It was a rainy afternoon on my favorite river in mid September. The day started as a typical blue bird day, but after spending much time in this high country, it becomes instinctual to pack for the worst situations... at least enough crap to get you through if need be.
As the day progressed, so did the clouds until it was imperative to find safe shelter from the hail and incoming thunderstorm. Making things worse, I was about 15 yards downstream from a large downed spruce that hung over the bank. It was about 3ft above the water... I knew and would bet my best dog that it was a brown trout lair.... and the best shelter. Damn.
As it was, where I was wading in the river, each side was exposed to open meadow. Tree line was about 50 yards in both directions beyond that. I thought about getting up against the large cut bank just out of the water, but it wouldn’t provide an ounce of overhead protection. Maybe if I covered my head with my pack? The thoughts that ran through my head were inventive and almost comical as I justified the bank idea. Back to reality, time was running out as I was warned by the flash of lightning and the echo of thunder. Okay, maybe the bank idea is the best choice. Most importantly, I don’t want blow that trout lair. I’ll be in the dirt as close as I can anyway and now I can’t even make the tree line. It would be like running through a mine field while being shot at and all the while wondering if a large shell would fall out of the sky that had my name on it.
I dug into the cut bank and fortunately, the soil was still dry and not yet mud from the rain and hail. I positioned myself with my back to the bank with my pack on top of my head. I’ve never seen hail larger than pea size here in the Rockies but I kept thinking of years earlier standing on my front porch in Tulsa, Oklahoma during a hail storm that produced baseball size hail. It was as if someone was throwing baseballs through the trees at me and my house. No thanks.
As I hunkered down and counted the time between flash and boom measuring the proximity of the incoming storm, which was moving slow but still bearing down my way, I kept looking at the downed spruce tree just up stream. The stump was quite large and right on the ledge of the bank. It was probably the size of a mid 60’s Volkswagen Beetle. There was a “hidie hole at its base and I bet I could crawl in there". The only problem with this was the entrance would be from the water which meant possibly disturbing my next opponent. Dilemna, I know, right?
The flash and booms now crackled while the hail rained down relentlessly. I was fixated on the water just a few feet from my boots while watching the river change color from almost gin clear to an opaque slate blue. The pack over my head was a good idea but every few seconds a rogue piece of ice stung my face to break my trance. I wondered if this spot was still worth it or what about the stump? Less than 2 seconds between the lightning and the thunder, my window of opportunity was closing fast. My rational side kicked in and I committed to keeping put. I’d ride this out backed up to a cut bank.
What dirt was in my pathetic fox hole was now ice and mud and a little creek ran between my feet. The flash crackled in tandem with the thunder... there was no difference and not a second between.
I could smell the ozone from the strikes but luckily I didn’t feel static. I imagined sitting on the tire of a Howitzer as it pelted a target... over and over again.
The hail turned to a healthy rain and the gap between “The Great Creator’s“ fireworks widened. Things were starting to look up and let up. I pulled at a piece of grass by my feet and stripped the blade apart down to the white shaft. The word “life” popped into my head and I smiled. If I had been struck, would I have known? Maybe I’d been struck and I’m dead and this is my heaven. Not a bad deal I guess... Then came the fog rising from the ground. All of the hail created a now surreal landscape in every limited direction I could see from my mud pit of a foxhole. I caught the whiff of a campfire and realized maybe this wasn’t my own experience after all.