Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Storm on the Mountain

About sixty years ago--when I was a little bit--we lived in Pima, Arizona. Yep, where Pima cotton was grown. Pima is in a valley beneath the majestic Mount Graham. Several times a year we camped up on the mountain. Camping back then was not what it is today. There were scattered log lean-tos and the occasional primitive water faucet, randomly sticking up every so often. The road up the mountain was a rutted dirt trail that wound to and fro through thick heavy forests.

My folks had a heavy canvas tent that always seemed to smell of mold. They pitched it near the lean-to that they used as an outdoor kitchen (and as necessary, a bathing room). Somewhere there are pictures of me taking a bath in an old metal washtub. I know I've seen them, but I haven't any idea where they ended up. Out in front of the lean-to, my dad would build a campfire. It always seemed to smell so good. When we were old enough, we would roast our hotdogs and marshmallows over the fire using straightened wire hangers.

One summer my Grandmother came from Indiana and naturally, we went camping while she was visiting. It was a beautiful morning as we chugged up the mountain in our old black car with the camping gear bundled in a tarp on the roof. I suspect we looked like one of the migrant families in Grapes of Wrath. Anyway, we settled on a spot and pitched the tent. I vaguely remember being assigned to gather some small sticks for the fire.

As the day wore on, the sky darkened, first fading into gray before finally turning black and foreboding. The treetops high overhead began to whistle and whip back and forth as the winds picked up. And then with a crash of thunder, the sky opened up in an Old Testament demonstration of the apocalypse.

Lightning flashed all around as we huddled in the lean-to. The tent collapsed in pounding rain. Thunder boomed and growled above us. Then things started to get really exciting when the great towering trees started crashing to the ground as water rushed down the mountain.

As I peer back at the misty memories, I think we probably would have been safer to stay in place, but the adults decided to get off the mountain in a nightmare journey to the valley below. This was long before such conveniences as long range weather forecasts and satellites or radar so they had no way of knowing we were in the tail of a tropical storm. After stuffing the car with what they could, the adults piled in with kids cowering on their laps and my dad started down the mountain. Trees fell. Water rushed past carrying boulders and debris. The rutted dirt road degenerated into a slickery, goopy mess.

There were constant stops as Dad roped tree trunks and boulders with a chain attached to the bumper and hauled them to the side so we could continue one. And all around, the lightning lit the dark in weird surreal flashes as the winds howled and the thunder drowned out the pounding rain. My main memory of that night was cowering beneath an old army blanket with my hands pressed against my ears.

Eventually, we reached the paved road at the foot of the mountain only to face terrible flooding. The water was over the running boards on our old car. I don't remember actually reaching our small home so I expect I finally fell asleep. But every storm for the rest of my life has been measured against that one. And thankfully, none have topped it...though some have come close.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow. How terrifying! Yes, I bet you should have stayed where you were. Wow. Glad you survived.