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Down by the Riverside


Smith Island Rapids, Chattahoochee River, 1985

     In March of 1985, Ed and I took a vacation in northern Georgia. We were impatient for spring weather, and we wanted to canoe the Upper Chattahoochee River, a nice Class II whitewater run near Helen, Georgia. 

     To prepare for the trip, we consulted our go-to guidebooks, Appalachian Whitewater, Volume 1: The Southern Mountains, written by gurus of whitewater paddling who had canoed or kayaked the rivers and streams of Appalachia. Some had made first descents and named different rapids according to whatever carnage had occurred during the run. As in the "Jared's Knee Rapids" on the Upper Tellico River in Tennessee, when something bad must have happened to Jared's knee.
     There were other dangers besides getting trashed in the rapids. The guidebook cautioned boaters making the mandatory portage at Nora's Mill below Helen to begin their portage "well away from the mill as the property owners seem not fond of canoeists." Hhm. A good boater respects property rights anyway.
     We'd also been told to stay away from the left bank when going through the Smith Island Rapids. Supposedly that landowner sometimes took potshots at passing boaters.
     "Do you think we're approaching Smith Island?" I asked Ed partway through our trip. We needed to know where we were on the river.
     The advice of the guidebooks reminded me of the counsel that one of my mentors had given me when we were doing pastoral ministry together on the west side of Detroit. "You need to know what street you're on," Rev. Juanita Ferguson had told me. "Some streets are safe to walk. Some are not."
     I was grateful for the wisdom of those who'd gone before me.
     We had a beautiful day on the Chattahoochee. Sunshine glinted on the riffles, and warmed our winter-pale faces. We made it through all the rapids upright and unharmed.
     How blessed we are to be aided by those who've traveled before us. May we thank them, and share what wisdom we have from our own journeys. 
     It may help save someone else's poor knee.

"Your teachers will be hidden no more…. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21 (TNIV)

Playlist: "Order My Steps," The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Favorite Song of All, 1996

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