Something spectacular happened on the River yesterday. Three military jets buzzed the gorge in formation. This doesn’t happen very often, maybe once a year or less, and it is an amazing thrill for the guests. They love seeing those matte grey precision flying machines just above the tree tops, careening sideways around the narrow corners of the rocky cliffs, and feeling the vibrations in their lungs as the engines scream through the air overhead. I think the pilots come down lower over the rafts on purpose. Personally, I hate it. I have a “thing” about low flying aircraft, an irrational fear grips my psyche, and in a raft in the middle of the river there is nowhere to hide. I always hear the low throbbing metallic rumble before the appear, so I know they are coming before anyone else does. I am always the first person to point them out with an agitated shout (often mistaken for excitement by my guests) as the jets come twisting into sight around the river bend. The first few years this happened, I would jump into the water and hide under the raft (yes, holding my breath under water) until they were gone. You can tell they have flown away because the raft and water stop vibrating. However this behavior is hard to explain to rational people who think having military jets buzz over is like being at an air show; fun and exciting. I don’t disagree with that. So then for a couple of years, I took to cowering in the bottom of the raft with my head tucked between my knees, but this solution is even harder to explain away. Several years back, the jets screamed by while we were negotiating a rapid, and I had no choice but to endure it. The guests gawked at the wild show of military prowess above while I got the raft safely down the rapid, my internal anguish escaping through my throat in a ragged shrill prolonged screech that was drowned out by the screaming engines and roaring whitewater. At the bottom of the rapid, the airplanes were gone and no explanation was needed as my (only slightly odd) behavior went completely unnoticed. So now when these screaming banshee apparitions appear to rent the peaceful summer sky asunder, I direct everybody’s attention (away from myself) toward the invasion, then stand in the back of the boat shouting my defiance at them daring to enter my territory uninvited. It turns the adrenaline rush of fear into the power of action. The funny thing about this solution is that it looks like I am cheering, and no one can hear my inarticulate shouting over the noise of the aircraft. No one notices me, and the raft trip continues the way it should!
Thunder on the River is always scary and exciting. Lightening is nothing to mess around with. I have been hit once (indirectly of course, very few people survive direct hits) and have been close enough to four other strikes that I could hear, feel, and smell the electricity in the air a split second before the strike happened. This may sound like too much lightening for one life time, but for the amount of time that I spend outside during thunderstorm season, five close calls in thirty years isn’t really that crazy. So there we were rafting down through the Hudson River Gorge, when a thunderstorm blew through. This happens several times every summer. Most of the time all that happens is we hear the thunder rumble through the mountains but never actually see the lightening because the storm cloud is behind a ridge. This storm started just like that. Distant grumbling from hidden clouds, with stray rain drops in the breeze. This storm grumbled out of sight all the way through the gorge, then seemed to move on as we paddled out of the steep part and into the three mile float out section. It was overcast and cool so we kept paddling to stay warm. We were about a mile from the take out when the grumbling started again, louder and more persistent. Our paddling efforts doubled in a race for the take out. Then the lightening became visible, general flashing lights high up in the dark clouds with responding loud thunder . We all just wanted to get off the river quickly. All the rafts from all the companies were bunched up along the river bank together fiercely trying to get to the take out. Nothing like a little adrenaline to motivate strong paddling. No one wanted to pull over to wait it out for concern of losing the dam release water and for hypothermia setting in among chilled wet guests who are already cold. So as pink lightening forked across the dark brooding cloudy sky behind us and angry thunder chased us downstream, we paddled for all we had! I kept my guests attention focused forward toward our destination so they never saw the scary lightening dance performance behind us, but I saw every streaking bolt, felt the energizing rush of adrenaline, and shouted encouragement over every cracking peal of thunder. My internal consolation (however untrue it may be) is that when you are at the bottom of a gorge, you are Not the highest object around. The lightening tends to hit the ridges and the tallest trees. As we all pulled into the take out at mostly the same time the sky opened up and dumped all its rain out in a blinding torrent completely soaking everybody in a matter of seconds and turning the path to the river into a rushing muddy creek. Streaking lightening and deafening thunder were happening simultaneously as all the guests ran en mass through the trees for the shelter of the waiting buses, and dripping guides started carrying and loading rafts onto flatbed trailers. Fifteen minutes later as the steamy buses pulled out onto the road to carry everybody back to their raft bases, the rain stopped as abruptly as it started, the sun shone brightly like a clear summer day, and the thunder and lightening were nothing but a memory. Five miles down the road at our raft base, the sun was shining merrily, nothing was wet, and they hadn’t even heard the thunder! The energy from the storm has ebbed, but I am still humming inside.
I have hiked up Chimney Mountain with a group of campers who are exploring Eagle Cave. A counselor and I stayed out of the cave and are siting on the ledge above it watching the storm clouds scuttle around the horizon. We are in sunshine for now, but thunder rumbles in the distance. Clouds come and go casting shadows over the mountaintop where we sit. The cloud shadows move fast across the view shed, in an ethereal game of chase. Thunder growls louder, we can see some other storms making rain on distant peaks. Thunder mumbles farther away. We listen and watch as the storms get closer and then pass us without our perch getting hit. The thunder seems to circle us but never attains our position. Sun and shadow play across our rock ledge as thunder grumbles nearby closer then further away. It is fascinating to watch this interplay of earth and sky, to feel the energy ebb and flow in the air, to be so close and yet so far away from the scattered thunderstorms.
My Colorado friend and I are in my regular tent I usually stay in up in the Adirondacks. We are running the Hudson tomorrow and then I will drop her off at the airport to go home. She asked me what could be walking around in the woods outside the tent. I hear it too, I hear it often enough when falling off to sleep. I tell her I believe its probably deer or raccoons or some other night time creature, nothing to get worked up about. Out of curiosity we shine a flashlight out the window to catch the deer in action. Surprise! That thing walking around out there is the moose! It has been out there all summer! He is caught by surprise by the light and just stands looking at the tent about 20 feet away. The flashlight is not a particularly strong or bright one, so we can just make out his shape and form in the darkness. Of course his eye shine is too high off the ground to be anything but a moose. We all stare at each other for many long minutes. He finally decides we are inconsequential and moves on, making noise as he calmly walks through the leaf litter on the forest floor and foraging his way out of sight and hearing. WOW!!
Late afternoon, sun playing hide and seek with the clouds, a stiff breeze is blowing across the open lake, warm sun, warm air, warm summer days. We have dropped off two of our friends and their families at their cars in town and waved them good by on their journeys home. Soon we will be planning next years reunion. Two of us are returning to the island for one last night. Waves are chopping out on the open water, and I am not really looking forward to the paddle back to the island through the head wind. We decide to go slow and steady into the wind, constant pressure against a relentless force, no point in exhausting ourselves, there is no time line to attend to, no need to hurry. About halfway back, we had ducked into the calm water behind an island for a reprieve and rest, there was smoke on the wind we could see and smell, someone had started a campfire somewhere. As we gathered up our strength and paddled back into the wind, the sun burst out from behind the cloud that had been obscuring it, flooding the whole lake with glaring silver light, draining the colors from the landscape, turning the whole world into stark relief of black, white, greys, and blinding silver. The churning waves were all capped with sparkling liquid silver light, the water became molten glowing liquid silver, it glittered in droplets as it dripped off the paddles, it shimmered as the winds sprayed it into the air off the tops of the waves. The intensity of the liquid silver light was astounding, mind blowing in its stark beauty. Then as suddenly as it appeared, a cloud quickly slid in front of the sun, blocking the direct light and the bright liquid silver evaporated into dream.
One reason I picked this particular campsite on Blue Mountain Lake is for the sunrises. The sun comes up from behind Blue Mountain which is front and center in the campsite view. There is a small rock formation that juts out over the water facing east for the perfect viewing platform as well. I like to sit there with a hot cup of morning earl grey tea. The sky often will turn red, pink, and orange, streaked with yellow, coral, and gold sunbeams. Mist curls sinuously off the warm water into the cool morning air picking up the hues of the sunrise as loons call in the distance. When the sun peaks out from behind the dark mountain, blinding golden light streaks out in sunbeams radiating in all directions. It is an almost physical force slamming into your senses. The reds instantly disappear and are replaced by shining silver, glowing pale gold, blinding blue, and sparkling grey. Another glorious day has begun and I am amazed at its beauty, and in love with the peacefulness of nature.
Bright warm sun light pouring from a cloudless immense clear blue sky, gleaming blindingly off the inviting cool calm water of the lake. We are all in the water (kids and adults), swimming, paddling kayaks, playing on the blow up pool toys and inner-tubes, diving, splashing, floating, laughing, enjoying being together. We paddle out to some rocks and bask in the sunshine (while the kids continue their swimming adventure), laying on the sun warmed surface, soaking in the heat, letting our skin dry in the warm air, the smell of water and earth, the feel of sunlight and gentle breezes, talking, laughing, and enjoying time to relax and reunite. This is exactly what I had wanted when I suggested this reunion plan last year. The perfect lake day materialized and life is good!