“On Top of Old Mossy,” New Era, Mar. 2005, 26
“Why did I disobey my father?” I groaned, feeling my stomach lurch once more. “The wind—oh, please make the wind stop blowing.”
In desperation, I clung to the top of a 200-foot-high tree that swayed back and forth in the wind, knowing that at any time I could be swept away. How vividly you remember promises once they are broken.
As a young man, I spent summers working with my father in our sawmill in southern Washington. When I was 12 years old, high on my to-do list was topping a tree—that is, strapping on a pair of climbing spurs, climbing a tree, and cutting off its top. It involves considerable risk, but to me it looked exciting.
One Saturday as we ate lunch, I said, “Dad, do you know what I’m going to do this afternoon?”
“What’s that, Son?” he muttered, absently contemplating a broken sprocket on the conveyer belt.
“I’m going to climb Old Mossy.”
Old Mossy was a monstrous tree, untouched since the mill was built because the tree was so massive our small mill could never process it. Old Mossy stood almost 20 stories tall and was wide enough at the base to drive a car through if it were hollowed out. Every logger in the county knew about Old Mossy.
“Ouch,” I yelled as my father’s strong fingers bit into my shoulder.
“Dee,” he said with an intensity I had never heard before, “you are not to climb that tree. Do you understand? Old Mossy is a man-killer, and I don’t want you anywhere near it. I want your promise that you will never go near that tree with climbing spurs. Do I have your word?”
“I promise,” I stammered, a little shaken.
“Fine,” he said, rubbing my shoulder. “I’m going into town to buy a new sprocket. I want you to clean up around the mill while I’m gone. When I get back, we’ll knock off early and go see a movie. How does that sound?”
“That’s great, Dad,” I said as I rushed to complete my assigned task. I cleaned up furiously in anticipation of the movie, but my eyes were repeatedly drawn to Old Mossy. My work gradually ground to a halt as I stood there, completely captivated by my huge temptation. “Why, I could climb to the top and be down before Dad even returned from town,” I reasoned. “He wouldn’t even know.” With only a moment’s hesitation, I rushed to the storage shed and strapped on the climbing gear.
What a thrill it was to finally thrust those climbing spurs into the heavy bark and begin my ascent! I was so caught up in the excitement of the climb that I lost track of time. All at once, there I was—looking out over the tops of the other trees in the forest. The view was breathtaking. I hung there, luxuriating in the beauty of the moment.
I looked at the sky, at the horizon, and, finally, down at the ground. Immediately, nausea rippled through my body like a wave. I was suddenly so weak I could barely stand. I was more than 17 stories up with only two tiny climbing spurs and a rope as a lifeline. I shook with fright, incapable of anything but clinging to the rope.
Then the wind began to blow. The tree swayed back and forth, and I became sicker and sicker. How I wished I had obeyed my father! No young man ever felt remorse so quickly. How long I clung there, I don’t know, but it seemed like forever.
“Son,” I heard my father shout. “Son, can you hear me?”
Looking far below, I saw him lying on his back at the base of that monstrous tree, his head cradled in his hands, looking up at me. I will never forget that moment. He shouted, “I want you to listen to me very carefully. Take a deep breath and relax. You’re going to be just fine. Now, lean back against the rope and …”
Calmly and lovingly, he guided me step by step down the tree. When I finally reached the ground, I was weak and exhausted yet relieved and repentant. Dad untied the rope from my waist, helped me take off the spurs, and putting his arms around me, whispered, “Oh, my son, I love you so very much.”
Years have past, but in memory I still see my father at the base of Old Mossy, shouting, “Now, Dee, I want you to do exactly what I say.” My great faith in him gave me strength and courage to defeat the fear and sickness that had overwhelmed me. By obeying his instructions, I descended the tree into the safety of his welcoming arms.
From his example, I have realized that my Heavenly Father also loves me and will welcome me back when I repent for making mistakes. If I obey His words with exactness, He too will strengthen and guide me through the challenges of life so I can return to the safety of His warm embrace.
And read these articles in the Gospel Library at www.lds.org: “The Atonement and the Value of One Soul” (Ensign, May 2004) by Elder M. Russell Ballard and “Three Choices” (Ensign, Nov. 2003) by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.