Not that he doesn't love us all, but God loves fishermen.
This post is a little different. It's a story relayed to me by one of my favorite fishermen in the world. I'll just call him Ed. I re-wrote parts of it simply for clarity and effect, and I also chose to disguise the true identity of Ed's companions. While some of the words are mine, the story is Ed's.
But for the care and protection of God, I should not even be living. With deepest humility and gratitude, I am bold to relate a frightful happening that I endured on a late summer afternoon.
Four close friends set off to enjoy a simple day of fishing on Diamond Lake, 25 miles north of Laramie, Wyoming. Rumors of the "big ones" whetted our appetites, not to mention our collective anticipation. Though we were all getting along in years, we traveled to our destination with the excitement of children, eager at the chance to land a few lunkers to add to our vast collection of fishing tales.
At 6:30 a.m. we gathered at a predetermined location. As was our common practice, we stood in the middle of a driveway, four men joined in prayer to the Almighty. We asked God to keep us safe. We are now convinced that God heard our modest prayers.
Following a jovial, hearty breakfast at Foster's Cafe in Laramie, we headed north in two cars, with two boats in tow. Foster's has been my favorite breakfast destination for as long as I can remember. I'm not sure if it's the food, the friendly local charm, or simply that it seems to be on the way to wherever I'm headed, but a day of fishing always seems better after a strong cup of coffee and a steaming plate of eggs, bacon, and hash browns.
By ten o-clock, we were on the water, eagerly casting to the beautiful rainbow trout who occupied a normally productive area on the lake. With a take-home limit of two fish, both of which must measure 16 inches or greater, our day on the lake - by necessity - would be a success only when both criteria were met. Mind you, any day on the water is a good one. For a fisherman, however, both limits and size tend to define success. Fun is one thing, but how could we face our wives and friends back home without measurable, tangible success?
While Jake and Bob drifted with ease thanks to a new battery-driven trolling motor, Tom and I suffered in an old 12-foot aluminum boat with a four horsepower Mercury. The motor was new, but the boat was old. I'd managed to make it a bit more comfortable by installing some stadium-style seats, one each in front and back. The seats weren't luxurious by any means, but they were a vast improvement over the hard, cold aluminum benches that were built into the original boat.
After performing as advertised, the new motor suddenly went dead. We were smack in the middle of the lake by this point. I have no idea how deep the lake ran, but it was certainly deep enough that our limited swimming abilities would offer little in the way of survival. At the mercy of Wyoming's unrelenting wind, we drifted helplessly toward the east shore. My efforts to nurse the sputtering engine back to health were futile.
Noting our need for help, Jake and Bob approached us with concern. The four of us pondered our predicament for a short time, and decided that our only recourse would be for Jake and Bob to tow us back to the boat ramp. It might have been a simple solution but for the limited power Bob's trolling motor provided. I pulled out the two oars I kept in the boat, but with the strong wind blowing directly in our faces, rowing seemed to make little difference.
With a considerable distance yet to go, we stopped in the middle of the lake to assess our progress. Without the slightest warning, the worst thing possible happened. An unusually strong gust of wind, even by Wyoming standards, whipped across the lake. I briefly lost my balance, leaning heavily to one side of the boat, and within a millisecond we capsized. Tom and I suddenly found ourselves overboard in the uncomfortably cold water.
By some miracle of God, the hand-holds at the rear of the overturned boat were right in front of me. I stretched for the hand-holds and tightened my grip, struggling to simply keep my head above water. Tom wasn't so lucky. Momentarily tangled up in the anchor rope, Tom struggled for breath and then strained for something...anything...to hang onto. With a lunge, Tom reached out for Bob's boat and began to haul himself to safety, latching onto the side of the boat. The stadium-style seat in Bob's boat functioned as Tom's hand-hold on life. A coincidence? I think not.
Meanwhile, as I waited my turn with a calm that surprises me to this very day, I realized that I wasn't feeling the panic or terror that should have engulfed me. As Jake and Bob struggled to pull me into the boat, I glanced at the seat and saw something I couldn't believe. My new, $1200 hearing aid had fallen out of my ear and landed on the seat. Again, a coincidence? I think not.
The four of us left my boat to drift with the will of God and the Wyoming wind. We reached the safety of the boat ramp after 10-15 minutes of bone-chilling wind. Hypothermia began to set in just before we were able to rid ourselves of our wet clothing. A few minutes in the car with the heaters blowing full-steam allowed the uncontrollable shaking to abate. The wait gave us all private time to thank God for his life-saving mercy.
The fiasco continued, however, as we pondered a way to retrieve my old aluminum boat and motor, which by now sat a considerable distance across the lake. Bob's battery was simply too weak to do the job. Fortunately for us, two Wyoming fishermen had witnessed the entire drama. They're being present a coincidence? I think not.
The two gentlemen volunteered to put their own antiquated motor on Bob's boat and tow mine to shore. Again, a simple solution? Not so. Understandably, since nobody had thought to retrieve the anchor in the midst of our brief dance with death, the anchor dragged the grassy bottom of the lake. It made for slow going, but we eventually reached the boat ramp. The old antiquated motor proved to be dependable, if slightly out of its prime.
Bob donned his fishing waders and managed to turn the boat right-side up. Amazingly, we found fishing rods, a Thermos, and one oar. Even more amazingly, Tom's billfold was soggy, but all the important documents it held remained intact. Coincidence? I think not.
I backed up my old 4X4 Blazer as close to the water as I dared, and we pulled the boat onto dry land. Minutes later the tow boat was at the ramp. We expressed our heartfelt gratitude to our newly-found friends - Good Samaritans if ever there were any - as they silently slipped away. We wanted to somehow compensate them for their act of kindness, but assumed they wouldn't have accepted such a gesture anyway.
We gathered two styrofoam coolers with all our fruit, sandwiches, and beverages. The contents were as dry as they had been when I'd packed them hours earlier. We had a quick lunch and headed for Laramie. Our day was spent, and we all seemed to languish in a state of after-shock, completely forgetting to call our wives and ease their concerns over our late return.
I am certain, in reflection, that God had been with us that day. I am personally most grateful, for I know now that I caused the boat to capsize. I cannot help but think about the "what ifs." If Tom had not managed to latch onto the hand-holds of the seat on Bob's boat, I would no doubt have been forever consumed with guilt. What a travesty it would have been for him. A Purple Heart veteran from the Korean War to have fallen victim to the Wyoming wind during a routine fishing trip! I can only attribute his survival that day to God's mercy and direct intervention.
Did God spare us all so that we might continue to honor, praise, and serve him? I think so!
Flywriter's note: Ed, now in his mid-90s, keeps fishing and honoring God. And for that, we're all grateful and blessed.
Drifting along with God...