For Better and Worse
I thought it would take us another six days to our place near Winchester. The distance was shorter than other legs of the trip, but we would have to climb some pretty good elevations.
About six hours out of Lynchburg, I loved over toward the west and noticed some heavy dark clouds gathering on the horizon. “Look!” I called. We’re going to have a gully washer! We’d better find shelter! Look for a cave or overhang among the rocks! Hurry!”
We looked, but try as we might, the best we could do was a small overhang that wouldn’t do much to protect us from the elements. We needed more, much, much more. We would have to build something, and quickly.
“Laurel, you stay here with Caleb. Hiram, Andrew, you come with me! We’re going to build a lean-to.” I had had a lot of experience building things with wood through the years since I lived on a farm, and the other two fell in with me and started felling small trees using their big knives. I found four trees equidistant from each other in a rough square that look like they would serve to anchor the rest of the construction. “We’ll use these to tie the poles to that will hold the roof,” I told them. Then we’ll put some other branches across and secure some pieces of bark to form a roof. It will leak some, but that will be better than being in a downpour. It’ll keep the worst of the rain off us.”
We hurried around, hacking at trees like madmen. When we had all the timber we needed, we secured the poles we had cut to the four trees I had found, and then placed more poles across the first ones. Lastly, we put pieces of bark on those poles. We had the lean-to put together in short order, much more quickly than I would have thought possible.. I looked back up at the clouds. “I think we will have just enough time to move everything in here. Hiram, run back to where we were quickly, and tell Laurel the shelter is done. And both of you carry as much as you can. We’ll be coming right after you and take the rest!”
Hiram took off at a run, as I had told him, and we followed more slowly. We met the other three as we were coming up to where they had been.
“Caleb, do you think this will keep the rain off?” Laurel looked worried.
“I’ve made a number of these and been in them in all kinds of weather. You’ll have to trust me.”
She looked in her eyes. “I do. And you’re a wonderful man.”
“Thank you, my love. I married a wonderful woman.”
They kept going down the mountain, and we toiled our way up to the overhang, stopping for a moment when we got there to catch our breath. We quickly grabbed all we would need in both arms, leaving the rest under the overhang. It would be all right there, and we would retrieve it after the storm. We hurried back down to the shelter, nearly falling several times in our haste to find Laurel and Hiram organizing what we had. We put what we had carried down the mountain where Laurel told us to. “That goes here, Andrew, and Caleb, you put that over there.” She knew exactly where each item needed to be.
I looked back up at the clouds building behind the mountain. As I watched, they spilled over the top and came down toward us. “Here it comes!” I shouted. “Hurry! Everybody in the center of the shelter. Hold on!”
I had spent a lot of time outdoors and witnessed so many storms, but this one coming up looked to be the worst once I had seen. The clouds were so black they looked blue, and they seemed to have a depth to them. The lightning flashed and the thunder boomed, sounding more like artillery than a natural occurrence. Then I heard a roaring, and I hoped it was not a tornado.
When the rain came, we could not see much beyond the edge of the shelter. The rest of the world disappeared not far from where we stood. A wind tore fiercely at the structure, and a few small limbs from the top flew away.
“Is this going to hold?” Andrew asked. “This is such a terrible storm.” I could barely hear him for the noise.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’ve never been in a storm like this. I hope we won’t be struck by lightning or wash away. And I think I might have heard a tornado.”
“Oh, I hope not,” Laurel said, and, although I could not hear what she said after that, I could tell she was praying. I bowed my head and joined her.
“Lord, we know that you are mightier than any storm. We pray that your mighty power will guard and protect us. That is what we ask for, Lord, in our time of need. These things I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.”
I looked around when I had finished, and saw Andrew and Hiram were praying as well. I had thought Hiram was not religious, but maybe this would cause him to make a start on becoming so. I hoped so, anyhow.
In my experience, most strong storms like the one we were in had lasted fifteen minutes at the most, but this storm raged with the same intensityfor half an hour without showing signs of stopping.
Then, suddenly, it finally began to let up, so we could relax and let go of the trees we were holding.
“I’m glad that’s over,” Laurel said.
“As am I,” Andrew answered.
“And we’re all in one piece,” I added.
“Wait,” Hiram cautioned. “What’s that sound?”
A low rumbling came from the mountain above us, and I knew in an instant what it was. “Flash flood! It sounds like a big one!” I cried. “Get in a tree, as high as you can go, quickly!”
Hiram and Andrew would not need any help to scale any tree quickly, but Laurel had little Caleb, with her, and so climbed a tree would be more difficult for her. “Come over here!” I shouted, motioning her to two trees that were close together. “I’ll go up first and brace myself on one tree. When I’m fixed, then hand Caleb to me. After you climb above me on the other side, I’ll pass Caleb back to you, and we’ll work our way up that way. This is the only way we can do this. Let’s go!”
We went up as best we could in that fashion, which was harder than I thought it would be. Finally, after some struggle, we were at least 20 feet above the ground. The sound of the flood had grown so that we couldn’t hear each other at all.I hoped that wouldn’t affect our attempt. I kept motioning with my head to Laurel to go up! Up! Up! Go up, I kept urging her. And she responded, struggling mightily to take Caleb from me and then giving him back when I had climbed above her.
We had reached about 30 feet when the flood struck in all its fury. I looked over at it just after I had passed Caleb back to Laura. The water stood like a moving wall, 30 to 40 feet high, and I just knew we were going to be overpowered by it in only a few scant seconds. I looked at Laurel and found her eyes that I had looked into so many times before. “I love you,” I mouthed and then the dirty brown wall laden with rocks and branches struck and I knew no more.