Blue Ribbons. A Storm.

Last weekend my Border Collie, Bodie, and I attended his last dog show of the year.  This time he would not have to share the hotel room with his cousin Razzie.  It was just the two of us in the van.  My blond dog slept in the crate directly behind the driver’s seat, the other two crates were empty.  We started our weekend trip after rush hour traffic had died down on Interstate 10 therefore it was an easy drive east although a long one.  Our destination was Rayne, Louisiana, the route took us from I-10 to highway 12, back to I-10, through Baton Rouge, over the Mississippi River and finally to a hotel in Lafayette, Louisiana.  From there we would join other competitors at the show site on Frog Festival Road in Rayne, Louisiana.  The weather was perfect, warm but not hot.  In comparison the huge event building’s air conditioning was very cold…all weekend, perfect for the dogs.  I froze.

Bodie was entered in eight classes over a period of three days.  What was I thinking?  He was shown in Novice B five times and Rally Novice B three times.  Since he had earned both titles the weekend before this show was for proofing and training, to test his skills around new distractions as well as to test his stamina.  He did not disappoint me, earning five blue ribbons in Novice B (198.5, 198.5, 198.5, 197 and 194.5) and two blues and a red in Rally (100, 100, 99).

On the last day, Sunday morning, we were both not up to our best.  He was tired and distracted.  I was goofy tired.  We were a sad team but by Sunday at 8:30am we were finished.  I learned that Bodie is good for a three trial weekend but neither of us will be up to a five trial weekend in the near future.  Even the free wine at the hotel did not keep me relaxed and on my game for three days; the long drive, all the classes, keeping Bodie pottyed and relaxed yet energetic proved too much for me.  If it were possible I would have preferred for Bodie to drive home and for me to sleep in the crate.  Alas.  He’s not quite that smart.  Yet.

The weather forecast for Sunday warned of a storm in the Houston area, which would wind around to the north, dip south around the New Orleans area and then drive north again.  As I drove east from Rayne, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a black wall in the distance.  The storm was on the move, gathering strength.  Thank goodness it would not touch me, I thought, believing the weather forecasters as I looked at the yellow, orange and red streak on their maps predicting the storm would push away from Interstate 10.

Louisiana is scenic and different from Florida with its swamps, elevated highways and signs advertising Boudins and Cracklings.  Part of me wanted to be a tourist and stop at restaurants and touristy stores but I had to stay on task, drive five hours straight home and pick up the girls at the boarding kennel.

My van’s tires made a zzzzip, clickity, zzzzzip, clickity sound on the aging cement pavement as the highway hung above the Atchafalaya Basin area and then the Henderson Swamp.  The Interstate highway was elevated on thick cement posts that kept the swamp and floods and alligators safely away from drivers.  It was tempting to look in the distance at the dead trees jutting from the deep murky water, their tops snapped off.  I wanted to stop and photograph the lonely scene.  I imagined prehistoric creatures rising from the water.  But another scene pulled my eyes to the north.  A giant shelf cloud settled parallel to the Interstate, stretching for miles, tantalizing drivers with its danger and strength and range of grey, blue-black, and dirty-white rolling layers.  Its far-reaching tentacles never seemed to end and went on for miles and miles.  Yet the rain never touched us and we all drove quickly and peacefully and naively.  I’d never seen a shelf cloud, never witnessed its size and beauty and wanted to stop and take pictures.  But there is nowhere to stop on the elevated highway so  I had to keep my van heading directly east, forget the beauty but remain mindful of the potential danger if this meteorological phenomena moved south.

Finally I was off Interstate 10, driving further north and east along highway 12.  The road offers an alternative to driving through New Orleans.  It started to rain, a lazy soft rain.  My phone rang.  A friend told me that a terrible storm was hitting his area, Long Beach, Mississippi.  If my drive became too dangerous I was welcome to stop at his house.  Yet when I drove by his exit there was no rain. However the angry black curtain was still showing in my rear view mirror, gaining on me. Really?  There was a storm to my east?

I stopped at my favorite exit, the NASA Infinity rest area, and looked at my Ipad’s weather radar app.  Sure enough.  The storm had outwitted me, one long arm reached south and then east to meet up again with its main force to the north.  At the Vancleave exit the angry being, now alive, sentient and with evil intentions, lashed spears of rain onto the pavement and the helpless cars and 18-wheelers.  For miles and miles, we followed each other keeping a close eye on the break lights directly ahead of each vehicle, an unbroken chain, sometimes going 20mph, sometimes 50mph.  The noon day sky turned black as if it was midnight and the rain came down even harder.

Near Pascagoula, Mississippi,  the road began to flood.  I remembered the Weather Channel’s mantra: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”.  You can only do that if you have a place to turn around, can see the depth of the water on the road and/or can see further than the end of your car’s hood.  I thought about the lack of severe wind, what it must be like to drive in a hurricane.  As if on cue, the wind picked up and I heard rain drops like multiple needles hitting against my passenger side window, then switching around to my driver’s side window, wanting to gain entrance.

The storm demon was seeking victims.  I refused to succumb.  Then my phone rang again. “This is the Escambia County alert system.  A tornado warning has been issued for your immediate area.  Please take cover…”  The alert was not for the Pascagoula area but for north Pensacola, Florida.  Would my home still be there when I arrived home?

But after more rain and slow traffic I eventually arrived at my house where there appeared to have been only mild rain showers and no apparent wind damage.  The drive home had taken me from 8:30am to 2:45pm.  I had survived the angry storm monster’s attempt to kill or hurt me.  Disappointed, I’m sure, it then drove northeast with its rain and wind and tornadoes and dark soul, leaving me exhausted but safe, feeling blessed to have survived.

But The Devil, The Storm is waiting out there for me and my dogs and my van, ready again to test my mental strength, ready to mock me and my dog and his blue ribbons.

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