Monday, March 4, 2013


This is a repost of a piece that I wrote in May of 2010 about an event that happened in May of 2008:

It was a clear, sunny Spring day in Northwest Iowa. The last of the snow had melted the week before, and graduation was one week away. We Dordt students had finally entered into one of those rare windows where the weather was not only tolerable, but beautiful. 

Since I only had 11:00 Linguistics on Fridays, I was using my afternoon to visit my future cooperating teachers for my student teaching placements the coming fall. I had to find out just what I would be teaching, collect the necessary textbooks, and make sure I'd worked out just when I would be starting each placement. The 20-mile drive to Le Mars was enjoyable, and made me appreciate the midwest's flat landscape for a fleeting while: I could see fields of green and blue skies in every direction. I rolled down my window, opened my sunroof, and cruised down Hwy. 75 with my elbow resting gently on the door. 

The meeting was fine, and I found out I'd be teaching freshman World History for two different cooperating teachers. Leaving the school, I turned my visitor's badge in to the receptionist, who said: "You came down from Sioux Center, didn't you hun?"

When I nodded my affirmation, she said "You'd better get a move on; there's a storm coming." 
I smiled politely and thanked her for her advice, but silently questioned her sanity. A storm? There weren't any clouds in the sky, nor so much as a gentle breeze. These old Iowans sometimes started to lose their grip on reality a little early, I thought to myself. It was sad, really.

Just as I was concocting my own senile version of the receptionist in my head, I stepped outside to find that it was significantly darker than when I'd entered the school 40 minutes before. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, but charcoal clouds had materialized out of the blue and were blocking the sun enough to create a distinct dusk-like feeling. And yet, the sun was still high enough in the sky that it it bathed the cloud cover in an eerie greenish tint. On top of all this, the wind was blowing. Not hard, but threateningly. Everything looked surreal in this light: the cars, the trees, the traffic signs near the school. It was as though someone had taken a photo and adjusted the color saturation just a little, decreasing the reds and yellows, but increasing the blues and greens... This was how the sky looked before tornados and that was enough to send a chill up my spine. 

I wasted no time in getting back onto the highway. The leisurely joy-ride over, I rolled up my windows and shut my sun-roof. Just in time, it turned out: several tiny raindrops speckled my windshield. I waited a few seconds, and as no more raindrops hit, I began to relax my grip on the steering wheel. Then, as though a dam had burst in heaven itself, endless sheets of water began to pound my windshield. I braked just in time not to rear-end the car in front of me, which had also slowed to a crawl. I turned the wipers on to full-speed, but that made absolutely no difference. My view out the front of my car was a shimmery and blurry guess at taillights, road signs, dividing lines and gray. Ominous, dark, unforgiving gray. It felt like I'd forgotten to wear glasses, or lost my contacts. I followed the taillights in front of me at 10mph as the rain beat mercilessly down on the car. I trailed the car ahead for ten minutes, although with my senses of sight and sound distorted, it felt like hours. I was leaning forward, nose over the dash and knuckles turning white on the wheel. And then, the car ahead of me, my only clue to where the road was, my lifeline, turned into a short driveway. They were home. I still had 10 miles to go. 

I continued to drive blindly. Occasionally, I would see oncoming headlights through the barrier of liquid on my windshield. These headlights were usually far enough to my left that I knew I was in the correct lane. Once, they were directly in front of me and I had to adjust quickly to return to my side of the road. I was inwardly grateful I'd had the common sense to drive 5mph, because a car going the speed limit would have hydroplaned into a ditch or worse, making a fast adjustment like that. 

At that point, I knew the only way I would be perfectly safe was to get off the road, to wait the storm out. I turned onto a gravel side road, pulled off to the shoulder and parked. I turned off my car, and sat still, listening to the rain. It was impossible to discern the sound of individual raindrops; instead it sounded like the rushing and roaring of a waterfall. It seemed to be hitting my car from all angles, too, driven by the wind which was now pushing with all its might. 

My car shook and rocked as the storm raged on. I marveled at how strong and persistent this storm was, and how it seemed to have started in a matter of minutes with no warning. I was comforted by the thought that this storm would pass: there had been blue, sunny skies before, and there would be blue, sunny skies again. Storms came and went. They could be frustrating, scary and even dangerous to weather, but they never lasted. 

Eventually I felt the rain lighten up a little bit. My car was still shaking, but it was shaking less, as though the strong gusts of wind were coming less frequently than they had been. Recognizing my window of opportunity, I started my car and returned to the highway. The rest of the drive back to campus was still harrowing, although I could now catch clear glimpses of the road each time the wipers pushed layer after layer of rainwater aside. Parking my car, I made a mad dash to my apartment. In the course of running maybe 20 meters to the lobby door, the rain soaked me from head to toe--not a single square inch of me was dry... "How very typically Dordt", I thought to myself.

I changed into dry, warm clothes and sat by my 3rd story apartment window with a cup of tea and hot plate of Mac and Cheese in front of me. I watched the storm pick up again, this time with thunder and lighting, and silently thanked God I'd made it back safely.

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