Roads intersect. They connect states, counties, parishes, townships, cities, towns, villages, lives and people. They crisscross. They wind, curve, and go straight for miles and miles. And yes, they dead-end.
Our lives are like roads, if we would heed the stop signs and think about it. We should yield now and then, slow down and observe the caution lights, and we might see the surprise in store for us just around the next curve. It might be something good, bad, exciting, or challenging.
But most often, we simply travel the shortest distance between two points, topping the speed limit by a couple digits, hoping that state trooper has something else on his mind, like we have on ours. In rushing straight through, we miss out on what the road has in store for us. I’ve learned that roads are more than a means to an end–they are paths to the future.
In September, 2008, my family and I found ourselves on the road north, evacuated from our home due to Hurricane Gustave. We spent a few days in the central part of the state with my older sister and eventually made our way to my younger sister’s house in the northeast part of the state where we grew up. We stayed after Gustave made landfall, because Hurricane Ike was forming up fast and furious in the Gulf, and there was uncertainty about its landfall.
To pass the time while waiting, my younger sister, Heather, and I set out on a little adventure of our own, driving city streets to check out a boat for sale. We did it covertly, not telling the owners we would be lurking about in this out-of-the-way place north of town. And just as we rounded a curve headed to do our mischief, there on the side of the road was a man I thought I recognized.
“Pull over right here. Quick!” I told my sister.
The familiar man was hammering a political campaign sign into the ground:
“MIKE VANSANT FOR CITY MARSHALL”
Oh my gosh, it IS Mike VanSant–just thirty-five years older.
Rolling down the window, I said something witty like, “Hey mister! Don’t you know it’s illegal to put signs on a public road?”
Retired from the Shreveport, Louisiana Police Department and having full knowledge of the law, he looked up, obviously irritated by the comment. Slowly a questioning smile crept across his face as he asked, “Wendy Wilson? Is that YOU? Oh my word, girl, WHERE have you been? We thought you fell off the face of the earth.”
Figuratively, I had. Once I left for college, I never lived there again. The after-college map led me up a two-lane highway to live in a small town. From there I traveled the cane-lined two-lanes to South Louisiana Bayou Country, where I was quickly swallowed up by the beauty, culture, and the wetlands, never to live in the great metropolis of Bossier City, Louisiana or the northern piny woods again.
I told him where I was living and that I was staying with Heather while running from Hurricane Gustave and waiting to see what Hurricane Ike would do. Although it was a very brief conversation through a rolled-down window, a connection was made, the far-reaching affects of which I could not foresee.
Earlier that same year, another hand-made sign made me put on the brakes in front of hand-written sign pounded into the ground that read “House for Sale”, along with the asking price. I bought it on a handshake until I could take the road to the bank to seal the deal. The eighty-year-old cypress house had been flooded by the 2005 storm surge of Hurricane Rita–the first time it had ever flooded. One year later, the renovations and elevation complete, Camp Dularge was born and started receiving guests on a nightly basis.
By August of 2009, word was getting around about Camp Dularge and business was growing. One Friday, I stopped by the camp to welcome my guests and something seemed so familiar about the young man who had booked the camp. As I listened to him talk, it came to me where I knew him from, so I asked him, “Hey, do you live on a dead-end street in Bayou Blue?”
Smiling and looking surprised, he answered both questions with a quizzical nod, followed by, “How could you possibly know that?”
“Because I recognized your boat. I saw it parked at the dead end while I was eating crawfish at my sons’ house back in May. My sons rent that house across the street from you.”
As he introduced me around, two of the young men told me they worked for the Shreveport Police Department, so I asked them if they happened to know Mike VanSant. You would have thought they had won the lottery the way they whooped and hollered about the fact that I knew this man. They launched in on story after story about Mike, as a few more roads intersected. Heeding the stop sign, I pulled up my chair and stayed for a while.
Not many days after, my phone rang, and it was Mike VanSant, himself. Together we connected a few more dots on the map of the missing thirty-five years, with him also telling me that he has fished from and stayed at a camp on the next bayou over for several years. He promised to phone me next time he was down so we could have a visit. He did, and we did, and it was good seeing him, because Mike and I went to elementary, junior high, and high school together.
Being an avid fisherman, Mike became very interested in what I was doing with fishing charters and wanted badly to see me in a faster boat. He pulled every string he could to try to get me into a demo boat, but it never panned out. He even had enough faith in me to take one of my photos and have it turned into a beautiful business card and then sent me a box of a thousand and a promise that he was taking the road south to fish with me one day.
This past week, Mike took that fast-paced four-lane interstate from Shreveport to Houma, and then the two-lane bayou road to Camp Dularge. I finally got to take Mike fishing, and I’m sure he was very glad it wasn’t in the slow jalopy pontoon boat; but rather in the faster, sleeker Cadillac Carolina Skiff.
We rode down the memory lanes of Elementary Street, Jr. High Road, and High School Avenue, stopping at points of interest along the way as we fished for two days. Even though Mike thought I had fallen off the face of the earth, I know that on this Map of Life, these roads had no reason to intersect or our paths to cross until they did.
Roads are traveled for various reasons. They lead us to places we need to go, fear to go, don’t want to go, and places we dream of going. Mike’s taking the long road down here took me a little bit further down my Dream Road of being able to make a living doing something I love. For that, I am very grateful–not only to him, but to the phases of the moon, the falling tide, the oncoming cold front, the trout-feeding frenzy, and the Berkley swim baits! Those are all highway markers to a good fishing trip!
So, below is the pictorial evidence that we did indeed enjoy the fruits of both his journey and mine. Even though the first day fishing was slow, I was encouraged when we came across seasoned fishermen who had less trout in their boats than we did (but we did not brag, because I believe Karma is a jealous you know what!)
The second day fishing, we took two bayous less traveled. The first resulted in Mike and his bass-fishing buddy, Jim Byrd, vying for reds along the banks, crossing lines, fussing and cussing, and basically having the fishing time of their lives. The second route led us to an amazing dead end that was holding hefty hungry trout that sucked down the baits before they even hit bottom.
It literally just doesn’t get much better than that.
On the way back in, we watched this bald eagle fish for its supper. Looks like we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the day.