A Seattle Summer Storm

In Seattle, a city often jibed for year round rain, one wouldn’t expect a simple storm to draw much attention. But for almost two weeks now, we’ve enjoyed a spat of phenomenally nice weather, such that this early evening we had a brief storm worthy of note.

The sky was mostly blue, with scattered clouds strewn about – nothing indicative of a storm. Yet as I sat on my porch, I saw a flash from the corner of my eye, followed shortly thereafter by thunder.

Thunder! What an wondrous thing. It seems to come from one direction at first, but instantly begins to echo and reverberate from all directions with a sound of ominous, rolling force – completely enveloping the listener without so much as touching a hair.

Soon, another flash, and another, followed by their own accompanying roar through the sky, all the while with the sun still shining and trees and grass looking upwards, eagerly awaiting the rains.

It’s a trickle at first, with a subtle breeze, followed by an outright deluge from the sky, despite a continued preponderance of blue. Where is it coming from? I can look upwards to the falling rains and the sun reflects off the rapidly moving droplets in odd and varied places, making the sky appear to sparkle with the brilliance of a thousand points of light on a journey back to the earth, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans from which they came.

But in the course of mere minutes, the bulk of the activity seems to have past, leaving behind a bluer sky, greener trees, wetter roads, and that familiar scent of a summer storm that was merely passing through. It is simultaneously a reminder of what our Autumn and Winter will bring, and a wake-up call to really appreciate the beauty and wonder of this and every day that passes by.

Copyright 2000, Ashley Guberman

A Lesson in White Water Humility

Sunday, May 18, 1997

It started simply enough. It was to be a white water trip down the Green River. There was a section with Class 2’s and 3’s, and another section with 3’s and 4’s. I was under the impression that I could safely do a class III, but a IV was pushing my limit of safety and sanity.

So we get on the water, and we’re doing the latter section. Never mind that the newspapers had just printed a front page article about raft-guides calling off trips because there was just too much water… I was with three other professionals. Never mind that I had not been in a boat in the last year – I just bought my very own Kayak. Never mind that the water was glacier fed and Ice-cold – I had a dry top on.

I remembered Kayaking with my younger brother last year. I was having a blast, and so was he, except that he was more over his head than I was. I tried to encourage him, but bailing out of the boat a few times has a funny way of draining away most of your ego and turning your thoughts to a nice walk.

So that’s where I was on this river. My companions told me the water was mostly Class-III, but either they were wrong, I was out of practice, or they classify rapids differently out here. Maybe all of the above. All I know is that there was a LOT of water, moving very fast, few eddies to pull into, and a big red sign hanging from the rocks: "DANGER – Continuous rapids ahead. Only expert boaters beyond this point!"

So far, I had been reasonably OK. I had already flipped twice, but managed to come back up. Adrenaline was quite high, but as the water got bigger, I became more and more timid. We passed the sign, and all of the sudden I felt very small. From my lowly spot inside my boat, the waves looked like mountains. I could see them ahead as I climbed the crest of one wave, then watched it get all the more ominous as I sank to the trough at its base. "DOWNSTREAM! — KEEP YOUR NOSE DOWNSTREAM, I told myself. Something that big taken from the side would spin me around so fast I’d end up somewhere inside of yesterday.

I paddled as hard as I could, but half way through any stroke and the river dynamics had completely changed. It was all I could do to keep breathing. Instead, I found I was gasping in a series of tiny gulps. I wanted desperately to scream, but my lungs refused to expel the air – perhaps knowing that at any moment I could be an under-water face plant, exploring the river bottom like Jacque Custeau.

And then it happened – with no recollection of how, I was now under water. My paddle was clenched in my hands, and I still had wits enough to try a roll, but I could not set up properly. The water on my face was brutally cold, and I was being tossed around from the bottom of a craft meant to float on the other side. I pushed and shoved my paddle to the side, but the current was just too strong. I decided to wait a while, and actually managed to count to three before trying again, hoping that I would have washed out of the worst of it.

No such luck. I tried my roll one last time, failed miserably, then set off my internal alarms: EJECT!! EJECT!! Reaching forward, I popped the handle on my spray skirt and headed for what should have been the front of my boat. Now completely out of the kayak, I swam for the surface, but it somehow seemed very far away. Surprisingly, I still had hold of my paddle as I broke the surface of the water alongside my boat. However, the danger was not yet over. I was still in the middle of this massive wave train, struggling to stay on the upstream side of the boat as it spun round and round in the current.

Though I know I only swam between 5 and 10 waves, it seamed like a quarter mile at that speed. My comrades where already in place helping me out – pushing my boat towards the river bank like dolphins trying to beach an injured whale. With the current as strong as it was, it took all three of them and my kicking as hard as I could to reach the shore.

I should have left the river back at the sign, but I didn’t, and now we were deep inside a gorge with steeply sloping banks. "It’s going to get considerably worse," one of them told me. It was about that time when I started thinking about the joys of a nice walk. I had been humbled by the Class-III’s, and knew that there were a series of IV’s coming up. So that left me with the choice of an uncertain future down this river bed, or a hellaceous bush whack uphill with a 40 pound, 10 foot boat. I chose to climb the hill, and was blessed with the opportunity to tell about it. It’s never too late to back out.


Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

Vernal Falls Yosemite National Park

As we finally begin our decent from half dome, the trail is filled with continuing marvels such as "vernal Falls". It is probably 300′ or more in height, and the sheer volume of water thundering out and over the drop fills much of the valley with the sound of its power. The water juts straight out from the top in massive sheets, only to be caught by gravity which shatters the sheets, then merges them together, then shatters them again as the water is crashed against the vertical wall.

There is an area surrounding the fall that is a perpetual cloud of mist. Along the edges, parts of the cloud appear to be leaping out in an attempt to escape the larger mass, only to be sucked back down to the pool at the base, or to instantly evaporate.

After coming closer towards the base, its splendor is only magnified. By the time the water finally reaches the bottom, it is moving at lightning speed. Droplets are screaming over the surface of the rock, desperately trying to slow themselves down. But no sooner does one drop land than another knocks it out of the way.

It looks like a torrential snow storm turned on end. The misty cloud at the base obscures everything from view — it is a magical zone where the forces of nature violently clash, yet give the outward appearance of serenity, beauty, and calmness.

Along the banks of the river below, huge wisps spin off from the cloud at great speeds — traveling outwards 200′ or more along the forest floor. There is an urge to walk closer and closer to the cloud — to somehow enter inside and experience the magic as only the water does. But those traveling wisps are brutally cold, and sting the skin as millions of tiny darts. The wisps are a warning to keep my distance, lest the cloud swallow me hole, and never let go.

Yosemite National Park
Vernal Falls
Ass Holes on Ice Hills

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

A Rainfall on K2

From the top of this outcropping rock-slab, the valley below and many more distant peaks are exposed before me. Yet despite the grandeur of my view, all my attention is drawn to a tiny trickle of water that flows beneath my feet.

A large section of the rock is wet, and 30 feet below, the water comes together to form ripples just before falling over a sharper edge where it is lost from view.

Scattered distantly across the rock face are what appears to be stream beds, except that they all point almost straight down — there merely to guide the water as it falls, rather than direct it to lower creeks and rivers.

And as I stand and watch the fleeing droplets below, the sky reveals that many more are to follow shortly in their path. It starts with a gentle mist that coats everything with a thin layer of moisture, then rapidly progresses to a major storm complete with lightning and thunder that hastens my retreat to safer ground.

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

Green Cove Dip Hole

I’m sitting on the edge of the dip-hole. It’s a very comforting place for me. The loud, drowning sound of the waterfall plunges into the icy pool below; the dense rhododendrons arch over the pool to form a finger-like umbrella; lots of water in perpetual motion, yet the whole area remains basically unchanged.

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

Wheatfield Branch

Blue Ridge Mountains, NC


I am lying down on a tiny sheet of plastic with all of my being intently focused on the art of staying dry. Ordinarily, this would be no big deal, except that I am once again under the tarps set up by Outward Bound students who are presently out on solo.

Fortunately, beneath the two plastic tarps 10′ by 14′ long, one can find a bodies-length of dryness if one looks carefully, remains diligent, and flips all the edges of ones ground sheet upwards to form a life raft. The moral of this story is never let students make mistakes that you can not get yourself out of.

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

A Passing Storm

It is a clear, sun-shiny day here at Green cove, yet the air is filled with the violent sound of thunder from over the mountains. Breezes here on the ground are gentle, yet a glance up through the trees reveals a turbulent sky filled with motion and activity.

Free from the burden of keeping dry, I seat myself on a rock in the middle of the cove — surrounded on all sides by mountains sloping steeply upward. Listening closely, the storm is neither approaching nor receding -instead, it is diligently moving around green cove — patiently surrounding the valley on all sides.

The sky is beginning to darken, and a light rain has begun to fall — early harbingers of a massive onslaught that could come at any moment. Yet rather than dropping her load on this peaceful community of green cove, mother nature seems to be moving on this time. At the height of tension, the sound of a single bird could be heard chirping off in the field, only then to be joined by others. As if by some magical authority, this solitary bird had called to all the others that the coast is clear, so that they could again go on with their daily activities.

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

Pole Creek Solo Area

Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

These are the mountains of North Carolina — it rains here. It rains a lot. Occasionally, there is a brief period of warning, such as the sound of distant winds carrying the rains in my direction, or the thunder that looms far way, then approaches my tarp, but most often it just rains.

The under side of a tarp has no doors, nor walls — it is merely a roof. As such, it affords one the opportunity to look out in all directions and see that there is no front, nor back to a rain storm — it is all just degrees of middle, and all of it is wet.

While the students are out on solo, I am under their group tarps. There are a few tiny spaces that are sheltered, but, the lower of the two tarps has now sunk completely to the ground and is collecting a pool of water now approaching 15 inches deep. All that is missing is the goldfish.

* * *

I’m sitting by the side of a small creek with my feet completely immersed in a hole I’ve dug. Like a child who’s shovel is his only toy, I’ve managed to cover myself in mud as I move dirt and sand from one place to another.

"Your making a mess!" I hear from the dark recesses of my mind.

"I don’t care!" is the prompt reply. I’m an adult now, and time has come to have some fun, even if I get muddy from my toes to my nose! The earth is full of dirt, and she delights in holding you deep within her arms! So go ahead — GET DIRTY!!

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

South of Three Forks Junction, Georgia

Having climbed steeply up the bank of a large gorge, we finally arrived at our point of crossing. From above, the water is calm, gentle, and cool. Hovering 6 inches above the surface of the water is a deep mist that burns off as it emerges from under the canopy of leaves and enters the direct sunlight.

Soon, the calmness is broken by sharp bends, long drops, and narrow passages. The water drops maybe 50 feet in as many yards, and on its vertical decent it strikes an upturned rock dead-on, splattering out in all directions, forming a broad flower pattern as the gorge widens momentarily to the light of day.

The banks are still steep and black, worn smooth in parts with the passage of time. As the channel continues down stream, the canopy again closes in around it, hiding the gorge from all but those who venture close to its edge.

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

Water Cycles

I am in constant wonder as I sit on the bank of small rivers or streams. The water flows down from above, climbing over or around the rocks and other obstacles in its path, and continues on its thoughtless journey down hill to the oceans.

The bank opposite me shows clear signs of erosion — a steep slope, bare rocks, and trees hovering well over the water, clinging desperately to the side with long, tentacled roots that bore deep into the ground.

Day and night, and throughout the seasons the water flows, always from an unknown and invisible source. Expanding my view, I look beyond the banks to see a dense and intensely green canopy of trees and vines. And further still, beyond the speckled holes in my leafy, lofty ceiling, a field of blue and purple holds on to the ever growing moisture sent up from below.

From lands far away, the sky is burdened to hold more and more water until at last she can hold no more. Having carried the clouds great distances, she becomes dark, tired, and forceful, and then returns her load to the ground from which it came.

Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman