Paying the Piper

Obviously we are completely smitten by the fact that we could finally live exactly where we want, and this lake house is just the best place ever.

I get that it’s not everyone’s idea of paradise – some people want their water salty, some don’t (gasp!) want water at all, some people need the thin, dry air of a mountain top and others like to sweat in the dry sand and have green rocks for a yard.  But we have exactly what we wanted and have been wallowing in it unashamedly.

Our lake provides a place to cool off, breezes from a water cooled open area covering many acres, a liquid playground for all kinds of activities, a killer view, instant fishing opportunities and

a whole new way to be terrified by Mother Nature. 

I admit I am a sissy when it comes to violent weather.  And for me, violent is defined as anything that scares me at all.  Period.

We were in Hurricane Ike in Texas.  We were on the ‘clean’ side, 35 miles from the coast, and still I was certain throughout that long and frightening night that we would, at best, own a house in the morning that had no roof. If there is a catastrophic outcome possible, I will have thought of it and be obsessing about its possibility as soon as the first weatherman says, “There’s a 60% chance of…”

So imagine the things I was able to conjure in my fevered mind when the National Weather Service gave me 48 hours notice that high winds, flooding rain and possible tornadoes were headed my way, especially over lake areas.


Thanks for the warning guys.

I immediately began eyeing the many large trees ringing our property, calculating their heights and the possible angles of their precipitous falls (most of them directly on my house, garage, or boat dock of course, because why fall if not to destroy my stuff?)

I scurried around the house and yard, moving potted plants to the ‘safe’ North side of the house away from the direct assault of the storm approaching from the SW, piling deck chairs and tables together away from windows, moving cushions and candle lanterns indoors, rolling up doormats and stuffing them all in the garage.

Then my Practical But Absent Husband, hereinafter referred to as Poobah, messages me on Skype and says “Get the flashlights, crank radio, weather radio, and dog leash where you can get them in a hurry.”  Check, check, check, and check.  Took all but one flashlight and stuck them in our ‘Tornado Room’ which is the closet of the guest room, tucked neatly up under the concrete garage floor, into the hillside, on the NW side of the house.

It’s the only closet I have ever had that is outfitted with two plastic adirondack chairs (with cushions).  The years of me cowering in the basement with my Barbie Dreamhouse amid the lime stains are over, my friend.  I will now cower in comfort with wall to wall carpet and summer furniture.

So I’m ready.  I’m prepared. I’m meeting this storm with an adult attitude and only slight nausea and shivering.

[Side bar: am I the only one who discovered, as the first time parent of a 4 year old, that suddenly I was the one in charge of making storms not scary while actually being scared out of my pants?  The one who had to smile and act like “Pfffft! what’s a little cloud-to-ground lightning that hit our house? Who cares if that tree limb just clipped the eaves?” To my credit, I must have done a good job of being calm on the outside, because that former 4 year old slept through the above mentioned hurricane in his own bed a dozen years later.]

So anyway, I’m ready.  I thought. Then the Poobah says,

“Have you checked the cables on the dock?”

MY DOCK??? My beautiful, floating, expensive, brand new dock? The one that holds my beloved motorized water toys? The dock with the new lights and little indoor/outdoor rug and box full of non-motorized water toys? THAT DOCK???

“No,” sez I, “I haven’t.  Why?”

Well. Turns out there are even more Laws of Physics that I am unable to convert to real life Problems With Solutions that involve cable tension, pivot degrees, torque, and all sorts of other stupid science terms that basically boil down to new ways to stress me out during major weather events.

The cables on our dock run neatly off each back corner and are anchored to the rock on which the house sits.  In addition, to avoid (as much as possible) having the dock roof catch a 50mph breeze and become a sail, we have cement filled anchors deep in the water, tied to more cables secured to the front of the dock.  Forgive me for thinking this was my ‘storm preparedness’.

Our lake level fluctuates throughout the year as Alabama Power leaks water out of their dam for more science-y stuff and the cables need to be occasionally tightened or loosened to keep a fairly normal tension on them so the dock doesn’t swing off to one side or the other.  No biggie.  The racheting ‘tock tock tock tock tock’ sound of someone doing a little cable adjusting is a normal sound around here.


See the nice cable shining in the sunlight on the left? There is a corresponding one on the right.

No one told me we also had to do OTHER things to the cables when a storm is coming.

Plenty of people don’t.

The summer people for starters.

But then this happens:


Thank you to Ivan Diaz for these three pictures, posted October 14, 2014.

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So fine.  My hatches are battened down.  I’m ready for this ordeal except, apparently, for the dock.

I abandon the emotionless written words of Skype messaging and call my Poobah for precise, no nonsense verbal instructions on how to save my dock and my sanity.

His instructions?

“Hmmm. I’m not real sure.”

Eventually we settled on a combination of “loosen the east side so it doesn’t rip it out of the pulley then tighten the creek side so the dock stops twanging it when it shifts” and “I don’t know, does it look right?”.

Since it was starting to rain already and I was pre-nauseated from an entire day of gusty 25mph winds pushing the front of my house (and dock) we decided that it did look right and I retreated upstairs to the relative safety of my hilltop house.

On a normal day, this is what my house looks like when you come from the South…

DSCF1208…and this is where we start Paying the Piper.  Because Monday this tranquil view was marred by whitecaps, black skies, and all those freaking trees whipping around like dervishes.

Almost as soon as I got upstairs and stood where the roof supports make that white plus sign, I saw wind driven rain heading straight for me across the half mile of water between us and the south shore.  I grabbed the dog and made it inside just ahead of a sheet of rain and wind that made the plate glass moan.

And then the power went out.

Luckily, we have a generator that can run the fridge, some lights and a powered down version of climate control.  It is also actually louder than the much bigger one we had in Africa, but that’s another issue.  It did its job- hurdle crossed.

And then the sun set.

60+ mph winds, driving rain, thunder, lightning, and lake whitecaps turned breakers smashing into the rocks of our shoreline. All I can see is the white water spraying everywhere.  Can’t see the dock. Can’t see the cables.

I don’t know what happened.  The dog and I cowered in the tornado room in our deck chairs pretending we were on a cruise ship in a cheap inside cabin.

About 11:30 pm my laptop radar showed the scary red and orange part of the storm beyond us headed for Atlanta, and all the tornadoes north of us.  We ventured out to find the wind still raging but the rain mostly stopped.  The dock, in the beam of my biggest flashlight, appeared to still be right side up and tethered to the shore on both sides.

Crawl into bed. Pretend to sleep for 6 more hours while going onto the deck in the still keening wind every 45 minutes to check the dock in the flashlight beam.

Tuesday morning, sky still full of black clouds, but the wind has died down, the (usually dry) creek is running full tilt and at 8:45 am, precisely 16 hours after it blew, the power comes back on.

This lake has over 500 miles of shoreline.  It is FULL of water.  This storm has (so far) added TWO FEET of water to the lake level.

Big storm. Really big storm.

And I’d do it all again to be able to live here forever.  In fact I will do it all again.

And again.

But next time, the Poobah better be here to act like an adult so I don’t have to.


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