The Tempest / by Brian Beck

I had no more than finished typing the last sentence of "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" when I heard the sizzle of raindrops on my campfire.  It caught me off guard.  We had explored Mesa Verde all day and while there were some dark clouds to the south of us, they were at least 100 miles away.  At eighty-five hundred feet, Mesa Verde has a commanding view of the surrounding desert three thousand feet below.  It's perfect for checking out the weather (or for spotting the enemy Navajo if you're an ancient Anasazi).  The summit of Mesa Verde serves as a fire lookout with a 160 mile, 360 degree view of the entire Four Corners region.  I checked the radar app on my phone several times throughout the day and it seemed to confirm my visual analysis:  the storms were headed well south of us. 

I was wrong.  About 11pm, the first flashbulbs of lightning lit up the night sky.  They lacked the telltale caboose of thunder so I assumed it might be the edge of one of the storms to the south.  As a precaution though, I closed up my computer and threw the kids' shoes inside the tent.  I put my computer and camera in the trunk of the car, threw another log on the fire to combat the sprinkles and poured myself another scotch.  Time to sit back and watch the light show.

The rain came a little harder and just as I was thinking it might be time to retire, the sky lit up like daytime.  I counted... 1, 2, BOOOOOMMMMM.  About the same time that the thunder rattled my fillings, the heavens opened.  When you're sleeping in a tent, rain sucks.  I mean, it really, really sucks.  We have a good tent, not like the heavy, leaky army-style tents we used as kids that were more colander than canvas.  The modern ones repel water pretty well, but they are still designed more for the sprinkle than the flood.  And in a matter of seconds, it was about to flood.  The drops weren't falling, they were being driven to the ground as if from a meteorological machine gun.  I dove into the Pontiac just as another bolt of lightning struck up the hill from us, close enough to see the auxiliary flash where it hit the ground.  This time, the thunder caboose was attached to the engine.

Then the wind started.  I could feel the car starting to shake and through the wall of water that was now falling I could see the little tent quivering like an 80's break dancer between the strobes of lightning.  If the kids were awake (how could they not be), I couldn't just leave them there.  I mean, I could... it would be deserved payback for all the pinching and hitting the past several weeks.  What is the right price to pay for starting every single solitary sentence with "Daddy..." and ending it with "in the Clone Wars."  I mean, there has to be a cost for that, right?  The next crash of thunder brought me back to reality and I gritted my teeth, opened the door and ran for the tent.  I unzipped it and dove in, holding my soaked and muddy shoes in the air in a contorted yoga pose that I like to call "inverted armadillo."

Samantha was balled up in the corner of the tent and Parker lay motionless on his back, mouth open, looking like a dead trout.  With a tempest raging around them, they didn't move a muscle.  They were dead to the world.  I laid there in inverted armadillo thinking about how we were going to break camp in the morning and how everything would be covered with mud, which now included the inside of our tent.  If it had waited just one more day, just one more, we would have escaped three weeks camping in the West without getting wet.  If it let up by daybreak, by the time we dealt with all the wet gear we'd probably get out around 11am, which would get us into Las Vegas about twelve hours later at best. I thought about how I would tell this story and then suddenly realized I should be documenting this!  As the storm wound down, I got out my phone and managed to get a little bit of video.  And later, with the last few drops of rain tapping on the tent, I emerged, dashed to the car and set up my camera to see if I could get a killer shot of the lightning receding over the mesa.  I made the necessary adjustments, popped the shutter open and waited, listening to the other campers crawling out of their tents with nervous laughter and more than a few four letter words.  10, 15, 20 seconds.  Click.  Try again.  10, 15, 20 seconds.  Click.  Too late.  Like the Anasazi, the storm had vanished.  

 Outtake.  I opened the shutter about 30 seconds too late.  The last crack of lightning happened just as I put the camera on the tripod.  I set up the composition and fired off a few frames but the subject failed to appear.  You can't win them all.  Nikon D800, 17-35mm lens @ 19mm, f 3.2, iso 2500, 15 seconds.

Outtake.  I opened the shutter about 30 seconds too late.  The last crack of lightning happened just as I put the camera on the tripod.  I set up the composition and fired off a few frames but the subject failed to appear.  You can't win them all.  Nikon D800, 17-35mm lens @ 19mm, f 3.2, iso 2500, 15 seconds.

Canyon Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. Nikon D800, 24-120mm lens at 24mm, iso 100, f8, 1/200th sec.

Kids climb the narrow steps out of Canyon Palace, Mesa Verde National Park.  Nikon D800, 24-120mm lens @ 46mm. iso 100, f8, 1/100 sec.