Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Life Lessons from a Riverboat

I like to spend time outside in contemplation or meditation. At home, my time is usually in the mornings on my front porch. On this trip, there has not been much time to feed that inner spirit. While we've been at a wonderfully quiet spot on the Mississippi River, the weather has been damp, cold, and sometimes rainy. Plus, I had a major project going on. Once we got settled in at the campground, I started getting 20 photos ready to be uploaded at a new stock agency for me. Everything had to be resized, uploaded via ftp and then keyworded and described on the site. Upsizing is easy, but you have "wait" time while the program does its thing. Entering titles, descriptions, keywords, etc is time consuming. They had requested a first submission of 20 images, so that is what I've spent the last two days doing. To complicate matters, my keyboard has a glitch. It started before the trip. We put it in the shop, got it back . . . . just a few days later it is not fixed. Sometimes all the keys work and sometimes they don't. I've gotten really good at typing using a Keyboard viewer and my touch pad. But it is slow. And then at other times, my keyboard works normally (like right now.)

So . . . I've been at this lovely, peaceful, tranquil, riverside campground, working like crazy. We've seen a few riverboats go by and I stopped and enjoyed each one. We've heard owls in the woods every night. We've watched the antics of the great blue herons that fish the river. We've even seen a beaver. But I felt like I had not had time to "enjoy" these things. I was enjoying them, yes, but I had not had time to savor it . . .so to speak.

So this evening, I had my photos uploaded, my email from the website with approval wordings on it (and I really like that I have someone who gives me feedback and information directly - with Alamy I usually feel like I am working in the dark.) So tonight I can relax.

I was planning to go outside and sit at the picnic table by the river and hope for owl calls. I took Henry's night vision binoculars to see if I could see anything (well, I was not good at focusing them . . . figured that out, but did not really see much with them) Then I looked downstream and realized that I was seeing the sweeping lights of a river boat heading upstream. Oh Boy!!!!!! I could sit and watch this one with my undivided attention. (Needless to say, small things sometimes please me greatly!) So I sat down to enjoy the experience and give it my full attention.

Now when I first saw the lights, they were very dim and in the distance, around the curve of the island . . . . . . . I'm thinking now that riverboat was probably 10 miles away when I first realized it was coming. Earlier today, we did some calculations . . . . riverboats travel less than 7 miles per hour . . . . This one was not going 7 miles per hour in the dark.

I sat at the picnic table and listened to the night sounds. I was soaking up that serenity I had been missing. I could hear the frogs and crickets in the forest behind me. I could hear the small fish splashing as they lept out of the water. I could hear the squaks of the herons as the noise in the distance and the lights in the distance disturbed their sleep. (The riverboat is still a long way away . . . . )

I could hear the owls . . . I was hoping I would get to hear the owl calls tonight. Sometimes they are loud and nearby, other times they are soft and far away. I think we've heard two species . . . I need to go online and listen to owl calls. One sounds like a barred owl. We heard those on the Owl Prowl and Froggy Frolic I went on during the summer. So I think one was a barred owl. The call we heard last night was very different. It was much more of a howl. I'm thinking either screech owl or perhaps even a bobcat. Yes, I need to listen to bird calls while the sounds are fresh in my memory.

While enjoying the night sounds around me, I keep watching downstream as the boat makes its way up the river. This is a SLOW boat. I'm sure the daytime boats went faster. (7 miles an hour is faster?????) The boat has made it past the curve around the island. I can see the spotlight. Sometimes it sweeps the area where I am sitting and the trees on the bank of the slough by the campground. At first the light is faint as it illuminated the trees. As time passes, the light gets brighter. I can see the spotlights well . . . . I don't see barges in front of the spot lights . . . .hum . . . . this is taking a LONG time . . . .maybe it is not barges, maybe it is a dredge . . . . hum . . . . it is slow . . . . . .

The night barges have two big spot lights. Have I mentioned they are BRIGHT spot lights. Your eyes have gotten used to the dark, you are looking toward the boat as it shines the light on the far bank . . . . the light swings in your direction . . . .your eyes don't move fast enough . . . . you can actually see your iris close to block out that painfully bright light. After a couple of times, I tried to avoid this experience. Hands work well as a shade.

Did I mention that the boat is still not here yet?????

I am truly enjoying sitting at the picnic enjoying this evening and waiting for the boat. I am NOT going in until the boat passes. But I am gettng chilly, so I went in and got my coat.

The nice thing about contemplation time is that your mind has time to process things. As I wait for this VERY slow boat, I think about what the captain of this boat is dealing with. It is dark out here. While there are some very small, dim flashing lights (miniature light houses-not bright) along the shore every couple of miles, there is virtually no light to guide him along the river. Nothing like the street lights on metropolitan interstates. Only the big spotlights on the top of the boat. The barges are very long in front of him (5 barges long, 3 barges wide-that is probably 250 feet of barge in front of him in the dark). . . at night he only has a very small flashing red light to tell him where the front of the boat is. There are buoys in the river to mark the channel. They are not lit. The captain must find them with his spotlight. He also must trust that whoever placed the buoys knew what they were doing. He must also trust that there are no new sand bars. It is dark, he can't see any new sandbars.

There is a pattern to the movement of the lights. Sometimes the lights swing from side to side checking where the river bank and landmarks may be. Sometimes, the lights are aimed dead straight ahead where the channel buoys are illuminated. Sometimes the captain keeps the lights in one position for a long time. If you think it is safe to look at the boat . . . . oops that light got you in the eyes again, yes, I AM seeing my iris close in a amazing flash of yellow and black, yes, that hurts. Yes, let's not do that again!

The boat is actually much closer now. Yes, there really are barges in front of it. Yes, it really is the same size as the ones during the day. With the boat this close, the spotlights are truly blinding. The captain may see Henry and me, he certainly leaves the spotlight on us for several moments. It is very bright, indescribably bright, MUCH brighter than the streetlights on the highways, almost like the worklights they use in highway construction at night, or Hollywood production night lights. And there are only two of them.

It is only after the boat has passed you that you can see the spotlight on the nested covers to the barges. When the barge is even with you, it appears to be going faster. It is an illusion. You can hear the engine noises a longer distance when the boat is downstream - some acoustic thing-perhaps the island and trees channel the sound better in that direction. But when the boat is near you, the engine is loud. A very rhythmic loud. Rum, rum, rum, rum, rum, deep tones,

As the boat passes, I appreciate the beauty of the side lights and their reflection on the water. Since the covers are folded up, and the barges seem to be riding low in the water, I wonder if this is carrying coal. I can't see the cargo or even the barges well enough to really know how they are riding in the water. But my mind wants to make sense of this. The barges going upstream this morning were coal barges. Grain barges would be covered.

When I was waiting for the barge to make its way tediously up the river, my contemplation headed in spiritual realms. The night is dark, sometimes our lives are lived in darkness, away from God's light. God's light is bright, it can be seen from far away, much as the riverboat's bright light could be seen coming even when it was 10 or more miles away. If we look for that light, we can see it coming. I was looking in the night and saw the distant light because I was outside taking in my surroundings. As the boat captain must trust the buoys for guidance, I also must trust the markers God puts in my path to guide me through life, as the riverboat captain trusts the buoys and lights. The riverboat captain has a detailed map of the river. As a Christian, I have the Bible as a written guide to help me navigate through the challenges of life.

Patience. When we travel around the country in our RV, we usually go 55-70 miles an hour. This riverboat is going less than 7 miles per hour. Folks, this is slow. A riverboat captain must have patience. He really will get to his destination. But it won't be fast. What does he do to keep his mind occupied? How does he keep his concentration on the dimly lit buoy's, especially in the dead of night. Sometimes as we journey through our lives,it feels like we are going painfully slow, just like these riverboats. But the riverboats must go slow. They are pushing many tons of cargo in these long barges-usually 15 lashed together. Each barge would hold the contents of perhaps 10-15 tractor trailer rigs. The riverboat captain knows he will get to his destination eventually. When my life is going painfully slow toward my goal, I must remember that with God as my captain, I will get to his goal for me.

Sometimes, I wonder if the time I spend enjoying, contemplating, meditating on my surroundings is wasted. From the time I first saw the distant dim light until the riverboat finally passed by was probably 1 1/2 hours. I experienced the mystery and wonder of the life around the river, I felt the cool gentle air, and I gained another object lesson for Christian living.

Wasted time . . . . . . I don't think so.

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