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When August 1 dawned cool and overcast, I headed out to tend the garden that had been neglected for weeks due to the discomfort of triple-digit temperatures and intensely sunny weather. Forgoing a hat, I gathered my clippers, basket and tarp, and as I stood to take stock of things to figure out where to begin, I noticed an enormous, billowing, charcoal grey cloud hanging in the western sky.

I set about to weed out the grass and deadhead the roses and coneflowers, enjoying the deliciousness of the cool breeze on my skin.

I looked up often to keep an eye on any changes in the menacing cloud. It was getting closer. A nasty color of puce had combined with shades of magenta and deep purple to give its underside the appearance of a severe bruise. That could mean only one thing-hail.

The atmosphere was darkening so quickly, I did not wait for the winds to pick up before I went inside to insist that my teenage son turn off the computer. But where was the wind? The sound of a huge cottonwood crashing to the ground across the creek marked its arrival. With piercing lightning, thunderous booms and one horrific blast, the colossal, hail-laden cloud dropped out of the sky, crashing right on top of us. That hideous, bilious color infused the interior of the home with such density that I could not see anything. Totally disoriented, nauseous and afraid, I closed my eyes. I firmly held the banister to make my way to the lowest point of the house. I had to yell to be heard over the sound of the storm, to tell my son to get away from the windows and quickly join me in the protection of the stairwell. While the inside was a blackout, the outside was a whiteout with hail and debris blowing east at a horizontal angle and high rate of speed.

After 10 minutes the violence subsided and we ventured out. Pieces of trees and plants lay everywhere. Concerned and apprehensive, I stood on the deck watching the nearby creek below to see what it would do. Within five minutes the water rose from its pleasant, wadeable, summer level to surge above its banks. The rushing, muddy water carried huge, whole trees as if down a lumber chute. After wiping out the irrigation takeout, they snagged and accumulated, instantly creating a six foot dam that forced the water to briefly flood our yard. This was when I called my husband on the cell phone to tell him what I was seeing. I knew from the unconcerned tone of his voice that he had no clue what I was talking about which meant that, though he was not far away, he had not experienced this weather.

Without electricity, we could not get news on radio or TV, so we set out on foot with the digital camera to try to learn what had happened.

Residents who were able were doing the same. We poured out onto the streets, circles, dells and ways to determine where help was needed and more than anything, connect with one another, a most human need after a crisis. The sturdy, brick ramblers of the neighborhood had served as protective bunkers, and we did not hear of any serious injuries. Folks were breathing the moist, chilly air with relief, speaking loudly across streets and fallen fences of their stories and observances.

Everything OK over there?

We're all right, how about you?

Need any help?

Do you know the top of your big pine tree is gone?

That is the first time I have ever seen water come through my kitchen window.

I'll ask my husband to come up when he gets home from work to help you get that tree limb off your roof.

Too bad it has taken a moment like this to finally meet each other.

Thank goodness no one was hurt.

What a mess!

Everyone was accounted for and damage appeared to be limited to trees and property. A deck and carport had blown away. Huge trees, some 100 years old, at Reid School, Skyline High School and the nearby LDS ward had been uprooted and were lying down as if just taking a rest on the ground. Other trees took electrical wires with them as they fell, and many were blocking the roads. Phone poles on the frontage road had snapped in two.

Soon the sounds of neighbors' voices and water dripping off eaves and running down curbs was accompanied by the growl of chainsaws, distant sirens, and big trucks from Rocky Mountain Power making their way into the neighborhood. A big red firetruck cruised through, firemen waving at drenched teenagers who had abandoned their nonfunctioning electronic devices and left the house in their flip flops.

By evening, when the power came on in time to cook dinner, I was relieved and grateful the news had not been worse for our community which was the hardest hit. At night, restlessness took the place of slumber for me. I rose and looked out the window while recalling the events of the day to see the beams of high powered flashlights and hear the sounds of workmen shouting and heavy equipment still operating on the streets.

By morning, huge piles of remarkably green and healthy looking brush and tree limbs lined the streets. A power company cherry picker made its way down our driveway to mend damaged lines that ran over the creek. A crew from the county came to figure out how to dislodge the log jam. The storm had allowed the creek to rid itself of all previous human attempts to alter its flow or bring more aesthetic appeal to the view from one's deck. It ran calm and free. Though evidence of the catastrophe was all around, I was cheered by the beautiful, cool, sunny day, admiring the industriousness of my neighbors and the care I know is here for all of us when help is needed.

Merry Harrison is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
For class schedule and to ask questions: www.millcreekherbs.com

Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine

Other Creekside articles...

Waiting For Spring  •  Nine Hawks  •  Infestation  •  Backyard History  •  Taken By Water  •  A Backyard Wilderness

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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