When we were at Lake Almanor last week, we got caught in the most intense summer storm I've ever experienced in my life.
I've only seen it rain at Almanor two times in seventeen years. This storm was one, and the other was our rainy wedding. Both were a shock, as most days at Almanor are spent lakeside, slathered in sunscreen in 90-plus degree heat.
To say the storm came on quickly would be an understatement. We were sitting on the deck, enjoying a break from the sun and an afternoon snack, and almost immediately, black clouds rolled in, just as we saw the first glimpses of lightning strike across the lake. The wind picked up, the rain started, and just like that it was, quite literally, all hands on deck.
Those of us on the deck ran down to the dock to help get the boat out to the buoys. My grandparents, who have seen more than we've seen of storms at the lake, know that you can't mess around once the wind picks up. They've seen too many neighbor's boats and jet skis ruined from crashing against docks in storms, and the buoys would be the safest place for them.
My brother jumped in and started the boat while my uncle hopped on the jet ski, and we all tried our best to keep our balance on the dock as the wind picked up and threatened to blow us over, watching lighting continue to strike while the thunder cracked a little too loudly to be deemed as "safe conditions to be out on the water and unprotected."
As fast as we could, we picked up as many things as we could carry, dragged the kayaks and sailboat to shore, as the rain turned into hail and the wind felt sharper than a knife. My sunglasses were on the top of my head but quickly found their way over my eyes as I tried to shield them somehow to continue to see.
The minute I knew the storm had turned for the worst was when I saw our neighbor's (enormously heavy) stand up paddle board go from laying flat 25 yards away to flying with frightening speed horizontally through the air, and nearly missed hitting (and taking out) my Aunt Julie. So much was happening at once, but I immediately knew we were in serious danger. We were soaked, and fighting against the wind to just stay standing at this point. My brother, who had made it back from tying the boat up thanks to my Uncle Mark on the jet ski, was now standing (standing being a loose term, more like skateboarding) on the dock waiting for Mark as he was swimming in. We watched the sides of the dock move back and forth like a half pipe, all of us screaming at my brother to come in, afraid he'd be catapulted from the dock and hit his head on a rock. He held his own and minutes later courageously pulled Mark out of the water, as we all ran in, blinded by the combination of hail and strong winds.
We ran inside soaked, both still frightened by what we just saw but mostly relieved that we were all safe. We watched the destruction on the lake from the windows, seeing neighbors' boats on both sides get loose from their docks and buoys and crash into anything and everything nearby. We wouldn't know until later just how much damage had been done and how lucky we were to be safe.
Immediately the power went out and wouldn't return for over 16 hours. We ate dinner by flashlight and went to bed early. The next day, we awoke to sunny skies and calm waters, but little remnants of the storm were present, like pieces of boats scattered across the shore, and overturned docks still stuck. We are thankful to not have had excessive damage beyond a few dings, bust mostly thankful that all our people made it out safe.
That storm was something like I've never experienced in my life. It reminded me that while most days we feel like we're in control of our lives and our plans, sometimes that shifts in a way that nothing, no matter the size of your bank account, insurance policies, or retirement plans can account for. Sudden illnesses, car accidents, shocking news; thousands of events can cause the course of life to shift dramatically in an instant, making me both thankful for the near-misses and acutely aware of how powerless I really am. It makes me appreciate the small things that I take for granted daily, like my eyesight and ability to run.
Being caught up in something so wholly out of my control from time to time is good for me, to remind myself that there is so much more going on than my meticulously planned days, with trips to the grocery store and organized to-do lists. It reminds me that to live life well is really to live with open hands, in the delicate balance of being thankful for all I have while knowing all of that could change in an instant.