The Happy River

May 11, 2019

     For music I like the plaintive descending notes of the white throated sparrow singing’ “ole Sam Peabody” by the wild rippling waters of the Manistee. The name means “happy river” in Ojibway and so it is. I’d drive a thousand miles just to sit by its banks in May and ponder the vibrant yellow marsh mallows blossoming in the cold spring air. At this time of year many grown men don rubber pants to ply the rivers in search of hungry trout. But not this man. This is the season to sit in the bow of a canoe with a fly rod while a fine friend paddles in the stern and offers a running stream of commentary, wisdom and advice. I always feel smarter by journey’s end even if the fish fail me.

     For scenery, I like a bald eagle soaring over the river, muskrat plying the shallows and white tails snorting in the brush. The air smells like pine with ample whites and reds towering from sandy banks. Cedars and alders fill the lowlands. Their branches reach hungrily for my fly and often succeed in capturing the morsel I had intended for the mouth of some unlikely brookie.

     For food, I like a hamburger smothered in potatoes and carrots pulled from the coals of a campfire. And in a driving 40 degree rain, there is no taste like a hot cup of mocha made from those same root-beer stained waters we’d been floating on for 35 miles. At night we were lulled to sleep by the mellow hooting questions of a barred owl, the singing of a pack of coyotes and the soundings of American snipe in the swamp across the river. Keep Netflix, give me the Manistee National Forest.

       For Spirit, give me Psalms read in the sunshine around a cedar wood lunch fire. There’s nothing like reading about the Divine deliverance of Israel just moments after you’ve swamped your canoe in 45 degree water and crawled out on shore like a sopping wet dog wondering what’s next. Give me earnest mealtime prayers of thanksgiving with a friend before any bites were taken. Sometimes you have to get completely off the grid if you want to get the news: God is not dead. The fish are biting.

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