It all began when one of the Rangers hurled a great stone down upon a serpent of the deep. To me it seemed to hearken back to the great myths of old when strange prophetic occurrences marked the beginning of an epic journey. And so began the Huck Finn River Journey…never to be forgotten by those brave fathers and sons who took to the waters for those two epic days. That bold attack upon the serpent was a challenge to nature–a challenge which I thought might come back to haunt us…
The ride into the Driftless region along the Wisconsin River is a peculiar and delightful experience. It seems that God decided not to flatten part of the midwest, keeping it full of valleys and hills. After a long drive up north, the Riverside Rangers–a noble crew of fathers and sons– began to arrive on the scene. The thrill of excitement was in the air and all were anxious to begin the river trek. It took more time than expected for our river adventure outfitter to bring the canoes, so some of us played strange frisbee games, others explored, and some readied their supplies.
The serpent first appeared swiveling his long tail alongside the shore. The Rangers stood in awe of this marvelous creature–when suddenly a large stone came down and seemed to crush his head! All were dumbfounded at this, for Rangers are a peaceful crew of naturalists and adventurers. However, there was something about this act that signified a deeper desire in these fellows–the longing to conquer fear and hold dominion over this wild world.
When the canoes were packed up, everyone slipped into the water and began paddling down river. As my canoe pushed off we witnessed a boat of fishermen who seemed to resemble the Duck Dynasty guys, hauling in a Sand Sturgeon–quite a catch!
The Wisconsin River is a placid and pristine body of water, dotted by thousands of little sandy wild islands. However, this year the river was higher and moving faster than usual. There were islands, but not as many sand bars, and the lead boat Ranger crew expressed their concern, over our walkie talkies (a silly name I think for these devices), about finding a large enough island for camping. This worry lingered in some of our minds.
The first day’s river journey was close to perfect. Dads and sons stopped off at uninhabited islands, slowed down to enjoy some fishing, peered into the sky to watch Bald Eagles soaring overhead, or splashed unsuspecting canoe crews floating by.
The Blue River Bridge was the marker to let us know we were approaching our island. When we first rounded the bend were surprised to see that much of the island, which some of us had camped on during a previous journey, was mostly covered with water. But there was a small sand outcropping, just large enough to fit our outfit. We explored a bit, and though there was some doubt, our fears subsided when a jubilant boy ran up, and after we asked him if he liked it, said “This is amazing!” Well that convinced us.
The boy Rangers immediately splashed and swam in what became our own private lagoon, a refreshing shallow pool full of minnows–perfect for wading. The weather was beautiful, and so was our island! It was as though we discovered Treasure Island of old, and there was no Captain Silver to spoil it–though little did we know that something far more dangerous was approaching.
The boys explored, fished, played creative “500” games in the water, explored the island, and even played a bit of water soccer. Later there was a slingshot contest, which puttered out due to a lack of good stones–though I think our Rangers could use a bit more practice! One of the dads brought a homemade fire starter and soon we had a great campfire.
Before eating we spent some time in quiet prayer, thanking God for His many blessings and calling to mind the feast of the day–the Visitation. After reflecting upon the life of our Blessed Mother, who truly crushed the head of the serpent, we settled down for some good old camp food–hot dogs, beans, and corn. Though there was a constant clamor for early s’mores, we held fast to tradition and waited till nightfall.
The first roll of thunder reached our ears at around 8:30 or so. In the east we could see a large shadow approaching, though it seemed a good ways off. We knew we were supposed to get some rain, but no one knew what was in store. One of the dads checked his magic rectangle to see what it foretold. He said the storm seemed to be heading north.
The thunder grew more constant over the next hour and a half. We finally roasted s’mores, and then the boys played Ghost in the Graveyard. The fire was blazing and the dads were enjoying some good cheer, pipes, and talk.
As sons and fathers began turning in, exhausted from the days journey, the wind began to pick up a bit. I was sitting at the fire with Frank and Judah, the last survivors. We were talking about how each of us loves late night reading, when the world is calm and our minds can enter into other realms of discovery and adventure. Suddenly, as we spoke, the wind changed. Like a wrathful banshee in the night, raging down the River, we heard it coming. I told Judah “Get in your tent. It’s coming.”
As soon as we ran into our respective tents, a violent wind hit us like a great wave. It was no ordinary wind. Our tents were taking a beating and there were screams of terror (ok, don’t worry moms, I am embellishing a bit…kind of). I must admit that I had never experienced this kind of wind before. It felt like a tornado was rushing through the river valley.
Fathers were holding down their tents, some in vain. A few tents were destroyed and some of the young ones rushed into the better fortified tents.
After about 40 minutes of this kind of wind, which seemed an eternity to us, we began to mock mother nature. “Bring it on! Is that all you got! We want hail, yeah send us some hail!” At that moment the rain came down in sheets and buckets. I was not looking forward to going to sleep in sopping wet sandy jeans. Another father kept yelling “Rangers! Rangers!” Then we heard someone cry out ‘Three canoes are in the river!”
Three of us rushed out into the deeper portion of the lagoon and began to drag the canoes back. The sand beat our faces and the embers from the fire shot past us like great meteor showers. At this moment I almost laughed at the ridiculous nature of the whole thing. It seemed like a scene from Dante’s inferno. Thankfully we saved all the canoes.
Finally everyone was safe inside some sort of shelter and the wind died down. The rain kept on for most of the night, and most of us did not sleep much.
I read a bit of the story of Noah in my tent, calling to mind the deluge and how he and his family must have felt. I also thought about that time when the apostles were besieged by a great storm on Lake Gennesaret–and were terrified. How we wished He was there to say “quiet” to the wind assailing us. Quiet finally came, though sleep did not. The sounds of wild animals wading in the water about our tents kept some awake. The low rumbling of a phantom boat was also an ominous night visitor which floated in and out of our dreams…
We awoke to a peaceful morning, and though there was a bit of rain, the storm had passed, and we survived the great squall of the Wisconsin River. The rest of the day was serene and enjoyable. Though our backs ached a bit more than the previous day, and our eyes were a bit heavy, we knew that our prayers earlier that day were heard.
C.S. Lewis once said that we live in “enemy-occupied territory.” He wrote that our Faith is the story of the “rightful king” who has landed. Though the serpent tries to frighten us by revealing his wrath, we, like the apostles, must bravely face the great challenges of this life, so that we can continue to travel down the river on the pilgrimage towards our true home.
After our epic adventure, I am sure the Rangers will remember that it sometimes Takes An Adventure to see the world anew. We must be brave, serve others, and be faithful along this great river journey of life.
It Takes An Adventure!