This year we vacationed in Oregon and Washington, anxious to experience the perfection of the Cascade Mountains, the unmatched beauty of the many rivers and lakes, and the grandeur of the Puget Sound. It would be a road trip for just my wife and me. We had purposely planned to be unplanned, granting ourselves the unusual gift of freedom to stop when we wanted, to wander off course as the urge prompted, and to be free from the chains of a schedule. When we left our home heading north the sunroof was open, the music was loud and our smiles were broad. We were on vacation.
After a short visit in southern Oregon, then Northern Washington, we set out for Astoria, Oregon, a delightful community on the coast most noted for being the location where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is the largest river in the Northwest, widening to over four miles when it concludes its twisting and turning 1,234 mile journey westward. The point where the river meets the ocean is called a bar, and the Columbia River Bar is the most dangerous and unpredictable bar in North America, claiming the lives of many good mariners every year. Our goal while staying in Astoria was to get as close as possible to the bar, while still staying on dry land. So with map in hand and the Garmin programmed, we set out for the Fort Stevens State Park, the best spot to view the bar. Fort Stevens is a big place, and although it seemed easy to do, we have difficulty finding the right spot. But, after three hours of driving and walking we found the observation deck which would provide the best view of the bar. Built from large logs, the platform was twenty feet high and boasted magnificent views of the Pacific coastline, a long and impressive breakwater made from huge rocks, and the Columbia bar, which was about a mile north. The terrain between our location and the shoreline adjacent the bar was a mixture of rocks, sand dunes, and in the beginning a small trail. Because of the unpredictable danger of the ocean near the bar, getting close was purposefully made difficult for the safety of the visitors. It was late afternoon, and we hadn’t had lunch yet, so our dedication to “getting as close as possible” was faltering just a little. Still, we decided to walk to the end of the trail to see how tough a hike it might be.
Before we left the tower, we saw an elderly gentleman guiding a younger man in a wheelchair over rocky, uneven dirt toward the same trail that we were headed to. My wife and I both questioned (to each other) the intelligence of putting a person in a wheelchair in such an awkward and possibly dangerous situation. Then we walked through the parking lot, climbed a small barricade, and proceeded down the trail toward the ocean. At the end of the 100 yard trail we found the person in the wheelchair, alone. My wife asked him if everything was okay. He replied that everything was great. His mom and dad wanted to get closer to the ocean, and the trail forward was too rough, so he was waiting there. He said he could smell the ocean, hear the waves, and that he loved it. He had Cerebral Palsy, so his arm movements were jerky and his words were not smooth, but his joy in being in this spot at this moment was as clear and evident as anything we had ever witnessed. I looked at my watch, the rough hike ahead, and at my wife: do you want to continue, I asked? Before she could answer, our friend in the wheelchair did.
“I would if I could” was his reply!
We smiled at each other and knew immediately what we would do. Thanking the nice man we left for the closest point to the bar that we could find. The beauty and power of the Columbia bar was everything we expected, and more. The roar of the ocean was amazing, bringing respect for anyone brave enough to ride her waves. When we returned, our friend in the wheelchair was gone. Hopefully his wisdom will stay with us forever.
How often in life do we choose to ignore or abandon an amazing experience because “it will be too difficult.” How often do we take for granted an everyday beauty? I know that I do such things far too often. We will probably never again visit Astoria and get a chance to see great Columbia bar, yet because of a 20 minute hike we almost did not go. How many more amazing experiences have I missed because I didn’t want to drive another hour, walk another block, or wanted to sleep in? The man in the wheelchair didn’t get to the beach because he couldn’t, but he went as far as he could. I can watch television from my sofa anytime; but there are too few chances for sunsets with the family, waterfalls in the gorge, touring Churchill Downs, or seeing something for the first time, for me to pass another one by.
From now on, “If I can, I will.”
Choosing to experience God bares a close parallel to the Columbia bar. Too many prayers have been missed because I was late for work. Too many missed opportunities to share God with a stranger at an airport for fear of appearing foolish, or different. After I finish the suspense novel, I tell myself, I will read my Bible. Perhaps I should read the Bible first.
With a little effort, I can experience more in life, and more of God. So I will. Thanks to my friend in the wheelchair for opening my eyes to appreciation.
Thanks for reading.