Aunt Hulda’s Story
By Jack Hoehn
In Loma Linda, California, is a park named for an Adventist woman who lived to be 102 years old. A bronze statue of a 90-year-old small woman with a broad-brimmed hat and hiking stick will tell you this park is named in honor of Hulda Crooks. It was modeled after a photo of her hiking Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the USA before Alaska became a state.
Hulda was born in Saskatchewan to German immigrants, and she and her older brother Edward became Seventh-day Adventists through public evangelism. This led to education in Adventist schools, and a medical degree for Edward, and a physician husband (Sam Crooks, MD) for Hulda. When she was a teenager, her father had a small store where she worked and often helped herself to candy from the shop. She admitted she was not a very healthy woman.
Adventism taught her vegetarianism and she tried to live what was then called “Health Reform.” But, frankly, until she was 60 she was not healthy. Her husband, Sam, died young, but not before he had gotten his wife interested in nature, and nature got her interested in the outdoors, and the outdoors required some hikes, little ones at first, but becoming longer and longer.
Beginning at age 60 Hulda found that the more she moved the better she felt, and her interest in trees and flowers and birds and animals took her on longer and longer hikes, and then up steeper and steeper mountains, until finally she summited Mt. Whitney, queen of California mountains. By the time I was a teenager Aunt Hulda (her maiden name was Hoehn; she is an older sister of my father) was already a celebrity for her multiple ascents of Mt. Whitney and other peaks. The older she got the more famous she became.
She met President Ronald Reagan, she was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and she became an Adventist celebrity for healthful living—a vegetarian diet and exercise. She worked far beyond normal retirement age as a medical researcher for Dr. Mervyn Hardinge, Dean of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health. In medical school I rented a house from her, and I climbed Mt. Whitney with her on one of her 17 ascents. She knew about nature and often drew spiritual lessons from natural facts.
The Forest Service has named a mountain near Mt. Whitney for “Grandma Whitney” as Hulda Crooks Peak. Her last climb was in her 90’s. But I still have a story in my mind that she told me one Sabbath afternoon on a hike up the slopes of Mt. San Gorgonio, close enough to get to from Loma Linda. It was a parable explaining why in a good world there are bad things, and it planted a thought in my mind that I have been mulling over for the past 50 years or so.
Aunt Hulda’s Story:
Once upon a time there were three very wise, very rich, and very interesting personages who decided they wanted to start a unique university. They had a life philosophy they wished to teach. They felt that the best way to teach was not by simple lectures but by demonstrations, so their school had not only classrooms and lecture halls, but lots of laboratories equipped with every necessary tool that would demonstrate to the students what they were hearing in the lectures.
The real estate was obtained, and a wonderful campus was constructed, including demonstration fields and gardens, farms and rivers, lakes and ponds, where what they wanted to teach could be demonstrated for the fortunate students,
This was by design co-educational, so as a startup they enrolled two young humans, a male and a female. Tuition was free, housing was provided, and public display of affection was not only permitted but encouraged! It was pretty good; in fact, the students soon found they were enrolled in a course designed to teach Love.
The lectures were supplemented by demonstrations in the laboratories. The diet, school uniforms, architecture, scents, colors, water features, gardens, farms, animals, plants, and textbooks were all designed to demonstrate what happens when unselfish love, generosity, kindness, cooperation, deep thought, persistence, patience, hope, faith, and charity were allowed free expression in the school and its many demonstration labs.
Mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, botany, ornithology, engineering, geology, music, art, nutrition, physiology, and fun were all in the curriculum. And every day in the cool of the evening, the students were invited to spend a little time before supper with one of the Founders and share what they had learned of Love and how it works that day. Those were special and happy times.
Then a visitor came down the road and walked onto the campus. He announced that he was a visiting professor, but from a different school of thought than the founders. In fact, he knew the Founders quite well, but felt that even though they meant well, their philosophy was lacking in some essentials he would like to introduce them to.
He knew quite well that the principles of this school included freedom and openness, and he suggested to the students that if they wished, he was sure he could be permitted to give them a more complete and comprehensive education than they had received in their early days.
While the students thought this over he upped the stakes. In fact, he whispered, what I have to teach you, only gods get to know! So, the students decided to give him a try. They “shook apples on it,” and felt a chill of coldness that the visiting professor explained was “just excitement.” Somehow at the time for their evening before-supper meeting with the Founder, they didn’t look forward to the session and even considered skipping the appointment, but they heard the Founder calling them.
Children, he said, who told you that you lacked something? Did you listen to the visitor? Yes, she did, the he said. Well, we were offered something pretty special, the she said. And the he agreed with me, she reminded. Are you going to expel us? they asked.
The three Great Founders discussed what to do, and since their philosophy was founded not only on love, but also on truth, freedom, and openness, they came out to the students and the visitor, and handed them a ring of keys to every laboratory on the campus. And said, students, we will now continue to demonstrate love, truth, unselfishness, kindness, and cooperation in our labs. We want you to know what Love is and how it works. But because of freedom we will open our labs to the visiting professor and he will be permitted to start demonstrations of his principles.
He will show you how “Self First” works, how “Using” works, how “Exploitation” works, how “Competition” works, how “Fighting” works, how “Giving Up of Self-Control” works, and how “Death” works. I’m sorry, but freedom demands you may have the education you desire. But now our course will run in parallel to his course. In every field, orchard, river, lake, stream, pond, sea, valley, mountain, and garden of our school you will now see two things—Love and Selfishness. And all that flow from them. Sadly, the experiments will end in death, and you must taste that too.
My daughter, your body will teach you both love and sorrow. My son, your fields will teach you both gain and thorn. Your plants will have helpful leaves and painful thistles. Your trees will have fruitful branches, and some branches will become a crown of thorns. You will have honey bees and killer bees. You will have plant eaters and carnivores. You will have spinach and tobacco. You will have mushrooms and mold. You will have hyenas and Labradors. There will be animals and birds that mate for life and care and protect their children, and there will be those who fight for harems or dump their eggs into someone else’s nest to raise their children. All this wonderful university will now teach two lessons. You must now learn by experience based on your choice to know both Good and Evil.
At the end of the term, which coincides with the shortened days of your lives, there will be an examination, and you will be allowed to answer one final question: Do you wish to continue the study of Evil? or do you wish to return to the study of only the Good? The school will look different now, but we do have a plan to replace all the facilities with better ones after finals.
You may, of course, choose to follow the Visiting Professor to his destiny. But your laboratories should show you what that is, and we will be available at any time to explain that you need not end up the way the plants and animals in his demonstrations do. We will open a remedial course for you to help you prepare for that final exam. Learn your lessons well. We still love you and want you to know Love. It will still be right there before your eyes, but it will sometimes be harder to see it now that Evil is next to it all over this campus. I will come again and make sure you understand what you have been experiencing. If I told you when and how, you could not yet understand but I will come through one of your daughters. That is all I can tell you now.
So ends this fairy tale, pure myth, raw speculation, rank imagination. But I have been thinking about it for the past 50 years or so.