In my beloved state of Alaska, there is a scenic drive just south of Anchorage which is said to be the most beautiful in the entire United States. Each time I go there, I am in awe, for it is spectacular in its beauty. Beluga whales can be seen at times, along with an occasional bore tide. Mountain sheep, moose, and eagles abound amid snow-capped mountains...glaciers push their way downward to the sea. It is no wonder that thousands of tourists stop to take their pictures and pause to allow their human senses to adjust to such beauty.
But this same place was the scene of a great disappointment over two hundred years ago. The famous explorer, Captain James Cook had led two ships all the way from England down to New Zealand, up to the islands of Tahiti, and northward to the Bering sea and was now trying desperately to penetrate the coastline of Alaska in search of a passageway that would link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans...a short route to the riches of the far east that would bypass the two capes, Horn and Good Hope. The prize for finding it was an enormous 20,000 British pounds...at that time, an absolute fortune.
They had left England with two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery in 1776, but too late in the season (December) and spent the winter in New Zealand. Other delays caused them to arrive only on the 12th of May, 1778 at a promising sound, which Cook named Prince William after the King's third son, later King William IV. Here repairs were made, and on the 1st of June the two ships entered what is now known as Turnagain Arm. As they glided up the body of water, they were met with Eskimos wanting fur trade...but it was soon evident that there was no outlet. Wind and fog mired them for days, and Cook was forced to return again the same way he had come, hence the name "Turnagain". There would be no Northwest passage, and Cook himself would never see England again...he was later attacked and killed by natives in the Hawaiian islands.
But one of those men on the Resolution was a marine corporal named John Leyard. He was an American, from Connecticut. After those years of wandering aimlessly with Cook up the western coastlines of North America, it occurred to him that he could have simply walked across America and be home. Motivated by this vision and how he might establish a fur trading route by land rather than by sea, John returned to England with what was left of Cook's crew and tried to secure backing for an expedition. His plan was to literally walk from England through Russia, thence to Nootka Sound, where he would set up a trading company, and then walk across unexplored North America to Virginia. Unable to get help from the British, he went to Thomas Jefferson, then ambassador to Paris. Jefferson was enthusiastic with this young adventurer and his idea, and so John Ledyard set out from England and walked an incredible 3,000 miles across Russia in the middle of winter until Catherine the Great heard of this scheme and arrested him in Siberia, ending the idea. Another dream vanished. Another Turnagain. Did it stop him? Did he become mired in the disappointment? No. He reached inside for the next vision...to lead an expedition to explore the interior of Africa! And the only thing that brought that to a halt was his untimely death. He had not yet reached the age of 40.
We may look at all of this as futility...yet it was Ledyard's vision that germinated a seed in the mind of Thomas Jefferson who, twenty years later, organized the famous Lewis and Clark expedition and opened up the famous Northwest Passage that lured men across America and established a nation "from sea to shining sea".
I think about the many times I have chased elusive dreams and found them lying at my feet broken apart in disappointment and failure. It can be heartbreaking. As you look again at this lovely Cook Inlet (so-named for Captain James Cook), the awesome beauty of mountains, glaciers, and forests belies what is under the water...glacial silt that has formed a floor of clay-like mud that is a killer! What looks so firm and solid could literally trap your feet to where you cannot move. And when the swift tide moves in, a sure and certain death awaits the terrified adventurer who might have walked out onto "the mud flats".
For the men on those two ships, it must have been so difficult to know that after three years away from home and family, enduring the hazards of living aboard a small wooden vessel on high seas in cramped quarters, depriving themselves of a normal life, it had been for naught. But the point is...they turned about and headed back out to sea and home....yet some of them, like Ledyard, simply looked for another way...undaunted by failure.
You and I can do that. We can label our dreams as mere fantasies or illusions....a rainbow we chased that disappeared so quickly. We can decide to die with our dreams... stuck in the mud awaiting our end, unwilling to take life as it comes, good or bad...or we can pick up the pieces of our shattered hopes and begin planning for our tomorrows.
God promises to lead and guide His people...to be a Light in their pathway. Yet we must not forget that some of us are mere links to put together His greater plans that not only involve our lives, but the lives of others too. But He will always accomplish them through those who hoist their sails into the winds and avoid becoming stuck in the "miry clay".
Are you sitting today, stuck in the mudflats, unable to let go of your disappointments and failures? God has a special tool to release you from its grip....it is called "hope". Ironically, the whole idea of Captain Cook's journey was to find a way to avoid a Cape called Hope, for it was treacherous and difficult and forced the ships to take a long way around to get where they wanted to go.
Isn't it true we usually look for the shortcuts and the easy road? Yet it is also in the mind of God to sometimes let us go the long way around and endure inconvenience, hardship, and disappointment. Why? Because He also has a passageway for us to find, and without such trials, we would never go searching for a better way in the first place.
Only hope and determination will keep us looking until we find it.
For the prize and the riches are worth it all.....
MARY E. ADAMS