There are times when I simply need to “hike it out.” A few times each year I get in one of those mental places where showing up at the office only complicates things. Getting away from everything and everybody and connecting with God in nature helps me hear His voice.
I arrived at the French Gulch Trailhead parking lot at about nine in the morning. After putting on my day pack I connected with the Payette Trail and began to hike along the south side of the Applegate Lake. This lake is located near the California border in Southern Oregon. I wanted to get away from the empty parking lot and civilization as fast as possible. God wanted to talk to me and I really needed to hear from Him.
I have been on this trail a couple of times in the past, so the first few miles were familiar. As I hiked my thoughts ranged back and forth looking for a place to settle to do the God business of the day.
As I rounded one hillside, the trail opened up to a panorama that afforded me a view across the lake. The water was still in the windless morning hours. Some waterfowl created small wakes in the distance as they glided across the water.
My sight was draw to the top of the mountain across the lake and then down its timbered side onto the lake where the mountain was reproduced as a reflection on the water. If I was a landscape painter I would want to set up my easel here.
I continued my downward scan across the remaining vision of the upside down reflection of the mountain, across the reflected blue of the sky to the waters edge.
The water surface of the Applegate Lake was down by at least two hundred feet – the lowest I had ever seen. It was late February and the lake was being drained in preparation for the coming spring rains. I was trying to imagine what the lake would look like filled to capacity. The exposed and descending shoreline resembled little stair steps that were created as the water level went down and erosion etched into the soil.
The Applegate Lake wasn't always here. Before the lake was filled, a small town existed in the bottom of the canyon. The name of that little town was Copper. Copper was located about a mile north of the California-Oregon border at the mouth of Carberry Creek. It had a store and a post office that ran from 1924 to 1932. On the hike out I met two old-timers who told me of some people “who got killed there once” and about an old miner who was attacked “up the back side there” by a cougar. The man later died from his injuries.
I can only imagine how nice it was to have the town of Copper way out here in the middle of nowhere when a miner or a homesteading family needed some provisions or wanted to mail a letter. Today, only fish swim along it's submerged streets. Boats carrying fishermen buzz along hundreds of feet above the abandoned town. The ghosts of Copper-past live today in a sci-fi world of dense green water.
As I looked at the waters edge I noticed a road - an old paved road that I had never seen before, only now visible because of the low water level.
My curiosity invited me to hike down the eroded edge of the lake towards the exposed road. On the way down I walked past the lake bottom debris of old beer cans, frosted donut wrappers, and a personal floatation device cover without the device inside.
Old roads intrigue me. They went somewhere once and carried people across history. My dad was always pointing out old roads to me. They usually skirt the modern highways and are now encroached upon by vegetation or they end up being used as an access road. In 1955, our family rode in dad's new Chevy Apache pickup truck to see relatives in Arizona. Dad pulled over to show us sections of the old wooden road that he used to travel on. These wood sections of roadway were built in the 20's to get the first autos across the sand. Old roads tell stories.
Standing on the section of exposed roadway I wondered what it was like before the new dam stopped up the Applegate River. I could see a family driving along this very road in the 1920's to the new post office in Copper. I imagined a young man parked here and pondering his future like I was doing today, only I was pondering the past.
As my thoughts took a historical track the Lord began to speak to me. This was after all why this hike was happening in the first place. I wanted to hear from God. The impression I was getting from the Lord was that, like this lake, sometimes life evaporates. Levels of what is familiar and known to us will be reduced and things will change. God was reminding me that in the evaporating seasons of life, He is still there, constant and unchanging.
This old road and the emptying lake also reminded me of some of what is taking place in our culture today . Somethings that were once familiar and predictable are now drying up – finances, plans, dreams and options. People are getting nervous in unfamiliar times and that unfamiliarity can breed fear. Fear stops the journey. Fear immobilizes faith.
As the water level dropped, the old road once hidden, now emerged. As the familiar drains away, old trails and ways of past navigation will begin to appear. When the old roadways come into view, travelers in the present can see where people in the past made their way. The road we now travel on, though personal and unique, has been traveled by others.
My parents lived through the Depression. They taught me that joy could be found in times of hardship. Their Depression road was tough, but is was passable. Those roads of history have been buried beneath decades of unprecedented growth and blessing in our nation. As things shift downward, the old roads will appear once again and remind us that ancient ways are still available to those who look with the eyes of faith.
I thought of a rock pile somewhere in Israel. This was the rock pile that was a memorial to a river crossing thousands of years ago when God took His people across the Jordan River into the Promise Land. Joshua chapter four captures that moment in time.
“1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight." 4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."
In the years after that miraculous crossing, I can imagine little Jewish kids running over to that pile of rocks and talking and asking kid questions. I can see myself in those kids. They would look at the pile of rocks and then glance over at the Jordan River and back again wondering how in the world anyone could cross that watery barrier on dry ground. Young children in the future would hear the Bible story of that day and their imaginations would transport them back in time and drop them right in the middle of the riverbed. Underneath the moving waters of the Jordan River, God provided a miraculous pathway for an entire nation to walk upon. Under the waters of time are hidden the miraculous pathways of the past, that once realized, bring hope to the hearts of people who are faced with difficult passages in the present.
As I was getting ready to hike back up the eroded face of the lake, I looked down where the water still hides the old city of Copper. There, about ten feet out in the lake and underwater, was a sign on a post facing in the direction of the submerged town. Had it not been mid-February and cold I would have stripped down and swam out and tried to read the words on the other side of the sign. I wondered what that sign might still be saying? “Caution: Sharp Curves Ahead”, “35 M.P.H., or whatever.
We are in one of those seasons of history where God is placing signs along our roadway and I believe that written upon these God-signs you will find the words, “Trust Me.” As our history is someday submerged in the past, someone will walk along the shoreline of our lives and upon a road we once traveled. My prayer is that our lives would tell future generations that we trusted Him. That trust brings hope for the journey.
I climbed back up the shoreline of the lake to reach the trail and hike back to my truck. I was ready to face the present because I paid a visit to the past.