|Steve, Tamera and Abby|
We’ve met Captain Dan, and because of him I will always relish that hour long tour. He wove his own story seamlessly into his route, and his signature was evident. Partly because of that signature I will remember the tour, but there are other reasons. Again, not quite the reasons I expected.
Airboats are loud. The great fan welded to the back of the hull is enormous. A whirring monstrosity. When we were seated Captain Dan handed us bumblebee yellow earphones. Large ones. I had to hold mine to my head with both hands. (My head is smaller than an average twelve year olds, and that can cause issues at times). I didn’t like the headphones partly for reasons that I won’t bother to tell you.
When Captain Dan slowed the boat to idle speed or stop it completely we took them off and the whir still buzzed in our ears.
Captain Dan was completely at ease; this lake was his element. He didn’t sound like your usual tour guide with the sometimes monotonous I’m-bored-out-of-my-mind voice. He was conversational, easy and slow. The only thing hurried about the whole trip happened when he decided to open up the boat full throttle and show off. But there we sat on Captain Dan’s porch looking out over his vast back yard.
He whipped the boat around, running through grasses so tall that they topped the fan cage. Our hair (mine and abby’s) flew and whipped and snapped. Even behind my sunglasses I squinted because of the force of the wind. The entire time as we hovered and skimmed over that
was grinning. A
wide-open, flat out grin that split her face. All teeth and all joy. I have a
feeling that, like me, she was shouting inside. lake
Captain Dan brought the boat into a shallow place in the lake. He idled it down to a complete stop. He then stood up and said, “Do you see her?”
My eyes began to dart. Back and forth. I was searching. Because of his use of the female pronoun I knew we were looking for a mama alligator. She was somewhere close, and at least visible to Captain Dan. I don’t remember which one saw her first. But there she was. Just the dome of her skull was above the water line. The ridge of her eyes and the top of her snout were above the water and absolutely motionless. Not an alligator in an aquarium. Not an alligator behind glass. No, a real live alligator in the wild. Beside her was a mound of twigs and dirt and mud and leaves. Apparently inside were her fifteen to twenty eggs. And she was guarding them.
|The Mama Alligator is circled. She was over 7 feet long!|
Captain Dan began to talk to her in this sing-songy voice that she obviously recognized. He explained that these gators knew the captains’ voices. (a little like sheep, but more lethal.) They responded to their voices and them by NOT showing agitation and aggression.
Slowly he moved the boat away from her, idled into the safe zone and then put that boat into a gear that sent our shoulders and heads back against the cracked vinyl benches. I was sandwiched between Abby and Steve, so I didn’t move as much. Abby and Steve felt far more of the turn and pull. Captain Dan spun that boat in a circle. Yes, a complete 360° turn. The front of the hull lifted out of the water and we leaned to the left—our bodies shifting. Water flew in stretched droplets splattering our arms. The spray shot up like a fountain in front of us. Nothing could be heard over the motor, but I could feel my laughter rippling out over the water.
Out in the middle of the lake endangered hawks perched menacingly on poles and branches in the water. They sat like sentinels; their keen, hard eyes roved across the dark, gray water searching for their lunch. Great, pale herons gingerly made their way through the water. Aloof and regal. They took off in flight, and I would take a deep intake of breath. Their great bodies lifted effortlessly and elegantly out of the water. And for just a few seconds I went with them.
Huge great cypress trees encompassed the lake. Massive trunks lifted their branches far above the waters, and the thick tendrils of Spanish moss hung down like curtains. Time seemed to be suspended during that hour. And it felt ancient. Not old. Not dated. But ancient. When the birds flew you could almost feel their great feathered wings move the currents of air, and you could hear the low gurgling and rippling of the water. And there was stillness over it all. A suspension. And for a brief while we were caught in that suspension.
There was a moment on that boat that my spirit grew too large for the cavity of my chest. I couldn’t breath deeply enough, and my eyes couldn’t see far enough, and my ears couldn’t hear close enough. I looked over at Abby and then at Steve and wondered if they were feeling the same.
Feeling utterly, thoroughly alive.
I felt alive. Like finally the air was getting to the small spaces of my lungs. Like every nerve tingled. Like my heart was thumping against the cage of my ribs.
This airboat tour, like the fourteen hour drive, had something to teach me. To teach us. It was a small, concentrated frame so that we could see, really see.
We’re on a tour here, Friends, and there’s a great many marvelous things to see and experience. There’s a world that’s filled with the beautiful, the awe-full, the dangerous and the fast. And there’s a world that is slow and ancient and wise and beckoning.
But we need a boat, and we need a captain.
You see, that day all we had to do was get in the boat. Get in the boat, put on our headphones and hold on for the ride. Captain Dan did the rest. He took us to see the wonders. He knew the waters—knew which ones were navigable and where the dangers were hidden. He knew the history of the place and the lore of the realm. He knew why it was relevant to us now. He made us laugh. He cautioned us. He taught us. He made us cry. He answered our questions.
This is a place that God intended us to experience.
This place of feeling alive. The Spirit quickens. The Spirit leads us to these experiences. He draws us to places of exhilaration. And they don’t often present themselves as such at first. We have to be alert, aware and awake to recognize them.
The moments of real, honest exhilaration happen when we recognize and acknowledge Him.
Everything else is just mimicry or a masquerade.