Fisherman's encounter leads to revelationThe recent heavy rain, complete with what is here a rather rare electrical storm, reminded me of rainfall not too many years ago, when my wife and I lived in northeastern New Mexico.
I had been invited to do some flyfishing, shortly after being installed as a pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Raton. The invitation came from one of the congregation's Elders, and I suspect he wanted to see if I were a real outdoorsman.
I do enjoy many outdoor activities, but I felt my performance was being evaluated, and I did not enjoy that. I play outdoors in order to relax away from all spotlights; whatever competition I enjoy is almost always with myself.
Mark was a professional fishing and hunting guide on the beautiful and bountiful Vermejo Park Ranch, which was owned by Shell Oil Company back then, but is now one of Ted Turner's many recreational possessions. I was picked up in Mark's pickup truck about 6:00 one morning and we arrived at our high mountain stream a good two hours later. When I saw how narrow and shallow the stream was, I began to suspect this was going to be a day of exercising my unused casting abilities rather than an exciting day of catching fish. How wrong I was!
I asked my elder and guide what fly he recommended I use and he selected a rather showy Royal Coachman from my box. As I rubbed a small amount of silicon flotant into its wings he asked me if I needed instruction in the art of casting. I was a novice and I answered truthfully that I could use all the help he was willing to give me. Mark proceeded to demonstrate a few very short casts into the very small body of water that was all but hidden by the tall grass in the open meadow. He then turned and asked me to give it a try. I was uneasy, partly because it had been a long time since last I had been flycasting, but I also was uneasy because I wanted to get past my competency tests and get on with a good working relationship with one of the leaders in my new congregation.
I made one successful - but short and graceless - cast whereupon he pronounced I would do fine and that we could fish apart from one another. He divided up the small brook, suggesting I work upstream from the lake a half mile away while he worked his way upstream from where we were standing. I knew better than to disagree, secured my hook and began my walk down to the lake.
When we next met, I had lost count of how many fish I had caught and released, and I had in my vest a half dozen cutthroat trout, ranging between 10 and 12 inches in length. It was after noon and he suggested we find a suitable place to build a fire and cook our lunch. From the box in the back of his truck, he produced all the wood, racks, utensils, butter and seasoning we needed. He asked me to get the fire started, while he cleaned the dozen fish we had just caught.
EnviousApparently taking note of my catch and the bed of hot coals in the fire pit when he returned, Mark began to talk with greater congeniality and alacrity. While we ate every bit of the firm-bodied, well-seasoned fish Mark had skillfully cooked, he confessed how fortunate he was to be paid as a guide for doing what he enjoyed so immensely. I agreed, being envious more than a pastor ought to be.
What little distance between us remained after an afternoon of fishing together all but disappeared on our way home that evening. Clouds had gathered throughout the latter part of the day, but heavy rain did not begin to fall until we had gotten back to the truck. By the time we had put our gear away, we both were grateful to be inside the cab. With the windshield wipers going full speed, Mark cautioned me that the dirt roads on the ranch got very slippery real fast, because of the thin layer of water-soaked clay which covered the hardpan underneath. As we rounded one curve with moderate speed, I immediately understood what he was trying to tell me. The truck slid down the slight incline and across the road into the embankment on the opposite side.
We landed with a sudden shock that slid me from one door to the other with Mark caught between driver-door and Doug. When we turned to look at each other our noses touched. I quickly made my way back to the passenger door, but by then we both broke out into the laughter of letting go. As we drove home, Mark began to ask me questions about my past and why I chose to become a minister. It was not until then that we began to share our faith with one another and to become fast friends both in the field as well as in church.
TogethernessAfter that I frequented his veterinary clinic often and sometimes assisted him in animal surgery. He gave us our first black Lab. I got to know the other guides out at the ranch, and often was invited to fish and hike and joined them on the annual cow-elk hunt that was a part of their employment privileges. I eventually met most of Mark's family when they visited. His wife became our church treasurer. I was one of the first to know when he and Stephanie decided to adopt a young boy and rejoiced with them when his wife later learned that she was pregnant with their first daughter. I baptized their children. We ate together in each others' homes and we prayed together with joined hands and hearts.
What had happened to our two families, I later realized, was the fulfillment of Jesus' promise in Matthew 18:20 that "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." The two of us had sat together that day in the cab of Mark's pickup after our collision, like the two disciples sat along the Road to Emmaus centuries before us, when suddenly we recognized our Lord was there seated with us.
Doug Rich is the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Clatsop Plains in Warrenton.