Monday, March 6, 2006

THE STORM a TWRA story

THE STORM
The sun breaks over the Eastern horizon on a East Tennessee lake as the green truck and cargo pull into the dock area of a vast lake. A deep breath and open the door to eighty degrees plus temperatures. Another day has begun. A Mocking Bird sings its imitation of a Cardinal as the tie down straps are loosened. The sound of a distant jake brake on a semi breaks the quiet while the big engine is raised to unfasten the transome saver. Necessary gear is removed from the green truck and stowed away safely into pre-designated areas of the boat's deck area. Into the water the contraption goes until water floats the big boat off the trailer and momentum slowly drifts it toward the lake's center, stopped only by the tether that binds it to the trailer. The life jacket is quickly donned and a final visual check is made. A call to the copilot "come on boy" brings the eighty pound Golden Retriever running to jump on board and take his place on the bow. Key on and a touch of the button brings the one hundred fifty horsepower power plant to life. It throbs as if truly alive; waiting for orders; waiting for the sip of liquid that will excite it into action. The dock area receeds behind as the big boat slowly enters deeper water and the main channel beyond. The water resembles a mirror. Quiet, reflectivfe and unmoving. Green and mysterious. Countless boats have cut into its surface gouging its flesh only to be immediately healed by nature with no scars to be seen. And this craft will add new furrows today.
The throttle is pushed forward slowly and the engine begins to drink. The power plant is waking up quickly as it stretches and unwinds after a long night of inactivity. More throttle causes the bow to rise and then gently fall onto a mysterious cushion of invisible space as the boat is thrust forward smoothly. Gliding over the water at speed the boat and engine are a team. They are as one. As the speed becomes greater, the golden dog stands to full height, front paws on the extreme edge of the bow, body stretched full out and muzzle lifted toward the sky enjoying the passing wind. Nothing passes without his gaze falling upon it. A piece of drift wood catches his eye and his head follows it as the boat jets on past. The Great Blue Heron that flies directly in front of the craft receives an especially hard and long gaze from the golden dog as it passes into the distance. The Sun is higher now as the TWRA uniform travels down the watery corridor in the performance of his daily ritual.
The water sprays to starboard and port behind the stern as the boat cuts its swath through its mother. The fan spray is highlighted by the sun and a rainbow of color can be seen through the mist that caps the fan. The long furrow that is cut by the big engine and craft appears to be following closely behind, ever widening until it spans the channel and beyond. Full throttle brings exhilaration to the TWRA uniform. There is no more throttle. The golden dog becomes uneasy and lies down with paws extended over the edge of the bow as if to increase his purchase on the deck by clinging to it.
A sharp turn to starboard, a thousand feet and another sharp turn to port launches the craft past Granite Bluff. The face of the mountain exposed for all to admire jutting vertically for two hundred feet straight up, braced against all elements - daring nature to do her worse. A statement of defiance made by its mere presence. And on down the watery path the boat goes.
The sky, once bright blue, suddenly assumes a purple tint with yellow edges. Clouds once white are now dark shades of gray. The quiet morning suddenly seems annoyed and disturbed as if wakened from a sound sleep. The sky emits thunderous noise as if great guns are speaking and bolts of yellow pierce the gray sky resembling the flash after the shot is taken. And the craft continlues on. The first drops of rain spatter singularly down and pat against the deck. Increasing in numbers they soon wet the entire boat and can be seen pelting the once quiet waters of the lake. Then suddenly the angry sky drops nature's tears down upon the scene in torrents. Once quiet green water now becomes whipped to a froth as natures angry breath blows over it. The boat suddenly is tossed about as if a cork on an angry sea. How quickly it occurs! How small and helpless one suddenly becomes. How humble and unsure of ones self does nature make us! How small we truly are in the face of nature's wrath!
The golden dog quickly runs to find shelter under the dash and the uniform applies rain garments to ward off the wet. On to find solitude in a quiet cove. Solitude, until nature is through comlaining. But through she is not. Her discontent is worsening as she blows her breath hard against the water creating froth and boil combined with high swells that measure two feet at times. The boat that appeared so large at the dock area now feels much smaller to the uniform as it pounds through the swells and turmoil while making its dash for the calmer waters of the cove ahead. The transition from the swells of the main channel to the calmer waters of the cove offered small consolation to the uniform and golden dog as the guns still roared with jagged flame slicing through the dark sky, at times appearing to pierce the earth itself. The rain fell incessantly until it came with such force it appeared as a solid sheet. The uniform backed the boat under an overhanging grove of Mimosa Treees in hopes the narrow leaves would shield him and the golden dog from at least some of the torrential downpour. It was a frail maneuver at best without the desired result. The boat remained exposed and so did the uniform and the golden dog. A glance toward the mouth of the cove revealed high swells with white edges breaking and falling with each swell. It was a wild, angry, unsettled world in the main channel. A clear break in water texture could be seen where calm met insanity. Yet the quiet current at the back of the cove kept pulling at the boat like some unseen entity toward the narrow mouth. Out toward the unsettled. The waters of the cove and the waters in the channel seem not to be as one but different. One is an angry force and the other a calmer tempered entity. The cove waters were trying to deliver the boat to its brothers-those angry forces on the fringe. Slowly but surely the floating craft was being enticed out from under its cover and pushed or pulled toward the madness in the channel. Seeing this, the uniform brings the engine to life and applies just enough throttle to push the boat back under its false protection. A Great Blue Heron settles on a spot where the bank meets the lake but rises quickly to the sky upon recognizing it is not alone in the cove. Its knees bend and straighten instantaneously to launch it skyward. It emits a loud squawk as it takes to air and simultaneously spews its white refuse as the great wings open wide to carry it out of sight further down the lake's edge and into foliage. A large silver fish breaks out of the water in its vertical swim and disappears just as quickly as it falls tail first back toward its origins. As the wind slows and the rain lessens, the uniform decides to attempt a marathon run back to whence he came. Again, the engine is brought to life and the boat is backed out from under its wet, green blanket of cover. A short stop while the throttle lever is snapped forward to give power to the propeller that will push the craft toward the main channel and home. At slow ahead the boat weaves around nature's obstacles planted in the channel to thwart intrusions such as this. A six inch diameter snag is bypassed as well as a floating log twenty feet in length that had been delivered to these waters by the froth from outside. Upon approaching the mouth of the cove the uniform catches a disturbing sight off to his right from upstream in his peripheral vision.
The main channel is covered with what appears to be a two foot thick cotton cover with long wispy tendrils that climb and weave skyward and extend from bank to bank. As the tendrils extend up they touch and combine to create a solid white wall. What once was two feet high has become ten feet high and some places higher. Ever closer this white mirage moves, sliding on the water's surface keeping between the channel's banks. Soon it will block the cove and all vision beyond. The engine is stilled. A decision must be made, and soon. The golden dog has again taken his place on the bow and looks on at the apparition with interest and curiosity. As the cloud rises higher it becomes more dense and warm air that once surrounded the boat becomes cooler and to the uniform's amazement, dead calm. The fog appears to move faster now and soon will envelope the boat and occupants. Down stream is still clear but home is up stream through the white wall. To sit and wait could mean hours until the fog is blown away or decides to lift. Waiting could result in the combination of fog and darkness which would result in an all night vigilance on the lake as navigation would surely be impossible. The uniform knows that indecision will only delay the inevitable. The engine is brought to life and the boat is turned upstream into the mess ahead at idle speed. The uniform knows that this part of the channel is strewn with snags that protrude through the surfadce and should be avoided at all costs. But at an idle speed they should prove harmless and merely graze the boat as it slowly passes by. An occasional bump is felt as the hull contacts some underwater object and the golden dog snaps his head and glances at the uniform with each occurrance. The contacts with underwater obstacles indicates to the uniform that he is navigating too close to the port bank and he turns the craft to where he feels the channel's center lies. Vision is limited to the point of the bow. The golden dog, still standing on the bow, appears fuzzy with little definition through the white moisture. Channel buoys are nowhere to be found and the uniform travels on using knowledge gained through countless excursions over the river. Suddenly ahead an enormous shadow appears. Eyes are wiped in order to obtain better sight. Its height can not be determined as it is covered in white. It extends into the fog both left and right. The present course will certainly result in a collision if not altered and a hard to starboard maneuver is undertaken and the great gray wall passes on the port side very close. Very close! Two hard bumps and a third and the throttle is pulled back and the engine set to idle. The ignition is switched off quickly and the engine hydraulically lifted until the prop breaks the surface and free from obstructions. The golden dog quickly squats and braces himself with legs bent as the boat lurches and sways with each underwater contact. The craft finally settles into stillness, resting upon some hidden underwater obstacle. There is no way to determine the closeness of the shore line or even if the boat is pointed in the desired direction. The fog is thick and shows no window where sight could permeate through. The situation is intolerable and the uniform moves forward to the bow and asks the golden dog to retreat to the stern, which he does, seemingly with enthusiasm. The weight of the 80 pound dog causes the boat to rock left and right as he moves quickly to the rear. The rocking indicates that the craft is not securely held by the invisible fingers below. The cord of the electric motor is found and pulled vertical so the unit can be lowered into the water from the bow. A quick clockwise turn of the handle spins the plastic propeller but the boat will nhot move. It is held more securely than first thought. The motor switched off and the lift cord pulled the apparatus back on board. The boat must be freed. Far better to be locked in the safe cove than out in the channel attached to some hidden underwater snag. Many months ago the uniform brought a ten foot long three inch diameter limb on board for just such emergencies. He laid it on the floor of the boat and stepped over it and around it continually. He cursed it several times after stepping upon it and once nearly fell after tripping over it. He found it in a little used cove on the rivers bank. A beaver had cut neatly through it and felled it there. The small limbs that once were attached were chewed off its entire length and the bark was neatly shorn away. It was straight and strong and the uniform saw it as unique and was compelled to pick it up. Speaking his thoughts, as one does at times when alone, he spoke out to himself - "But what reason to keep it?" "A shame to leave it." "So straight." "A beaver made it." "Shouldn't take up much room." The justification to stow it on board was that it would be useful to push the boat off from shallow water shorelines. He stopped at them frequently to let the golden dog stretch his legs and he himself liked to photograph wild flowers that grew on practically every island. He bent down and grasped the long shaft at mid point, lifted it and stepped upon the flat area of the bow. He shifted his weight from side to side to determine if the boat would follow suite in order to make the determination where to use the pry tool to its best advantage. He determined the boat rested upon something approximately one third of the way to the center of the hull from the front of the boat. The poll entered the water directly in front of the bow's point. It found purchase on the bottom of the lake on hard textured material. Probably rock. The uniform pushed with all his strength and the boat slowly moved rearward. The shaft withdrawn and set again for a second mighty push. A scraping sound was heard and the boat slowly was moved off the containment. They were free. Again the electric motor was lowered into the water and the handle turned to power the plastic prop. The propeller was directed at an attitude that would move the boat to starboard and hopefully into deeper water toward the channel's center. Once clear of all obstacles the electric motor was drawn up and settled onto its proper resting place. The uniform moved cautiously through the windwshield opening and settled into the pilot seat. The trim button was depressed and the engine was lowered back into the water, but only enough to submerge the propeller and cover the cooling iintake holes. Once again the power plant groaned to life. The throttle lever pushed forward to idle speed with a clunk and the boat moved.

The subtle vibrations of the engine could be felt through the floor of the boat. A good feeling. Everything was all right. The uniform calculated a one minute run toward what he thought would be the center of the channel and then a ninety degree turn to port should head them up stream toward home. A shadow directly in front of the boat proved to be a green channel buoy. They were heading up stream. All was calm. Just the murmur of the big engine could be heard as it slowly pushed the Nitro Boat through the water. The golden dog, bored with the slow affair, moved to the cockpit and crawled under the instrument dash and curled up in what appeared to be sleep. But he was attentive to all that occurred out on the deck and in the surrounding water. Any change in engine rpm would rouse him to his feet and he would once again move to the bow of the boat to acquaint himself with the most recent occurrances. But for now he contented himself with rest.

A day marker on a post near the bank read "Arrival Point". This indicated about one half mile was left in the journey to the dock. Relief came over the uniform. Up until now he had been traveliing by memory, guess work and luck. It had seen him through to this point. Floating debris must be everywhere as the boat constantly bumped into it. The resultant sounds and jostles caused the golden dog to arise and resume his watch on the bow. Nothing cdould be seen through the curtain of white that covered the water but at this idle speed not harm would occur. With each monor collision the goledn dog would snap his head to stare briefly at the uniform as if to place blame on him for the dog's predicament. A "Slow, No Wake" buoy appeared to starboard and a starboard turn was in order. Ten more miinutes and the boat approached the small dock from whence it started. The throttle lever was pulled back and the prop reversed to slow forward momentum. The key switched off and the boat proceeded forward ever so slowly toward the dock until a slight bunp was felt. The uniform picked up the bow line and wrapped it twice around the clevis on the dock. They were home. The uniform stepped out of the boat onto the wooden surface of the dock. The golden dog always let him go first. This is how he was trained. He understood his place in the scheme of things. The uniform walked slowly over to a bench and sat down and slouched with a sigh. He stretched his arms and exen=ended his legs to relieve the stiffness that was starting to settle into his limbs. He stared at the lake covered in white. Odd, he thought, that the cottony substance stays within the confines of the lake banks and does not creep up the grass. The scene that lay before them was beautiful. The bank was greenest green and fell down a gentle slope to the waters edge where the white fog started and continued across the water to the other side. The air smelled sweet and even the golden dog raised his nose to the sky and his inhalations were audible. Another day completed. All that was left was to float the boat back onto the trailer and go home This was just another day at the office for the uniform. This was business as usual. Discussing terms with Mother Nature usually meant the uniform would always have to compromise. Such was the way of things this day. But there are those days when Mother Nature is of a kind heart and extends her grace to the uniform and the golden dog. Days when the surface is a reflective mirror and the sun is high; when the overhanging trees offer shade and protection from the hot sun; when the natural spring water pours out of the tall granite cliff and cascades down its side in torrents that split and split again until the water becomes rivulets where it enters the lake. Yes, most days are like that. Those are the good days at the office.