"I see skies of blue, clouds of white
Bright blessed days, dark sacred nights
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world ... "
Dateline: Guntersville, Alabama, 3:20 a.m.
The outside is angry.
It's yelling at us. Shouting, rumbling, spitting.
Lightning illuminates my keyboard. Then, except for the light of the screen, my hotel room is dark.
The ground is silent, but the sky is alive. You can sense who is in charge here, and it is not us.
There's fire in the sky and fear in the trees.
In between the screams up above, when the storm takes a breath, the outside is silent.
I'm running on batteries, and the storm wants them too. Outside my window rain is pouring onto the patio like water from an upside-down boot.
Spiders of light crawl across the low hung clouds. The moon has abandoned us. The wind wants me and plows into my door. A bolt of lightning slams into the earth, close enough to make the parking lot lights flicker.
And then the rumble moves away, shouting protests back as it takes on the next mountain.
In the darkness before the day, all that's left is mist and fog.
And the soft glow of a laptop.
Never shower with the door open
Let me tell you this: It's near impossible to hit a chipmunk with an ironing board.
I actually have no idea what a chipmunk is, or why we need them, but I do know this: They are not afraid of TV remotes.
And they eat Bugles.
For the past couple of days my hotel room A/C has been stuck on freezing. One night the temp gauge read 58 degrees.
I've called. They say, "Uh huh." I continue to freeze.
In the spirit of truth and columnism, I'm sitting here typing this wearing GLOVES, with the finger tips cut out.
Yesterday I'd had enough, so I opened the patio door to let the outside heat in and the inside cold out. A/C in reverse.
And I was warm while I typed by the door.
Around noon or so I had to go take a shower to get ready to take a hike in the outside with K-2 — K-Pink's (Elite Pro Kevin Short) wife Kerry — so I downed a couple of donuts with a bottle of some sort of vitamin water (to prove to my wife I can eat healthy) and got up from the laptop and took a shower.
'Cept I forgot one thing: to close the patio door.
So I'm in there happily bubbling, sudsing and singing ... I dry off and come out into my hotel room, sit down on my bed to get dressed ... and I watch my slipper move across the floor.
I don't know about you, but I don't handle my clothes moving by their ownselves very well, so as I'm standing on the bed I watch my slipper twitch, move, twitch, then turn over on its side.
Then, as I'm peering off the side of the bed, out from the hole in the bottom of the slipper walks this chipmunk. And it's eating one of my Bugles.
Move all the clothes you want, Nature, but you better not touch the food snacks.
Now, if you are a biologist you may want to add this quick fact to your animal notebook: A chipmunk with a Bugle in its mouth has no fear of a pillow flung its way.
Nor do they much mind TV remotes zinged at their heads. They do seem fascinated with the AAA batteries that fall out, though.
Kleenex box? Not even a second glance. Balled up white socks? Nope.
A chipmunk with a Bugle in its mouth is one determined jungle creature.
So I get down off the bed. The chipmunk shoves what's left of my Bugle into its mouth and walks — walks — over to my snack bag, and turns and looks at me with its mouth and jaws moving all chipmunk-like.
This dude has been there before.
The bond between a man and his snacks has been breached, and there is no way I'm going to lose one more of my Bugles to a rodent, if in fact that's what a chipmunk happens to be.
Swiftly (or, as swiftly as a middle-aged guy can move while still trying to hold a towel around a middle aged belly) I grab the only Bugle-eating-chipmunk weapon available to me: the ironing board hanging in the closet.
With one hand on the towel and one on the ironing board, I put the legs on the ground and chase the chipmunk around the room using the ironing board like some sort of Stay Press shovel.
Chipmunks, it seems, are much faster than middle-aged guys holding a towel with one hand while pushing a hotel ironing board with the other (biologists, again, take note).
Then, as I'm reaching for the iron, the chipmunk turns and walks out the patio door all chipmunk-like, with its little tail just sashaying back and forth, and saying to me in chipmunk language, "Thanks for the snack."
And as I jump over to the patio door and shut and lock it I see sitting on the patio rail another chipmunk. It's munching on a pretzel rod.
Beauty and a Beast
I was out taking nature shots of the beauty that is the Lake Guntersville area when I came face to face with the beast.
A beast of indiscriminate destruction.
A beast that can up root trees, flatten homes, change lives.
A beast you cannot fight. From which you can only hide.
The beast called Tornado.
Flattened trees describe the path the beast took. One home is gone, while the house next door has nary a window out of place.
Is this the price of beauty. The cost of earth. Is this not our ground to stand.
With the beauty of the forest down the road, and the beast of destruction all around me, I walked in the footprints of the beast, found a cup on the ground, a pen in a tree, a baseball cap under water on the smooth rocks by the shore.
In front of me, a white bird with a long neck and legs glides over the lake and comes to a stop perched atop a rock.
Grace among the debris.
Nature's way of telling me, that in the end, Beauty Wins.
"Yes I think to myself,
what a wonderful world.
— Louis Armstrong
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoor writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com