When I was a little boy my Dad bought our family a canoe. I had
seen and had been in one of these simple little boats before--my
Grandfather had taken me out on short fishing trips many times
before. But, now, we had one too.
Canoes are interesting little boats. While highly maneuverable,
and easy to carry from car to river or over obstructions in the
stream, they are not very stable in the water and have a nasty
habit of capsizing if great care is not taken when standing up.
They were, however, my granddads boat of choice
when he went fishing. And, hence, it was also my Dads favorite
means of scouting out the best fishing holes and
negotiating the currents on an overnight float trip.
Back when my father was a young man he and his brother, father,
and mother would go on long float trips down the Mountain Fork
River in eastern Oklahoma. They would have someone set them out
on the river 8 to 12 miles up stream from their camp-sight and
then would float down the river, fishing all the way. They were
all proficient with the Fly Rod, so their journey was steady,
taking turns fishing and paddling. They would spend hours, working
their way down the banks of the river, fishing in the most likely-looking
nooks and crannies for blue-gill, goggle eye, bass, you name
it. Sometimes the water was deep and ran smooth. Sometimes its
was shallow, swift, and choppy. Sometimes the flow reduced to
a trickle, and they would have to get out and carry their canoes
through the narrows to where the water was deep and
wide enough to support them. These trips were adventures, and
when my brother and I grew old enough my Dad invited us to share
in the experience.
The stories my Dad and grandaddy used to tell about these trips
are always amusing, sometimes rather tall, but on
the whole I believe them--mostly. Especially the story of the
One day my grandfather and Dad were fishing their way down the
Mountain Fork River, taking their time about it as it was a beautiful
summer day and the fish were biting. As one might expect, the
hours were getting away from them as they made their way down
the river, and soon the daylight began to wane as the hour grew
late. Curious, and somewhat concerned as to how far they had
to go before reaching their pick-up point, they pulled over to
the bank where they had spotted a lone old man, lolly-gaggin'
by the riverside.
Howdy, sir. How far is it to the low water bridge?
my grandady asked.
What bridge? asked the man.
You know, the bridge that crosses the river at the Farm
Oh, that bridge . . . you cant get there for here.
Frustrated, my grandfather scratched his head and said, Sir,
its the low-water bridge.
Oh!! THAT BRIDGE! Its about five mile down the river.
(note,thats five mile, not miles ... no s)
Stunned, and quite worried about being late, my father and grandfather
would set back out, putting their fishing tackle in the boat
as they both paddled their way down the river. Arms straining
to make up for lost time, they would build up quite a head of
steam as they headed on down the river. With only an hour or
so left of daylight, they didnt want to get stuck out on
the water at night!
Huffing and puffing, they paddled their way toward the next bend
in the river, less then 500 yards away; and, as they came around
the bend . . . there stood the low-water bridge.
Turning to look back behind them, Im certain my dad could
see the old man waving.
Five Mile became the name of the Neal-family canoe.
Granddad stenciled it on the front side of the boat, with an
arrow underneath to point the way. And, I remember when my father
stenciled the name on the side of our new canoe; I asked him
what it meant, and he told me the story.
He then added, The next time we made that same trip, and
we pulled up to the bank to ask another old gentleman that same
question, he opened his mouth to say `about five mile ....
then caught sight of the words on the side of our boat, smiled,
and said ` just around the bend.
We dont know what the bends in the river of this life have
in store for us. We all have a sturdy canoe (the church), and
a lot of fishing (evangelism) to do. And, even though the day
appears to be getting short, and the distance appears far, dont
let some by-stander tell you youve still got five
mile to go. Gods bridge will show up soon enough.