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Tree down c Elizabeth WilloughbyThe orkan, a killer whale of a storm
by Elizabeth Willoughby

HB says a storm is coming, and seems overly concerned about it as he loads his car for his business trip. "Call me if anything happens during the night. Maybe you can put some extra rocks on the tarps that cover the wood piles, and on the shed roof if it doesn't look like it will hold," and on he rambles.

"Geeze," I say, "it's just a storm."

"They are calling it an Orkan," he says. I hear 'orca' and wonder what that is. Orca – killer whale – a whale of a storm, perhaps.

Instead of adding rocks, I go into the city for lunch with S to celebrate her birthday. Munich is windy, but warm. I have overdressed in my preparation for the imminent January snowstorm.

Making conversation with another guest, I say, "So, big storm coming, eh?"

She says, "Really? I haven't heard."

I say, "They are predicting an orca," using my new German vocabulary. She hears 'Orkan' though (she's German) and says nothing, but her face does. "What's an orca?" I ask.

"An Orkan is a hurricane. I need to call my husband."

I leave the restaurant a couple of hours later. The wind has died down. It's a wimpy hurricane, I decide. At the subway platform I find out that the train schedules are in disarray due to weather problems. By the time I get to my final station, I hear announced that all trains in all directions have been cancelled. I look around and see no evidence of the weather that is causing this. Someone says trees have fallen over the tracks. I walk to my car, and as I drive past the station I stop to pick up stranded passengers gathered by the roadside hitching rides back home and let them off in the middle of our village.

Daylight is waning. As I turn the corner onto my street, I see a pine tree laying across the road, crushing a neighbour's fence. It's our tree, broken half way up the trunk where it had divided into two trunks. People are standing around staring at it. I phone HB, who asks me to hand the phone to a neighbor so HB can ask him to call the fire department. The neighbour's elderly mother is pointing at my surviving trees telling me that they are dangerous. It's the birch trees she's pointing at – the ones she asked us to cut down last year when we moved in because she's allergic to them.

Within five minutes the town volunteer fire fighter crew has arrived: twelve guys, two trucks, one chainsaw, three brooms, giant spotlights to turn evening into day, and an old fashioned (35mm) camera, and the tree is transformed from a road blockage into a pile of branches and chunks of trunk.

I'm unsure of the protocol here. In Canada I would have handed out beers to them, but then there is that camera taking pictures of the scene... Everyone says something to me, although I have no idea what, and I say "Danke" 3,482 times. Smile, nod, danke, danke, danke. In 15 minutes it's all over.

I go inside and look up hurricane in the dictionary: A severe tropical cyclone. I look up tropical cyclone on Wikipedia: a warm storm system fueled by thunderstorms near its center. The light bulb goes on. And yet, this orca seems to be playing hide and seek with me.

The next day I notice that half the shed roof had blown off. I secure the remaining half and cover the gaping opening to protect the shed contents from rain if it ever appears. Tarps act like sails in the wind. I am short. This operation is not easy. I grrrr several times. As I refasten the flapping tarps over the wood piles, I recall HB's ramblings from the previous morning. I really should have asked for clarification about that orca thing.

There's nothing like a great adventure travel story — one that's fun, thrilling and full of the unknown. If that's what you want, check out my WorldGuide Tales from the Road pages. This blog is about the stories a travel writer can't sell. The misadventures. The plans gone awry, luck run amuck. Sometimes with my partner, HB, sometimes with friends, and sometimes I manage to mess things up without any help at all. These are the stories that make your friends laugh and call you a knucklehead. These are the stories you really remember.

Image and article ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2015

This article was originally published at WorldGuide.eu

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A good travel piece is fun, informative and factual,
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