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Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Tempests of Summer - Bahía de Los Angeles 1985, Part 20: Solitude and Storms    ( Posted July 12, 2004 )

If there were reasons in my mind for our trip this summer it was to stop the world for a brief moment while the boys were young and for our family interrelationships to benefit from sharing almost everything together rather than being out and about all day always doing individual work and school activities. From this moment in time, this summer, I wanted a freeze frame of the four of our lives together that would last forever. I knew the tangles of our individual worlds in Southern California would unkink in Baja and we would coalesce into the homogeneous entity of family. The predictable and unpredictable elements of our daily lives, together, undivided by the smallest interruptions, would become mental replications of our lifetimes after the boys and we, years in the future, inevitably went our individual ways. In Baja, although we were often threatened by external elements, we were never attacked from within ourselves. The more the wind raged and pulled at our fragile home the more we worked together to control the environment. Like sailors, threatened by a storming sea, we learned to work together against the odds to solve our problems. We grew to rely on each other, the four of us equally.

Great and threatening storms grew out on the gulf and attacked us unpredictably. We learned to read their arrival on the water before the wind and take their pulse, to know when they had peaked and when we needed to take additional precaution. We learned to be responsible to each other and to each be counted on under the most trying circumstances. We watched the behavior of the wild and domestic animals and the ocean, we watched the land to evaluate the damage it had withstood over the centuries, the millennia before our time there.

Sometimes during the day or night the wind rose suddenly, with no warning. It could blow at thirty knots without causing us any grief; we kept the gear pretty well secured. If it was during the day we took care of things with no major problems. But big winds often came during the night. It was difficult to wake to a rising wind, get dressed in the dark, unless there was a near-full moon, and determine what needed doing.

When the wind was over fifteen knots the kitchen pots and pans, hanging close from the roof on their wire hooks, rang like heavy wind chimes. At anything over thirty knots the walls of the hut would begin to lean, the upright posts being buried only in eighteen inches of sand. Mary Ann usually dealt with the troubles inside and I would go outside to see what the problems were there. If the wind rose above thirty, I would move the Land Cruiser to the corner taking the worst beating and tie a guy line from the truck to the upright at that corner. I could back the truck up slightly to straighten the hut and hold it in place for the duration of the storm. The boys were helping mom pick up inside the hut.

Three or four times during the summer the winds blew over the tolerance of the hut and we took significant damage: either the roof blew off or parts of walls blew away. The suspended gear rattled and banged and the storage crates on the walls spilled their contents on the ground before falling themselves. The animals were scared and restless. The boys would wake and were afraid. The wind howled and whistled and churned the black sea. We were wet with salt spume. Sand flew in sheets above the ground. The danger was very real, in part tangible and in part because we never knew the limits of the wind. Like an earthquake or a tornado, you never quite knew how bad it was going to get.

We held things together any way we could. We never suffered catastrophic damage, but there were many late night blows where I was sure we were going to. I had seen the damage the wind had done to our first hut, at the south end, and I remembered clearly how strong it could grow. Eventually, we dug deep holes a few feet outside each corner of the hut and sank dead-man anchors that we could cinch down when a wind came. These helped to stabilize the uprights, but we still had to use the truck if the blow was really strong. These events became nothing more than an inconvenience after the first few storms and we worked them into our routine. All the threats served the purpose of throwing us together and learning the benefits of working as a team under pressure. The boys, even at their young ages were learning to think on their feet and find a value, looking for something that wasn't getting done and doing it.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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