At the mercy of Mother Nature

– Experiencing a serious storm while sitting in a hot spring –

Summer Lake hot spring is a unique place in southern Oregon where we sometimes spend the night on the travels to and from our winter quarters. It is actually a bathhouse standing at the foot of the escarpment of a mountain range, very exposed, all by itself on the barren plains, not far from a vast dry lake. Nothing but dry grass around and the huge lake in the distance that is just dry or wet mud, depending on the season. It is a hundred years old raw, wooden, windowless structure that is almost falling apart. Inside is a rectangular 30 by 15 foot concrete pool. Out of a rusty pipe a stream of 100 degree water runs into it with a ceaseless joyful babble and spreads circular ripples over the surface. With 4 to 5 feet depth, it’s too deep to simply sit on the bottom but great to swim and weightlessly float around. Inside it is plain to see how the whole structure is barely standing upright, the studs, holding the roof, are all rotten away where the splash of the hot water touches them. The metal-covered roof not only leaks but provides a full view of the sky above, and birds fly in and out. As it all makes a pretty run down impression it is no surprise that we rarely meet other guests there, but just because of this rough and original atmosphere we love this place.

The lake and this hot spring are in lee of a magnificent mountain range, and each time when we were there we were amazed by spooky, wild wind gusts howling down from those rims out of the blue. This time, a monstrous gray cloud was hanging over these mountains like a torn blanket and pieces of it were continuously racing down the cliffs like avalanches. The wind gusts came like explosions, raged for a minute or so, rattled the motor home like crazy, and then left the place in mysterious, threatening silence again for unpredictable periods of time. In the distance, like in slow motion, an enormous dust cloud was continuously creeping across the lake bed – a gigantic crawling monster. A strange thin haze lay over the land.

We soaked in the pool until the night came and went to bed, but the wind gradually picked up and treated the motor home like a punch bag. It was already pitch dark when the wind got so strong and the shaking so wild that we got concerned and drove into the wind shade of the building, the only wind breaker far and near. After a few sleepless hours there and the wind still picking up we started to fear for the vehicle to tip over. I guess it was blowing more than 40 miles per hour. There was no clear prevailing wind direction in the turbulence zone of the house, it just hit us left and right; outside it was almost impossible to stand upright. Around midnight, in sheer desperation, we finally decided to flee into the bathhouse.

We slipped into the wonderful warm water, hugged each other, and stared up at the roof. The noise of the wind, tormenting the flimsy structure, was deafening, however, down at the water surface only occasional whiffs were brushing our faces. We heard the beams creaking and the roof boards flapping and actually saw the rafters trembling and moving. It was pitch dark, but we could see the clear starry sky through the holes in the roof. The house could collapse any moment, but what else could we do? Outside the motor home could have already flipped over.

Gradually the irresistible calming power of the water had an effect on us, I gently pulled my attention away from the frightening chaos above and noticed the wonderful comfort my body actually felt. I stopped thinking and worrying. Nothing to do but riding out the storm, letting things have their way and pay attention to what else is going on.

In fact, what a way to experience this weather! We didn’t talk much and just chuckled when one of the dormers above gradually started to break away and open up the view on the constellation Big Dipper in the sky. I fixed my gaze on Big Dipper up there in its eternal, uninvolved stillness and softly drifted into a dream-like state of deep calmness, resting in ultimate comfort while the crazy storm did its thing that had somehow nothing to do with me.

At some point in this timeless night it suddenly got really dark, clouds moved in and blocked the stars. Minutes later another sound was added to the fantastic raging orchestra: rain crashed against the building like a waterfall. Down in the water, we only got occasional sprinkles like ocean spray. The darkness was total now; it didn’t matter whether you had your eyes shut or open. Only hearing remained and feeling, some thinking babbled on in the background but was left unattended.

And the night ended, the wind let up quite a bit; things always change when you have the patience to endure their own schedule. When we felt our way out into the open again in the morning hours, shriveled up like prunes, I found the motor home intact, the kayaks on top still in place. It was still dark when we simply drove away, swaying like a sailboat on the ocean, the windshield wipers barely managing to give some view on the lonely road through the desert.

Twelve hours later, 200 miles further south, we slept like logs in merciful stillness through another desert night. And the following night, at another hot spring the thermometer dipped down into the teens. I left the heater on to save our plants. In the early morning, when we walked back from a soak, we arrived at the motor home with thick ice on our hair. Another 200 miles later, at the foot of the majestic Sierra Nevada, we looked for shade in a sudden heat wave. We climbed up to a 12000-foot pass with only a T-shirt on. By that time we had learned that a truly colossal weather system had hit pretty much the entire Pacific coast of the USA and caused tremendous problems everywhere, including the terrible Santa Anna winds in L.A. and the devastating fires related to that. And I’m sure this is only the beginning of what global warming will soon bring all over our beautiful planet.

                                 Klaus   Independence CA – Oct. 24. 2007

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