Sunday, July 23, 2017

Little Johnny and Adventures on the Flint River

The Flint River (image source: wikimedia.org)


As a boy growing up in rural South Georgia, Mitchell County to be exact, I was introduced to fishing on the mighty Flint River. My Dad bought a 14 foot aluminum Jon boat and powered it with a 9 1/2 horse Johnson outboard that we called Little Johnny that he had gotten when my Granddad sold his Salt Water boat. On occasion, he would let me set at the back of the boat and pilot the boat. I remember the initial awe and fear I felt as I struggled to learn to turn the motor the opposite direction that I wanted the boat to head and becoming familiar with the less than raw power available at the twist of my wrist.

image source: smalloutboards.com


The Flint River was not a body of water to be taken lightly. I had sandbars, snags, and rocks to navigate past and spring holes that were hundreds of feet deep. It was a river to be respected and an appropriate amount of fear probably would be advised as well. Anytime Dad was piloting the boat on the Flint, I was instructed to sit to one side, so he could see the water ahead and avoid the rocks and snags that stuck up depending on the levels of the water. Anytime I piloted the boat, he sat up front calling out the dangers and giving directions on where to head for safe passage.

Amazingly, when my brother got his drivers license, my Dad allowed the two of us to take the boat fishing during the week after school while he was out of town on work. To this day, I am amazed that he allowed us to take his boat out. I am not sure if he suffered a head injury at work or just decided that he had taught us everything we needed to know, and it was time to let us spread our wings a bit.

So one gorgeous Spring day, we got home from school, ignored our homework assignments, hooked to boat up to my brother's car and headed for the Flint. We launched the boat and headed off down river as we had done a hundred times prior. I honestly don't remember if we caught anything that day or not. But I do vividly remember this - about an hour before dark, we decided it was time to head home. My brother tugged on Little Johnny's rope and the motor fired to life. We set a course upstream for the boat ramp. I quickly noticed something out of the ordinary. The river level had risen a good bit since we had launched. I recognized that to mean that the Georgia Power Dam flood gates north of us had been opened.

Georgia Power Dam on the Flint River (image source: cyclethunder.wormley.org)

With the rising level of water, there were less rocks and snags visible above the top of the water. My brother began to navigate from memory of where the rocks and snags were since they were not all completely visible. This instantly struck a bit of fear in my heart, because I knew if he missed remembering one rock that might now be just below the surface of the water, it could damage the boat or the outboard, and even worse throw us out of the boat or overturn us. I zipped up the zipper on the front of my life jacket and quietly checked to make sure he had his one and zipped.

It was then I noticed the second problem at hand. With the rising level of water, the current of the river had magnified. I could hear Little Johnny's hum and could tell my brother had the throttle twisted wide open. Looking out the front of the boat, I couldn't tell we were moving. I froze for a moment in fear as I thought about the possibility that the rising Flint River's current could by stronger than Little Johnny's 9 1/2 horsepower could overcome. I quickly quit watching for snags and rocks and began watching the shoreline.

My brother noted the change in my behavior and asked, "What are you looking at on the bank?"

I sheepishly admitted to my fear. "I'm looking at trees to see if we are actually moving forward!"

He laughed and then asked, "Well are we?"

I sat for a few minutes staring at a single unique looking tree. Slowly I could see it beginning to move to the South of us. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"Yes, barely but we are," I replied. "I hope we have enough gas to make it to the boat ramp."

He quickly looked down at the 5 gallon red fuel can that supplied Little Johnny the two-cycle gas and oil mixture.

"Three quarters of a tank," he called out.

We slowly made our way up river and finally arrived at the boat ramp. Our slow progress had put us behind schedule, and it was now dark. He quickly backed the boat trailer down the ramp, and we loaded the boat.

"That was some scary stuff there for a bit," I admitted after we were in the car and headed home. "I didn't think we were gonna make it up river."

I think back on that episode of my childhood several times as I get older. When I am working on a project or working on personal growth and begin to become frustrated with the progress, I remember that day on the waters of the mighty Flint River and looking to the shoreline for something to provide me proof that we are moving in the right direction despite the lack of speed. That experience has always helped me to remember to not focus so intently on the final destination but to look for progress. If I can see progress being made, I can then motivate myself to keep going.

How about you? Are you looking for progress - positive movement towards your goals? Or are you frozen staring at the final destination and overcome with defeat because of how far away it seems? Focus on signs of positive movement and keep on pressing forward.

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