Saturday, February 17, 2007

WHITE OUT

It was a cold February morning when the green TWRA truck pulled into the Melton Hill boat launch area. It was seven AM and the threat of snow was in the area. The driver's door opened and the uniform stepped out followed immediately by the golden dog. Douglas immediately ran down the launch ramp and splashed into the water in an attempt to catch the little white duck that floated safely just out of his reach. This reenactment of "chase the duck" has been an ongoing occurrence with every visit to the lake. The uniform did not act quick enough to stop the golden dog from getting wet. This was not a day for Douglas to be exposed to near freezing cold while he was soaked. The uniform called him back to the truck and motioned for him to enter the cab, which he did. A bath towel was hanging behind the seat to handle situations such as this. After drying Douglas, the uniform proceeded to launch the boat. Douglas would wait on the front seat of the truck until called. The boat slid off the trailer silently and floated out toward the lake and away from the trailer. A rope previously attached to the bow was the only tether keeping the boat from floating away. The uniform pulled in the rope and the boat approached the dock slowly, bumping the protective rubber that lines the edges of the dock boards where the side of the boat made contact. The rope then was wrapped around a dock cleat and the uniform entered the truck and drove to a parking spot. He stepped out once again and hesitated, looking up toward the heavens. A shiver went down his back. His job today was to survey fishermen on the lake. Would there be any anglers on the lake today? Probably not. There weren't any trucks or trailers here at this boat ramp. But there were other boat ramps along the lake. It would be easy to spend his time at the boat ramp in the warm truck but he was driven by work ethics instilled in him by a father who struggled against all odds to operate a farm and supply a family with what it needed to flourish. He worked his entire life with this ethic and he would not allow himself to stray from that guideline now. TWRA hired him and he would produce for them as expected. He reached behind the truck seat and withdrew a pure wool pullover sweater and put it on. Then the rain pants and jacket followed by a floatation parka. The parka was wind proof and supposedly was capable of keeping a mans head above the water in the event of a catastrophe. Douglas was panting. Amazing! He always seemed to be oblivious to the elements. He is a wonder! "Douglas, come". Douglas exited the truck and wandered toward the lake. "Get in the boat", the uniform yelled with a deep voice; "get in the boat," and the golden dog instantly turned left toward the dock and trotted out onto the boards. He slowed to a walk and hopped neatly onto the deck of the boat and sat down in his spot at the bow awaiting the arrival of the uniform. The uniform unwrapped the tether and stepped onto the boat's deck. He dropped the rope as he took two steps to settle into the seat behind the steering wheel. The current slowly pulled the 19 foot boat out toward the center of the lake. The key was turned and the 150 horsepower Mercury motor came to life. Throttle forward and they were off for the day. The boat had a small sumbrella top that covered the cockpit area clear across to the opposite gun whale. It attached to the windshield with snaps. The day would be impossible without this little top. It was very cold even with it. They made slow speed at fifteen miles per hour. An occasional twenty five miles per hour was attempted but not maintained for long.
The lake appeared empty. Totally void of any boat. There appeared not to be even a soul on the shoreline. The uniform felt that one run down to the Solway Bridge and back would be enough torture to satisfy his all precious work ethic promise to TWRA. That bridge was the farthest end of his assignment on this morning. The wind had increased since they left the Melton Hill boat ramp. Small white caps were forming across the lake in front of the boat. The protection of the hills at the narrow portion of the lake at the Melton Hill Dam was giving way to the more open water of the large bay that lay approximately half way down the lake to Solway. The wind could blow unrestricted here. And it did. A mist of rain started and the wind grew stronger and blew the rain at an angle. As the wind increased the white caps grew larger and soon the boat was slamming into the crests of the waves. Shallow water lay dead ahead and the familiar left turn around it was made. The boat circled around an island that lays at the mouth of the bay and continued safely around it until the main lake channel could be seen a mile away. The uniform steered directly toward this artery. A bay can have many exits from it toward any shore. Most look alike. but only one can be the main channel of the lake. A novice could easily select the incorrect path. But the uniform has travelled this lake many times and knew the way perfectly.
The rain had turned to snow and the snow was blowing horizontally now with increasing wind. It was decided to stop progressing down the lake and to turn around and return to the dock. The boat was banked tightly to the right and put on a course that would backtrack the original trail. The boat was now located directly in the center of the bay. This was called Reactor Bay. The white caps were now possibly two feet high and the wind was still on the increase. The golden dog turned his head and looked at the uniform as if to say " get me out of here". Ok, ok, I'm trying! The falling snow intensified to the point that the boat had to be stopped. Visibility was absolutely zero. Douglas's left side was solid white, caked with snow. The uniform was glad he dried his friend off before leaving the dock. He was glad the top was on the boat too. They could only float with the current. As he remembered before the turn; the current flowed toward their rear, opposite the direction they were heading. It should not float them onto the shallow rocks near the island in the center of the bay. It was unnerving though. Nothing could be done but wait out the wind. The engine was stopped and raised out of the water just in case they were blown into rocks. The visibility was still zero. The wind was howling and the snow relentless. Fifteen minutes had gone by. The golden dog was now under the dash of the boat, out of the wind. He kept looking at the uniform as if to say "make it stop". The uniform bowed his head and pulled the rain suit hood out from under the floatation parka and pulled it over his head. He was getting very cold. The uniform was beginning to become a bit concerned as enough time had passed since the white-out occurred that the boat could have floated to one of the many dangerous areas of the bay. Hopefully they were still far out in the bay and away from the rocky banks that line the shores. Then the wind started to abate and the view became better. The uniform still could not see the shore line but he could see out into the water farther. The good thing was that he did not see the shore line. They were lucky. They were far out in the bay. Then the island came into view. They were blown about a mile directly away from the island and into the main channel mouth at the north end of the bay. No doubt the current played the major roll. The wind never blows in a "lucky" fashion. The current had floated them to the channel. The engine was brought to life and they were again off toward home at a brisk ten miles per hour. The shore line was now totally visible and everything was as if nothing had occurred. Calm wind and gentle ripples on the lake. Great bodies of water are definitely to be respected. They literally change with the weather. Douglas was again at the point of the bow in his usual place. The left side of his body was still white. He would need dried again soon. The boat bumped the dock gently and the uniform stepped onto the dock followed by the golden dog. Even in this miserable weather, the golden dog made time to put on a search for the little white duck. The duck was not here. If the duck was smart, he would be approaching Atlanta by now. The uniform walked to the truck, opened the door and yelled "get in the truck". Douglas trotted to the open door and bounded in with a single fluid motion. For once he was glad to enter the cab of the truck. The towel was wiped over him and he was none the worse for wear. The boat was retrieved from the lake and they were off. The uniform would drive to three more boat ramps he knew of in search for anglers who may be braving the weather. His ethics would not allow him to leave for home. But he would indeed quit work early after he visited all the boat ramps. Common sense was another one of his fortes. Another trying experience has been added to the uniform's memory. He enjoyed being in the elements. He enjoyed going with nature. He never tried to fight her ways. Each visit to the lakes made him more wise and more understanding of the natural things. A glance at Douglas showed a bored dog lying across the bench seat. Already he wanted to go again. He is amazing.