Sunday, August 7, 2016

Why Did Nephi Write….? – Part I

When I was young, I lived all my days in California until I went into the military after my schooling. When I left the military I returned to Southern California, where I met and married my wife, had seven children, living all our married days in Southern California until I retired to Utah in 2000. My wife, originally being from a small town in southern Utah called Parowan, where her parents lived after retirement, necessitated our traveling to Utah for vacations over the years. So every year, we got things ready as the kids finished school for the summer break, and drove to Utah. 
   Much like Nephi saying, after finishing his ship the Lord instructed him to build, and entered into it, writing: “we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:8). There have been a lot of people write to us over the years of our blog asking, more or less, why Nephi wrote so simply about that momentous occasion. Though we have answered those queries, I was browsing through my journal the other day which I have kept since my military days and noticed several entries preceding our vacation trips to Utah each year. Each entry, though worded slightly different said in effect, “We loaded up the car, got all the kids situated inside, and drove to Utah.” I noticed I didn’t write: “we drove to San Bernardino, then to Barstow and  Las Vegas, then to Mesqujite, then to St. George, then to Parowan.” Why not? Because in those days, as today, there was only one route you could drive from Los Angeles to Parowan. Today, it is the I-15 Freeway.
Highway 91 from Barstow to Las Vegas in the 1970s—one land each way; get stuck behind a truck and it could add an hour to your travel time 
    Even as early as the 1940s, when my family visited southern Utah where my dad was born, we didn’t even need to take a map, not even the folded type you used to get at the local gas stations for free. There was basically only one route. You got on Highway 66 (Route 66) and headed for San Bernardino, then took 66 north to Victorville and on to Barstow—there was only one main highway, you either followed it or ended up out in the desert somewhere on a dirt road that went nowhere.
    To guard against the heat of the desert in early cars, you filled a special canvas water bag and hung it over your front bumper just in case the radiator ran low and the car engine overheated, for gas stations were not as plentiful then as they are today. From Barstow you continued on the main road, then highway 91/466, northeast to a small town in the middle of the Mojave desert called Baker—“a rip-off town” as my dad used to call it that charged exorbitant prices for gas and food since it was a mandatory stop for cars when they couldn’t make the distance from Barstow to Las Vegas.
    In the era when many cars didn’t have air conditioning, the trip was hot, long and uncomfortable, especially with several children wanting to know “Are we there yet?” every 30 minutes. The stop in Baker was typically at night—no one wanted to hit Baker in the daytime heat—with a blanket of cockroaches on the floor of the station bathrooms, and a light, but torridly hot wind outside that would rival the Sahara.
Going through Las Vegas with my parents from Los Angeles to Utah in the 1940s when I was just a kid. Not much changed until the 1960s-1970s when the roads were widened, freeways built and everything was modernized 
    I could have written in my journal about all these things—Baker was still hot and disgusting in those first trips and later, one learned to avoid it if at all possible; modern cars made that possible with larger gas tanks and better gas mileage until Baker was seldom encountered except by an unwary traveler until it stopped charging high prices, cleaned up the city and made it more traveler friendly. But memories last—I haven’t stopped in Baker since I found I could avoid it and get gas elsewhere along the road.
I could also have written how, even though it was over 100º outside at night, you had the windows down so you could get air, and often passengers had their feet out the windows in the wind to try and cool off. Or how much warm to hot water you drank crossing that desert because there were few ways to preserve ice in cars back then along with all the other equipment, suitcases, etc., needed for a vacation.
    The point is, my journal doesn’t cover any of these events between our home and reaching Parowan, after all, there was nothing of any important or worth mentioning. Anyone that ever took that journey in that period found it a rather boring trip, one to encounter out of necessity, but little to enjoy. There were no McDonald’s restaurants with climbing tubes and trampolines along the way.
    In our first vacation trip in 1968, I saw where I wrote very simply, “We loaded up the car, got the kids situated inside, and drove to Utah.” One sentence. Nothing else was written. Why? Nothing happened of any importance or significance. No one got sick, no one had an accident, the car work fine, the weather was hot, but bearable, the traffic was heavy as anticipated, and the journey long, but uneventful.
    So why did Nephi simply state: “we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:8)? Because until the dancing and rudeness started and the brothers mutinied, there was nothing to their journey of significance. They set to sea, the ship was driven by the winds into the ocean currents that took the vessel where the Lord intended. Remove this one incident, there is not a single word about the voyage. They entered into the ocean currents and that took them where they were going. There was no other choice, nor were they experienced enough to have guided the ship along a complex course. It was then as it is today, a singular pattern in which the winds blow in the Sea of Arabia and the Indian Ocean—into land six months of the year and out to sea (southwestward) the other six months—called the Monsoon Trade Winds.
Except for the temporary rebellion that resulted in the ship drifting into a high pressure area where the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Arabia meet, which resulted as it typically does in a circular storm, turning the vessel back the way it had come in a maelstrom of wind and weather, the actual journey itself was uneventful and elicited no comment from Nephi in his record.
    While not well-known to Lehi and his party, or probably to any dhow coastal seamen of the time, the currents and winds here were well known to the Lord, and it was the one, singular “road” that could be taken at that time of the year. No doubt Nephi could have written about the swiftness of the current, the strength of the winds, the difficulty in keeping the rudder centered along the current, or mentioned the birds, porpoises, even whales seen on the journey, or the thickness of the fish available for catching moving up the Humboldt Current toward the end of the journey, or that the winds and waves died down to almost nothing where the Liahona guided them into shore and their landing.
    His brief comment of an uneventful voyage (other than the mutiny) is remarkably like mine that  I entered into my journal for that first trip to southern Utah for our first vacation with the kids in Utah with grandma and grandpa.
    So why did Nephi just write those two simple comments about being driven forth before the wind to the promised land? (1 Nephi 18:8,9).
    What else was there to write about? He was on an ocean highway, the currents took him in one direction only, there were no islands or land masses along the way to disturb or alter the current, he didn’t stop anywhere to replenish supplies because the route through the Southern Ocean was so short.
    So why, after landing, did Nephi simply write they pitched their tents, tilled the ground and planted their seed?
(See the next post: “Why Did Nephi Write….? – Part II,” for more on why Nephi wrote so simply)


  1. Question Del, From your studies did the ship sail closer to Madagascar and Africa or did it sail farther to the east closer to Indonesia and Australia before reaching the easterly winds and currents below Australia? Thanks, Ira

    1. The ship did have a rudder, and they had the liahona as a guide. So it would make sense that they would be guided to steer as much to the west as they could under the winds and currents they were under. I am still hoping somebody makes a sail ship and repeats this journey, with internet updates for us landlubbers.

  2. The course of the currents, and thus the course the ship would have taken would be closer to Madagascar along the western part of the counter-clockwise gyre of the Indian Ocean. Keep in mind that this gyre belt, or the width of the current is quite wide (several miles) and any ship running on the further west of the belt or current width would be swung wide to the outside in the lower (southern) curve of the current and become caught by the Southern Ocean West Wind Drift and the Prevailing Westerlies wind and into the circumpolar current of the Southern Ocean. What happened when they tied up Nephi and the Liahona stopped working was that the ship became caught in the movement of the gyre, and without the Liahona to show them to steer to the west, the ship moved toward the eastern part or side of the belt and thus turned back upon itself (heading back the way it had come) by the ferocity of the storm. Think of it like a four-lane freeway heading south that is turning gradually to head east. If you are in the outside (curbside) lane, you will tend to move even further to the outside in the turn. But if you fade toward the left (into the 2nd and 3rd lane over or into the fastest land) you would lean more to the left or west heading into the gradual turn. It would be at this point that the rebellious brothers did not know where to steer the ship (1 Nephi 18:13), and with the storm breaking, the ship was drawn further and further into the tightness of the curving current where the low-pressure system turned it completely around to head back in the direction from which it had come, albeit further eastward than before. Thus the rudder was usable to steer along the current from one side of its width to the other, but the wind would not allow it to steer out of the current or the ship would be becalmed with no wind to drive it.

  3. Thanks Del, I always (ignorantly) assumed they headed on the Indonesian side because I didn't understand the currents. This is great information. Thanks again, Ira

  4. More. Love this stuff. My kind of thinking. Thanks for the spirit candy