Sunday, August 15, 2010

Stormy Weather

Yesterday afternoon as we were set to depart the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, it became as black as night outside and the skies opened to begin dumping over 5.6" of rain!  Winds drove the rain against the building.  Lightning sizzled and thunder added the exclamation point to the storm's dramatic entrance!  Needless to say, we got soaked heading to the car.

Sunday mornings are usually quiet with visitor traffic slowly building as the day progresses.  This morning, however, we were greeted at the end of the driveway by a sodden, ivy-covered pine trunk blocking our path.  Though the log was not so large that it couldn't be moved by hand, it was still securely anchored into the ground and ample poison ivy (Rhus radicans) guarded access to the trunk itself.  Among the Prius' qualities one will not find 4-wheel drive or off-road capabilities.  Unable to pass the log or handle it manually, we were left with no option but to walk the mile to the barn and fire up the old tractor. (Note to self: Get instructions on how to operate a tractor.)

After a quick, over-the-phone class on basic tractor operation, we notice the flat front tire.  After a quick shot of air from the compressor to inflate the tire, we fired up the tractor and backed it out of the barn.  We immediately noted that the tractor's steering is more sensitive than that of the Prius or any other vehicle we've driven.  The small, water-filled ditches on either side of the driveway, which we've previously given little thought beyond, "Wonder if there are any tadpoles in there?", suddenly appeared to be Panama Canal-size hazards.  The tractor, possibly having experienced a previous life as a Stephen King character, seemed determined to steer itself into one watery abyss or the other.

Once at the log, the difference in elevation between the driveway and the sloping road edge made it difficult to use the tractor's bucket to push the log completely to the side.  Eventually, however, the mission was completed without any roll-overs or damage.  For a first-time driver, that is a win.

After driving the tractor back to the barn, there was the mile walk back to the car, which was still marking the spot on the driveway where travel had ended more than an hour earlier.  By now, the neatly ironed Audubon staff shirt was drenched with sweat incapable of evaporating into the already-saturated August air. (Oh, yeah. That's what was missing in Europe...humidity!)  Walking down the maintenance road from the barn, we came upon a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) coiled in the sun at the road's edge.  It was undoubtedly in the same position when we made our walk in to get the tractor and went unnoticed as we contemplated the possible issues associated with first-time tractor operation.  It did not rattle, or strike, or even is usually the case.

Now, for those not paying attention during summer camp or previous blogs...ivy is poisonous and snakes, like the Timber Rattlesnake, are venomous.  It's never to late to learn the difference.  Afterall, it took almost 47 years to drive our first tractor!

Images by Mark Musselman

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