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Saturday, 25 June 2011

A Sandhills Thunderstorm

The calm after the storm. It’s a beautifully still morning, 61 degrees. There’s blue sky to the west, the clouds are swiftly clearing to the east, and we are hoping to take a long hike. But do we trust it? Well, we certainly don’t trust the online forecast for Merriman that I’ve been looking at these past few weeks. To be kind to it, let’s say the website looks pretty and always manages an upbeat tone. Great qualities if you’re working behind the supermarket check-out. As for forecasting the weather, well, as we say in Yorkshire, it’s about as much use as a chocolate fire-guard. Yesterday we were promised sunshine, a few clouds and a 10% chance of a shower. They were covering their rear ends with that 10%; no doubt about it. After last night’s escapades I’d like to know who the lucky 90% were who got away with it.

We were more tired than we expected after our trip to the old Jules orchard place and Mari’s gravesite. Neither of us had slept particularly well on the hard ground out there, and in the afternoon we both fell asleep over our books – or in my case the Guardian Weekly – and that despite the excitement of seeing within its pages a letter from my brother.

Later I stirred myself and mowed the grass at the front of the house. The pictures A. took suggest that I got carried away and started attacking the entire 6000 acres. Not so: what I was doing was trying to ensure that I have a clear path from here to the track that leads onto the hillside above us. The weeds out there, many of them sunflowers, are really taking off.

We’d told the Morelands that we’d be at their place around seven, and decided we’d better leave here at six thirty. The steep part of the track that leads up onto the pasture has been cut and re-shaped several times this week by the  rain and is becoming more and more of a challenge. As we looked out, half an hour before we left, it seemed to be getting dark towards the west. I put on the radio, to be greeted with the news that there was a severe weather watch for the Panhandle.

The trouble with living down here by the river is that you only see so much of the sky. You don’t get the big picture. But even when we drove up to the top it was hard to read the clouds. I’ve already seen plenty of menacing skies out here that have resulted in no rain whatsoever. Looking to the north, we could see that rain was coming, but how much? We got out of the car, paused a few moments to watch the lightning bolts carving vivid lines through the grey wall, shrugged our shoulders and carried on.


The wind hit us about half a mile later, just before we got to Matt’s workshop. I’d wound my window down to see whether the rain had started and it hit me like something solid, rocking the car sideways. Matt and Kitty were out closing doors, generally battening down the hatches. ‘Keep going!’ Kitty yelled. ‘You’ll get blown to the highway at least.’

For the moment this seemed like fun: we were indeed propelled along the dirt road at a fair old lick. Then, just as we got to the cemetery, the rain started, suddenly, a thick grey curtain of it coming in from the north, meaning it was hitting against my side of the vehicle – which was good news, since A. had wound her window down and was snapping photographs.

Already there were puddles along the road, and had I had a sturdier car I would have driven on the grass, but with next to no shock absorbers and highway tyres (old ones) – forget it. By now it was almost dark, despite being an hour and a half from sundown, and the visibility wasn’t the greatest.

When we got to the highway we took stock. Was it safe to go on? What would happen if we turned back? We called Ken. ‘You got four-wheel drive?’ he asked. ‘Sure.’ ‘Well, you ought to get through, but don’t drive on the gravel. Drive on the sod.’

 We nosed out tentatively onto the highway, drove the few hundred yards to his entrance and stopped at the autogate. The puddles had engulfed both the drive and the surrounding grass, and the rain was still lashing down.

We got home rather more easily than we’d feared. If the rain had done anything it seemed to have filled in a few cracks on the final slope down towards the red house. And I don’t think we’d been back twenty minutes when we looked out and saw the hills to the south glowing in a strange orange light. Make what you will of these pictures: I merely pointed and shot.

This morning we can’t make up our minds. Do we risk the hike we’d planned, or do we pace up and down waiting to see what the weather does? One thing you can bet on: we won’t be visiting that website again.

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