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March 5, 2017

Here in the Upstate of South Carolina the month of February was unusually mild and often pleasant. As March approached, I wondered if the old adage, “in like a lion and out like a lamb” would be a realistic description of March this year. But on the first day of March a cold air mass collided with the warm air over the Piedmont.

Meteorologists warned that the weather could get rough, and sure enough, it did. As the colder air moved in the turbulence became severe, especially across North Carolina. Rain and hail were accompanied by strong northwest winds with gusts as high as sixty miles per hour.

March came in like a lion or some other roaring beast.

On Wednesday afternoon, before the worst of the storms arrived, I sat on my backporch enjoying the warm weather, sipping a cup of coffee, listening to the wind blow, and thinking about times when I had experienced strong winds.

I recalled a time when I was a boy. I was preparing for a camping trip with my scout troop. I had just come home from school to prepare for the outing. I was assigned the task of bringing ice for the cooler in which we would store our food. I finished packing my gear, when a sudden storm with strong winds and quarter-sized hail broke loose. Our chicken house was blown face-down off the concrete blocks that served as a foundation. Chicken feathers flew everywhere. The hail pelted down and piled up fast. As soon as the storm blew over, Mama phoned my dad at the lumberyard to report the damage.

Soon Dad came in his car along.  A three-ton lumber truck, two men, and a logging chain entered the backyard to assess the damage. Dad had built the sturdy structure himself and knew exactly what to do. As my dad directed the operation, the chicken house was pulled back up on the foundation blocks by the truck and the chain, only a little worse for the wear. Our one rooster perched on a clothesline pole, I suppose, thinking he was in charge since the hens were his harem. All of the twenty hens, except one, were accounted for though they were dazed and confused. I retrieved a five gallon bucket and a shovel from the garage and scooped up enough hailstones to fill the cooler. All-in-all, we escaped with little damage. Strong wind can cause much anxiety. The hens did not lay eggs for nearly a week.

As I sipped coffee on the backporch last Wednesday listening to the wind, I remembered the many times I have played in the wind.

A vacation at the beach is a time to play with the wind.  If you watch seagulls hover or if you throw a Frisbee or fly a kite, you can see the effect of the wind.  Of course, no one can see the wind.  “Who has seen the wind, neither you nor I,” go the words to a Robert Louis Stevenson verse.

I have very little experience with sailboats, but there are three sailing circumstances that are applicable to life.  First, the wind drives us ahead with full sails.  We move along with little or no effort.  Secondly, a strong headwind makes sailing more difficult.  An experienced sailor knows how to tack into the wind. In life we must learn to move forward against forces that would defeat us. Then, the third situation is when the wind does not blow at all.  In nautical terms, these are the doldrums, times when life seems to be going nowhere.  We feel as if we are drifting aimlessly. It is the plight of the old salt in the famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

It was a beautiful summer day when we started our ascent Mount Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia.  The Appalachian Trail took us beneath a canopy of lush, green hardwoods.  In low-lying areas, ferns grew near moss-covered logs.  Lined with wild flowers, the trail grew steeper.  The forest was filled with the sound of singing birds.  By lunchtime, we had reached the spruce-covered summit of the high mountain.

During our lunch break, I thought of how pleasant the morning hike had been.  The Scouts and Scout leaders with me were all experienced backpackers.

As we moved down the far side of the mountain, the wind began to pick up.  One of the delights of walking in the mountains is listening to the sound of wind in the trees.  The trail took us through open meadows and then descended to a ridge covered with bright pink rhododendron.

Moving toward the ridge, I saw to the northwest the first sign of trouble.  Dark, thick storm clouds were moving in our direction.  As the trail found the ridge and moved among large granite outcroppings, the wind began to blow with a fury.  The storm, a strong approaching cold front, was moving fast.  Looking across the valley to the north, I saw sharp jagged lightning strikes from the clouds to the ground. Moment by moment rumbling thunder moved closer to us.

Up ahead, I could see our group of scouts and leaders gathering near one of the massive granite rock outcroppings.  We all knew that we were caught on the open trail along a narrow ridge with a terrific storm just minutes away.

I always carried a few ready items near the top of my backpack.  One was a large tarp tent for just such an emergency.  I pulled the tarp from my pack. We put ponchos on ourselves and rain covers on our packs.  Having stuffed the backpacks into crevices in the rock to secure them against the wind and the rain, we took refuge next to the tall granite outcropping, putting it between us and the storm.  The rock itself would be our protection from the approaching storm.  The tarp would give us a little additional cover.

We huddled together, securing the tarp as best we could and waited.  We did not have to wait long.  The storm hit the ridge with all of its might.  Gale-force winds blew all around us.  The temperature dropped twenty degrees in a matter of minutes.  Rain and hail pelted the tarp while lightning cracked on the mountain peaks at either end of our ridge.

The storm passed by just as quickly as it had hit.  Within a matter of fifteen or twenty minutes, the worst of it was over.  A slow, steady rain and a freshening breeze followed.

Before we continued our trip, I told the story of Elijah, a Biblical mountain man. The prophet took refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, the same mountain on which Moses had received the Ten Commandments.

God called Elijah out to stand on the mountain.  A great and powerful wind tore mountains apart and shattered rocks.  An earthquake and fire followed. When all of the fury had passed, Elijah heard a still, small voice, a voice like a whisper or a gentle breeze.  It was God Himself, speaking to Elijah, encouraging him to move ahead.

The Hebrew word for breath, ruach, is also the word for God’s Spirit in the Old Testament.  The Greek word for wind, pneuma, is also the word for God’s Spirit in the New Testament. What Elijah heard whispering in his ear was the Spirit of God.

After I told the story of Elijah, we continued our journey.  Wet and muddy, we wended our way down the trail.  I noticed how beautiful the rhododendrons were, still pink and green, even after the storm.

As I finished my coffee on the backporch last Wednesday, I may have heard the whispering Spirit of God. And, as the wind chimes played their song, I believe I heard a few notes of “Amazing Grace.”

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