Boats fascinate my husband.
Early in our relationship, he invited me to go sailing with him. An evening on the lake with my new boyfriend letting the wind blow through my hair sounded romantic, so I said yes. What he didn’t tell me was that he had learned to sail reading a book about the subject, and the boat he owned was a ten-foot, single-sail vessel he fondly called the “peanut.”
He doesn’t remember now whether that title represented a class of sailboat or if it was just a nickname he invented. His nauticalese impressed me until I realized his use of sailing terms like “come about” only meant “duck” before the boom holding the sail swung back around and cracked me in the head. I could envision the local search and rescue team dredging my waterlogged, headless form from the bottom of the reservoir. Headlines would read, Woman drowns as male friend sails into the sunset.
Obviously our relationship survived that early round of water experience and we married. Smooth sailing (no pun intended) occupied a dozen years until we found ourselves with a small son and an even smaller daughter.
My husband discovered an eighteen-foot sloop he wanted to buy, which meant this sailboat had two sails. I wondered how one ducked two booms as he talked me into the purchase. To my delight I learned that one sail was a “jib” and remained secure at the bow of the boat. The main sail was the only one to move. But with two small children to worry about, I wondered how soon we’d scoop one of them out of the water. I spent many nervous afternoons sitting like a cat ready to spring, hoping to stop either child from falling off.
That never happened.
The sailboat was constructed of wood which made it heavy. “Coming about” proved tedious. The sloop lumbered around like a beached whale on an ice floe, not quite “tacking” the wind in time to complete the turn. Both my son and daughter grew weary of long afternoons sitting on the boat in the middle of the lake while Dad and the two sails tried to catch the wind. When the van that pulled the sailboat died, our time on the water was buried with it.
Nevertheless the love of boats continued, so when my husband asked me what I’d like to do to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary recently, I suggested a cruise on an Oregon waterway. An acquaintance of mine had taken her husband on a dinner cruise for his birthday and the experience sounded like fun.
My husband wasted no time surfing the internet to find the cruises, their destinations and their dates. He chose a ride on a sternwheeler—no sails and no booms, hallelujah, just a paddlewheel at the back —out of Cascade Locks, Oregon. The trip included a three-course meal and a journey down the Columbia, through the Bonneville Dam, under the Bridge of the Gods, all the way to Multnomah Falls.
Though our day was spent under Oregon’s rainy skies, the sternwheeler was dry, the crowd was quiet, the ride relaxing. We were riding a river, but the Columbia is so wide, we felt like we traveled on the ocean.
I marveled at the glorious scenery on either side of the boat. Protected wilderness rose out of the sides of the Gorge, sporting glorious stands of timber and God-hewn rock. While we gloried in the beauty, the captain regaled us with tales of the adventures of Lewis and Clark, early settlers, and the plight of the natives who had fished there for centuries. He also showed us how the eddies on the river could navigate the boat back and forth from the Oregon border to the Washington shoreline.
I couldn’t help but think of how God had designed the waterway for navigation. How He’d put the salmon in place to spawn, grow, travel to the Pacific, and then return home to begin the process all over again. I marveled at the rock walls His river had carved out of the earth over the centuries, creating wilderness sanctuaries for dozens of species of animals. The river carried water from mountains many miles away, allowing the heavy rains of the Northwest an escape to the ocean. The whole majestic wonder of it gave me the chills. Though man had conquered the power of the Columbia, generating enough electricity to send power all the way to southern California, God was the One who put that power in place.
Is it any wonder that the songwriter wrote in verse two of My Country ‘Tis of Thee:
My native country, thee,
land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
thy woods and templed hills;
my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.
What a great land God has entrusted to us.