-testimonies.com/Hope_Encouragement/p-t/RRasmussen.htm). Myself - nearing age 60 at the time - my right knee weakened from a military injury and a few additional strains to it over the years, would at best, barely enable me to make the trip. Coupled with a weak knee was my degenerative lower lumbar disc condition that has triggered partial paralysis and fatigue in one or both legs at different times, so it would take everything in me with the help of God to even make it to the lake on dry ground in mid-summer, let alone going up there in the slippery snow and cold.
I was hoping my older brother, Floyd Rasmussen, could make the hike with me, but he had to work, so I would have to make the hike by myself, if I went. It could be a very risky hike, especially going alone.
Throughout that night I woke frequently, pondering the wisdom of going, or calling off the hike. I could always turn around and come back, if things didn't work out. I decided I would give it a try.
It was snowing, which didn't really thrill me, when I left Flora Cheadle's home in Mt. Vernon, Oregon, at 3 a.m. I encountered snow squalls all the way up to Strawberry Campground where I parked my car. There was plenty of parking space: mine being the only vehicle.
I was on the trail leading to Slide Lake at 4 a.m. Snow, wind and Jesus would be my friends up the long, winding trail into the Strawberry wilderness. Jesus? Oh yeah ' singing songs of praise out loud to Him brings great comfort and confidence to the soul at times like that, I've discovered. It dispels a lot of fears that can begin to play tricks with your mind, like cougars or bears hungry for some fresh exported meat from Michigan. It adds a dimension of joy and peace no matter where a person might be on planet earth -- praising one's Savior out loud -- with much volume.
With only low-cut tennis shoes and flimsy cotton socks on my feet, the cold quickly began to seep into my skin, but it was a dry snow on the ground, thank goodness ' much better for the feet to retain internal heat.
Where the Slide Lake trail branches off from the Strawberry Lake Trail, there was about an inch of snow on the ground. The trail makes three switchbacks before one reaches the top of the canyon looking down into Riner Basin. Once on top of the canyon, normally that is the location where a hiker takes an extended break from the taxing climb up to that point, but the biting wind up there was so penetrating that I decided to keep moving along the trail rather than allow myself to get chilled from the sweat I had generated from huffing it up the steep trail from Strawberry Campground.
It had been a few years since I had made a trek into Slide Lake so my memory was a little foggy. Along with the darkness, blowing snow, and no signs, I missed the trail that takes the high route along the canyon into Slide Lake, which was the trail I had always taken in times past, and inadvertently took the lower trail instead. Huge error.
As I walked along the slippery canyon trail through the snow and biting wind, I kept reminding myself of what could happen if I lost my footing. A fall could be fatal.
It was still dark when I reached a trail intersection where two signs are located. One sign reads: Skyline Trail, with an arrow pointing appropriately. That trail kept leading down into the canyon.
The other sign reads: Slide Lake connector trail, with an arrow pointing in the direction I had come from rather than in the direction the tail was heading. Huh? That made no sense!
I decided to walk the Skyline Trail a ways to see where it took me. I think the biting cold and fatigue must have affected my brain. The dark didn't help.
Nearing daybreak, I came to a fast-moving stream. This was when I definitely knew I had taken a wrong trail. The creek had to be Slide Creek. Slide Lake Falls had to be high above me, which meant that Slide Lake was also. I had walked about a mile out of my way ' an extra mile too many!Walking down the trail from the top of the canyon hadn't been so bad, though it had become extremely slippery. But now walking back up the trail ' sharp pains stabbed with every movement in my right knee and in my upper thigh near my pelvis area. Fatigue was setting in both legs as well from pinched nerves in my lower back, and I realized that it was now going to probably take everything in me just to make it back to my car. I would have to call off the hike in to Slide Lake. It had been unwise of me to take the Skyview Trail. I began to grumble to myself.
An hour later I reached the trail intersection where I had been confused before. Now however, I could see the lay of the land because it was daylight. I was quite sure I could hear Slide Falls over the noise of the wind, which meant that I wasn't really all that far from Slide Lake. I began to rethink my options. Go back the way I had come to get to the car and do the least amount of damage to my knee ' or take the Slide Lake Connector trail and see the lake one last time? Slide Lake couldn't be more than a mile way. Being so close yet not seeing the lake would bother me for years to come.
I prayed, asking for wisdom in what to do. Something in me seemed to be saying: 'Go see the beautiful lake!'
The trail was steep for a ways, but then flattened out for the better part to the lake, thank goodness.
I arrived at Slide Lake shortly after 10 a.m. A thin layer of ice covered about half the lake.
Where the stream leaves the lake, a few brightly colored trout swam in the shallow water, hoping to find a little food before the long winter set in. I broke up a ham and cheese sandwich and tossed the pieces into the water. Though it scared the fish, they would eat every crumb as soon as I left, I knew.
The clouds began to part briefly around 11 a.m., and brilliant sunlight made the snow and ice on the rugged, multi-colored lichen laden cliffs above glisten in breathtaking splendor. What a sight it was to behold!
At the far upper-end of the lake I began taking photos ' wishing I had purchased one of those throw-away cameras that allows you to snap ultra-wide panoramic shots. (I painfully discovered later that the wind chill mid-morning was so cold it froze my camera, so I wasn't able to see even the gorgeous photos I took that day with the camera I had. Thanks goodness it allowed me to see a few of the pictures I took at the lake before it froze up. Grrrrr ...)
I had taken along a trout rod with me ... hoping to at least catch just ONE trout ... but my fingers were so numb from the cold that I couldn't even tie bait on the line. That was a REALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL bummer - double Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ...
I considered building a fire to warm my fingers up to try to rig the line and catch a trout, but the pain in my lower torso told me I needed to think about getting back down into lower country while I had the daylight and the broken clouds above.
While waiting for the clouds to part long enough to snap photos with brilliant sunlight lighting the landscape, I then began to reminisce of times past when I had visited the lake. I recalled the summer over 10 years ago when Kathleen and I had spent a week camping at the lake. Along with our camping equipment and supplies, we packed in wet suits, snorkels, masks and fins, all because of a full-blown Technicolor dream I had months earlier of snorkeling the lake and watching the trout through what appeared to be a gigantic prism.
On my second trip of hauling all of our equipment into the lake on that particular trip, I did so after dark. It was a warm August evening. There was a full moon out with not a cloud in the sky. I made the entire trip from our car at Strawberry Campground to Slide Lake without the need of a flashlight, it was so bright. I think that was the best night I've ever experienced. When you are up nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, the stars and the moon become a lot more brilliant, and the expanse of the universe displays the glory of God in ways that is difficult to describe in mere words.
Another time, when I was about age 15, Dad and I decided to spend the night at the lake rather than walk back out the same day after dark. Earlier that day, Dad tied a bunch of water-soaked logs together to make himself a makeshift raft. He had removed his shoes while fishing all afternoon on the raft with his feet submerged a few inches under the water. Refreshing at the time, but so caught up in catching trout bigger than what would fit in the skillet, he sunburned his feet badly and wasn't able to walk back out to our car that evening.
We cut tree boughs to lay on near a fire to try to keep warm. With tree branches poking you underneath; with your front side toward the fire burning you while you back-side froze, with a couple of porcupines staring you in the eye only a couple of feet away and refusing to leave until Dad had me hold the flashlight on them while he lit M-80 firecrackers and blew quills off them to get them to permanently leave ' that had to be one of the most 'miserably memorable' nights I had ever experienced.
had offered so many fond past memories. At age 80, Dad was able to remember all
of them. At age 90, his memory began slipping quickly. At age 102, he has
to have someone else tell him those past experiences now. I
wondered what my memory would be like if I grew to be that old. I thought I
should probably write this particular trip down, because the day may come when I
would no longer be able to remember it.
The driving - biting - wind began blowing harder, snapping me out of my reminiscing of memorable days gone past. Standing still, I took note that my feet were starting to lose feeling, and I needed to get moving again or risk possible frost bite. My fingers were getting so cold it was getting harder and harder to move them. When my digital camera got so cold it quit working, I knew it was time to leave. But it was hard. I love the Strawberry Mountain wilderness. I always will. There are no anxiety riddled, stressed out motorists five minutes late for somewhere driving over the speed limit while on their cell phones. Well shucks ... there aren't even any speed signs along the trail. You can walk at whatever speed you want without getting a ticket - or pitch a skinny tent and don't have to fear getting run over ... though rolling rocks starting from high up above in certain spots can mess up your sleep!
I took the high trail back. Though drifting snow covered the trail in open terrain, the breath-taking view was well worth it. On the rugged rock cliffs above, the reddish-orange and green algae will mesmerize you in all of its artistic patchwork of beautiful, breathtaking colors. I'm not over-exaggerating: What I viewed was the most gorgeous scenery I've ever seen on this planet.
If that won't captivate your attention, the glistening ice-cycles surely would that cling to many of the rocks/cliffs, as brilliant rays of sunlight make them sparkle brighter than the eyes of a Grant County, Oregon bride on her wedding day.
Perhaps even more mesmerizing were the clouds overhead, barely clearing the very top of the canyon crest up above. Had I been several years younger, in much better shape, I suppose I could have been tempted to climb to the very top of the rugged cliffs above to see if I could reach up and touch those fast-moving clouds, to somehow become connected with them, if only for a moment. I wish I had brought my video camera now, to try to capture it all (though it TOO probably would have frozen up from the blowing cold).
No eagles were soaring overhead however, as they do in the summer. Too cold. Too harsh now, up this high.
Fresh bobcat tracks were imprinted on the trail every now and then, all moving down into the steep canyon below. On one occasion I spotted some fresh bighorn sheep tracks, also heading lower. I sure would have liked to been able to see the animal making the tracks. Bighorn sheep had been introduced to the area years after I had moved away from Oregon.
A couple of big fallen trees across the trail added an extra challenge to my adventure. My right leg was now paining so bad that I couldn't lift it but a few inches off the ground, as well as bending it at all also brought stabbing pain. Yet God helped me get past them. I don't say that lightly.
At the top of the canyon I rested briefly. I put on a dry pair of socks with much difficultly. My back was paining so much that it was extremely difficult to be able to bend over enough to take the wet socks off and put the dry socks on. Once accomplishing this task, I crawled into a double label of big garbage bags (emergency light weight sleeping bags) to rest a little and warm up, wanting to sleep so bad.
Yet the thought of a warm car and a cup of hot coffee was calling me from way down the canyon below. 'I'm waiting for you, Norm. Come to me.'
I got back at the car by 4 p.m. About half an inch of snow was on the ground at the campground parking lot. I was the only one at the campground, not surprisingly. I saw a big five-point mule deer buck moving down to lower country not long after driving away from Strawberry Campground. It was a glorious day indeed! Seeing the Strawberry Mountain country close up with a flesh blanket of snow is something I would recommend everyone to experience, if they are able. It will be a memory you'll never want to forget.
The unexpected death of Jerry Cheadle is what took my wife and I out to Oregon. Yet in our time of sorrow at the loss of someone we loved so dearly, God gave me a day away from those sorrows that we all experience when a loved one passes ... to have a tiny glimpse of what heaven holds in store. I wish Kathleen could have been with me that day. One of her fondest memories is when we camped at Slide Lake for a week many summers ago, catching fresh trout for the skillet and having the opportunity to snorkel the lake ... seeing the gorgeous hues of the brightly colored trout from the surface of the water through our diving masks.
Isn't it so true ... there are millions of lakes on this planet that are so breathtaking. Yet there is NEVER a lake so breathtaking as the lake you grew up on (or visited) when you were a kid. It's always the memories that make that particular lake so special ... and I can only thank God the lakes in the Strawberry Mountain range in Grant Country, Oregon hold the most special place in my mind and heart when I think about my most treasured childhood memories.
I've dreamed about flying over the Strawberry Mountain range. Flying like an eagle like slow-motion wing-suit flying. Catching the wind currents and letting them take me where they will. It might not matter that much when the time comes ... but right now I have one special favor to ask the Lord once I get my heavenly glorified body that He has promised Christians: "Can I do some soaring over the Strawberry Mountain range with my Dad ... and can we drop down and cast out a fly off the back of the water-soaked wooded raft like the good old days?"
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