Yes! Finally I would escape the boredom I knew awaited me if I went home. This was my opportunity to explore and have the adventure I had been waiting for. I happily accepted Cody’s invitation, and we all piled into his family’s sedan and drove into the heart of the El Dorado National Forest.
We headed for our favorite hiking trail. We loved it because the hike ended on the top of a peak in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It had a panoramic view of the Sacramento Valley. Its crowning feature was an eight-story waterfall — fueled by a large river — that cascaded over the edge of a cliff and fell onto boulders at the foot of the mountain. It both scared me and drew me in.
Words of Warning
Cody’s family had a border collie that they brought along. After we pulled to a stop, he leaped out of the car shivering with energy and excitement. I adored him. I had never owned a dog, despite my obsession with them. As we set off on our hike, I followed behind him, watching him explore and sniff at the base of rocks and tree stumps. As we neared the mountain’s summit, the border collie sensed that we were close to the rushing water that fueled the deafening falls. He ran circles around us, wagging his tail in excitement. He saw the water first and sprinted toward it without hesitation. I, caring for nothing but the chance to watch him leap in, ran full speed behind him to the water’s edge.
I changed pace to a light jog. The dog slowed down in search for a place to jump into the water. The banks of the river were made up of huge granite boulders covered in slimy green moss. To avoid slipping I played hop scotch, dodging moss-covered areas as I trotted along the riverbank. Suddenly, I heard yelling behind me. My friends were screaming words of warning to me. I whirled around to hear them better.
Swept from Safety
As I turned, I put my foot directly on one of the slimy patches of wet moss. My feet slid out from under me and I fell back onto the slope of the boulder. As I slid down the steep face of the rock I felt a rush of pain. The rough and uneven surface of the boulder scraped against my back and shoulders, tearing my shirt and cutting into my skin making me bleed. I had only a millisecond to comprehend the perilous situation I was in before I plunged into the frigid current and was swept from safety.
Rushing water enveloped me. There were rocks everywhere jutting out of the river and I smashed helplessly against them as the current tossed me against everything in its way. No matter what I did, I couldn’t avoid the rocks. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t call out for help. The current simply carried me away as if I were merely a piece of driftwood. “There’s nothing I can do to save myself,” I thought.
Every time I bobbed above the waterline, I could see that I was drawing closer and closer to the edge of the falls. Though I only had a few tangible thoughts, all of them were cries of fear and desperation. I was sure that I was going to die. Slamming against rocks, the rushing water and other river debris disoriented me and left bruises all over my body. The helpless struggle to stay above the water to avoid obstacles made me feel more exhausted than I had ever been.
A Fallen Tree
As the current swept me close to the edge where a watery abyss and certain death awaited me, I smashed into branches from a tree that had fallen and was submerged in the river. The branches entangled my arms and legs, keeping me from going over the falls. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t even pull myself out. All I could do was let the branches hold me safely long enough for my friends to make a human chain to reach me.
Until I get to heaven, I will not know if my guardian angel orchestrated the tree’s location and position. What I do know is this: God had a plan for me, a plan I had not yet discovered. He watches over me everywhere I go and keeps me safe, according to His will.
Jonathan Hager writes from Northern California.
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