My friend Dolores calls. “I’ve signed us up for something,” she says.
The excitement in her voice sounds tempered by the possibility that I might think she’s nuts.
“Saturday morning I’ll drive us up to the McKenzie River fish hatchery. We’ll be taking five-gallon bags of hatchling trout to stock the lakes in the Cascades.”
I have no real reason to say No. So I say Yes.
A five-gallon bag filled with water and a hundred little fish is, well, really heavy. At the hatchery headquarters, where we gather for instructions, I see seasoned hikers hefting their bags with no undue strain.
I look at Dolores. Dolores looks at me. We burst out laughing, wondering what we are doing here.
We lug our two five-gallon bags to the trunk of her car. So far, no dead fish.
I take the hand-drawn map which the hatchery lead has given us. Our pond, high in the Cascades, has no name. But an arrow points south from Highway 242, just this side of Dee Wright Observatory.
As we approach the area Dolores slows down. We each strain forward, hoping to spot the opening. But the observatory sign tells us we’ve gone too far.
We loop back.
Five times we loop back. A hundred hatchling trout are counting on us to find their unnamed pond, whose access escapes us.
We pull in at a gravel parking area a quarter of a mile to the west. We’re not laughing anymore. We are praying.
Dolores parks, and I get out to scout the woods going south and east. Nothing. I find no clearing, no signs of water.
I get back into the car. We review our options. We pray. The final option, which we cannot even talk about, is to empty the contents of the bag onto the ground.
“Dear Saint Francis,” I blurt out, “please, lead us to this pond.”
I get out to scout again. I don’t want a hundred fish floating belly-up just because I couldn’t match a hand-drawn map with reality.
As I come back to the car I notice a pickup has pulled in. A pair of seasoned young hikers pore over topo maps spread across the hood of their truck.
I show them my map. “Can you help?” I ask hopefully.
The young man looks at my very rudimentary sketch, then studies his topo map. He turns to me, his clear blue eyes ablaze with the challenge. “I’ll be back,” he says.
He leaps up the forested hillside like a gazelle, unhindered by thick underbrush, and vanishes.
The young woman talks to me of hikes and woods and things of nature. I think she’s trying to calm me.
Dolores waits in the car.
Before long, the young man comes bounding back. “I found the pond,” he says triumphantly.
He leads us up, over, and around. We climb through underbrush. I wonder if I’m wading through poison oak.
And suddenly, we come upon the pond.
I approach and kneel at the pond’s edge, roll up my sleeves, baring my arms to an unbroken cover of mosquitos, and ease the contents of the bag into the water. We fall silent, aware of something sacred going on.
Dolores and the young woman head back to the parking area. The young man and I follow.
“You are the answer to our prayer,” I tell him frankly.
Maybe he prays, too? I’m fishing now.
“I asked Saint Francis to help us find the pond,” I admit.
“Ah!” he says.
I turn to him. We stop. Dappled sunlight turns his mass of reddish blond hair into a halo. Light sparks from his pale blue eyes.
I look intently into his face.
“Are you Francis?”
He throws his head back as though I’ve shot his heart with an arrow, perhaps pierced a secret.
He peels away, and vanishes from my sight.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on
the nature of God’s calling in our times.