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OUTDOORS COLUMN: Knocking on Heaven’s door

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

Fishing is usually a rewarding pastime regardless of outcome, but sometimes it goes a step or two beyond rewarding. Sometimes it makes an old cynic almost believe in miracles.

The setting was Paradise Public Fishing Area’s Lake Patrick near Tifton more than a decade ago. I was fishing with a first-time angling companion and we were cussing the hot weather, trading stories and cordialities and once in awhile tossing a few feisty bluegills into the ice chest.

It was late afternoon and ponderous summertime clouds filled the western sky and moved ominously toward us. Their white tops contrasted sharply with slate-gray bands near the ground. The breeze freshened. Rain coming. You could smell it. Some of the more towering thunderheads were obviously preparing to ignite rather large and rather scary “fireworks” displays.

We watched as the clouds inched closer, individual storms now near enough to reveal their directional courses. My buddy and I were much relieved as the bigger storm spawners skirted us and moved away toward the northeast. We were left only with rain. Lots of rain, granted, but rain without accompanying thunder and lightning.

We were hit full force by the summer shower as we moved along the shoreline. The small trolling motor pushed our 12-foot johnboat into the wind with grudging slowness. Annoyed and becoming progressively wetter, my fishing partner and I hurriedly searched for dry storage receptacles for wallets, chewing tobacco and other water-perishable sundries.

The narrow-band, warm-weather squall ended as suddenly as it broke. It passed over us and moved steadily out over the middle of the lake, giving way once more to the bright July sunshine and the spiking humidity that inevitably follows Deep South summer rainstorms.

My buddy saw the “miracle” first. His abrupt silence drew my attention and I glanced back to see him staring fixedly in the direction the rain was now moving.

The storm, as summertime showers sometimes do, had stalled about 75 yards away, creating a shimmering crystalline dividing line down the middle of the lake. It was strangely curtain-like in appearance and eerie, somehow otherworldly. On one side of the “wall” were wind, rain and darkness. On the other were sunshine, blue sky, and calm. Herons, ducks, and songbirds made frantic journeys from one side to the other. It was other-dimensional travel to rival the best science fiction, an excursion from world to world. Nature’s special effects, if you will.

Then, as if to insert some semblance of order into the atmospheric chaos of the moment, there appeared a “passageway,” an arched portal through which winged creatures passed from darkness into light. The opening was roofed by a kaleidoscope of red and blue blending into shades of green, orange, and violet. It was Van Gogh, Star Wars and Genesis all rolled into one. The triumphal arch was unbroken, spanning the entire lake to reveal its perfect completeness. I had never before and have never since witnessed anything remotely comparing to it.

No words passed between my buddy and me as this natural ethereal wonder unfurled. Rainbows we had seen, but this was no mere rainbow. It was literally a doorway, a doorway through which one could view both the fury of Nature's dark side and her warm, nurturing sweetness.

We motored parallel to the glowing display, a short distance from the sheeting rainfall on the other side. We steered close by, but not through, the opening beneath the arch. We lacked the courage to venture farther. We felt somehow we were not supposed to cross that line between light and darkness. Logic and sound scientific knowledge also told us moving too close would make the image disappear, but logic was fleeting. More appropriate now to think not scientifically, but supernaturally.

My friend broke our mutual silence in little-boy fashion.

“Wow!” he exclaimed.

I briefly sought to be more articulate, but failed.

“Wow!” I replied.

I discovered something pretty cool that summer afternoon. Not all of heaven’s gateways are made of pearl.