Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Frozen in Time
Our adult Sunday class was watching a short video on location at the Sea of Galilee. The lesson centered on the disciples of Jesus who had just participated in the miracle of feeding a crowd of five thousand that had followed Jesus to the shores of Galilee. The disciples had then left by boat while Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the people and pray. A strong wind came up and buffeted the small boat as the disciples fearfully watched what appeared to them to be a ghost walking toward them. When Peter recognized Jesus, he asked to join him and left the boat. But even after just witnessing yet another miracle, he began to lose faith as the wind continued to blow, and Jesus had to reach out to save him. When they climbed into the boat the wind died down and the disciples began believing that he was indeed the Son of God who had dominion over the winds and the waters.
The story immediately called to mind a life threatening experience I had in my early adulthood during a late fall duck hunt in central Kansas. Myself and two other hunting companions had set out for a huge Corps of Engineering flood control reservoir well before dawn on a cold-to-the-bone star lit night. Our truck was pulling a flat bottomed john boat we had converted into a floating duck blind using framed chicken wire laced with long stemmed prairie grass. We were layered in warm hunting clothes with insulated boots and our pockets were stuffed with twelve gauge shotgun shells. The bottom of the boat was crowded with dozens of floating decoys and a sturdy anchor. Our faithful black lab, Peanuts, was shaking with the excitement of another adventurous hunt. As we backed our floating blind down the boat ramp and into the frigid waters, we could hear the rush of wings overhead and the feeding calls of the wild mallards that had arrived overnight on the northerly winds. The evening weather forecast had predicted a severe change as a Canadian cold front was expected to blitz through the Midwestern United States. That’s the kind of nasty forecast which is a duck hunter’s dream. Dropping temperatures fueled by strong winds stirs the migratory instincts of winged waterfowl across the world.
We cautiously steered our john boat under the setting moon along the outer shoreline for about a mile or more until we found the sanctuary of a relatively sheltered inlet cove. As first light was breaking the darkness, we began to deliberately set out the anchored decoys in the shallow waters in a wide arc, allowing a center opening for incoming flights of ducks to attempt a landing. Then we edged the john boat back into a stand of tall grasses and tree saplings opposite the bobbing decoys. Almost immediately the spitfire strafing began into the decoys. One by one we singled out the lesser point drakes to fill our legal harvesting point totals. Peanuts would just return from jumping into the cold water to retrieve a downed mallard when he was right back into the lake after another. After about two hours of a career day on the water, my teeth had begun to chatter uncontrollably as we all noticed that the winds had picked up considerable intensity and white caps were gathering out in the lake away from our sheltered hunting cove. I cast a glance at Peanuts shivering in the end of the boat as ice crystals covered his wet hair. As I hunkered down behind the grassed frame, freezing rain and sleet were beginning to accumulate on everything around us. Rivulets of ice began forming around every stem of grass protruding from the icy waters. We were left with the sobering realization that we had already stayed too long, so we immediately began to retrieve our decoys and head for the boat ramp.
By this time, the waves were treacherously lapping onto the side of our john boat which began taking on additional weight as water instantly froze to the grassed frames. And then it happened! Since we were trying to cling to the relative safety of the shoreline, we had hit bottom and snapped the shear pin that protected the motor’s propeller. The north wind and waves were unfortunately moving away from land, so we immediately began to drift out to the open water white caps. Our weight and heavy clothing would have almost assuredly capsized us into the frigid waters. None of us would survive if that happened. I chattered a quick prayer under my frozen breath. Then one of my hunting companions found one last spare shear pin taped to the underside of the motor and we quickly installed it and steered back to the safety of the shoreline. Survivor instincts kicked in and we all instantly realized that we wouldn’t make it if this pin was also sheared. So I grabbed an oar and crawled over the bow of the john boat on my stomach and began probing for the lake bottom. The second the oar hit bottom I yelled into the cutting wind to steer away from shore! We had to move slow enough for me to plumb for the bottom and fast enough so that the northern winds didn’t drive us out to the deadly open water. We labored at this for about an hour as the winds increased, the temperature dropped and the freezing rain and waves continued to weigh down the boat and slow us down. None of us mentioned the possibility of running out of fuel as the motor strained to maintain forward progress as we zig zagged with and against the waves.
I would have rejoiced in seeing a ghostly spirit walking across the stormy lake to calm the wind and the waves that were steadily sinking us. But finally the boat ramp came into view and we crippled into its shelter and safety. The truck was barely able to pull the heavily iced boat out of the water. No, we didn’t see a savior walking on water, but to this day I know He was already in the boat protecting us with one last shear pin and guiding us away from troubled waters with none left to save us.