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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Al Henager: A Surprising Encounter

  • Journeys sometime change unexpectedly, and if we are not careful we will miss out on the best twists and turns in the road
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  • The summer between my junior and senior year in college, my parents and I took a vacation to Colorado.  We traveled in our camper west on U.S. Highway 50 from Pueblo through Canon City, across the continental divide at Monarch pass, on toward Gunnison.
    We were in no real hurry, and for some reason my father decided to turn off the main highway onto County Road 76.  As we headed north, we were seeing some beautiful, pristine country.  Eventually we came to a wide place in the road called Ohio City.
    At that time, Ohio City wasn't much more than a ghost town.  It probably still isn't.  The only open business seemed to be the Ohio City General Store.  Attached to it was what used to be an old saloon which no longer served anything stronger than apple cider.  It had become a cafe of sorts.  A weathered sign proclaimed that their specialty was “fresh baked” frozen pizza. 
    We were actually looking for a place to camp near a place to trout fish.  So, the friendly proprietor gave us directions to a National Forrest campground alongside Gold Creek and told us about two high mountain lakes that were teaming with trout.
    His directions led to a rocky road that ran up the side of a mountain.  After miles of bouncing and bumping along at a snail's pace we finally reached the “campground,” which consisted of a couple of concrete picnic tables, a spigot sticking out of the ground, and some stones circled around a pile of charred ashes.
    We quickly set up camp, leveling our camper as best we could.  It was going to be dark soon, and I was anxious to find one of those mountain lakes in order catch our supper.  So, I grabbed my fishing rod and followed the sign pointing up a trail leading to the lakes.
    I had never tried running up the side of a mountain before, and, even though I was in pretty good shape, I found myself tiring rather quickly.  Not only that, I began to notice a thick, black cloud of mosquitoes suddenly buzzing hungrily around me.
    I had no choice but to abandon my hike and return to camp due to shortness of breath caused by the steepness of the trail, the thin mountain air, and a considerable loss of blood to the mosquitoes.
    Instead of fresh trout, our supper that night consisted of pork and beans warmed over a campfire.  I will say, even canned pork and beans taste better when camping in the mountains.
    The next morning I doped up with loads of insect repellent and headed back toward the lakes.  The sign said it was a quarter of a mile to the nearest one.  “Piece of cake,” I thought, forgetting my ordeal from the evening before.
    Page 2 of 2 - It seemed as if I would never reach that first lake, and I considered turning back a number of times, not so much because of the difficulties of the climb but because I was growing increasingly afraid of being attacked by a bear.  Not that I ever actually saw a bear, mind you.  Well, except for three or four times back there in the shadows of the trees.  I am pretty sure.  I think.  (Still makes me shudder.)
    When I finally reached the lake, I was overcome with how still and clear it was.  It looked like a shiny mirror laid out on top of the mountain and surrounded by tall fir trees.
    I began casting my Panther Martin Sonic Lure, and on the second cast I hooked and landed an eight inch Brook Trout.  As I lifted the beautiful spotted creature for a closer look, I knew right away that I would not be keeping it.  I gently removed the hook from its lip and lowered it carefully back into the cold mountain water.
    As it swam away, I also realized I didn't have the heart to disturb anymore of these fish in their peaceful mountain lake home.  When I turned back from the water's edge, I was stunned by the scene before me.  I could see out across the valley to the mountain peaks beyond.  The grandeur of it all was magnificent.
    It reminded me of Psalm 36: 6 which says, “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast.”  All I could do in that moment was worship God.  It is one of the few times in my life I have actually felt like I was in the God's presence.
    Journeys sometime change unexpectedly, and if we are not careful we will miss out on the best twists and turns in the road.  When we do, we may also miss a surprising encounter with God.
    When I returned to camp, my mother asked me, “How was it?”
    “Beautiful,” I replied.
    “Where are all the fish?” she asked.
    With a twinkle in my eye, I answered, “Still in the lake, I guess.”  I then added, “Momma, you should have seen it.”
     (The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas.  He can be contacted at alhenager@gmail.com.)

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