There is a line from a Mumford and Son’s song that goes, “There’s nothing like a brush with the devil to clear your mind and strengthen your spine.”
I’m writing today from my mother’s home in Freeport, Florida. Forget those images of Florida that may come to mind of an overbuilt retirement community surrounded by chain restaurants and amusement parks, our ancestral home (for almost 200 years now) is located in one of the remaining wilderness areas of the state. It is beautiful and relatively untainted by the building boom that has so grossly changed the look of my home state. Where mom lives the dividing line has been a massive bay; though now the future is clear, “progress” is making it’s way north.
In my lifetime I have been able to find and enjoy the wild places when I return home. This trip was no different in that respect. I headed out the other night to spend some quality time on Black Creek in my small boat. I said I went to fish, but I think I really went to spend time in the untouched nature I’ve loved since I was a boy.
Into that trip I carried everything: concerns for my church, my community back home, our national cultural divide, and a slew of theological imaginings that play continually in my mind. As I put-putted down the placid river I began to relax some. At last I arrived far down the river to the site of an old Indian camp. The Uchees had mounded up the land there and left no trace of their presence except the unusually high earth and thousands of oyster shells. Today a upscale fish camp is located across a slew from the Indian camp, but I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of the tourists who visit there have no idea that they are not the first people to treasure that dear spot.
I was casting my line toward the south so naturally I was looking that way. The sky was beautiful with just a trace of a strange coolness in the air. That was when I turned around and saw the wall of black. It reminded me of the sandstorm scene from the movie “The Mummy.” Quickly the weather had changed, but I knew what to do; I had no time to spare. I pulled in my line and fired up the six horsepower Mercury outboard and headed at full speed into the the storm.
I went into the storm because it was the only way out. The boat ramp I had launched from was up the river, the river now turned fully sinister. My mother called me on my cell phone. I could not answer; too busy trying to keep the bow directly into 65 mph winds as I pushed my way toward Black Creek Lodge and safety. Had I been able to answer I would have heard the concern in her voice. The National Weather Service had issued an alert. “Severe thunderstorm warning” – seek shelter IMMEDIATELY.”
But I was on the river and fully exposed to nature’s wrath. The towering cypress trees were bending low with the gale. At last I could see the dilapidated boat house and pier. The ramp was next to that. The only thoughts I had were for my safety and next, if possible, to try to save my boat.
I pulled alongside the pilings and then quickly moved forward toward the bow and secured the boat with the bull nose facing the wind and waves. That might sound like a simple move, but it required clear thought and flawless movement to get it just right. one slip and my boat would be lost for sure.
I ran to the car just as the lighting started striking. The car was a safe place, the only safe place to resort to. Mom called again. I answered this time. “Mom I’m safe, but my boat is still on the river.” I planned to wait for the storm to pass and then bring her up on my boat trailer. But the storm did not pass.
The lighting moved south and the wind subsided some, but then it began to rain. For those who are not used to tropical rain, let me tell you, it is not like rain in cooler regions. It dumps buckets. And this rain was going to swamp my little boat. So having no other choice I backed by boat trailer into the black water and dashed back to the boat and the threat I had escaped as darkness descended.
Now I had to untie my boat at the front while getting it under power from the stern at the same time. That is a two person operation, but I was alone in the darkness and the deluge. I got in the stern first, yanked the cord and left the motor in neutral. Then I moved forward and untied the bow from the piling. The next moment was critical. I did not know how it would go.
I moved toward the rear of the small craft as swiftly as possible. One hesitation. one gust would put me broadside of the waves and I’d find myself capsized in the middle of the river. It was “dicey.”
I made it. Then immediately I put the boat in gear and drove it directly onto the trailer. I had positioned the trailer a little higher than normal so I could drive it as far out of the water as possible. I rammed it onto the skids and then moved as fast as I could forward once more to secure it to the trailer hitch. I cranked it as fast as I could and once the boat was fully forward I hopped into the car and moved it and the boat up and out of danger.
When I made it to mom’s I was fully soaked. I came through the door and told her about my adventure. It was then I realized that I had a marvelous time. I really forgot all of the pressures and concerns of my routine daily life. For a while it was just me and the storm and God. My mind was clear. My spine was strong. And I can’t wait to get back on the river again.