A raging child moves fast

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 2, 2002

This last week has been an eventful one, weather wise at least. For six days and nights, East Tennessee has been deluged with several inches of rain. Flash flood warnings have been the order of the day. And sadly some unfortunate people perished as they were swept away by rising water.

Many homes have been lost and more households have been thrown into upheaval. In any part of our country, the amount of water that fell here would cause problems, but in this area of mountains and hollows, the water hasn't many places to go. It is a definite that it will go downhill, and around here downhill happens pretty fast.

In the midst of all the downpours, my son and I decided to drive up into the Smokies for a look at Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the National Park. It was a jaunt much akin to the ones made when it's snowing. This rainy one was just a little less treacherous and not quite as much fun for walking around. But we did see some wonderful sights.

The mountains are sleeping peacefully after entertaining so many tourists over the summer and fall. Soon enough they will awaken and begin to get dressed up for more company. But for now they're wearing their comfortable browns and grays, and they don't have flowers in their hair.

In the towns, some rather bleak-looking tourists wander around obviously wondering where all the snow and wintertime delights have gone. I saw one boy who looked to be about 11 years old, standing in a small patch of dirty slush left by a snowplow some three weeks ago. His parents were standing nearby holding the lovely down-filled jackets, stocking caps and mittens unnecessary on this sixty-degree day. You could read the boy's expression and know that at that moment he passed into that pre-adolescent stage where he realizes that his parents are hopelessly stupid. He left friends, familiar malls and his computer for this? It will be several years before that young man notices that his parents have learned a lot, apparently over night, for it was only yesterday that they seemed so devoid of any understanding!

To me the best part of that rainy ramble was in the Smokey Mountains National Park. It was there that we saw the torrents of water tumbling down swollen rivers and streams. Water was moving with enough depth and rush to snatch trees up by their roots and carry them on that downward journey. The rivers overflowed their banks and in the few hours that we watched them, rose an easy three feet if not more.

As I watched all that water roll and boil I thought of an angry child flailing arms and legs in the throes of a tantrum. Just as parents calmly watch fits of temper and defiance in their offspring, so the mountains watched the turbulent and angry flow of those waterways as they pitched and rolled their way down stream. Wisdom says that reason can be restored only after the turbulence is spent. It is in the calm after the storm that things are made right again. So it was with the water.

Just yesterday a ride up through Paw-paw Hollow showed us that tranquility is again restored. There are still low areas of standing water, but the rivers are running pretty much as usual. The water's a little high in the Little Pigeon and French Broad Rivers, but their banks hold them in place.

Today is sunny and warm for this time of year. I've been out walking this afternoon on cool, mushy ground. The air is especially clean after all that washing, and the robins are most appreciative of the soft earth and the worms that came to the surface to avoid drowning. With a little luck on the weather map, we'll dry out in a few more days.

February and March are ahead of us, and those are usually the real winter months here. But weather is a funny thing. We map, we watch, we prognosticate, but we don't always get it right. Today's forecasters have so much technology at their fingertips that there is little doubt about weather patterns.

But sometimes the winds blow a different way and we simply don't know why. It seems that it was more fun to rely on the Farmer's Almanac for weather predictions. The Weather Channel may be more accurate, but there's fun in the unknown too.

There are three children here in Knoxville who do a news and weather show every afternoon from their front porch. One of those kids is my favorite weather forecaster. His take is that "if the sky is full of gray clouds, it might rain, or it might not." At the end of his report, he walks off the porch and into the yard. He looks up to the sky and reports what he sees at that moment. I suspect that if he had gone to the mountains with us this past week, he could have told us that the water was highunless it had just been low before the rains.