Saturday, June 12, 2010

What are you ~really~ afraid of?

Last night we camped about 11 miles north of all the flooding in Arkansas, and about twelve hours behind it.

The ranger stopped us coming into Ouachita. She'd had a hard night evacuating, she said. "I'm not telling you not to go in, but I will say be careful." She looked behind me to the back seat. "I see you got little ones. Yall be real careful, okay. They lost eleven people on down river."

We crossed a few washed-out bridges and found a horse camp that looked dry. We stretched out in the Tahoe, didn't backpack, didn't set up a tent. A horse camp is a clearing near the road but away from the main park, dry enough that you can back in horse trailers, but isolated enough that you can enjoy the solitude. We were all alone, but there were fresh droppings and hay that said someone had left that morning.

Another ranger pulled into the camp, this one a younger guy. "What time did yall leave this morning?"

"Why's that?" I said.

"I guess yall didn't hear the news yet. They're pulling bodies out of the water down at Albert Pike. I won't ask yall to leave, but be real careful. You should be okay up here, but further down the mountain, they got hit real hard. I'd keep them kids out of the creek."

It was me and my two kids, nine and ten, boy and girl respectively. The creek was still screaming from the night before. Yes, we swam in it, but in a shallow wash about two feet deep. My son found about a hundred baby salamanders, and my daughter was the only one brave enough to do push-ups in that freezing mountain gush.

"I keep feeling like someone's watching us." That was my son. Near dusk, we had to shoot his pellet gun into a stump crouched in the treeline like bigfoot. I had to walk them over to prove it was just a stump and not some mountain monster.

In their defense, it did look like a crouching monster. The frosted sugar side of me half expected the stump to jump up and charge when I shot it.

That night, my daughter said, "I'm getting freaked out," when she heard what sounded like a coyote. I don't know the Arkansas sounds, but it wasn't a coyote. Sounded small, though, and I had my .410, so no worries.

I stood outside the Tahoe listening to the kids watch Hotel for Dogs. I kept stoking that wet fire wood until it caught -- wet wood will burn if you get it hot enough -- and watched it burn down. I don't normally get wigged-out on campouts, but last night I couldn't let go of that little single-shot .410. It's the gun I had growing up, a kid's gun, and if animals have souls, I'm gonna be royally fucked because of that shotgun.

It gets so dark out there you can't see your feet when you piss. I can't speak for women, but I figure squatting down in that sort of dark is borderline insane. I'm glad I didn't have to squat.

Something kept nagging at me. And I'm not the sort who gets nagged, not by bullfrogs and fireflies and a creek in the background. I grew up on a lake, on a creek, catching bullfrogs and fireflies and murdering things with that .410.

I called my wife today when we got back into cell phone range. She was as wigged-out as her daughter, glad to hear from us. "I saw this thing about this lady," she said, "whose daughter got swept off into the current. They could hear her screaming, and they heard other kids screaming, too. They said most of the dead will probably be kids."

"It's so dark out here, baby, that if the kids got swept off, there's nothing I could've done about it. I wouldn't be able to see them, or the shore, or anything else. With all the clouds last night and the lack of moon, I couldn't see the ground at my feet."

And that's when it hit me. That's what I was afraid of all night: Me not seeing a thing, and hearing that scream fading off down river.

- Eric


Raquel Byrnes said...

*Shudders* As a wife and mother THIS very scenario is what sends me into cold sweats. Losing my entire life in one night. That crazy man and those hyper kids of mine are my world. How scary for you and your wife.

So glad you guys are fine. For Pete's sake...just go to Disneyland or something next time! o_0

L. Diane Wolfe said...

After everything that happened, I wouldn't have stayed there. Not a chance!

dolorah said...

I'm with Diane; I can't believe you stayed - and got your toes wet in the creek.

I sorta understand though; the crisis had already passed, and it seems like you were as careful as you could be. Humans have a bad habit of either turning tail and running away from life, or being very stupid to prove their immortality.

I'm glad you did neither. You showed your kids that they can handle things that go bump in the night. A valuable life lesson for them as they grow up.

Welcome back Eric. Glad the trip worked out, and you're back safe.


Lola Sharp said...

Whew! I'm so glad you are okay. The news showed some horrific damn sad.
I was really worried about you.
I bet your wife was shitting bricks. (I would have been freaking the hell out.)

Glad y'all are okay. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Yikes! As a parent, anything that really threatens my kids terrifies me. I'm so glad you're all safe.

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Yikes! Welcome home!


Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

BTW, did you unstick your gladiator? Pop over to my blog when you get a chance. I shared the title of my wip in SS's blogfest.

~That Rebel, Olivia

dolorah said...

I've given you an award at my blog.


Nighfala said...

If I was your wife, I would have been really, really upset at you for staying there.

Not just because of the flooding - the news coverage of which was so horrible and depressing that we had to turn it off after a few minutes - but because I am a firm believer in a "sixth sense" of danger. If all your warning signals are going off, you should get the heck outta there.

But, I gotta say... Push-ups in a stream? In the water? Really? Your daughter must be really tough!

I envy your outdoor lifestyle. I can barely get my son to walk a block to school. When I say he needs some fresh air, he says he prefers the air in the car.

Nighfala said...

PS Your wife clearly has a lot of confidence in your ability to protect your kids, which is cool.

Sarah Ahiers said...

crazy! I can't believe you stayed!

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Wow, man. That sounds harrowing as hell! And you *nailed* that fear: "Me not seeing a thing, and hearing that scream fading off down river." Dude.

Eric W. Trant said...

Raquel: Yeah, it's a nightmare to think on these things. I'm glad to be back at work where at least I have an illusion of safety. I clicked on the light while I was out there and pondered how ironic it is that we think a little flashliight makes us safe.

Diane: Chicken!

Donna: My kids were brave and I was proud. My son held firm. I mentioned a night walk and he was all over it. Brave and stupid: just like Daddy!


Lola: The mood down there was as bad as the pictures. Yes, my wife was shitting some bricks. She's pregnant, so I worried about her, too.

Jemi: Probably the toughest thing about the weather threatening your kids, is that the weather can't be stopped.

Olivia: YES I unstuck my Gladiator! I had a long conversation with the muse up there and back and around the campfire.

Christine: My daughter is as tough as her momma. Just because they panic every once in a while doesn't mean they aren't brave and tough. And yes, my wife has a lot of confidence in me. She definitely lets me wear the pants!

Falen: Yes, it was crazy, but that makes for a wonderful campout story. The kids are already telling everyone how scary it was.

Zoe: Scary thoughts, huh. I need to think on other things, though, because that's too haunting of an image for me.

- Eric

Anonymous said...


You nailed it: parents are so helpless as their kids get swept up and away from them--metaphorically and physcially.

Parenthood is tough. Glad you all made it home safely.


Phoenix said...

This post gave me chills. (Sorry, just reading this now, I'm doing everything backwards, aren't I?)

I would have stayed like you did, but then, I'm not a parent, so I don't know what it feels like to take absolute responsibility for children. If I ever become a parent though I'd like to be like you - I don't want to make my choices out of fear but I'm not gonna put my kids directly in harm's way either.

This balance thing is tough, isn't it.