NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate

( Chapter 5 )



 "Hey lad you're in Mosquito Country. We breed them for export in northern Manitoba. Our

mosquitoes are that big they arm wrestle with you and black fly don't so much bite, as mug you". At the time I thought those words an idle boast, but I soon changed my mind. For two days, I had been mosquito free, now they were back with a vengeance. They returned with the sun, thirsty for blood and pissed-off big time due to the weather.

The day was turning into melted butter. In just forty eight hours the comfort level had swung from frost to vapor. Lake Winnipegosis was boiling and humidity levels had sky rocketed. You couldn't buy a breeze for love nor money. I had to keep cycling, for to stop meant being bathed in sweat. Tree shade seduced like an oasis, but was only hallucinatory. Mosquitoes danced everywhere and black fly massed in angry clouds, ready to pounce.

By now I had become quite an expert weather forecaster. Billowing clouds meant windless days. Angular patterns denoted weather fronts and when smudged, made for windy days. Overlapping low and high pressure patterns, linked squeezed and eventually emptied cloud formations like punctured balloons. Dark vertical traces bore evidence to rainfall, but dark vertical traces like today, only meant one thing. Head for cover.

Today I was only six kilometers from Neepawa and shelter. Above the clouds were moving big time. Clouds mushroomed like germs under heat. Up till now, I'd been lucky. I had skirted several storms in Saskatchewan and yesterday spotted one brewing on the horizon, but today my luck ran out. I was on a collision course and to make matters worse, a snake-like tail danced menacingly under the blackest cloud.

I was cycling in a purple patch. It was the calm before the storm. The air was still. The atmosphere charged and the sky empty of birds. Distant lightning flashed like strobe lights. A vertical streak. A zig-zag of pulsating light and ripples of thunder. On either side dark curtains fell in gauntlets of rain, then the storm struck. I was side swiped. The rickshaw took on a life of its own. Ballooned as if under sail. Ran with the wind. Bucked me somewhere between the centre line and the curb, then was lost to a gully. By now all signs of the sun were eclipsed. Lightning flashed, bounced then cracked in my ears like a depth charge.

Zac...Zac...Zac...Pow..! Zac...Zac...Zac...Pow..!

Then the hail struck.. Freeze dried chunks, some almost as big as golf balls. Within minutes the road was glazed in ice pellets. They bounced rolled and kissed each other. They stung my head, nipped my neck and cracked my knuckles. It was awesome. Light blue balls of ice against a pitch black sky. For five minutes they literally poured down. The Prairies, I had been told, don't do anything in miniature and today was no exception. The Plains Indians took the appearance of these storms as dire warning. The prelude of fire, floods and plagues. It sounds almost biblical by today's standards. The nineties generation are the children of technology. We live in an age that has been blunted by science and cushioned by insurance companies. Natural wonders are for the 'Discovery Channel' or the "Claims Brokers' but to be centered in one alone, to be past the point of fear, is to be exhilarated and deflated all in the same breath. I swore I saw lightning bounce only yards away. I saw its steam pattern rise, smell the burning tar from the road. I held ice pellets as big as my knuckles, taste and squeezed them so tight it numbed my fingers. It was one of those experiences money can't buy. Had it struck ten minutes later; had I found shelter, felt less exposed or been able to share the experience, I might be writing a different story.

Thirty minutes later peace returned. The sun burst out again scattering the clouds. The sun burst out again scattering the clouds. Steam rose, vaporized and stained the air with the sweet smell of wheat. Soon the sky was bleach white, and not long after the road steam dried. Almost everything bore witness to the storm. Fields flattened , low points lost to lakes and grain sheds upturned. Neepewa hadn't escaped either. Some trees had been uprooted and rested on their neighbors. Branches snapped like match sticks, lay in the road, and pavements were lost to leaves.



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