Monday, August 29, 2005

Braving the maelstrom

I'm sitting under the covered porch watching giant Southern pines sway in Katrina's path, when Judy's landline rings. I can hear the neighbor's voice. She's screaming. Barely understadable. Yelling that a tree has cleaved through their home. Their mother is pinned under one of the limbs. They think she is bleeding from some place on her head. But they don't know for sure. They can't free her to find out. And storm waters are pouring over her, from the open roof.

Terry and I bolt for our coats. I shoulder my 60 pound bag of cordless power tools.Then we brave the storm. Neither of us have said a word. Probably don't have a plan, but we are going to save that old woman. Save somebody's mother. Or die trying.

Behind us, Cindy and Glenda scream to be careful. And Judy has joined us. She's wearing shorts.
We're in the clutches of Katrina only a few feet when I start having second thoughts. Rescuer's regret? The rain HURTS. I'm soaked immediately. Leaning forward. Barely able to lift my head against the wind. Glasses sheeted with rain. Can'tsee more than ten feet. And we're running. Or trying to run. Lifting our feet high. Over slick tangles of broken tree limbs. And a routed army of stray pine cones.

Almost a blind sprint as we stumble upon our first obstacle. An uprooted pine tree. Across the road to the neighbors. Terry says half a mile to their house. Through hell and high water. The storm getting worse by the second as I straddle the tree. Katrina pressing me down, against the wet wood. I can feel the cold bark bite into my jeans. But we make it.

Twenty more blind feet. Brought to another halt. Smell of fresh cut lumber. And an enormous oak felled minutes ago. The fallen trunk resting chest high. Slick with water and debris. Even without a hurricane at our backs, we couldn'tclimb over this big bastard. It probably dates back to the Mesozoic Period. I've flown on planes smaller than this!

But Terry sees a way through. The tree is so massive that it spans a ditch next to the road. We can crawl under it. And do. Water up to my thighs and this damn tool bag on my back. The smell of wet earth choking me. My face kissed by roots dripping with mud. Almost lose my glasses in black ditch water. As if they're of any use.

Then we're running again. Half way to the neighbor's house. And I'm out of breath. Batteries slapping against my spine. And a hammer drill. And a reciprocating saw. And everything else. Cold wind in my throat. Hot sweat running down my arms. Glasses starting to fog. I'll be useless when we get there. If we get there.

And headlights coming through the storm. A truck heading our way. Come to give us a lift? No. To let us know they had pulled their mother free. They're taking her somewhere. But they have to use back roads. If any roads still exist. If any places are open. If any doctors survived. Their adventure is just beginning.

Turning home. Somehow the rain hits harder. When I was eight, a crazy old lady shot me with rocksalt for walking through her field. Katrina feels like that shotgun blast. On my face. On my neck. On my hands. Endlessly.

Silently starting the trip back to Judy's, we nod to each other. Knowing that we tried.

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