Night on Rattlesnake Beach

By Michael Fitzgerald

My family was asleep in the boat, and the only thing that kept them from drifting into the night was the rope I held in my hands.

Michael Fitzgerald, "Night on Rattlesnake Beach," Ensign, June 2005, 48
On the last night of our vacation on Lake Roosevelt in Washington, I beached our houseboat in a cove hidden behind a small island. The weather had been calm and clear the previous three days, so I made only a meager effort to anchor the boat to the shore for the night. The previous nights, I had buried the boat's two anchors in the sand as instructed by the boat rental staff, but this last time I casually draped one anchor line over a rock and the other around a large stump that had washed up on the shore.

A little later, I walked with my oldest daughter, Melissa, to a driftwood snag farther up on the beach. We were startled to find a large rattlesnake resting there in the shade. I had never been so close to a live rattler. As it slithered deeper into the cool shade, I wondered silently if this beach would be a safe place for our family for the night. I brushed off the feeling quickly, climbed onto the boat, and relaxed the rest of the evening, settling into what I thought would be another night's peaceful rest.

Not long after going to bed, however, I was awakened by the sound of high winds from the west. Such a severe change in weather was completely unexpected. Heavy waves dashed against the side of our boat, causing it to drift away from the shore on the port side. I jumped ashore to retie the line that had pulled loose from the rock, but with little effort; I still didn't want to be bothered with setting the anchors correctly.

After my half-conscious effort to secure the boat again, I crawled back into my bunk exhausted, only to be roused again by the wind sometime after midnight. The wind and waves were beating so hard against the boat that the starboard anchor line dragged the stump across the beach to the water's edge. The boat made an awful grinding sound as it slid offshore and completely reversed direction. I leaped back to the beach, barely in time to grab a loose anchor line that nearly jerked me into the water.

Panic struck. My family was still asleep in the boat, and the only thing that kept them from drifting into the night was the rope I held in my hands. Suddenly I found myself in the most frightening situation of my life. I immediately realized how my neglect had placed my wife and three children in jeopardy. Guilt and fear overwhelmed me; my family was about to slip through my hands, drifting into open water toward the cliffs that towered above us to the east. I prayed intensely, pleading with the Lord for the strength to hold on to the boat. Then the winds abruptly changed direction, and the line went slack in my hands. With this miraculous shift in the wind, I was able to draw the ship hand over hand back to safety.

To my relief, Melissa and my wife, Cristi, came out onto the beach and helped me hurriedly set a temporary anchor. But then the beach presented another danger: by the light of my flashlight, we could see a rattlesnake-perhaps the one we had seen earlier-coiled nearby on a rock. While Melissa helped me dig deep holes for the anchors, I shined the light between us to make sure the rattler was keeping a safe distance. We worked quickly, and soon the job was done-the right way this time. With the boat firmly anchored, we climbed back aboard and settled back to sleep-except for me, of course.

Through the nearly sleepless night, I considered my folly. My false sense of security and lax attitude had placed my family in danger. The gospel application was not lost to me. As the night wore on, I asked myself question after question: Are you too casual in your duties? What kind of a father and husband are you, really? Are you too relaxed about leading the family in prayer, scripture study, or family home evening? Who is going to do the job that you are supposed to do if you don't do it?

As dawn neared and the hours of self-examination ended, I came to a new determination. Through the unforgettable lesson that night, I knew what I must do to more safely anchor my family to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While it has taken repeated effort, our family has a consistent routine of scripture study, prayer, and family home evening. But no matter how well we do for a season, we still have to reset the anchor of faith every day, as I learned that night on "rattlesnake beach."

Gospel topics: obedience, parenthood, prayer

[illustration] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus

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