Gratitude and the slippery slope – Part 2

by Steve Brock on June 6, 2012

The fact that I’m writing this is a good indicator that I didn’t die on the hike to Annette Lake (just an hour east of Seattle) with my two sons several days ago…

I may not have suffered any major injury, thank God, but I did have an immediate change of perspective.

I went from focusing on the future – the interminable hour or so it would take us to go the three remaining miles to the lake – to a focus on each second, each careful step across avalanche slopes covered in hard snow.

After we made it across that perilous first slope, each additional crossing became progressively easier. We never lost sight, however, that one slip could lead toward a long slide and a world of hurt or even death in the valley below.

We discovered through that experience that there are two distinct – almost opposing – ways to walk these snowy/icy slopes:

  1. Firmly, digging your heel in first, if the substance is malleable snow.
  2. Gingerly, if the snow has turned to ice, for a hard step will throw you, sending you slipping, skittering and flailing.

Those of you more experienced with snow hiking will likely laugh at our naïve realization, but this is how one learns.

We made it to the lake which was mostly covered in snow and ice. We enjoyed a brief lunch, grateful for our food, our water and our being there…together and unharmed.

Soon, we were back on the meager trail, passing over the same steep avalanche slopes, careful, yet without our initial trepidation. As my confidence built and as we got to the forested, non-snowy section and the boys raced ahead, I found that my trekking pole was no longer necessary. Worse than that, I no longer wanted to even carry it.

This same collapsible aluminum stick which, arguably, had saved my life earlier was quickly becoming a nuisance. And that’s when I realized it: I’d lost a sense of all the gratitude I had felt just hours or even minutes before.

I quickly went from a moment-by-moment dependency on God and that trekking pole to a self-assured jaunt along the less treacherous parts of the trail. I went from being gratefully present to all that was around me back to how I started: an inward focus on the future and plans for what I would be doing when we returned home.

I likely would have continued in this vein had not I encountered God’s secret anecdote to much of our forgetfulness: other people.

First, I met a ranger racing up the mountain to warn the unprepared away from the slopes and to point the way in the section where the trail disappeared. Next, I met a lone hiker who had moved to the area months before and who complained about how snobby most people on the area’s trails seemed. His gratitude for my taking time to talk, to explain the trail ahead and how to traverse the slopes rekindled my own thankfulness for what we’d just been through.

So as I met others heading up as I went down the mountain, I spoke to them, offering insight, advice and encouragement. In a virtuous cycle of gratitude, we all went our own ways better for the encounter.


Sometimes we are given difficult situations not just for us to overcome, but to learn from and to share that learning with others. And so I did. And in the doing, I remembered what I had come for this day.

I drove home grateful; for trekking poles and trees, snow and snow-covered lakes, slopes and switchbacks, moss and mountains and the One who upholds us in all the ways we so often slip.

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Gratitude and the slippery slope – Part 1

by Steve Brock on May 30, 2012

This gives you some sense of crossing the avalanche slopes on the way to Annette Lake

Life is messy.

Trips are messy.

I thought I had this whole “traveling gratefully” approach down after last week when my wife’s parents were visiting. It seems so simple: pray and prepare well before the trip, go with the right attitude, be open to what comes your way and give thanks for it all.

Well, it does work that way, but not always as we expect.

This last weekend my two teen sons and I decide to go hiking. The day before, we select as our destination Annette Lake, a small alpine lake in the Cascades less than an hour’s drive from home. The hike looks perfect: Eight miles round trip, less than a 2000 foot elevation gain, a beautiful destination and enough variety along the way to keep it interesting. Or so the hiking book says.

That all sounded great the night before. When 6:30 a.m. comes around (we wanted to beat the crowds and predicted rain), however, I’m not feeling the love for this hike. Still, we head out, my oldest son driving as I pray for a better attitude, to be grateful and to make this a meaningful trip for my sons and me. Oh, and I pray for it not to rain (as drizzle smears our windshield).

We speak little on the drive there. We arrive as the rain lets up. We collectively say a word of thanks for the day so far, a good start. Moments later, we’re on the trail. The beautiful waterfalls, moss covered rocks, and trees of interesting shapes and distortions (from earlier storms this year) get my attention and keep me enthused about the prospects of this hike.

And then we hit the switchbacks.

I can buy the “no pain, no gain” mantra in small doses. I find, however, that I have this pathological aversion to discomfort. This isn’t that hard of a hike, but it is a steady uphill climb for three miles.

Soon, I am fixated on just how long three miles can be. All attempts at gratitude and noticing the beauty around me get overcome by an interior dialogue that goes something like this:

“Three more miles? That’s like more than an hour of this.”

“True, but that’s not so long.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s like forever!”

“It will go by in no time. Listen to some music.”

“I am listening and it is still a long time.”

“Maybe you should start doing more aerobic exercises.”

“Oh, like that really helps now.

“Hey, it’s only about 2 ½ miles now.”

“Shut up.”

“I can’t. I’m in your head. Be grateful.”

This goes on for another mile or so until we hit the snow.

At first, the snow on certain parts of the trail seems like a nice distraction. We’ve brought two pairs of trekking poles which the three of us share. This seems to work fine until we emerge out of the forest and then, everything changes.

We have come to the first of many avalanche slopes.

Picture traversing a 60 degree mountain slope that is covered with snow and ice. At first, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But as we make our way across the first slope two things happen.

First, my youngest son, who is now about half way across, looks down. Bad move. He’s not thrilled with heights and we are very high indeed above the valley below.

Second, I realize his predicament and try to speed up to help him. Doing so causes me to slip. I use my  trekking pole to prevent a tumble, but now I come face to face an unnerving realization: all three of us are just one mis-step or slip away from a 500 foot toboggan slide down the mountain without a toboggan or anything other than rocks and trees in the valley below to halt our progress.

One moment I’m whining to myself about the exertion of the hike and the next I’m aware of something so surprising I don’t want to take it seriously but I must:

We could die here.


To be continued…

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The difficulty of wonder

by Steve Brock on June 28, 2011

A week ago last Friday, I went hiking with my son, Sumner. We took off after work to a popular hiking/mountain biking area, Tiger Mountain, not far from our home. And no, there are – to my knowledge – no tigers there.

The day was gorgeous, the trail near empty, and the lushness of the vegetation extraordinary. We commented on the “zones” we went through from dark, almost ominous forest to bright meadows to areas where mossy trees bent over the trail forming a cathedral of dappled light.

I periodically stopped to photograph some small detail that stood out: the gentle curve of a newly emerging fern, the smooth stone of a stream bed, the expanse of wildflowers just beginning their journey to full expression of brilliant summer color.

We spoke of God and the mysteries of such places, of the joy of being there at that particular time of day, of the transition from school to summer, of friendships passing as students graduate, of memories of past summers and the hope for future ones.

We appreciated this day, this hour, our time here together and the fact that it is so close to home. We missed little in our examination of the beauty that surrounded us except for one thing.


I had just spent that morning talking about wonder during my presentation on The Power of Place. Sumner and I discussed it on the drive to the trailhead. We even hinted at the subject as we hiked through a grove of trees with mysterious white stripes painted on their sides. And yet, amidst all the factors that should have triggered a response of awe and wonder, none came.

Surprise? Curiosity? Thankfulness? Attention to details I’d otherwise walk right past? Yes. But not wonder.


Wonder does not come easy to most of us over the age of ten. We spend our lives explaining things, solving the unknowns and attempting to bring order to the chaos in our lives. We have adult answers even to those things we don’t truly understand. We don’t make room in our lives for wonder because as adults we don’t feel we need it in our day-to-day struggles to just get by.

Sometimes, however, wonder sneaks up on us. It can even overwhelm us to where we have no choice but to pay attention. More often, however, we must pursue it with intentionality if we are to find it.

Wonder is neither easy to find nor easy to grasp. It wouldn’t be wonder if it was. Wonder is our response to something so new and marvelous that it shakes us and draws our full attention as we realize we’re in the presence of something we’ve likely never seen before, at least in that time, place or in that way.

Somehow in all the beauty of this day, I’d missed the deeper wonder. The funny thing about wonder is that we rarely miss that we’ve missed it. It was a great time of living in the moment and enjoying a good conversation, the simple warmth of the sun, the green coolness of a leafy canopy, the minty smell of fresh cut logs or the gentle cacophony of numerous small waterfalls.

Only later did I realize that seeing the day through the eyes of wonder might have made a good day even better. At first the thought made me sad, a tinge of regret invading a happy memory. Then I realized something else, a wonder of a different sort.

In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. I may have missed the opportunity to see the wonder behind the beauty at the time. Yet as is common to most good trips, reflection after the event affords me a second chance.

I may not have perceived wonder in the moment but I can now realize this:

It was there all along.

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