"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
July 25, 2013
Between Earth and Sky - by Michela Hunter
by College Voices
Michela Hunter
Sophomore, Brigham Young University

It was Wednesday evening and the second day of our five-day excursion into the south of England was drawing to a close. We had had an exciting day visiting the ruins of an ancient Roman palace at Fishbourne and then taking a ferry to the Isle of Wight to see Osborne House, which had once been the home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

We were going to be staying in little cottages on the island that evening and had just dropped off our bags, but though it was evening, the day wasn’t done yet. Dr. Pulsipher and Dr. Hansen told us, when the coach arrived at the cottages, to find our assigned cottage, drop off our bags, change for a hike, and to remember to bring the packets of poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson that we had been given.

We were going to be hiking up to Tennyson Down, a hill on the west end of the island and, as the sun set, sit around the memorial that had there been erected to him while we presented our analyses and readings of his poetry. It sounded like it was going to be the absolute most romantic thing I’ve ever done, so of course I was excited, but I was in no way prepared for what awaited me.

Our coach driver, Jimmy, parked at the foot of Tennyson Down, and as we disembarked from the coach I looked up at the hill Dr. Pulsipher was pointing to. It didn’t look high at all; at the top, there were some trees surrounding a fence and a gate, which I presumed was our destination. This “hike” would be a piece of cake even though the hill was on the steep side. I thought back to longer, more grueling hikes of girls’ camps past and smiled to myself as we began the climb.

Because our group is comprised of about 30 students plus three adults, whenever we go anywhere we tend to drift apart into a long string, straggling along the path in groups of two or three or five or six. I was towards the middle with a group that was comprised of Krista, Jake, Jessica, Brooke, Preston, Jeramy, Lisa, and Heather.

We didn’t worry too much about getting left behind. We could see our professors and the other students walking ahead in the setting sun, and since we could see clearly as well the top of the hill, we knew it wouldn’t be too long of a hike. All we had to do was get up this steep hill and to the other side of that charming wooden gate.

We picked our way around cowpies and chatted as we climbed, turning now and then to look at the lovely view behind us. We could barely see the town and the coast from here. This was such a nice little walk. 

Presently, however, I realized that our professors and many of the students ahead had already passed through the wooden gate at the top of the hill. Not only that, but they had disappeared completely. I wondered about this and supposed that they had already congregated on the hilltop and that we simply couldn’t see them from where we were. 

I was right, but only partly. Upon reaching the wooden gate and passing through it, I realized that not only was the hike not over, but that we had much, much farther to go. The scene before me was startling in its simple, majestic beauty. It was difficult to see, because we were walking straight into the setting sun, but squinting through my sunglasses, I was able to see how incredible this hike really was. 

Our professors and the other students who were silhouetted against the light appeared as cloisters of people getting smaller and smaller as they progressed farther up the hill, which had become a vast green field on one side and a jagged white cliff soaring above the ocean on the other. It was oddly silent up there, an odd muffled silence that seemed to have been brought about by the blowing of the wind that tossed our hair into our faces.

Ahead of us, the hill seemed to extend far above to touch the clouds. It was as though we were walking the border between earth and sky. Distant on the horizon, I could make out a cross on the tip-top of the hill, presumably the memorial to Tennyson that we were supposed to be headed towards. I stopped for a moment, partly to catch my breath and partly in awe of the supreme beauty, the like of which I had never before seen.

The cross on top of the hill didn’t look very far away — certainly not far away enough for the walk to take a significant amount of time. However, to my great surprise, it did. 

We walked and walked and walked. Krista and I, beginning to separate from the others we were with, stopped to take some pictures on the cliffs. I turned and looked at the view behind us. We were extremely high up — high enough to be able to see the entirety of the town we were in and a long way down the coast on either side — but the cross was still far away. 

We walked and walked and walked some more, snapping pictures as we went. It was extremely peaceful up there. I paused on the cliff to watch the waves rolling far below. We were so high up that we couldn’t even hear the crash of the ocean, just the blowing of the wind. I turned and squinted into the sun, at the black cross that still hadn’t gotten any closer despite how far I knew we had walked. I wondered how long we had been up here and how much longer it would take us to get to the monument. I felt as though I could stay up here forever.

In the end, it took us about half an hour to get to that cross. It was much taller than I had thought it was. It was also fenced in, probably to keep people from climbing all over it, but there were benches on the outside of the fence where a person could sit to enjoy the incredible view.

A squat little pillar outside of the fence, engraved with “And may there be no moaning of the bar,/When I put out to sea” — lines from Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar.” The rest of the students and our professors were sitting in a circle by the monument. When we and the few stragglers behind us had joined them, we began presenting our poems. 

There was a strange peace about the place. I was only half-listening to the poetry as I looked around. The view was incredible. Not only could we see the sea, stretching out for miles, but we could essentially see the whole of the Isle of Wight below us. I could count individual houses and castles, see the different towns, and thought I could even start to see the curve of the earth, we were up so high. I was very, very sorry when the last poem was read and we then had to sprint down the hill to where the bus was waiting. The descent felt only half as long as the ascent.

I felt as though I had just visited one of God’s natural temples on Tennyson Down. I couldn’t get out of my head how beautiful the place was, how lovely the view had been, how peaceful it had been just being up there. If such incredible natural beauty wasn’t proof of the existence of a loving Heavenly Father, then I didn’t know what was. It had been like walking into a small part of heaven.

Then I thought back to the walk up, and smiled to myself. I’d thought the hike was going to be so short and sweet and nothing special to remember, and I’d only been focused on getting to the top of the hill so that we could read our poetry, go home, and eat. It wasn’t until I’d gone through the wooden gate leading to the hike that I realized how far I still had to go. Not only that, but what a wonderful journey lay ahead of me.

I think sometimes that this is how things go in the everyday walks of life. We see a point on the horizon — a goal, a blessing, the end of a trial. It doesn’t look very far away, nor does the journey look remarkable; but we know we have to get to it, and we focus on getting there and nothing else. It is only as we make our way towards it that we sometimes realize we were mistaken. We still have such a long way to go before we can reach it.

The walks we’ll have to take won’t always be as easy as my hike up Tennyson Down was, and they won’t always be as aesthetically pleasing, but there are always gifts to us from our Heavenly Father along the way, gifts that are there for the taking if we stop to notice them. If I hadn’t paid attention to my surroundings on Tennyson Down, if I had only focused on the cowpies at my feet and complained about the length of the hike that was delaying my dinner, I wouldn’t have seen the glorious view around me, nor would I have come down from that hill feeling as though I had experienced anything at all remarkable.

Because I chose to look up and around, the walk became for me a gift and a pleasure, and will remain one of my fondest England memories. I can only resolve to do the same in walks to come.

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