Friday, June 10, 2016

Marooned at the Refuge

The pristine wilderness of the wildlife refuge.
An afternoon in the Edwin B.Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge highlighted my week. Visiting friends are avid bird watchers and the park offers ideal sightings.

The sun sparkled as we left home, but the sky began clouding over as we entered the park. Weather.com noted the possibility of rain 60% in the late afternoon. It was around noon. 

The unpaved park road meanders about eight miles through the refuge. Short walking trails dot the park and we planned to hike a couple of trails observing flora and fauna close up. Our keen-eyed passengers spotted animal life and we stopped often for pictures. I felt we were unwanted intruders disturbing the solitude, lone visitors this weekday. Casino towers of Atlantic City loomed over ten miles away in one quadrant of our 360 vision, while along the horizon marsh and bay waters, stretching to the Atlantic Ocean, met gray sky, our view unmarred by cars or humans.
 
The sky clouds over 
As the wind picked up clouds drifting overhead became increasingly ominous. The sun retreated, the atmosphere more like twilight than high noon.

My phone beeped, indicating an incoming message. I read aloud:

“Alert. Code RED Weather Warning: The National Weather Service has issued a Severe Thunderstorm warning for your location from 12:37 PM until 1:15 PM.”

It was 12:38 P.M.

My phone and hub’s phone rang simultaneously, the same recorded Code RED message playing.

Why were we the recipients of these warnings? After Superstorm Sandy, our town advised residents to subscribe to National Weather Service alerts for our area as well as to our city’s automated phone service communicating warnings of storms, power outages, and other unusual occurrences.

Before the message ended, the wind started whistling and swirling around us. The temperature plunged and rain, initially a drizzle, swiftly increased in intensity and fierceness, battering the car’s roof and windshield.

We closed the windows, tightened our seat belts, and hub picked up speed.

No one said much, everyone too intent on the activity encircling us. Tension inside the car soared as the storm raged outside. We all thought: let’s get out of here. Now, our leisurely-paced tour of the wildlife refuge transformed into a strong desire to get out of the open as soon as possible, quickly but safely.

The landscape totally flat, the road barely a couple of feet above water, questions rolled around our brains, everyone too petrified to voice their fears: What happens if the waters begin rising? What do we do if waves wash over the road? The winds rattle our car? We love our Mazda, but it is not the sturdiest vehicle to withstand a storm.

News headlines flashed through my head: Black Mazda found in national park bay. Search continues for survivors…

We stared straight ahead, silently beckoning the woods ahead closer. We held our breath as the car forged ahead on the narrow dirt road separating two wildly choppy bodies of water, windshield wipers furiously shifting back and forth, the only sounds shattering rain and howling winds.

After an interminable amount of time, but probably only 15 minutes, we reached the woods. The park exit half a mile away, our fears subsided and tensions eased, thrilled we avoided a calamitous end.

“Uh-oh, I can’t believe it,” hub’s voice broke the silence.

Staring straight ahead, our eyes widened at the sight of a tree across the road directly in front of us, a massive, unmovable trunk with no way around it.

Headlines: Tree falls in wildlife refuge and four tourists hear it. Unfortunately it was the last thing they heard…

I grabbed the park brochure on the seat next to me and dialed the park number.

“Hello, Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge,” a woman’s cheery voice announced.

“We are on the road through the park, about a half mile from the end, and there is a tree in the road. We can’t pass.”

“You are in the woods?”

“Yes.”

“OK, I will contact the park rangers and they will be there shortly.”
Hub and I attempting to move the tree off the road.
Suddenly giddy and laughing about our plight, marooned in the wilderness, we grabbed our cameras and phones and took pictures.

Twenty minutes passed. A white pickup truck with lights on drove towards us, barely visible through the limbs and leaves of the fallen tree.

A ranger got out and walked over to us.

“The weather is gnarly. Can’t remove the tree until the weather improves. Turn around and drive back along the road. You’ll make it.”

“Gnarly?” I repeated to my three companions.

“Really bad,” Jane explains.

Headline: Gnarly Weather Blamed as Four Tourists Perish in Sudden Storm.

On the return trip through the park we noticed this fellow
surviving the storm by sheltering in place.
With sighs of resignation and stomachs starting to growl, we turned around and retraced our drive.

The remainder of the trip proved blissfully uneventful. The rain slowed to a trickle and the sinister clouds dissipated. In the distance blue slivers pierced the sky and a couple of rays of sun shone through.

Reaching the end of the park road, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and imparted loud shouts of joy. All four of us experienced enough pristine, solitary wilderness for one day. Actually for the entire summer.

But we got some great pictures. And memories.
After the storm we enjoyed lunch at a bar on the bay. I was so cold I bought a sweatshirt.
Storm over but winds still strong.

7 comments:

  1. This made me smile because I have many times composed newspaper headlines for my personal disasters. We are both gonna have to learn how to do # or whatever is current thing now.

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    1. I guess we are never too old to learn new tricks - or so I am told...

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  2. That sounds a little TOO exciting, but it ended well, and I like the image of the turtle sheltering in place.

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    1. Enough excitement for a long, long time!

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  3. Scary stuff for sure. Happy you survived and will be able to keep your posts flowing!

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