Last week with the approach of Hurricane Gustav, I watched an interview that reminds me of the heart pounding thrills that Mother Nature provides free of charge. The interview was with a fisherman foolishly planning to ride out the storm on his boat in the Violet Canal. His custom was to find relatively safe harbor and stay to protect his property and livelihood.
I recall how the fishing fleet of Bayou La Batre, Alabama was destroyed, except for the boat of Captain Gump who rode out Hurricane Carmen. As we all know, he used this disaster to found the immensely successful, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. With peril comes opportunity.
The interviewed fisherman had ridden out Katrina in his usual fashion. He implied that, could they know, all would envy his experience of seeing the world exploding around him.
Last year, I had a similar adventure. It occurred one mid-July evening at this very spot where I pen most of these stories. As I look around, I still see the broken trees giving testimony to the forces at play that eventful day.
As I sat fishing in the glass smooth waters of the Flathead River, a storm was building over the lake. This was no ordinary storm. As Ray Nagin would say, this was the mother of all storms. To my rear the sky turned black. Watching its approach on my liquid mirror, I enjoyed seeing the ominous darkness and non-stop light show. The visual performance was accompanied by a symphony of booming thunder. The wind hit with such sudden ferocity that I hadn’t time to reel my line in. Rod in my hand, I crouched beside my truck. When the wind reached unattainable velocities, it continued to increase. For fear of being crushed by the inevitable falling trees, I was unable to seek safety inside my truck. Clutching my door handle, I was relentlessly pelted by debris traveling so fast that I could only guess what it was. The smooth river had turned into a wave-tossed, white capped sea.
During a brief lull, I called home and excitedly told them that a storm was coming in a few minutes. Sometime during the melee a couple of fishermen had returned to the boat launch. Cutting my conversation short, I went to help with the boat. As the storm returned with a vengeance, I found the boat ramp hidden in a huge pile of tree limbs. Miraculously, these guys were able to thread their way through this jungle maze and we cranked the boat onto its trailer.
Concluding that discretion is the better part of valor, I decided to run for home. Turning onto the road, my escape was blocked by a downed power line. Having to take the circuitous route through an area of open fields, my concern now was remaining on the road in the buffeting cross winds. Needless to say, I made it home.
After this storm of 100-mph winds, its damage was readily visible in the denuded trees. Curiously the wind was very selective in its victims. Just about all exposed tree limbs the size of a telephone pole were snapped like toothpicks. All larger or smaller survived. I saw about a half dozen telephone poles snapped in the middle. It turns out that I was protected by a small wooded area across the road from me. That was not the case, twenty feet from me at the boat ramp.
When the wind blows a little too hard, my adrenaline still flows. The people that fled high ground in the face of Gustav remind me of that fisherman in Violet. If those ninnies only knew, they would envy me.