With my RV set up in a small town in Washington state and my soul restless, I got in my truck before daylight and wandered for several hours off the beaten path.
I soon found myself in a tiny place, a coastal blip in the road. Blips in the road have long lured the curious traveler. This was a rough blip, far from other towns, tourists, and much of anything at all. It backed into the foggy rain forest hills and looked out upon a small sheltered cove cluttered with seasoned fishing boats.
Bait and beer were the shelf staples at the town store, which was also the fish weigh station. The coffee was wonderful and they kept it coming, even when I wandered out onto the creaking wooden porch in search of poetry.
A cold mist slowly drenched everything. The wind cast the sea about the docks and rows of fish cleaning stations, salt heavy on the air.
They were wary of me. A young game warden drove up and quickly started a friendly conversation about my intentions, clearly summoned.
I lingered half a day before anyone could be coerced to chat. I then heard tall tales about storms, fires, eagles and a bear. “We are the top of the world, can’t you tell?” But then, abruptly, I was told that I should be careful on the winding rain forest road out, an explicit farewell.
Nonetheless, in the dusk I stepped into the small diner to warm up before leaving. I received curt nods, as people kept to themselves.
I had stayed too long. For all their cautious friendliness, I was still the outsider who was expected to leave.
When darkness fell and they drifted home, my light spirit drifted into the darkness as well. I began to feel alone, utterly and starkly alone.
Soon the diner was deserted. Though the hours stated they were open, I suspected they were not.
As I was gathering my raincoat, the damp that pooled in the windowsill and clung to the faded orange/brown curtains with prints from the 1970’s brought a bee to my side.
I shared the salt on my wrist and the cool sips from my water glass. Thank you for seeing me, little one. This lonely outsider needed to feel seen.
Sometimes life hits you below the belt. With it, you run to sit, looking at this, with a homemade sandwich and a coke, for a pause… the maddening waves, the battering wind, the voices of sea creatures in their depths, and an earnest longing of a ship for the “Light to the Sea” hits you, ancient, cold, hard, honest.
“Night of tornados” – wasn’t that the name of a horror flick?
We will get to the whales next time.
Today we are backtracking from my notes. It was May 21, 2019. Don’t let the older date fool you, the moment will never leave.
San Angelo State Park, in Texas, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The area is shrub trees, mesquite brush, cactus, rolling hills, stone cliffs, deer, coyotes, jack rabbits, bob-whites… forget meditation apps, just visit this place at dusk and dawn.
Camped a few miles from the town, I had the perfect spot in the isolated southern section. I was on a ridge facing down into a little valley, the town quietly in the distance. There were no lights in this area and the night sky sparkled without “light pollution.” It was so perfect that I have a mind to request it each time I return, and return I shall.
Just look at it.
The day was splendid.
At almost dusk, a park ranger drove to each sparsely placed RV, warning us with the proverbial ominous stare into the distance… a tornado had wiped out several town blocks two days earlier. It was looking well to happen again.
“It is too late to leave. We are locking the gates and will not be back until morning.”
The storm came quickly and I did not yet know Seashell, my 5th wheel, well enough to determine when it was safe to stay inside or when she would go over. I had trouble walking without grasping something. Later my Fitbit watch told me I had accomplished this:
I lost electricity early. I still had cell connection and in the dark, I checked my Facebook weather feeds. *refresh refresh refresh*
The night provided horizontal green lightning that enveloped San Angelo like a lasso without a lead. Seashell was a shuddering mess as the wind slid across her roof, under her belly, and around her sides. A green “lead” of the lasso soon extended over me.
The park bathhouse, a place to seek shelter, had looked very far away. Now it looked farther. I gathered important papers and the newly burned DVDs of family 8mms and slides into waterproof bags, acutely aware it was all I had left of them.
I learned that two cats will almost fit inside a backpack if they are terrified enough and to look there first before panicking and tearing a trailer apart because they had left their carriers. Moving them, I apologized in soothing whispers through puffs of loose fur.
Raincoat, handgun, water, medicine, headlamp… the door would not open. Why had I not gone sooner?
The green stretched and wobbled, with roiled black within. The blue and yellow lights of electrical surges popped as sections of town went dark. When green flashed on the other side of me, where there was nothing, I solemnly watched for a dark shape there as well.
None of the other RVers were heading for the bathhouse. Were we all waiting for someone else to go first, thereby asserting the seriousness of the moment?
I thought of Iowa, where in my youth a tornado had introduced me to a graphic human death by Mother Nature. I felt underwater. I curled onto the couch and dozed off, somehow. It had been hours.
My phone app tornado siren put that Old World banshee to shame.
My phone flashed: San Angelo, seek shelter. San Angelo, false alarm. San Angelo, keep watch. San Angelo, seek shelter immediately. It is south of you. It is southwest of you. It is moving north towards you. It has touched down three places. There are now more than one.
I knew people were in basements and interior rooms. I was on a ridge. I switched off my small battery candle that had kept me sane through the night. The dark felt like velvet. I sat on the floor with the kittens and trembled. We waited.
A friend from afar stayed up with me all night. She must have been exhausted. She gave me encouragement, weather reports, comfort, humor, a presence in a void. Her name is Veda. She was my angel.
The culmination of this blog is not that a tornado never reached the ridge. No, it brought the realization that I was not prepared to be the person I saw in Iowa. It made me wonder why I had not put a bible into my backpack. I had a tiny New Testament. It would have fit. Why was it an afterthought?
The storm put on an Old West dance hall show that night, complete with raucous fistfights and howled curses. Blessed first light brought views of downed tree limbs, scattered shrubs, slumped fences, and the defiant songs of birds celebrating victory.