Treacherous Beauty

Accuracy in maps can determine the life or death for an Alaskan traveling in the bush. Based upon our maps, planes skirt mountain peaks, hikers avoid impassable gorges, and kayakers classify a river’s difficulty by ratings whether it’s “still and gently moving water” or “unnavigable whitewater.”

           Yet, no seasoned Alaska traveler relies on maps alone. They know that Alaska may deliver vicious wind currents, eroded trails, or glacial torrents where none existed just days before. Maps are essential to find a destination, but first-hand advice from someone with intimate knowledge of your flight path, trail, or watercourse is critical—if you hope not to activate your PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) for an embarrassing rescue.

            This longstanding tradition of offering warning and advice is expressed early in Alaska’s heritage. During the gold-rush era, trading companies hired Athabascan Natives to maneuver steamships through narrow channels and savage whitewater. These men were valued for their knowledge of the Yukon and connecting rivers in Alaska. 

            Notable in Alaska’s steamship history in the 1890s is Agnes Fussell—Captain John Fussell’s wife—who tirelessly mapped the Yukon River to save lives. Riverboats often rammed sweepers (half-submerged trees), or ground onto sandbars (steamers were sometimes stranded for days before crews could dislodge them).

            Agnes Fussell charted the river’s rapids, safe fuel stops, and hazards near Circle and Fort Yukon while her husband navigated. She offered her maps to other riverboat captains who hauled freight and passengers on this route. 

            God has provided us with an exhaustive, up-to-the-minute chart for avoiding the hidden sweepers and sandbars that we confront every day. In the Bible we learn of near-misses, collisions, and rescues in the lives of individuals, and read of incredible political blunders and conquests. Character sketches show up the flaws and strengths in men and women like Abraham, David, Mary and Martha.

            And every scene and experience that the Holy Spirit shares with us helps us pilot the hazardous whitewater on our own journey—in the 21st Century.

II Cor. 10:11

 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Prayer Focus: God, help me to learn your charts, so I can help my friends and loved ones navigate the hidden dangers they’ll encounter in their lives.


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