A reoccurring question I hear often concerns a variation of, “Where do you get the ideas for your mystery and adventure books for kids?” This is an area where I feel particularly blessed because my life has included more than its share of adventure.
Much of it came from how I grew up, in a family of seven children. We lived in an idyllic place called Wolf Lake, Michigan. Our house was located on the grounds of the original Youth Haven where we had no end of woods to explore, lakes to swim in, and several colorful characters who lived nearby.
It was later, through my film production experiences, that more serious adventures occurred. Like going to Vietnam to shoot a film just after getting out of the army. Or the project in Belfast, Northern Ireland, while the bombings were still frequent.
This post is about another one of those projects. In 2005, the story originally appeared in Guideposts and was called, “An Unexpected Song.” At the time, I had no idea that my father had put together a book of photographs from our ordeal. On a recent trip, to visit my mother, I found it. Some of the pictures I remember my dad shooting but not all of them. I had even shot a few of them, but completely forgot about it after all these years.
Here, in pictures, is a true adventure story.
“Living Legends” is the title of a film we were shooting. It documented what happens in a Native American family when the father becomes a Christian and leads his family.
Our final family interview was shot on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. We finished early, allowing us to begin our trip back home sooner than expected. One of the local people gave us directions including a shortcut, right through the reservation, which would cut fifteen to twenty miles off the trip.
We set out on the course we thought would take us to the main highway, but things went very, very wrong.
Oh, the scenery was beautiful, so long as we were sitting in a moving car, on a good road. But things deteriorated quickly after our tires left the pavement and we continued on a gravel surface.
With my military training, I should have known better and turned back the way we had come. We didn’t do that and soon I was stopping the car in order to jump out to remove jagged rocks from our path so our car didn’t bottom out and cause damage.
We reached a place called Seven Mile Wash. It looked like I could just drive across the dry sand, and continue where the road started up again on the other side. Immediately our tires became mired in what I can only describe as a powdery dust that resembled talcum powder. It took hours to jack the car up, dig out the tires, place logs under them, and inch the car forward, only to repeat the process over and over again.
Eventually, as I drove over a rise, with the sun in my eyes, the car started down the next hill and we hit a patch of those jagged rocks, tearing a hole in the transmission pan. As the fluid gushed out, gears began to slip until the car couldn’t travel any further. Our car was disabled and we were hopelessly lost.
As my dad stood next to it, I wrote down the numbers on a marker so we could try and explain to someone where our car was, after we hiked out of that wilderness. Well, that didn’t go as planned either. After several hours of hiking, we found that we’d gone in a full circle, in the dark, and wound up right back at our car. At about 2 AM, we were at 5000 feet of elevation, it was freezing out, so we spent the night sleeping in the car.
At daylight, we decided to try hiking out again. It wasn’t long until we discovered what a hostile environment we were stranded in. We walked for most of that day, lost touch with each other a couple of times, and my father fell and split his head open. Both of us became pretty discouraged. We were hungry, thirsty, and very lost. That’s when I hiked to the top of a rugged hill, to try and find out where we should go. As I sat on the ground, beneath a small tree, a sparrow landed on a branch just above my head. He began singing his lungs out as if to remind me that if God’s eye is on the sparrow surely he knows where I am and what I need. In the distance I could see the reflection of a car on a straight road. It was miles away, but there was no mistake that help was in that direction. So on and on we trudged through gullies, across ice-covered streams, through brush and rocks.
It was almost cruel when we reached the area of the road because, from where we stood, it was a climb nearly straight up and our strength was gone. Somehow, with super-human strength, we made it to the top.
I took a roll of camera tape out of my jacket pocket and quickly made a sign that said, “Help!” The first car that saw it stopped and took us to the nearest town where we arranged to retrieve the car in the morning, and then slept for what felt like days.
Because I had written down the marker number, our tow truck driver knew exactly where our car was located. We piled in with him and drove off.
Our car was hooked up and taken into town where repairs were made. Finally we were on our way home after one of the greatest survival adventures of my life.
But before we left the area, we decided to drivew back to the place where we were rescued and take one last look.
Humm. Maybe I’ll have to write a book about that some day.
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