03369_000_011It was spring and green and warm and wonderful and the river was running high with canoes and color and laughter
Deep in the winding corridors of the forgotten river, the morning was fresh and sweet. A soft breeze rustled the cottonwoods, and the lazy brown water was green with reflected leaves. Sun-ignited cotton lay on the surface in a brilliant haze and drifted down the morning like tiny stars, feathering the shoulders of three young men in a canoe.
They paddled madly, elbows flying and paddles flinging rainbows that fell in a trail of ripples behind them. Now and then they looked over their shoulders apprehensively. Someone was pursuing them!
Actually, the forgotten river isn’t really forgotten, just ignored. Most people know it only as a dull, brown stream that flows under bridges on its way from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake. It is a small river, creek-sized and shallow, but it bears an important name. It is the Jordan.
On this particular day, the Varsity Scouts and Mia Maids from the Sandy Utah Stake had come to find out what lay between the bridges by tackling a three-mile stretch of the forgotten river in a super-duper canoe race. The three young men in the canoe were looking over their shoulders with good reason, because 30 more canoes were in hot pursuit.
The race began early, in a pool which the spring sky had tinted blue. Far off across the valley, the snow-frosted Wasatch Mountains framed the scene, and overhead the sun shone with an unambiguous warmth that promised another summer. Grass grew deep in the meadows nearby. The trees were in exuberant leaf, branching both up into the sky and down into the water. Lined up neatly by the riverside, bright-colored canoes were reflected in a dazzling watercolor. On the western bank, young men and women were helping each other into life jackets. The group listened carefully to safety instructions and a brief course in canoe paddling. Then, after bowing their heads in prayer, they began launching their rented canoes at half-minute intervals. The great race was underway!
It was clear that some of the voyageurs had never been in a canoe before, and at first many steered a zig-zag course—zigging into both banks and zagging into each other. But they learned quickly, and the river soon began unwinding before their energetic strokes. Down the river they went—splashing, surging, bailing, and sometimes spilling into the snow-cold, waist-deep water. Choruses of birdsong washed over them from all around and their hair flamed into halos of sunlight. As they raced along, the meadows soon gave way to backyards, but generous foliage made it seem as if they were deep in the countryside. Tall willow trees leaned overhead, trailing their long fingers in the water. Giant cottonwoods towered skyward. Bushes and reeds covered the banks with green flame. Only occasionally did a fence or house remind them that they were floating through the middle of a city.
Through the grassy banks they slid, dodging snags, skirting shallows, overtaking, and being overtaken. Digging fist-deep with their paddles, straining muscles to the limit, they churned around long, leafy bends and down warm, chocolate stretches smelling of river and pollen. They glided under trees and sky and bridges. Once a long yellow locomotive hooted at them loud and lonely and far. The water continually changed from brown to green to blue, and sunlight ran like lightning across the surface. Red, yellow, green, and blue canoes bled their reflections into the water, and banks of newborn weeds were as lovely as any flowers.
On and on they dueled. Some raced as if only the winners would live, and others were lulled by the soft sky and warm sun into taking it easy and floating with the slow-moving current. The air was intoxicating. This was the morning of their lives, and on a morning filled with such air, such sun, such sights, such smells, what might not be possible? It was a rare day for dreaming.
But slow or fast, dreamy or awake, they all eventually came through the perils of the forgotten river (including a small waterfall over a power company dam) to a city park where they had to beach their craft and carry them across the finish line. When the canoes were loaded safely on their racks, the judges began figuring the winning times for the several categories (three boys, three girls, two boys-one girl, two girls-one boy). Meanwhile, everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch and perhaps an equally delicious nap on the grass. The winners were then announced and each received a candied-popcorn reward.
But they all knew that was not the day’s real reward. The real reward was the opportunity to enjoy the grandeur of God’s springtime world on a lazy and never-to-be forgotten little river right in their own backyards.