Driving Into The Storm

5-18-2017

I drove down the mountain this evening to see a friend. We hung out for a couple of hours knitting and talking while her youngest child tried very hard not to go to bed: “I need to use the bathroom, I need a glass of water, I need to tell you something, I need to say goodnight to the gold fish, I’m too hot and itchy to sleep” She got increasingly creative. The humidity had increased to uncomfortable as a storm was brewing. We had three wonderful warm sunny days to build energy that promised to make a wicked thunder storm. As I got ready to leave, thunder was rumbling in the distance and lightening flickering behind the trees, noise and light coming from the direction I would soon be traveling. The storm was over the mountains and quickly headed this way.

As my car finally attained the main road, the wind kicked up buffeting my vehicle, and spewing new green leaves, flower petals, and litter across my path. The first tiny preliminary rain drops fell, spattering on the pollen coated windshield. Lightening arched across the night sky, illuminating the landscape with strobing electric blue light, the mountain (my home) a dark silhouette on the horizon. The pursuing darkness was blinding. Another couple of miles down the road and the sky opened up dropping a deluge, slowing my progress, wind pushing the car around, so that I had to hold tightly to the wheel. Lightening everywhere so that the darkness was almost effervescent. The bolts streaked across the whole sky, too numerous to count, blanketing blue, purple, white, and pink through the roiling clouds. Searing thick pulsing electric bolts hit the earth, revealing black mountain tops solid against the shimmering boiling strobing purple night sky.

I actually got a little nervous at the ferocity of the chaos erupting around me because I knew that kitties at home don’t like thunderstorms and I wasn’t there to comfort them. I however, love the thrill of experiencing thunderstorms: seeing lightening dance in the sky and the pink sparks and flames shower upward where it hits the earth, hearing and feeling the tremendous thunder shock rattle through the house, smelling ozone in the air from all the electricity, the tingling sensation of electric air, the humming sound rocks make right before lightening strikes, the sudden chill of gusting wind before the hail starts, the immense power and surging energy unleashed, sudden, random, and violent. Then when the storm passes, the perfect peace and tranquil quiet that follows after mother nature has blown off all her steam.

This storm passes quickly, as most thunderstorms do in the mountains. Ten miles down the road, headed up, I drive out the other side. Rain fitfully sputtering, steam rising off the the wet pavement, giant frogs all over the road soaking up the heat. I try not to run over them. Back at home, the rain has washed the pollen away, refilled the rain bucket, cooled of the oppressive humidity, and given all the plants a drink. As I step out of the car, the stars are visible through the last high wispy trailing clouds. Inside, the cats greet me lovingly, and we all climb into bed.

Snowing Up

3-20-2017

Another whitish grey morning, overcast grey light illuminates an overcast grey landscape. Blustery, blistery wind throws biting stinging snow shards into my face and eyes as I carefully power walk for the car over the slippery, uneven frozen ground. Sitting in the driver’s seat, the heater blasting its first frigid air onto the windshield to defrost, the car is buffeted by ferocious gusts of wind. The sky itself seems mostly clear (it’s not actually snowing), but with an early glowing white color instead of blue; the sun is sleeping late today. Snow is swirling crazily, shifting one way, then another, then swooshing past in a furious gushing torrent. I start the drive to work. Passing an open field, I see the wind drunkenly running around tossing snow into the air ahead of itself. Snow devils, whirlwinds, mini tornadoes of snow spiraling up, long tangled tresses of streaming snow hair whip up from the field, diaphanous white sparkling veils of snow billow around up into the air, twirling gauzy snowy fabrics swishing in every direction at once. . Old man Winter’s gypsy daughter is dancing with abandon, throwing herself into the intense passion of the howling wind, embracing the chaos, deliriously loosing herself in the glorious glittering gale. “It’s snowing up!” I say out loud as the tremendous snow dance slams into my car, swerving me to the edge of the road and whiting out my vision. The mighty energy force of this tenacious dance is awe inspiring. I watch the wind and snow swing across the road and tumble up the hill disappearing between the dark trees. Wow!

Crows

2-13-2017

Two days of snow fall, swirling, heavy flakes pilling up by the billions, inches upon inches, grey sky, grey clouds, grey days, grey snow mounds covering everything. Two dark cats silhouetted in the window, one large, fat and spread out on the windowsill, the other small, lithe, and prancing, both riveted on a shivering fluffy red squirrel perched on the railing. Blue Jays, Chickadees, Mourning Doves, and Juncos crowd the feeder, a flurry of wings and blowing snowflakes. Two large jet black crows drop down out of the trees across the road, strut over the plowed street, hop up the plowed snow lump, and start traversing the yard toward the commotion. Their feet sink into the thick snow blanket, tails leaving waggely drag marks behind them. The the feeder is instantly deserted as a gust of fierce wind tears down the hollow, pulling blinding snow streaking into the faces of the crows. They lean in, close their eyes, as wind whips their feathers. They struggle a few moments then in unison, lift their wings, let the wind pull them up and out of the biting streaming snow. They coast, glide, dip and wobble on the gale, then alight in a tree top as if it were the simplest thing. For them it is. Even in a winter storm, the crows have an elegant majesty, the secret of effortless flight.

Monumental Memories

My last trip down the Hudson River for the 2012 season was a monumentally memorable! The trip started like any other trip. I had two groups of people in my boat. One couple who was on their first date together (didn’t find that out till much later in the day), and some other people who were part of a bigger group spread over 2 boats.

Through the course of the day I had let them know I have just started a new teaching job and this was my last rafting trip of the season. The last trip of my 21st season guiding, which is the year that marks half my life as a white water raft guide. From here on I will have been guiding for more than half my life. I was almost 21 when I started guiding down in West Virginia on the mighty (humble) Shenandoah River.

By lunch time, the sun had disappeared and a chill had set in, not unusual for this time of year. I passed out warm dry layers ( hats, gloves, and shirts) that will keep my guests warm even after the fabric gets wet. The rain and wind managed to hold off till near then end of the trip, at least until we are out of the gorge. The last three miles of the trip are a couple of small and short shallow rapids with long flat water stretches in between.

The rain started with a whisper of a breeze and a drizzle of drops. It stayed this way long enough to make us believe we had missed the heart of the storm that had been predicted for this area. Then, much later, to make it a little bit exciting, some not too loud thunder lumbered down a neighboring valley. We paddled a little faster but still assumed that the worst had missed us.

We were less than a mile from the take out, just upstream of the last bend before the road comes into view, when we looked downstream and beheld an angry grey fog quickly descending the mountains, engulfing the valley with a shroud of thickening boiling darkness, blocking everything from view. We stopped paddling and watched it advance mercilessly toward us. I glanced up stream at the boats behind us and saw that had also noticed then phenomenon. I looked back downstream at the approaching grey wall. A woman asked, with awe in her voice, “what is that?” I answered grinning maniacally ( I was overcome by the breathtaking power of mother nature) “It’s the rain baby! Hold on, it’s gonna hit us hard!”

All was absolute silent for a brief moment, then it slammed into us. A physical force. The rain was cold and hard with tiny pieces of ice in it. The drops stabbed like needles stinging my bare arms and face and painfully pelting through the thin fabric on my legs. The wind roared ferociously blowing the rain in horizontal waves across the surface of the water. The rain was so thick, I could not see the front of the boat 14 feet away, I could barely see the people sitting two feet from me. It was hard to breath with so much water falling through the air.

I had spun the boat around before it hit us, so our backs were toward the wind. A couple of people screamed, thunder crashed, wind howled, rain thrashed. My guests had all curled up to protect their eyes from the biting raindrops. We were being pushed upstream at an amazing speed. I was sitting up watching it all unfold, my back to the wind to protect my face. I was shouting my praises into the melee, my voice lost in the din. The power was tangible, I grabbed it and held on, soaking as much in as I could. I let the power wash over me, devour me, and take my spirit with it as it flew screaming up the river! I haven’t seen rain and wind like that since high school in Florida when my friends decide to go for a walk on the beach in a hurricane.

Once the initial onslaught was over, my guests sat up to see what I was shouting so excitedly about. We all watched the horizontal waves of rain pursue their demons upstream. I started my crew paddling again, hard. I told them we should get the boat to the shoreline in hopes that the bushes there would offer some sort of shield form the wind. I knew the bushes weren’t tall enough for that, but I also knew that holding onto the bushes on shore would stop our upstream momentum.

After a while, they rain slackened and warmed, we could almost see across the river.  Two other boats were in view, one paddling backwards into the wind and making slow progress, the other pushing off the opposite shore to do the same. The wind was still blowing furiously with stronger gusts, the rain still pouring down, but I knew we would get cold just siting there. Now that I could see, I liked the backwards idea I saw, so we did the same.

The progress was slow, but my crew persevered! We paddled backward like that for a long time. At the last little rapid of the trip with take out in sight, the wind slowed enough for me to spin the boat back around forward. By the time we got to take out the rain and wind were steady, but more of the normal variety. My guests were happy to be on solid ground, knowing that warm dry clothes, and warm food were just moments away.

I (who knew my dry clothes were still a long time away) however, was chilled to the bone, chattering teeth, blue lips, the whole shebang. The adrenalin that had warmed me earlier was gone, and I was feeling that effect. I had not had time to put on my paddling jacket before the rain hit. Afterward, I didn’t want to loose any downstream momentum we had fought so hard for by having to stop to put on a jacket.

It is actually a complicated process involving me having to stop paddling, dig in my dry bag for the jacket, fiddle with taking off my PFD and helmet the put the jacket on and then replacing the PFD and helmet, close the dry bag, and resume paddling. Paddle jackets are also hard to get on when your skin is wet because the fabric sticks to you the whole way over your head and as your arms go down the sleeves.

I did put the jacket on once I was on shore so I could help load the rafts onto the flatbed trailer. I did quit shivering, but I did not really get warm until several hours later, after I had been in the car for half an hour with the heat running full blast om my feet and face.

All the way home, and even now, if I turn my eyes inward, I can conjure a fleeting vision of the wind and rain and connect to the vestigial remnant of primal animated power the storm gave me to keep as part of my spirit. A memory for a lifetime!

Image              

Image

photos by Stephanie Leonard

http://www.facebook.com/hudson.r.photos?ref=ts&fref=ts