The last time I walked this stretch of the Madison I got caught out in the open in a fast moving thunderstorm where I was the tallest object around and perfectly grounded while I was knee-deep in river water. The surprise storm brought a moody darkness and a chilling wind that did nothing to make me feel comfortable. Lightning has always scared the daylights out of me and I couldn’t decide whether I was safer staying in the river or hugging the flat grassy shoreline in soaking wet clothes. Another conundrum!
Just as I was moving out of the river a powerful bolt of searing white light exploded into the ground a mere football field away from me and up on the bank. The attack was so loud that I couldn’t hear it. My brain only registered it as a very strong pressure wave that pushed against my skeleton and then set my whole body tingling from the electrically charged air. I couldn’t imagine a worse place to be stranded. I was trying to remember the facts about lightening that I learned at the science museum in Boston many years ago. Nothing surfaced in my clogged brain except the point that a lightning bolt could discharge about a BILLION volts in less than a second.
The back part of my brain where hundreds of generations of prehistoric learning resides, took over. I decided to head for the spot where the lightning hit the ground. It would certainly be the odds-on safest little plot in the valley since everyone knows that lightening never strikes twice in the same spot. It must be true! Please let it be true!
The only flaw in that plan was the 100 yards of open space I had to cover to get to the safe spot. The back part of my brain was screaming at me to move quickly…but not to run…”and why not run”, I asked the rear of my brain which was now in charge? “Because”, it answered, “running will attract the attention of the storm.” At the time it made perfect sense and I walked quickly but did not run.
The storm passed as suddenly as it had appeared. Before I even got to the safe spot the lightening was a mile away and the rain and wind had both quit to an eerie and uncomfortable stillness.
Then, in a flash, sunshine and warmth descended from heaven and the place looked like a rocky mountain dreamland again. My fears were washed away and forgotten.
That was a couple years ago..
Today I was revisiting that spot because I had the sense that I was not completely together when I was here last and I probably missed searching in areas about the size of Rhode Island. I wanted to come back and look again..with all my wits…
So here I was walking the river..back and forth in areas where my sight overlapped. Every inch in every 100ft column would be looked at twice from different directions. I knew how to search..what I wasn’t sure about was what in the heck I was searching for..a blaze of some kind..a mark or geological remnant or device that would be around for a hundred or more years…semi to fully permanent. As I approached the bank of the river on pass number 117 I saw something odd in a foot of clear water about three feet out…
Just sitting there. It was about ten inches on each side and about five inches high. Is that a latch? Is that thing made of bronze? It’s not supposed to be in water!!!!
I grabbed my camera and took a set of pictures.
I put the camera down and leaped into the water straddling the object. I bent down and touched it gently…rough, not smooth…I dug at the gravel around it with my fingers…deeper than five inches…much deeper…
Not the chest…
A concrete pier.
But it gave me an exciting moment..twenty seconds of HOLY COW!!!